For anyone with an adventurer’s heart, or even a bad case of wanderlust, the ceaseless hum of an urban environment can sometimes become too much to handle. After my old ’89 Ford Bronco II, lovingly named Becky, decided she needed a new fuel pump in early June, I was forced to stay close to home. There are plenty of things to keep one busy in this town, but, after two months of confinement to the urban landscape, I needed an escape. No longer than two days after my beloved truck was repaired, I headed out with my friend Tim for a well-overdue adventure. We loaded Becky down with some whitewater boats, our mountain bikes, and all of the essentials to spend my birthday weekend in the woods.
Ocoee River bound, we jammed to some good tunes and talked over the river beta we could remember from our last run down. The Tanasi Trail System runs adjacent to the river, so we planned for two days of morning rides and afternoon paddling to cool off from the brutal August sun. The river was gushing from the dam when we arrived. We knew they had also released the dam above the Upper Ocoee, which runs at a solid Class III+/IV and includes the 1996 Olympic section used for the dual slalom event. Since neither one of us is too smooth in a boat, we opted to run the more familiar Middle Ocoee, which still boasts some stout rapids at Class III. But first, we hit the trail before the afternoon heat cranked up.
The trails that made up the Tanasi trial system are some of my favorite in Tennessee. Just west of the North Carolina border, the elevation kicks up quickly and makes for some punchy climbs and short, steep descents. Both of us were aboard our steel hardtails and felt great ripping through the rocky, rooty riverside terrain. We were able to burn about 8 miles of trail in just over an hour and a half. One of which included the Thunder Rock trail. This one-way spur was the most talked-about descent in the area. As we clipped in to head down, I was only able to get in two pedal strokes before a pin in my chain popped out, leaving me more than disappointed and a little worried that our plans for a ride the next day might be ruined. I decided to make the most of the trail ahead of me and kicked my bike scooter-style down the trail until I found enough momentum to carry me through the turns. I couldn’t help but dream that I was World Cup Downhill Champion Aaron Gwin on his famous chainless championship run from last season. I made my way down, clumsily kicking for extra speed when I had the chance and doing my best to lay off of the brakes. When I made it to the bottom, Tim and I both shared a laugh about my bum ride and coasted back to the car to gear up for our run down the river.
We ran into some old friends from our Wilderness First Responder class we had taken the year before, and decided to put on with them so we could try out some new lines. It didn’t take long for us to realize that this crew was way out of our league. All of them were instructors in some capacity at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and they could handle their boats. After we both took a crack at their lines, we decided we had better stay above water for the rest of the day and forget trying to keep up with those guys. From there on out it was smooth sailing. We cruised down the rest of the river, both making it to the other side of Tablesaw, the longest and most daunting rapid on the river.
Once we took off of the river, it was time for a hot meal and a few brews. We cruised up a dirt road until we found a spot that was tailor-made for a couple of hammocks and a campfire. We kept it simple when it came to dinner. There’s nothing better than fire-roasted brats to put some calories back in an empty stomach.
The next day dawned with that unmistakable smell of mountain air, and the certainty of an adventure to be had. We got in another two-hour ride (thanks to a quicklink in my chain) and one more push down the river. The sun shone bright in the Tennessee sky and we managed to keep our gear and our bodies intact this go ‘round. By the time we hit the final takeout, I was burned, sore, bruised, and happier than I had been in weeks. Sometimes it just takes a little escape and some good company to put the world right again.
Post by: Jake Lee