Saturday, March 12, 2016

Rolling down the Verm. It's Spring!

Fun with selfies!

Midwest whitewater begins with the opening of the Vermilion River in Hastings Minnesota.  The last several weekends has been a paddling party with everyone knocking the dust off their boating.  This weekend the Kettle opened up which made for a split.  Most paddlers going north to follow the melt but a small group of us stayed local and played the Vermilion again.  The weather was perfect!  No wind.  Blue skies.  Water that is above the freezing temperature so you could go without gloves.   Most importantly, everything is still in and playable.  Dan Monskey and I met up at noon today.  Two other paddlers were in the parking lot and they were doing their own thing.  Bill Kabitz who I've known and paddled with forever showed up but his group was still awhile out.  So it was just Dan and I.  It was a social hour (closer to three hours) paddle.  Fun with the camera.  The locals were out and I know both of us were going to be on many peoples cameras.  Look at those fools on that cold river...kind cool eh?
  So there wasn't any gnar to report.  One roll that I heard of by one of the other groups.  Too many smiles to count. Plenty of fun play to be had!  Here is a video of Dan tearing up Donut Hole. Wildman!  This joy sums up the entire day! Click here -->  Dan on Donut

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Home on the Change.


   It'll change your life they say.  Try it.  It really will change your life. Whoa!  Wait! Woman! What are you talking about?  What am I talking about?  Change.  No matter how hard we try to stay the same the fact is, every day brings change. Every perspective an option to grow. For some people change is horrible.  Impossible!  Even though it will happen without their consent.  Change is a natural force that cannot be stopped.  But it can be directed.  It can be herded. Sometimes as loose as herding cats but the direction is determined. Change is what I look for in my students as a whitewater instructor.
  One of the biggest fears for many women when they first start whitewater kayaking is just the fear of changing.  It's a new perspective clashing with what your life was before you picked up a paddle. Where will this lead me?  Will I have to change my self perspective?  "I'm a little shy."  "I'm too old or too young."   "I'm not that brave."   I'm really just a mother/grandmother type."  All these are just tools that your mind uses to herd you in a determined direction.  I think I am, well then, so you'll be.  I like to break those paradigms.  Kind of how I like breaking glass.  Or popping bubble wrap. Pop!  It's gone.
   I've taught and mentored many women and they never cease to amaze me.  A few come out of the gate a length ahead of the pack and charging.  Most take it moderate, middle of the pack.  And some lag behind but are still running.  Those women at the back of the pack are the ones I've learned are some of the most precious jewels on the river.  These are three examples of how they cope with change.
  The back of the pack ladies.  They are back there usually due to a physical or mental issue.  A fear of being underwater.  Injury.  Maybe just the years have taken their toll.  Change is a scary thing for them.  The body can and will hurt when pushed to new limits.  Learning to make the change slower actually makes them pay attention to the basics.  Paying attention to what is happening with their bodies.  There are times I have seen a person with a physical limitation and adapted my instruction to get the best possible movement for them.  These are the ones who never quit trying and they celebrate the small gains.  The moment their eyes light up when they understand a connection to a stroke is priceless.  These ladies work hard to change.  It doesn't come easy for them, or for you, as the direction that they have been on before this is usually the opposite direction that you as a whitewater instructor want to herd them.  The change is a 180 degrees.  Quite an accomplishment Ladies!
   The middle of the pack ladies are what most of us start as.  We have health and attitude.  Not too many preconceived ideas.  We don't mind change, but....oh yes there is that but.  Women like to understand before jumping into the gnar just what is going to happen and just what they are expected to do.  They learn the basics and appreciate the changes they feel happening.  For them change is good and fun as long as there is full understanding of the metamorphosis.  They are like a beautiful day on the river.
  Now those filly's that took the bit in their teeth and are running full speed down the race track of change, well they just don't have any reservations about change.  They welcome the new transformation like an addicting drug. Show me more! Totally hooked on life, curious and impatient for every new skill you teach them.  They HAVE to see what's around the next bend...every time!  Change to them is a flow that they've fully committed to.  These are the ladies who have wisely stopped resisting change.  Their learning curve is sharp and the rewards come fast.  I love this mind set!  I try to keep this as my mantra not only in paddling but in everything in life.
   Change is flow. Slow or fast. As long as you are moving you are changing who you are and what you can achieve.  The value of change is equal.  Big or small, the self appreciation is the same.  The only difference is the length of time.  Every woman can become a competent whitewater paddler. You will not be the same woman today that you were yesterday. You can only control the direction of the change today.  I wonder what you will achieve. I bet it will be beautiful.  See you on the river Ladies!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Two and a half weeks of vacation!  My destination is west...somewhere.  I don't care much for schedules or agendas. This trip is all about finding where the universe takes me.  When you give in to trusting  God and the Universe amazing opportunities happen!  Believe it!   I loaded my car with a bike, playboat , and creek boat. I included my rock wrapping materials for my quiet times.  My first fun stop was Bozeman.  Special to me because I bought my Occoee canoe there.  I asked a local for a good mountain bike trail and was directed to Sypes Canyon.    A beautiful trail!   Then I drove on to Missoula and spent the night in a wayside.  The next day I did Blue Mountain on my bike.  Again the scenery was amazing!  That night the Northern Lights were predicted to be at storm level.  If they were out I wanted to see them in a great spot.

