EM.HawRiverOf all the ways we escape into the natural world, the most efficient and effective may be with paddle in hand. Three scenes from the past year:

  • Dusk, a mid-July evening on the easternmost navigable finger of Jordan Lake, where the lake recedes into Little Beaver Creek. Surrounded by lily pads, I point the bow west and watch as the sun gradually signs off through a series of yellow, then orange, then pink and finally purple-red stages. The lake, maybe a foot deep at this point, gently laps against the side of my kayak. I lay back and watch as civil twilight descends. I could stay here all night, but remain only on hour or so, paddling back to the put-in with running lights casting a soft, reassuring glow.
  • EM.GooseEarly August on a stretch of Contentnea Creek between Grifton and the creek’s union with the Neuse River. A hot, Saturday afternoon, the sky clear but heavy with the burden of the humid coastal plain. Slowly, we let the current take us downstream. We round a bend and a white sand beach appears, a beach that says, in this order: swim, lunch, nap. Repeat.
  • Late September, from a boat ramp I didn’t know existed on Falls Lake paddling north. Soon, the lake reverts to its pre-impoundment days as Little Ledge Creek, and soon, the creek becomes engulfed in willows. It’s a hot afternoon, and the shade offers surprising relief from the exposure of the lake. I can’t go any farther, and I don’t care. For half an hour, I sit and watch. A half hour of not moving forward nor falling behind as I scan for anything and am content to find nothing. Thirty minutes of the cogs not grinding together, of mental idle time.

EM.ContentneaEven now, these moments conjure an odd mix of adventure and tranquility. The adventure of squeezing through tight passage in a coastal swamp to emerge in a cozy pool made for reflection. Rounding a bend and flushing a great blue heron that both majestically and awkwardly takes flight. Dumping over the side on a broiling summer’s day and getting instant relief.

Paddler’s paradise
Paddling, in a canoe or in a kayak, offers unparalleled release. And few places offer more opportunities to let go than North Carolina.
In the Piedmont and coastal plain alone, you’ll find more than 3,200 miles of paddle trails on 97 streams, according to Paul Ferguson’s “Paddling Eastern North Carolina.”  That includes neither the vast number of lakes in the region not paddling along the coast. The paddling web site paddling.net includes hundreds of trip reports from 77 streams statewide.
North Carolina has just about every type of paddling option available.
Sea kayaking: The sounds and waters just offshore offer great touring opportunities.
Blackwater creeks and swamps: Some of the most intimate paddling around, these trips on blackwater snaking among cypress trees that date back as long as 2,000 years.
Meandering coastal plain rivers; Wide, slow-moving waters that do most of the work for the paddler.
Piedmont lakes: Manmade lakes offer bountiful paddling options in the Triangle (Falls and Jordan lakes, plus the flood control lakes of Raleigh and Wake County), Triad (Greensnboro’s Watershed Lakes), and Charlotte (the whole dammed Catawba River).
Mid-sized streams and rivers: In the Piedmont, these waters are often rain dependent, but can offer memorable paddles when the water is right.
Whitewater: In the mountains, paddlers with quick reflexes and nerves of steel find challenging water on the Green, Nantahala, Cullasaja, Nolichucky and Pigeon rivers, to name a handful.
And that’s just touching on the more established forms of paddling.

448Standup: rising above the paddling masses
Standup paddleboarding, little known outside the South Pacific less than 20 years ago, is the fastest growing paddlesport. (According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 1.5 million people tried standup paddleboarding in 2012; participation was so negligible that trade group didn’t even start monitoring activity until two years earlier. Further, of those 1.5 million participants in 2012, 56 percent were trying it for the first time.)
North Carolina’s variety of waters make the state well-suited to the sport.
Another great thing about paddling? It’s accessible.
For instance, there are at least 56 places to rent a canoe or kayak in North Carolina, according to GetGoingNC.com. For as little as $2 an hour, you can experience for yourself the escape paddling offers.
And if when you decide you like paddling and are interested in buying a boat, we offer monthly test-paddle opportunities on lakes in our market areas. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, don’t buy a boat without a test paddle. Plus, we’re working on additional opportunities to make it easier for you to discover paddling. We’ll announce details on the blog as they develop.
If you’ve resolved to have more adventure and serenity in your life in 2015, grab a paddle. Fulfillment is a stroke away.