Kayaking the Clinch

Heed my advice. Never take your first kayak trip in a two-person kayak. We learned the hard way when Daniel and I took part in a kayak float down the Clinch River.

The excursion was guided by Clinch Valley Outfitters, based in Scott County, Virginia. We launched near Ft. Blackmore and ended at the swinging bridge at Slant. The trip took about three hours and the price was a good deal.

They had sent a pre-trip email detailing items we should bring. Sunscreen? Check. Waterproof bag with basic first aid supplies? Check. Insect repellent? Check. A change of clothes and towel? Check. On the drive down to the launch site, I chided Daniel for failing to bring his supplies. Men are more carefree than women when it comes to accoutrements.

The guides provided us with lifejackets, paddles, and kayaks before demonstrating kayaking techniques and reviewing safety instructions with us. When they began to assign kayaks to participants, I grew nervous. You see, I can’t swim. Then I heard the magic words: “We have a two-man kayak if anyone wants to try it.”

I talked Daniel into joining me in the two-seater and off the bank we went into the water. Here’s where the hard part started. How do two people who’ve never kayaked learn to paddle in unison so they don’t just turn in circles? It’s not easy! Daniel later shared with me that he considered just bopping me in the head with his paddle. Luckily he didn’t and after a few minutes we got the hang of it.

Kayaking the Clinch

We paddled a lot during the first part of the trip before we began to float gently down the river. The morning mist dissipated to reveal a bright yellow sun above us and meadows and farmland on either side of us. Iridescent damselflies skimmed the surface of the water. Other insects, unseen, offered a somnolent drone typical of high summer. I let me fingers trail through the cool water, fascinated by the bubbles and eddies of the river. This was more to my liking.

At one point we gathered around a little island and the guide told us about the biodiversity of the Clinch River. It contains around 35 species of freshwater mussels, more than any other river in the world. There are also many species of non-game fish and a great variety of sport fish. Unique plants, mammals and birds make their home along the Clinch River. We also learned about the Native Americans who lived in the Clinch Valley and settlers like Daniel Boone, who fished and hunted along the river.

The Clinch River, Scott County, Virginia

By the time we reached the swinging bridge at Slant, we were working fairly well to guide the kayak where it needed to be. With wide grins, the guides asked us if we were still speaking to each other. We were. As a matter of fact, we plan to float the Clinch River again.

In separate kayaks.

Neva Bryan is author of St. Peter’s Monsters and Sawmill Boys. This Wise County native is the education coordinator for `Round the Mountain.

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