  The Lolo Pass has always been special to me.  Back in 1966 our family was taking a trip back to Wisconsin.  The Lolo at that time was a winding two lane road through the Idaho and Montana wilderness.  I remember as a child how beautiful the Lochsa River was.  I couldn't get enough of watching it from the car.  We stopped to explore and my sister was ahead of me on a path and she came running down in a panic saying there was a bear!!  We left!

   We drove on and just before the top of the pass our new car blew the engine!  I remember being towed to Missoula and having to stay in a old motel for a week while the car receive a new engine.  The only thing I recall from that stay, other than burnt pot pies for dinner every night was the movie we went to see.  Run Appaloosa Run!  That movie literally changed the direction of our entire family.  Upon returning home to Oregon, we purchased an Appaloosa mare and colt.  It was only the beginning of many we would own.  Lolo will always be very special to me.

  My plan upon leaving Missoula was to drive to the wayside at the top of the Lolo Pass and wait and see if the lights were visible.  Another wonderful thing was the Wifi I could access right from my car at the rest area.  Reports were coming in from Wisconsin and I was excitedly waiting.  Usually I seem to scare them off.  Then the street lights came on...dang!  I knew there was one of those gravel roads across the way that went up and into no man's land.  I started driving my car up for a good northern view.  The road became very steep and narrow, read that as scary, so I backed it down to a safer spot and waited.

  Then my mind went to work.  "No one in the world knows you are up here by yourself."  "This IS grizzly territory."  "You do have food in this car including the honey you used in the Off Road bars."    So I waited.  Then all of a sudden pillars appeared huge across the sky.  Then it faded to a soft green that would send pulses racing overhead.  I felt like the luckiest girl in the world up there watching my own personal show!!    I watched until I couldn't stay awake any longer.  I tried to go to sleep but the mind kept sending me a mind movie of me waking up with my face against my window and a grizzly face pressed up on the outside.  I gave it up and went back to the wayside.  On the drive down it was much more steep than I remember. Ooops!  I saw no bears that night.  I haven't seen one yet this trip.  I will admit I am afraid of grizzly bears.  Black bears I'm ok with. I would say I'm normal.

   I now have followed the impulse to make my next destination Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade Idaho.  I have it in my mind to see if I can get my groove back on in playboating.  I came in late in the evening and walked out to watch the few boaters left on the river.  To my surprise I heard some one say "Hi Nora!"  Aaron and Jim from Team Papst were there!  So good to see someone I knew from my home area.  Then I saw Clay!  I hadn't seen him since Chile.   I ended up staying with Jim and Aaron in the parking lot and while early the next morning I was sitting on the stairs with Aaron I heard "Hi Nora" again!  Amy E!!  She came up from Boise.  Such a wonderful day today.  Catching up with Amy and just hanging out.  Could it get any better?  Yep!  It did.  I took some advice and paid for a tent site right next to the park at a local motel.  The energy at the Birch Glen motel was so great I was thinking of staying another night.  I was also considering the cost as this needed to be a cheap trip.  The lady who runs the motel came over to chat and I gave her the heads up that I was probably going to stay another night.  She said the next night was on her!   There are few times when in life you know you are exactly where God and the Universe want you to be.  This is one of them.  Although I am doing a solo trip I am not traveling alone by any means.  The sun is setting in a twilight blue sky with salmon pink clouds catching the last rays of the sun.  I'm sitting here writing this blog post and thinking...tomorrow is going to be fine. So grateful for life.

