Paddlers tour the Yadkin
Post staffers Mark Wineka and Paris Goodnight joined Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, his wife, Kathy, and four others on a leg Tuesday of Naujoks’ monthlong journey down the river — the second Tour de Yadkin.
ON THE YADKIN RIVER — This is a stretch of Yadkin River few paddlers take advantage of — and it’s their loss.
For 9.3 miles, between the U.S. 64 and N.C. 801 access areas, the river transports you through a foreign land.
Virtually no houses in sight. No cars. No piers. No motor boats. No cows ankle-deep in water paying little attention to you.
It’s a wide enough water highway for canoes and kayaks to glide 10 abreast and still leave plenty of room on either side.
But it also affords lazy turns and bends, granting solitude from the pack, if that’s what you desire.
Gentle whitewater pushes you through a couple of sections. Rock outcroppings sometimes form walls along the banks, or perfect seats and tables for a picnic. The hardest part is finding a sturdy plant, growing out of the rocks, to which you can tie your boat.
Trees do what trees do along a river: provide habitat, canopy and softness to the edges. Jugs tied to overhanging branches and bobbing in the water suggest civilization somewhere — someone trying to snag snapping turtles or catfish.
But you don’t see anyone, other than your friends on the water.
“This stretch blew me away last year,” Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said Tuesday.
It was his 17th day on the river this month.
In April, the “Tour de Yadkin” takes him the length of the Yadkin River, from the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir to its confluence with the Uwharrie River north of the South Carolina border. (From there to the Atlantic Ocean, it becomes the Pee Dee River.)
So far, more than 200 people have joined Naujoks on the various legs of the trip. He briefly considered canning the tour this year — the daily logistics make it difficult and time-consuming, and it takes him away from the daily battles he wages against polluters, government and, sometimes, both.
But a company sponsor, REI, stepped forward with funding help, and Naujoks knew his getting on the river — and getting others to join him — only helps build public awareness for the Yadkin.
And it’s a river — workhorse that it is — often overlooked by outdoor enthusiasts. Take a trip, such as this particular leg, and you come to appreciate that the Yadkin can be more than a lazy, Piedmont, cow-pasture river.
Naujoks says that for long stretches below Idols Dam, the river regains a mountain feel so prevalent in the less muddy waters closer to its headwaters.
“To me, it’s just as beautiful as the New,” he says.
Others on the trip Tuesday identified with what he was talking about.
Kathy Naujoks, Dean’s wife, is a graduate student whose Tuesday class was canceled, so she had a free day.
“I think it’s been just fabulous,”she said a couple hours into her Tuesday trip, which several in the group took past the N.C. 801 access and went on to Boone’s Cave.
The breeze kept the 80-degree temperature tolerable, though often it presented a headwind into which they had to paddle. But Kathy Naujoks wasn’t complaining. Spring rains kept the current moving nicely.
“You feel pretty isolated out here,” Kathy said.
Andy Watkin, an environmental engineer and teacher, has taken this semester off from AT&T, affording him time to play tennis, as always, and join Naujoks for a river leg or two in his kayak.
“He’s been having quite an impact,” Watkin said of Naujoks’ work as the first Yadkin riverkeeper. “He’s a dynamo.”
Chet Tomlinson works as a wood craftsman at Old Salem. He and other Old Salem friends used to paddle on the Yadkin every Wednesday afternoon — a tradition he would like to get going again.
Tomlinson grew up in South Carolina along the Pee Dee River.
“It always has been a kind of home to me,” he said of the river, and what he liked about Tuesday’s segment of the journey was that he could find places for solitude.
“It’s kind of an unappreciated resource,” Tomlinson added.
Before her retirement, Laura Phail directed a sales team for Sara Lee in Winston-Salem. “I enjoy being out in nature,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons I paddle.”
At a lunch break on tiered rocks, she offered others an energy snack of almonds and cranberries. Dean Naujoks took up Kevin Carle’s offer of a piece of Bojangles fried chicken.
Carle, who lives in Badin, operated a daycare center in Albemarle for 41 years before retiring. “Now I get to go on the river — on a Tuesday,” he boasted.
Dean Naujoks said it has been amazing, as his trip has progressed, to see the changes along the river as spring has come full bloom.
“To see the whole river come alive like that,” when two weeks ago he and Kathy were camping out and waking up to frost-covered mornings.
Naujoks, who kept a daily journal last year, has been writing weekly updates this go-round of what he’s seeing and who he’s meeting.
The trip confirms once again that the Yadkin has its warts. But they’re far outweighed by its beauty.
During their break on the rocks for lunch, Dean Naujoks and Watkin took flying leaps upstream into the cold water, then drifted back to the group with the current.
They could not help but smile. They felt like natives in this foreign land.
On Saturday, Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. will have an Easter egg hunt at Tamarac Marina off Bringle Ferry Road.
The Easter egg event will be held at 11 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. paddle from the marina to the Bringle Ferry Road portage on High Rock Lake, a distance of 4 miles.
Today, the Tour de Yadkin continues from Boone’s Cave to York Hill (9.5 miles). Those wishing to join this segment should bring their canoes or kayaks to the Boone’s Cave access at 10 a.m., the starting time for all trips.
Thursday, the tour will go from York Hill to Tamarac Marina (11 miles).
Sunday, the tour will be on Tuckertown Reservoir, going from Bringle Ferry Road to N.C. 49 (7 miles).
For other legs of the journey and more information, visit the website at www.yadkinriverkeeper.org.