E.coli and Embarrassment on the French Broad

When I moved down to Asheville, I told myself that I’d get a kayak. I pictured myself strapping it to the top of my car and doing evening paddles down the French Broad after work on gorgeous summer days. What I didn’t imagine was the amount of storage space I’d have in my apartment. I have two closets. One is entirely controlled by my washer, dryer, and recycling bin. The other is controlled by everything else and looks like something out of hoarders. I’d have to either perennially keep the kayak on top of my car or prop it up in a corner somewhere, and I don’t know if I want to be either of those guys.

I also didn’t end up kayaking at all last summer. I did paddleboard down the French Broad several times, though.

There are several river sport rental outfitters in Asheville. I went to French Broad Outfitters the first time I set out and, since I’m apparently a creature of habit, stuck with it on all subsequent trips. It’s $65.00 for a 6-mile paddle, which includes rentals and transportation. I find this a very reasonable price. There are two 6-mile options: the Biltmore float and the River Arts District.

The first time I went, I chose the River Arts paddle (and chose a SUP because that’s all they had left that day…and stuck with it the rest of the summer on account of being the aforementioned creature of habit).  A school bus took me from French Broad Outfitter’s River Arts District shop to their Hominy Creek outpost. The Hominy Creek outpost is primarily the reason I’ve stuck with French Broad outfitters. They have food, drinks, and music in the afternoons.  It’s the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable purchasing a PBR pounder for solo paddles. 

I did well for the first 3/4ths of my first trip. Longer than that, actually. I didn’t fall until I could physically see where I was supposed to get out of the river, but when I fell, I made it memorable. I went face first. I hit the front of the board with my chest and full body weight, sending the whole board up Titanic-style. 

I knocked the wind out of myself and lost my flip-flops, but aside from being soaked, it was a harmless fall. The worst part came once I was back on my righted board, just letting myself float to the exit point. There’d been a group of teenagers tubing to my left in the middle of the river. One of the teens paddled over and sincerely asked, “Sir, are you ok?” He thought he was being kind when he was really telling me that I’ve reached “Sir”-age.

I told my coworkers about my geriatric fall that Monday. They were mainly upset that I was swimming in the French Broad. They told me it was brimming with E.coli. I figured they were being hyperbolic.

They weren’t. 

I woke up the next day with my eye practically swollen shut. The nurse at the Urgent Care I went to said it was just a bacterial infection. She asked me if I wore contacts. She also asked if I’d been on the French Broad lately. I had. She said river water getting trapped under contacts sends quite a few people her way.

I just completed my first kayak of the year down the French Broad last week and am proud to report that I both stayed dry and out of any urgent cares.

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