June 28, 2015
  The last two days have been wonderful in every way.  I left the town of Cascade Idaho early with my intended destination being Tamarack Mountain.  It's a ski resort, downhill mountain biking and zip line wonderland of fun. So the website says.  What I found was a ghost town.  Condos half built and left. No-one around. I asked some people who were setting up an archery competition and they said something about it being bankrupt and opening again after the fourth.  They recommended going to Brundage Mountain.  So onward I went.  They day getting on.  After a trip through the Payette Forrest by accident I found the resort.  I saw they had an event going on.  I walked up to the sign in table and asked how much for a lift ticket.  They were doing an event for the food shelf and admittance was canned goods or a dollar donation!  I was flabbergasted!  I had two bucks cash and donated them both.

   Next up. With my ankle still injured, I can't clip out of my egg beaters very well.  The bike mechanics changed my pedals for free.  I packed my knapsack with what I thought I'd need for the day and went to the lift.  Scott, the lifty, explained how it goes to ride the lift with a bike.  Very simple and easy. This was also my first time riding a mountain lift. Woo! That's high up there.  At the top the view was beyond words.  More mountains and lakes in the valley.  They also had bike patrols that just hang out and talk to people.  They recommended Elk trail for me.  Seven beautiful miles of just about everything.  This trail let you experience all the beauty the mountain had to offer.  The profusion of wildflowers was more than I've ever seen.  Every color and type.  Natures beauty is beyond compare!  But always stop your bike to look. In fact I recommend stopping to look at everything. You will need full concentration for the trail as you never seem to slow down.

  This is my first time doing this kind of downhill riding.  I know I used up a bit of my brakes on my first few runs.  The trail starts on the top of the mountain. Dead trees sculpted by nature into works of art.  Wildflowers everywhere. Rocks and packed dirt with occasional sand.  Then you hit the field of yellow daisy like flowers.  So many personalities of this trail to explain.  I'll try to do my best. Then you come into some trees. A bit of technical downhill through rock and dust. You'll cross a tiny stream several times on your descent.  My favorite stream crossing was the high berm to bridge to uphill mound and then a portion of really fast single track through the pines. The steam flowed over rocks in a special petite waterfall.  You'll also pass through pristine mountain meadows. Then at the very bottom the trail takes a tight hairpin turn in deep dusty dirty and you are back on the lawn of the lodge but the fun isn't over yet.  The lawn spreads down around ponds in a stair step manner just perfect for multiple small jumps.  I got the idea watching a hotshot young man fly down them.  What a great finish.

   Over the two days I was there I did Elk Trail nine times.  I gave Growler trail a try but it didn't overall have the fun factor of Elk.  But there were some really great sections on it.  They have cut a new start to this trail so you aren't following the gravel road down and that new section will be open next year.  I did this trail once.

   I have always been in love with my bike.  It's perfect for me in everyway.  These two days I was able to really let the bike do what it was built to do.  Each run got faster.  The second day I rented some knee and shin guards.  Funny how good protection makes you more confident.  The second day I was flying.  First one on the lifts in the morning and I was able to get six runs in.  Each run going faster.  The fourth run I timed.  33 minutes!  I shared it with Scott and we  timed the fifth run at 30 minutes!   I know I flew on that run!  But it was a long hot day.  I'd taken only one lunch break and only ate a tiny bit of my salad.  I knew there were a couple of mistakes that I'd made which told me the end of my ability was near.  I did my second run leisurely.  Stopping at my favorite views to take a photo or just breathe in the energy of the immense landscape. I came to the bottom and was looking forward to putting in everything on the last lawn jumps.  I wiped out on the hairpin turn just feet from the start of the lawn.  No damage done but since it was powdered deep dirt I was covered in it!.  I righted my bike and hit the jumps.  I dropped down to my car and grabbed a couple of NA beers.  My lifty enjoyed his the day before so I tipped him another.  I was back at the lift just minutes before they shut down.  I decided to take the scenic tour.  I drank my beer as I rode up to the top looking at the place I'd just spent two days and 68 miles getting to know.  I think I had met most of the crew that worked there from the store to the restaurant to the liftys and patrols. I think they only hire the most wonderful people in the world.  They were all great and it was very, very hard to leave.  I could live at a place like that.  It felt like home.

  I left the mountain with Bend, Oregon programmed in my GPS.  I drove until I could drive no more and slept in Burns, OR.  I made the drive to Bend and decided on a rest easy day.  Plus everything I have is dirty.  Laundromat first where people sit with their beer and wine while their clothes get washed.  Car wash second and now just writing my blog at Starbucks in the air conditioning.  Very hot outside.  I'm going down to the Gear Store to see what kind of deals they have.   I still have over a week of vacation left.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Seriously Dude!

