Kayaking the Hiwassee River in a Shower Cap: A Sister’s Tale

Written By OutdoorAfro

Published on Apr 10, 2012

In March, Shelby Ward went kayaking with her hair-conscious younger sister and fashionista, Rosalyn in Tennessee. Here is their story.

Let me tell you a little bit about my sister. Rosalyn likes fashion. On many occasions, she has added trendy accessories to my wardrobe. Rosalyn also hates “bugs.” So, I was a little surprised when she said she wanted to go kayaking during her visit.

On a calm Tuesday morning, we drove from Knoxville to Reliance, Tennessee to kayak the Hiwassee River. We kayaked a 5.5-mile stretch of the river that runs 147-miles through the Cherokee National Forest.


The outfitter we went to gave us a warm welcome, along with  two oars and a two-person kayak.  “We’re not going to fall in the river,” I told myself, “but let’s leave the phones in the car… just in case.” Rosalyn even brought a shower cap—yes, a shower cap. “Why are you bringing a shower cap?” I asked. “Hey,” she retorted, “I just got my hair flat-ironed… it can’t get wet.”  Enough said. We were ready for the Hiwassee!

When we got to the dock, Rosalyn and I got into the kayak. The outfitter pushed our kayak into the water and we were off. We paddled through shallow waters of a few inches and deep waters over 60 feet. The most exciting thing was listening to the river; as we kayaked we could hear upcoming rushing riffles — and amazingly,  Rosalyn managed to keep her shower cap on as we crossed the riffles!
But when we were about 10 minutes away from our landing point, we came to a short waterfall. We tried to direct the kayak and paddle forward. But the force of the water was too great. As we went over the waterfall, we both went overboard.
After we fell in the water, our kayak turned over and our supplies flowed downstream. Many thoughts raced through my mind–“What just happened? — Where is Rosalyn? — God help me!”
Rosalyn was okay. She was in the river…with her shower cap still on! I kept asking her if she was okay. “I’m okay,” she said, “Just relax and stay calm.” As I treaded water, I could feel the weight of my wet khakis. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
The waterfall ended in a pool no more than 10 feet deep with large rocks on the river bottom. Rosalyn found a rock on the river bottom and stood on it. “Stand on the rock with me,” she said. I didn’t think I could make it, but Rosalyn with her shower cap encouraged me. I made it to the rock and we collected our thoughts. Finally, we managed to turn the kayak over, retrieve an oar, and make it to shore.

Our kayaking journey taught me some things: The Hiwassee River’s depth and power can humble the spirit, and my sister can be strong and courageous in times of trouble… even with a shower cap on.
Shelby Ward is an attorney passionate about conservation, and currently consults with the National Parks Conservation Association in Tennessee. Twitter @sw285