By Kurt Michael
Near the community of Snowden, Virginia, deep within the Blue Ridge Mountains, a road crosses over the James River. Alongside the roadway, the CSX railroad tracks run parallel to the river and then traverse the James on their way south to Lynchburg. See Map.A few thousand feet from the Route 501 bridge is where the Appalachian Trail foot bridge crosses the James River high above the waters of the Cushaw Dam reservoir. At this place is the convergence of four modes of transportation: truck, train, foot, and stand up paddle board (SUP).
I began my journey on a warm October day by paddling through a public access culvert under Route 501 to the river. Because of the low clearance, my stand up paddle board quickly became a sit-down paddle board until I reached the river.
Downstream was the Virginia Power electrical plant and the Route 501 bridge, but I turned my paddle board upstream in search of rapids a little over one-and-a-half miles away.
I floated under the railroad bridge and then the foot bridge.
The Blue Ridge Mountains stood tall next to the river, dwarfing the cars, trucks, and trains that would occasionally rumble past.
I set my sights on the large rocks in the distance that were peeking out of the water and continued to paddle in their direction.
My paddle board glided past white washed rocks, their rough edges smoothed by the mighty James.
Beyond the rocks was an island and, beyond the island, rapids.
As I passed the island, the water became turbulent. I pushed forward fighting the fast-moving current.
Reaching the rapids, I paddled to the tree-lined river bank where I took a brief rest and grabbed a quick drink from my water bottle while looking out over the mountains and enjoying autumn’s colors.
Turning my board toward the river, I headed back into the rapids where I splashed around in the turbulent waters, paddling just hard enough to keep my paddle board in stationary motion.
Finally, after a couple hours, I headed back down river, racing a train along the way.
In the distance was an old wooden bridge lodged between the rocks. I speculated on its demise; had some by-gone flood knocked the bridge decking from its pillars, tossing it to a wet and stony grave?
In the distance was the foot bridge, the train bridge, and beyond that the dam and Route 501 bridge.
Then back to the low clearance culvert where my journey began, safely back at the boat ramp. It had been the perfect, sunny day for paddle boarding on the James River in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Read more SUP adventures from Kurt Michael:
– Lake Anna (October 2014)
– Rivanna River Reservoir, Charlottesville – September 2014
– Beaver Creek Reservoir, Charlottesville – September 2014
– Sherando Lake near Waynesboro – September 2014
– York River, Yorktown – July 2014
More about SUP:
– Surf Blue Ridge
– Blue Ridge Outdoors
Photos by Kurt Michael