Rapids Riders:    Seriously Dude!  Careful of that shit.  It's more addicting than crack.  I'm warning you right now.  Your life will change so rapidly you won't know what hit you.  You'll immediately have 30 or 40 new friends all with the same addiction in varying degrees.  You'll never be the same.  You'll be a boater.  Kayaker or Canoeist, whitewater will be your new drug.


Newb:    How???  Really!  How does this happen??  Nothing can be that life changing that fast.  I think you're full of it.  What ever "it" is.

Rapids Riders:    Canoe U, you see.  There is nothing like it.  Anywhere. And it's right here in Minnesota!  A non profit (unlike other addictions) organization that just wants to teach you how to run whitewater.  We're cool.  Low key.  A day at the pool first.  Then a weekend out at St Croix State Park in some rustic cabins.  Good food.   Fireplaces.  Learning to J-lean and stuff on beautiful spring rivers.  Wildflowers blooming. Spring breezes.  Eagles...maybe an otter.  Camaraderie that you never want to end.  You leave the first weekend looking back at a whirlwind of fun and learning.  Then you have two weeks to practice before we take you out for another weekend of rivers, campfires, food and really becoming a changeling. From what you are now to whitewater boater.  That's it really.  From there all the rivers in the world open up to you.  Places before denied to land lovers are now rivers of challenge and wonder filled with all your new friends.  It's a bit overwhelming to have that much fun but so far there doesn't seem to be an overdose level.

Newb:    I suppose I have to be young and look like those dudes in the videos.   Hucking 100 foot waterfalls.

Rapids Riders:    Nope!  There are all levels of paddling.  Something for everyone of any age.  We have Grandmas that are paddling!  And we have some people out there hucking those huge falls!

Newb:    Yeah...but there has to be a catch.  Why would all those people do instruction and cooking and organizing all for nothing. This sounds fishy.  What's in it for you??

Rapids Riders:    We do have uses for the money we take in.  We give it back to the rivers in donations.  Wausau Whitewater Park.  The Vermillion River Clean Up.  We have winter pool session every Sunday and we make sure our instructors are up to date with the best knowledge and certifications.  Oh and we have a Christmas Party.  We can't forget to party!

Newb:    OK how much does it cost.  This has got to be crazy expensive.  Those outfitter places ask about a thousand bucks or more for 5 days of instruction.

Rapids Riders:    We charge $270.00.  Here's a link if you want more information.  Canoe U Information

Newb:     DUUUUDE!!  I'm excited!  I'll take this course!  Oh wow!  It's starts May 3rd! 

Rapids Riders:    Yeah!  Get on it.  We have a few spots left. 

Disclaimer:  With life changing events such as these be prepared to buy a boat.  Then another boat and maybe even a third or fifth.  Buy a paddle.  Maybe a break down paddle too.  And maybe one for play.  Drysuits are the bomb. Color coordinate your helmets and PFD's.   Travel will be upper most in your mind.  Trip planning will become an obsession.  You'll learn a whole new language filled with boofs, carping, and many other new words that no one else will understand.  Wet dreams take on a whole new meaning.  You will learn to curse and/or love the weather with a passion.  And you will love every minute of it.

A little more information on learning to paddle Midwest Whitewater can be found here.

Rapids Riders is a non profit organization run by people who love to teach new people to paddle whitewater.  We do it because we love it!  It's that simple!  Come and join us on the rivers!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lester River Race!

Almost Always

As ancient as evolution, a shiver of excitement runs through the collective souls of a united tribe of men and women.  Not quite fully aware of the cause but knowing something is triggering the feeling of anticipation of something coming.   Instinct?  The sun, older than time, gracing us with a little more comfort each day?  The scent of the breeze?  It may be dead of winter in Minnesota, but spring is so close we can feel it with our souls.

Limbo Falls

  With the spring melt comes the thunderous power that is unique to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Creeking season arrives fast and furious. The tribe is alive.  Frantic to catch the fleeting world class whitewater before it's gone.  Each year it's a different personality but it all starts in one place. Duluth!  With the Lester River.  It is the beginning.

  Ryan Zimny had a vision a few years ago. The Lester river, in the city of Duluth, is the perfect venue for a class IV/V race.  This was no easy task to achieve.  It isn't dam controlled,  You get water when Mother Nature blesses you and only at the levels she determines.  The tribe, as malleable as the water we follow, adapts.  The race date is a guess.  Racers from all over the Midwest wait with their whole being  tuned to the weather.  Ryan makes the call.

