Posts Tagged ‘George McCurrach’

Dusk vs. dawn on the James

Dusk vs. dawn. Vibrant colors and distinct features on one hand and shadows and blinding sunlight on the other. 

I had the pleasure of two distinctly different points of view over the same James River water course — from Pony Pasture Rapids down to Reedy Creek. One late in the evening and the other just after dawn, with both trips offering challenges and appealing features.

The physical aspects and timing of the two were the same. The visuals, however, were extremely different and each trip had their own flavor.

James River Railway Bridge at duskFor the evening trip, my brother-in-law, Mark Pruett, and I left from Pony Pasture at around 7:30 p.m. The sun was already setting, and immediately we knew it would be a good run. I had never paddled the James that late in the day and was amazed by the colors brought out by the angle of the sun, which is behind you as you head east down river. The trees, rocks, bridges were so distinctive and colorful. It was beautiful.

I’ve provided a shot of the James River Railway Bridge (also known as the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Bridge or Belt Line Bridge) to show the coloring at that time of day — around 8:10 p.m. with sundown at around 8:40 p.m.

James River Railway Bridge at dawnFor the morning run, my friend George McCurrach and I put in at 6:30 a.m., before I had to go to work. The sun was rising in front of us and was at times blinding.  Obviously the colors were dimmed or lost in shadows. The temperature that morning was already near 80 degrees so there was no morning mist or fog to give the river any eerie appearances.

The James River Railway Bridge was again a feature, but very different colors were on display in the morning. This photo was taken at around 7:10 a.m. and the sun came up at around 6 a.m.

For better photographic opportunities and the fact that I wasn’t blinded, I’d choose an evening run. A morning run sets the day up nicely and gives me the rest of the day to work and live life (despite the sleep deprivation).  

It is still a toss-up, though in general I prefer paddling in the morning — watching nature wake up is generally more exciting than shutting down for the night.

In either case, the sun’s low position in the sky caused a lot of glare on the water, hiding many large boulders lurking just inches below the glassy surface.  We bumped plenty of unseen rocks on both trips.

Camping on the James River during fireworksOne great thing about our morning run was that it was the morning after Independence Day and we saw several camps on the islands east of the James River Railway Bridge — the ideal location to watch fireworks and experience the outdoors.

It wasn’t ideal in 2006, when at least a dozen people gathered on the rocks on the river near the Boulevard Bridge were attacked and robbed by a group of teenagers with rocks and bats during the July 4th fireworks at Dogwood Dell. That smirch or our city has made many people cautious about being on the river during fireworks. It was great to see these folks there and I’m sure they had the best seat for the Dogwood Dell show.

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Waking up on the South Anna river

My friend George McCurrach and I had been talking up taking a quick run down the South Anna for a couple of years, and we finally matched up our schedules and got it done. Of course, we picked getting on the river at 6 a.m., but it was worth the sleep loss.

Most of my river kayaking experience has been on the James. When you start with one of the best, why go anywhere else?

One thing with that is losing the sense of adventure and discovering the unknown. A second is, you never know how good you have it if you don’t find something to compare it to every now and then (this does not apply to relationships, married people).

Pitch black at Route 33 takeout on the South Anna RiverWe put in at the Route 33 (Mountain Road) bridge in Hanover County after leaving a second car at the planned takeout on Greenwood Church Road. That’s about three miles, and plenty for two dads that expected to be busy with kids when we got off the river.

The river was at about three feet, which is probably average for the South Anna since it hadn’t rained in about a week [check river levels]. We paddled off at dawn, just as we started to differential the trees from the dark morning sky.

George McCurrach paddling the South Anna RiverThe South Anna cuts through rural western Hanover and thankfully in this stretch, there is little development on the river. The Federal Club and Farrington slept in silence on the hills above us. There was little sound other than birds, frogs and the rapids.

It was mostly calm flatwater, but we were surprised to find several quick rapids — although nothing higher than Class II. We found one worth portaging back up and doing again. I wasn’t looking to get soaked, but I like a river to provide a little challenge. In the three-mile stretch, we encountered a half dozen rapids and plenty of little sandy beachs and islands that created separate channels to explore.

The same strip of Petersburg granite that runs from Georgia to somewhere in the New England that makes the Falls of the James so fun creates some similar, smaller scale falls along the South Anna. The granite boulders were distinctly less white than on the James, something I noticed on the Appomattox River in Petersburg. They were also less smooth indicating the South Anna generates less power to erode the boulders. At least that’s my amateur analysis.

George McCurrach paddling the South Anna RiverThe problem on the South Anna would likely be if the water was up — the debris would likely be bad. There are plenty of strainers along the way too, as there were many downed trees and low-hanging branches. Plus, if you got into trouble, rescuers might have a tough time getting to you. Plan your trip wisely.

We saw no one on the river, and overall the trip took us about 2 1/2 hours on a cool and overcast spring morning. We mostly took our time, as George was scouting for camping grounds and I was constantly trying to take the perfect photo.

The best part of that peaceful trip was a chance to hang with George. We talked about the environment, getting outdoors, rain barrels, bugs, gardening, family life, what we’re good and bad at in life, the future. Things you’re supposed to ponder while waking up on a slow paddle.

We’ll hit the South Anna again sometime and maybe stretch it out to six miles down to the Route 54 takeout.

Beautiful falls along the South Anna River