By Chris Gragtmans

The sport of kayaking has given me so many incredible memories.  From the seat of my kayak, I have made lifetime friendships, seen stunning landscapes in five continents, and learned many lessons about life and business.  It’s tough to quantify and define which are my favorite, but I wanted to reflect on a few of those peak memories in this blog series.  

Although it’s an unlikely candidate for this list, the Ledges Park definitely deserves a place here. 

“The Ledges” is a class II rapid about 10 minutes outside of Asheville, NC, where I live.  It is a wide section of the French Broad River, and features many eddies, currents, and surf waves to hone skills.  The truly great thing about the Ledges is that it provides a training ground for every skill level.  

Chaco Athlete Haley Mills at the Ledges

Over the past 11 years, I have spent thousands of hours here; it is home base.  I paddle for about two hours at a time, and run drills, test new boats, push my cardiovascular ability, and prepare myself for the rigors of class V competition.  I have been here when it is snowing, I’ve hidden from violent lightning claps all around, and I’ve witnessed the spectacular sunshine and cascading leaves of autumn.  I can vividly picture the breath steaming out of my lungs in between 3 minute winter “attainments” reps, in which I charge upstream, skipping between eddies to paddle up the rapid and add resistance, and then rest as I float back downstream.

Resting in between laps.

My relationship with the Ledges is beautiful because unlike other forms of kayaking (where it is critical to have partners), I am almost always alone.  It is a peaceful, contemplative place for me, and the physical exertion and solitude have helped me to work out many things in my life, both positive and negative.  With only the sound of flowing water and my breath, I have silently reconciled broken relationships, pieced together a university degree, fabricated exciting business deals, and let go of interpersonal grudges.  There is something about being outside and active that gives the world clarity, and puts even the most daunting problems into perspective.  

The final aspect of the Ledges that makes it special is that it can be worked into any schedule.  It is close to town and a quick turnaround, meaning that it can be done as a dawn patrol, on lunch break, or in the evening.  It knows no time or agenda, and carries a different mood with every time of day and every season.

An evening session…

So this is why this place gets a spot on my Top 5 list.  It is not a single moment that I am speaking of here, but rather thousands of moments that collectively weave the fabric of my life, and that have helped turn me into the person I have become.  It is a place that calls up infinite memories in the blink of an eye, and this common thread reaches back through time to help me remember where I’ve been.

It seems only appropriate that I write this from the banks of this river.  Just like every time I come here, the cell phone is in the car, and it’s just me and the river.  I look forward to silently sharing many more experiences with this place in the future.  

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