 Race organizer, Ryan Zimny.

   The inaugural race was held in 2013.  The year before was the Great Flood of 2012.  Things had changed on the river.  The pinnacle of the race was to finish after running Almost Always.  A class V,  25 foot narrow waterfall aptly named because it is "almost always" portaged.  A handful of young world class boaters probed the falls to see if the changes were acceptable. It wasn't pretty. A little bloody. But no serious injuries.  Almost Always was taken out of the race and the finish was marked just before the falls.

Chris Baer successfully dropping Almost Always.

  The level was good and as friendly as an extreme whitewater race can be.  Spectators were able to line the banks all along the river due to the road and a wonderful  city trail system that follows the river.  The first race went smooth.  Volunteers and safety working together like a precision machine.  John McConville taking first place!  The Lester River Race was established.

Jackson Kayak's John McConville.  Two time winner of the Lester Race!

  The winter of 2014 was a very good year for snow.  It laid silently in the watersheds of the frozen creeks.  The promise of a spectacular creeking season.  The melt started like a Highlander kicking in the door on a tavern.  It arrived and we went to meet it.  Ryan had made the call and the race was on for the following weekend.  The week of the race the creeks were in a rage.   Mother Nature was a sassy lady demanding only the best from those who would try her creeks. Dealing out serious injuries to some who attempted to ride. Throwing a midweek snow storm at us like a snowball to the face. The Great Lady laid down her challenge!

Midweek scouting for water.

   Saturday race day came!  The water was raging.  This year four ladies considered running the race.  Myself one of them.  The other three were strong beautiful paddlers.  Young women who had never or rarely ran the Lester River before and that is required for the race.  The men, always happy to help the women,  put together a pre race run to introduce the ladies to the river.  All three ladies walked off before the end of the run and two of the men came away with dislocated shoulders. Naked Man Rapid was taking its due.  There was no doubt that this year was going to be epic.  Some soul searching was done by all the paddlers, men and women alike, and the race roster reduced.  Anticipation was high.

Danielle Magnuson dropping Limbo Falls in the pre race run.

  The second Lester River Race was fast! With all the pre race carnage the actual race went off good with just a couple of  DNF's and a few stitches.  Congratulations to Jackson Kayak's John McConville for taking first place again for the second year.  This year the river banks were lined with hundreds of spectators.  The race is firmly established as a rite of the Northwoods Spring.

Oh Shit Rapid just before the finish line.

   Three is the charm!  2015 is here.  The race is on every paddlers mind. The third Lester River Race!  Who will race this year?  Who will win?  The Midwest is a rapidly growing community of boaters with a history unique unto itself.  There is a consensual awareness that this race, the Lester River Race, is going to be a huge part in our destiny.  An epic novel with a different chapter written each year by all of us and edited by Mother Nature.  Will you be racing?  Can you adapt to brutally freezing water with occasional ice chunks?  Can you run the intro rapid and Limbo Falls? Are you brave enough to face Naked Man?  Mini Octopus? Oh God?  Oh Shit?  The conditions are far more brutal than other extreme whitewater races. This is the North Shore and it's not for everyone.  Is it for you?

 More information for the Lester River Race can be found here.

 The Lester River Race Facebook page is here.




Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wisps of Thoughts....

Day dreaming about emerald forests with unicorns and fairies. Gossamer lines of bubbling white and the muddled brown rhyme of an endless trace. Summer.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Years!

 It's January first, 2015,  An odd year but odd things are special.  Time to make resolutions...NO!    Not this year.  Maybe never again.  Resolutions may be good for some people.  Goal setting and achieving set goals, but why limit yourself?  Research shows that people in general underrate what they can accomplish. So most of us have no idea of exactly what we can accomplish.

  The last two years I haven't written in my blog.  Writing for me, was a passion.  It was an amazing last two years but also very rough. Shoulder injury.  A diabetes diagnosis by a Dr. who did nothing to treat me. I felt as low as can be.  Like being stuck in a whirlpool and pulled down while trying to swim to the top.  I would have to remind myself that with any serious injury or illness depression is a given.  Keep swimming to the top!  My mantra through life has always been.  If something happens to thwart your plans it's because God has something better for you if you just stop and look for what it is.  When you're down from injury and sickness it's a hard labor to find something that can kindle your passions again.  The longest living people have always stated the thing that kept them alive was having a purpose in life.  A passion.  I felt like most of my passions were dying a rapid death.  My shoulder held me back physically and the untreated diabetes depleted me of energy where it was hard for me to even carry my boat let alone have energy to paddle.  Darkness.  Passion is a light.

