Smooth moves

I had to seek therapy recently for an acute case of cabin fever. It comes annually about this time, but this most recent blast of winter really set me back. The crocuses came up, the crocuses came down. The thermometer went up, the thermometer went down. This is torture: Like the reptile, I can be warmed only by direct sunlight.

I am a junkie for actual Fahrenheit degrees — the more the better — but it’s the fix I get from warm-weather activities that really keeps me hooked.

“Go boating,” was the mid-March-blues prescription I got from one friend. Steve Thompson, an avid white-water enthusiast for 25 years, can’t say enough about the rejuvenating pleasure and sense of whole adventure imparted by flat-water boating. He reminded me what The Wind in the Willows’ Water Rat had to say about boating: “Nice? It’s the only thing. … Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Water Rat goes on to say, “Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular.”

“It gives you that peaceful, easy feeling,” says Thompson, who admits he’s addicted to the laid-back sport of tour-boating. He uses a sea kayak-type boat that’s not meant for the sea — these are boats made to go in a straight line, to poke back into quiet spots along lakeshores and riverbanks.

“You can actually hear the birds,” he exclaims. “It’s a great centering-type experience. It’s nonimpact, aerobic exercise, but it’s a sport that is more focused on the aesthetic than the extreme. It’s very Zen.”

Flat-water boating can also mean rafting and canoeing — perfect for families or those looking to slow down enough to actually enjoy the nature around them. Regional flat-water activities run the gamut and are offered by several companies. Southern Waterways, a local outfitter, runs trips on the French Broad River starting the first weekend in April. Three-and-a-half hour trips run five times a day, starting at Bent Creek and floating through Biltmore Estate property. Though these trips aren’t guide-assisted (a guide can be requested), Southern Waterways offers safety instruction and a chance to practice before each run. Each boater can choose her vehicle: canoe, raft or sit-on-top kayak.

“We offer sunset trips twice a week that are beautiful,” says Melanie Donnell of Southern Waterways. “If the weather works with us and the sky is right, you get a very different ambiance with the light of the sunset and a view of the Biltmore House.” Donnell adds, “You float at your leisure. And you can take a picnic and use our three-acre facility on the river.” Southern Waterways, on Amboy Road, offers a playground, volleyball court, horse-shoes and picnic tables. To reserve a boat or for more information, call (828) 232-1970.

Nantahala Outdoor Center, though most best known for its whitewater rafting trips, also offers various flat-water options, including overnight trips to 7,000-acre Lake Jocassee south of Asheville. This trip includes a stroke clinic and a session on how to pack your boat, with the main goal being a good time.

The Asheville store, located in Westgate Plaza, sponsors flat-water boating clinics in May and a touring-boat symposium in June. (Call 232-0110 for more information.) But coming up sooner than that is NOC’s Spring Splash. Held in the Nantahala Gorge April 6-8, the event features all manner of boating fun, including a series of one-day free classes where you can work on your canoeing or kayaking strokes and learn safety procedures and rescue methods. The Spring Splash also hosts an equipment marketplace, a manufacturers’ expo, the Spring Splash Rodeo (where experienced kayakers and canoeists perform the latest hot-doggin’ moves), slide shows of paddling adventures, and other activities for all skill levels. For directions to the gorge or for more information about the Spring Splash and NOC outfitting programs, call (800) 232-7238 or visit www.noc.com.

Western Carolina Paddlers Club is a nonprofit group whose goal is to get more people excited about boating. “We take people who don’t even have a boat and help them become boaters,” says club President Steve Heiselman. Membership gets you all kinds of boating benefits, including a chance to learn from the pros. The club plans trips for both beginners and more experienced folks. For a membership application or more information, call Heiselman at (828) 658-0684.

“Explore Biltmore Estate” is a new program starting this month in conjunction with the opening of the new Biltmore Estate Inn. Afternoon trips — about an hour-and-a-half long — include a guide-assisted raft trip through a placid stretch of the French Broad River near Biltmore Estate. Guide Craig Plocica says, “It is a beautiful stretch of water with lots of wildlife, blue heron, muskrat, deer and spectacular views of the Biltmore Estate.” The morning trip, “Float and Feast,” includes a preliminary trip through the estate’s garden, where participants pick fresh vegetables and herbs which then go to the chef of the estate’s Bistro restaurant. The raft trip is followed by lunch at the Bistro — starring the fruits of your labors. To make reservations, call (828) 277-2809.

And for even more suggestions of local flat-water opportunities, check out Betsy Mayers’ exhaustive book on the subject, Paddling Asheville: 28 Gently Exciting Regional River Trips. I know Water Rat would approve.

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