Paddling the Black River in canoes

Paddling the Black River past magnificent 2600-year-old trees


Most of my paddling has been done in a kayak. So when my outdoorsy friend Laura invited me on a canoeing trip, paddling the Black River in North Carolina, my first thought was “do I know how to paddle a canoe?”

Now, it’s not that I’ve never paddled a canoe. I have, but about 25 before.  My one and only canoe lesson was on Meach Lake in the Gatineaus in Canada. Now, faced with 10 or so miles of canoe paddling, I didn’t know if I’d remember ANYTHING about it.

Fortunately it didn’t take long for most of it to come back.  I soon remembered the C-stroke, sculling, and I even managed a bit of a J-stroke. Although I could keep the canoe straight by myself, I couldn’t get up a good head of steam. So more lessons may be required…

I tried paddling from the back of the canoe as well.  Laura taught us that the person in the front is the sail.  In other words, the person in front doesn’t try to steer — they provide the power.  It’s the paddler in back that steers.  Once I got it, it worked really well and we were off to the races.

But Laura said I SHOULD be a natural canoeist simply because of all the time I spent in Canada. I just don’t know how many Scotsmen I’ve seen paddling a canoe that well!

See the oldest trees in the world paddling the Black River

The Black River is just south of Raleigh, where you paddle down a wide river lined with hardwoods and smaller cypress tress and past the narrow corridor among the huge, ancient bald cypress. How ancient, you ask? It’s home to some of the OLDEST trees on earth, perhaps up to 2,600 years old! One tree in particular dates back to at least 364 AD making it one of the oldest trees in the world! 

Although Laura doesn’t do Black River tours commercially, here’s one company that does run one on the Black River and Three Sisters swamp: Mahanaim Adventures.

The trip started once we got to the put-in, unloaded, and stationed the Honda and trailer where we planned to exit.  After some safety instruction from Laura, we got in the water about 10:30.  Including a stop on a nice riverbank sandbar for lunch (reminded me of lunching on the Millport beaches with SANDwiches for lunch…) we paddled till about 8:30 and got home by 10pm — a little longer than we thought it would be, but still lots of fun.

Laura paddled with young Katelyn, the photographer who took the main black-and-white picture at the top of this post. I paddled with Patty, with me in front first and then at the back for the last part of the trip.

Patty is an enthusiastic birder.  She was thrilled to see some kind of a woodpecker with a red head — don’t remember the name — and there certainly was a myriad of bird species around. This was when I got to try paddling by myself as Patty was quite focused on the bird!  

We also saw what Laura called an otter — I think it might have been a beaver — swimming in the river. It swam and watched us for a few minutes and then quickly submerged and disappeared. It’s in the gallery above – decide for yourself!

We kept my camera gear in dry bags and, fortunately, I managed to NOT drop any of my gear in the river. Although I DID lose my sunglasses — the water’s very dark and deep enough that once something submerges, it’s gone.  There must be one cool-looking fish down there with my sunglasses on…

Oh, and one more… this one of me letting the ladies do all the work… 🙂 — Photo by Patty McQuillan

In the end I was relieved to discover that I can still paddle a canoe — and once I’d remembered how to do it properly, it really didn’t take much effort at all.  

But I did start to understand why it took Lewis and Clark three years to travel across the USA.

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