  I LOVE kayaking!  I LOVE canoeing!  I LOVE mountain biking!  I LOVE writing!  I LOVE teaching!  I love all the things I do.  But under the shadow of darkness it was very hard to celebrate in that love.  Still this last year I did some things that I always wanted to do, and they touched my passions like the predawn light. Like an old love remembered.  A whisper of the day to come.  This last year  I took a Swiftwater Instructor class.  For the second year in a row, I attended the Copper Harbor Ladies Mountain Bike Clinic,  I trained for my first Wolfman Triathalon  and finished!  Even though I fell at the end due to my leg seizing up with a cramp just a couple of hundred yards from the finish. I still finished.   But most importantly I was able to spend a week biking and hiking in Moab with my son!  Dawn is cracking.

   Passion is life. Weakness does not feed confidence. Life without confidence is darkness.

  2015!  Welcome!  There was no stopping your are here and I for one celebrate!  This last year was a work in progress. I found a great Dr. and she gave me the drugs I needed to control my diabetes.  Hello energy my old friend!  My weakened body has been regaining it's strength.  My "bad" shoulder is better than my "good" shoulder.  With health and strength retuning so is my confidence.  With my confidence coming back I can reach out and take my passions by the  hand and embrace them easily.  Finally released from the labor of just barely holding on to them. Horrified that this was old age and my ability was gone with the dust of passing time.  There are many special people in my life that probably don't even know how much they have helped me. For that I am very, very grateful.

  I won't set goals or resolutions or anything that constricts my cerebral awareness of  life.  My spirit is an enduring being. Energy that cannot be destroyed. Only contained by the limits we impose in our busy world of mores.   How many times does one hear "you can't"?  Even in your own mind!!!  We are the ones that tell ourselves this!  Release the Sprite!  The Pixie,  Release the Enchanter of your life   It's a curious being with passions. It is the undiluted essence of you!   Word!   My spirit craves to follow the flow of the river and trail. To create and teach.  To love.  To share.  This is where 2015 will take me, with passion, with confidence, with friends and family.  Step by step. Warmed by the light.  Endless!




Monday, September 10, 2012

The Dirty Dozen! The Rapids Riders Vermillion River Clean Up!

Twelve years!!  Twelve down and dirty years! 1.2 decades of hard work cleaning trash out of the Vermillion River. Over those 12 years, hundreds of caring and concerned whitewater paddlers have spent one day out of their year showing our favorite run some much needed love.  Has it been worth it?   Well in those 12 years we have removed close to 20,000 lbs of debris!  All of it manually brought up those high cliffs by people who care!   THAT is a GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT!!

  The Verm, as it is fondly called, is an urban run in Hastings, MN.  A half  mile canyon of great play and fun surrounded by a natural park.  It's about friends.  It also has a reputation, a darker side.  Over the years there have been murders, rapes, drugs, assaults, guns, nudity and lots of sex of every variety. It's a home to the homeless and a refuge for the troubled.    Anyone who paddles the Verm will collect bizarre stories of what they saw.  When you have a place of extreme bad you'll find a balance of life in the extreme good to be found  there.  We silently watched a marriage proposal at the top of the falls and cheered when she said yes.  It is a popular place for weddings.  The joy that it brings us paddlers!  Dog walkers, family outings, photography setting, bike paths and a place to find serenity.   We all love the Verm in many ways!

  The river in the past has been used as an industrial dumping ground.  The river left cliff had tons of scrap iron that was thrown over the banks many years ago and left to rust.  Each year we have brought up some.  It would be impossible to bring it all up at once, but over the 12 years we have been picking away at it, it is nearly gone!  This year the scrap iron was the very least we have ever brought up.

  Bicycles!  In the past years the bike count was between 20 to 30 bikes!  All pulled from the water.  Each one a deadly hazard to whitewater paddlers and swimmers.  The last few years the bike count has diminished.  This year it was two!  We have not only made a difference in the amount of resident trash but we have been changing the locals attitudes toward the river.  They are keeping it cleaner!

  Each year there is always that OMG you found that moment.  The strange things that have turned up over the years.  We pulled a motorcycle out, a truck gas tank, hundreds and hundreds of pint bottles, light posts that had lined the bike path and the kids had torn down and thrown in the river, the list is huge.

