Kayaking the James River


I’ve wanted to try kayaking for years. Despite the fact that I have a rather irrational fear of water I can’t see several feet into, gliding quietly (relatively) down a river has had a draw for some time. I was talking to a friend a few weeks back saying how many things there were I wanted to do and try, several of which were on her list as well. Her response was, “Well, we should just do it!”

The result of that conversation being an early afternoon trip to Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan, Virginia, where we rented a couple of kayaks and were shuttled to a spot 5 miles up river. Did I mention neither of us had ever been in a kayak? However, we picked the easiest of their list of self-guided runs and decided to hope for the best. With only a handful of Class I rapids it couldn’t be too bad, right? After slathering on sunscreen and watching a basic water safety video we departed.

The Twin River Outfitters bus, loaded down with tubes for an afternoon run.

Buchanan! It’s a very cute but very tiny town.

Shiny! Also sweltering.

Our shuttle driver chatted cheerfully on the short drive, then gave us both a shove off into the river. We looked at each other, then down the river. “Er…ok.” Feeling like complete and utter noobs, but grateful there was no one there to laugh, we paddled away. Or in my case, tried to. It took me awhile to even out my strokes (one arm stronger than the other, I suppose), and unfortunately ended up running into M a couple of times before getting the hang of it.

Just a few minutes down the river, we started hearing a faint roar. “I hope that’s traffic,” said M. “There were only supposed to be Class Is, right?”

I listened for a minute. “Nah, that has to be traffic.”

Or not. Getting closer, we could see it was definitely NOT traffic and was indeed our first rapid. Which, while not at all deep and not really all that fast, looked rather intimidating. And the video hadn’t said how one was supposed to navigate these things. I had a momentary panic when I bumped into a rock and was subsequently turned backwards into the current, then got stuck on another as I tried to turn around. M also got stuck but we both muddled our way through without capsizing. The first rapid turned out to be by far the rockiest, and the rest of the trip was fairly quiet.

Lovely and peaceful.

The water was so much clearer than I expected river water to be. For most of the trip we could see the river bottom, which was extremely comforting to someone used to swimming pools. 😛 We saw a couple of cranes, ducks, and M saw minnows.We also passed the remains of Buchanan’s Civil War era covered bridge, burned during an altercation in 1864 (which sadly I did not get a picture of – I was terrified of dropping my phone into the water and so didn’t get nearly as many as I would have liked).

I-81 bridge. You could feel the vibrations from passing vehicles, which I guess was to be expected considering the shallow water, but I was still a bit surprised.

The 5 mile paddle took us about 2.5 hours, and our arms thanked us for not signing up for the longer trip (yes, we’re babies yet, give us a few more trips). We also discovered that 3 Nalgenes worth of water isn’t enough for a 90 degree, 60% humidity day, and that we probably should have beached the kayaks and taken a swim part way to cool off, since we didn’t deign to flip either of them (despite the dire predictions of M’s husband). Waterproof watches and cameras were also discussed, as trying to dig anything out of the dry-bags was annoying. Neither of us suffered any major sunburn, which was a major achievement. 😀

We agreed it was a fun trip and we’d like to go back for more. “But next time, more rapids.” “Definitely. That was the best part!”

I hope I’m not about to acquire yet another expensive hobby…

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4 thoughts on “Kayaking the James River

  1. Thanks for the link! Glad you enjoyed you’re kayaking experience. It is a fairly inexpensive hobby once you get past the initial cost of a kayak, paddle, life vest and the like… I love getting out for a paddle and felling like I’m seeing things most people never will. Paddle on!

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  2. We were going to go boating this weekend, but at $8.00/hr, we said no way. ‘Course, now I think I just need to up and get a kayak, cuz it’s gonna be about 40 hours of $8/hr, or so… I forget the math we did. Still, I need to look into this kayak renting… I haven’t been in so long and I miss it!

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