Outdoors: Wet, white and wild

In summer, kayakers Leland and Andria Davis like to load their van with gear, bedding, food, water and beer before embarking on a cross-country hunt for the most exciting white water.

Where the white-water runs: Let Leland and Andria Davis be your gypsy guides to white-water kayaking in North America.

But somewhere in the course of their travels, inspiration struck: Wouldn't it be great if there were a guidebook for all of this? That dangerously simple idea had them paddling rivers in eastern Canada, Southwestern British Columbia, the northern Rockies, the California Sierra Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, the Middle Atlantic States, eastern Mexico and, of course, throughout the Southeast en route to producing their latest book, The River Gypsies' Guide to North America. Charting weather conditions, mapping local campsites and noting where to find a shower at the end of the day, the couple aims to be your guide through "nine of the continent's hottest paddling destination regions."

Produced by Brushy Mountain Publishing, their Swannanoa-based business, the book is packed with information and inspiring — often terrifying — photos that will make you want to quit your day job and hit the water.

Leland, a fixture in the local kayaking community, co-founded the famed Green River Narrows Race, which he organized for seven years. Roaring through Polk and Henderson counties, the daunting event has garnered national attention while luring the paddling elite to tackle a grueling series of class 5 rapids.

Here's what these gypsies had to say for themselves:

Mountain Xpress: How did you start kayaking, and why do you love this sport?
I got started through raft guiding; it was very challenging and fun. I love being outside on the cool river all day, every day. Since then, I've dedicated myself to being on a river for the rest of my life.
Leland: I got into paddling in summer camp and paddled in the outdoors program at my high school. I stuck with it because I love the outdoors and the water. It's an incredible medium to travel on.

What was the biggest challenge in being on the road so long while researching your book?
Finding a place to go to the bathroom.
Leland: As far as the book is concerned, our main challenge was timing. Everywhere we went, we were trying to catch the rivers at the right water levels while finding people to go out there with. Sometimes we would drive a ridiculous distance and find that the water level at the river just wasn't right.

How did you find the rivers that you wanted to feature in the book?
We used guidebooks for the region and heard about them through kayakers in the community, through word of mouth really. We had to find the local paddlers and grill them for information. We talked to a lot of the local people, who really knew what they were talking about.

This is a dangerous sport. Do you have white-water wounds?
Is this an article or a book?
Andria: We always come home with bruises. You're more likely to get killed getting in your car to go to work than kayaking on a river, so you may as well have fun!
Leland: We've both dislocated our shoulders; I have separated shoulders; we've had back injuries. Surely we've both had concussions.

Do you have any advice for female boaters?
Don't give up! It's a difficult sport to learn, but that's also the beauty of it. It makes you face things in yourself that you otherwise wouldn't have to face. It's good to carry through and find people to support you throughout the process.

Do you have any advice for the novice kayaker?
Start with good instruction from the beginning. If you want to progress, you need proper instruction at the start: That will really help later on. There are two great places around here that I would recommend: Green River Adventures in Saluda or the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which is one of the oldest and best instruction outfits.

What makes the rivers in Western North Carolina unique?
They are warm. And compared with others in North America (not including Mexico), they're more jungly and thick with vegetation. It feels like you're paddling in a South American rain forest. Most places in the country, there are more evergreen and dry forests surrounding the river.
Leland: Here is unique also in that it has a long season. It's really one of the only places on the continent where you can really paddle all year round. That's why we chose to live here and travel everywhere else.

The Davises will be touring North America this summer to promote their book. For more information about The River Gypsies' Guide to North America, check out http://RiverGypsies.com.

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at asezakblatt@mountainx.com.

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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