  Along with cleaning the park we do trail maintenance.  It is a class 5 trail down the cliffs and during the spring run off , treacherous with ice.  David Conrad has really taken ownership of the trails.  Bringing his tools and chainsaws, he's organized a group that just clears the trails of downed trees and repairing the mud slides.  Everyone that comes will have "their" favorite place to clean.  
  This year marked a huge turning point.  The amount of annual garbage was noticeably down.  The perennial scrap iron almost  completely removed.  The actual trash and bikes in the river is reduced to nothing visible.    Twelve years of down and dirty has resulted in a beautiful park and a safer river.  If we hadn't done it can you imagine what the river would have looked like now.  Hundreds of bikes tangled in her beautiful turns.  Glass and trash everywhere.  This is something we can take pride in and continue to work together to protect and love this river.  Karma in, Karma out.  Ya gotta "love da Verm".  Thanks to everyone who helped this year!  And a very big thanks to our sponsors.  Midwest Mountaineering, ,  Shred Ready,   WRSI Safety, Hoigaards, Kokatat,  Werner Paddles, Seals Spray Skirts,  Aqua Bound,   3M, and a special thanks to Tom Lewanski for the talk about the Friends of the Mississippi  and for the continued support of our efforts. This year we also had a personal donation to the swag door prizes.  Tuck Benson donated an REI gift card!  Thank you to all our sponsors who donated to the very generous swag table!

Fabulous Door Prizes!

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Perfect Kettle River Paddle Festival!


In all the years that we've had the Kettle River Paddle Festival I would say this one was about perfect!  And of course with perfection come good times!

The put in was busy!

  The early season worries of low or no water were set aside by spring rains finally arriving the week before.  The river went high and then settled down to a perfect 1100cfs.  Perfect for play and surf yet not too intimidating for newer kayakers.  A fun for all level!
  The fun started on Friday evening.  This year it fell on May the with you!  Boaters started arriving late afternoon, some coming from as far away as Canada!  We all headed up to Banning State Park and put in and had a great late evening paddle.  Let the fest begin!

  Saturday morning (Happy Cinco de Mayo) Robinson Park, at the take out, was turning into a tent city.  Many paddlers from the Midwest were arriving and hitting the water.  Kayaks, canoes, rafts, and inflatables were all getting on the water.  Some for park and play others running the river.  Blueberry Slide was a very popular place with the best play to be had.  The surf waves were in perfect!   We had the whole day to play until the serious business of the race at 4pm.  The Kettle River Race has grown over the yeas and boaters have been investing in race kayaks just for this race alone.  Hot competition!
The start of the race!

The battle through Blueberry Slide.
   The race was on!  At exactly 4pm the first heat of aggressive racers tore off in a fierce battle for the lead line through Blueberry Slide.  Two minutes later the second heat followed and no less fierce.  The boats close together running through the rapids.  It's a long paddle to the finish with two long stretches of flat water.  Always a good feeling of accomplishment when you finish the race! Kyle from Duluth had the fastest boat.  I ran tandem with Danielle Magnuson taking first in tandem.

  The race was finished with just the perfect amount of time to run shuttle and change into dry clothes.  Everyone gathered at the Gaslight Bar for dinner, drinks and getting together with old friends and meeting new.  The music as always at the Gaslight was great!  Very talented musicians!                                                                     

Battling through Blueberry for the lead!
  Then came the drawing.  Top prize was donated by Jackson Kayak.  A beautiful Jackson Rockstar!  The swag table was loaded with prizes from incredible and generous  sponsors!  Gift bags were handed out and most everyone won something from the table!   Such a great time!

  We all started migrating back to the campsite.    This Saturday night held what was called a Supermoon.  Our hopes of seeing a full moon at the closest it comes to the earth were not realized yet the soft glow through the clouds let us know it was there indeed.  Lightning in the distance and we all hung out around the campfire watching as the storms approached.  Some of us ran for our tents when the rain came.  Some of us ran for the pavilion to continue partying through the night...and yes they were literally howling at the moon late into the night.
  The rain fell all night on our tents quitting just before dawn.  The river was rising and it looked like it would be another perfect day on the river with just more juice to play.  The rodeo was at noon on Teachers Pet.   I personally got to judge the event.  A first for me.  It was really great watching my friends and students try their best.  Brody Johnson brought it and took first place.  Graeme Bloor taking second and Josh Novachek third.  Ashley Knudsen taking first in the women's division.

