Witnessing the Transformative Power of Water

By Ryan Robinson

In May I spent three days navigating the ancient Chattooga River with North Carolina Outward Bound School, an organization that has used the Chattooga for many years to help individuals develop character through challenge and self-discovery.

For centuries the Chattooga River has been witness to thousands of events and host to many accolades. The river served as a major resource to the Cherokee Nation. It also provided the stage for Burt Reynolds’ daring paddle trip through the rural South in the 1972 classic, “Deliverance.” And in 2012, the river helped facilitate the most self-defining experience I have ever had.

I work for North Carolina Outward Bound School in sales and marketing. Therefore, my experience in the field is limited to visits to basecamps and personal excursions. When offered the opportunity to join a crew for a whitewater canoeing course, I could not pass it up.

The Chattooga was familiar to me. Last fall I was introduced to the river in a whitewater kayak. My confidence, however, was somewhat diminished by the fact that this time I would be running the river in a tandem canoe. Lining up a tandem canoe for a rapid is a major feat compared to lining up a kayak. Clear and assertive communication is needed to be successful, and rolling a flipped tandem canoe into an upright position is like trying to hit a baseball with your eyes closed.

Together, my co-paddler and I covered 20 miles in three days. Through this Outward Bound experience I was challenged, pushed, snapped and reeled back in. We dealt with copperheads, lightening storms, communication barriers, wet sandwiches and a heap of challenging rapids, but in the end we arrived at our desired take-out location in one piece. The experience on the river left a major footprint on my heart and mind.

The Chattooga, declared a National Wild and Scenic river in 1974, is an amazing wilderness playground. There isn’t any development in sight. Paddling the river provides a sense of liberation. You might see the occasional fisherman or fellow boater, but overall the river is solely yours as you navigate its waters.

Whitewater canoeing is like taming a mustang. It takes patience, ease, determination, grit and a lot of luck. The positive impact whitewater boating can have is immeasurable, and the Chattooga offers boaters a memorable adventure and the opportunity to push their limits.

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