As my wife, Caitlin, and I hopped into the back of an inner tube-filled van at Bearwaters Brewery in Canton, we were instantly given the run-down.
“There’s only one rule back there,” said the driver, Charles Wells. “No making whoopie.”
Wells is the owner of the recently opened Pigeon River Outfitters, a Canton-based business that provides river-centric fun for anyone interested in such pastimes. It was 11 a.m. on a Saturday, and Wells was taking us to the spot along the Pigeon River where we were to begin our float.
“It’s about a two-hour journey,” he said. “River’s been up recently.”
His only word of advice: don’t go up on the shore until you’ve reached the park. Before that, it’s mostly private land. He discovered this after receiving a complaint from a resident about a group of floaters having an impromptu picnic on their property.
“It turned out they weren’t even my tubes,” said Wells. “But you get the idea.”
Wells is also the owner of Harvest of Cold Mountain, a Bethel produce stand that sells “local and fresh produce and meats and cheeses,” according to its website. He opened Pigeon River Outfitters in mid-June with the aim of providing a service that would “take the stress out of the day...that would remove the hustle and bustle from life for a while.”
I thought about this as Wells dropped us off, waved, and swung the van back onto the road. Yes, a little rest and relaxation: what better way to spend a July day in Western North Carolina? What better way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle?
The float, indeed, lived up to its five-star billing on Facebook. It’s not treacherous in the least, yet featured moments of mild exhilaration – which is, of course, all the exhilaration one needs during a breezy summer float. Wild thrills aren’t the objective here; this is not kayaking in the Grand Canyon.
The most “dangerous” moment of the afternoon occurred when my tube and I were temporarily marooned on a rock after traversing a minor rapid. I flailed pathetically, took stock of the situation, then gently pushed the tube back into the river’s flow.
The remainder of the float was spent discussing with Caitlin our ever-changing life plans, catching the tail-end (literally) of numerous fish jumping out of the water and attempting to coax damselflies into landing on our arms. She was much more successful in this endeavor than I was.
Before long, we were back at Bearwaters, in the shadow of the iconic paper mill. After seconds of reflection, I deduced that a brewery/restaurant is undeniably the best place one could possibly end a two-hour float. After all, who isn’t craving food and an alcoholic beverage after an afternoon on the water?
So we ordered a black bean burger from Pigeon River Grille (located inside Bearwaters) and a Stiff Paddle IPA, both of which were delicious. Then we enjoyed the summertime ambience on the brewery’s patio, known as The Flight Deck.
It would make sense for the story to end here, with a beer and a burger. Yet we had one more “b” word to check off the list before the day was done.
Fast forward an hour, and we’re strolling through a blackberry patch on The Ten Acre Garden, also located in Canton, totally in awe at the size of some of these black-and-purple produce monsters.
“That’s the biggest blackberry I’ve ever seen,” I said at least three times, meaning it each time.
The surroundings were gorgeous – the barns, the mountains, the fields – and it confirmed that, yes, Haywood County has so much to offer during the summertime.