  After the rodeo was over groups of boaters either carried back up to park and play or ran the whole river.  With the rain the night before Wolf Creek was running.  Wolf Creek is known for a gorgeous falls that is the first falls new kayakers run.  Several new boaters were able to do their first waterfall Sunday...they were so stoked! What a great end to a perfect weekend!  Thank you Tony Vavrika for all the hard work you put in for this event!!  We are looking forward to next years event!!    Photos from Amy Buchanan and Nora Whitmore.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Pin on the Stony River

Photo by Tony Vavrika

I've heard about the Stony River for many years now.  Anyone who has ever ran it has loved the river!  I've watched over and over a beautiful video taken by my friends a few years ago and have always wanted to run it.  This spring has been the most unusual for whitewater in Minnesota. Barely anything ran and what did run, ran at a medium/low to low level if it got up to runnable at all.  Most of the creeks didn't run at all.  The Stony River is fed by marshy wet lands so it doesn't flash like many of the creeks up here.  Through the magic of Facebook our artist friend Joi Electa hooked us up with another artist Heidi Pinkerton, who went out and looked at the gauge.  It was 1.3 and Dan said it was runnable at that level.  No hair boating Nora just low scrapy fun.  He had done it at .8 and said he was still able to make it down but not to expect much.  I told him all I wanted was an easy day on an easy river with good friends and a low level easy run was good for me.  Sunday was planned gnar day on the Lower St Louis.
The start of the run on the Stony River

Andy on the bottom of the first rapid

   The crew for the day ended up being Dan, Dave, Andy, Ken, Tony and I.  From the cities it was a 4 1/2 hour drive north...5 1/2 for me from home.  We made good time and put on just before noon.  The  River was a tad bit lower than the day before.  The first sluice was low water but fun bumping down.  We rock dodged and just a short distance further we could see the first horizon line.  Trying to make it over through the rocks was difficult.  My boat spun backwards around rocks but I made it into the eddy.  The water was low.
Dan on Always Right

  We looked at the first drop.  Wow!  Bare bones nasty.  The line was about 3 feet wide and good luck keeping straight on line with the pushy shallow water above.  If you missed the line it would be pins and pitons.  Dan was the only one to run it and he styled it!  The rest of us had no regrets walking.
Triple Drop

  Back on the river it was boulders everywhere.  The most beautiful scenery you ever saw! White pines, moss covered rock and root beer water!  Breathtaking!  Fun easy rapids you had to pick your way down through the deeper water.  Triple drop was a scrape down and I could see where it would be nothing but big fun at higher water.  Every rapid ended in a huge recovery pool.

  We were approaching what is called the Box.  The biggest rapid on the run.  There was one small rapid leading down to an eddy and then the river funneled through two high rock walls into the Box.  Dave told me to run the small rapid  left of center and eddy out before the Box.  Both Dan and Dave said it wasn't  much of anything just read and run.  Entering in it appeared to be an easy rapid...nothing threatening.  There was a little ledge towards the bottom and when I got close I saw a rock tooth sticking up.  Since I had right momentum going I pushed it a little further right to try to miss the rock.  I had slithered around and over many, many rocks on the river that day and  I wasn't too worried.  Until I stopped dead.  It was the most sudden stop I have ever had combined with the shock of knowing you're pinned.  The rock underneath the river was the perfect shape to catch my boat and stop and hold it against the tooth.  Water was piling up on my back within inches of my head.  I was pinned in my boat and it wasn't moving.   One of the most dangerous, deadliest,  scenarios that can happen to a paddler.  Dave hit the whistle.

 With ice cold water pounding on me I tried to grab my spray skirt.  I lunged forward and on the third try I got it and pulled.  I started pulling my legs out but with the water pounding on me it was difficult but I got them out.  I hooked my toes under my cockpit rim to hold me and now I was literally sitting on top of my boat in the middle of the rapid.  I knew I was safe then.  Until I had gotten out of my boat it could have shifted over at anytime and drowned me.
  OK.  I took stock.  The boys are now rock climbing up river with throw bags to get me.  Looking around I knew if I left my boat it would be very hard to retrieve it. I knew at the moment I was safe and had time to work with it.   I tried to move the boat but it wouldn't move even a fraction.    Ken had stayed in his kayak below me and I caught his eye and threw my paddle to him.  Paddle was safe.  Then Dave threw a great shot with the throw rope to me.  By then I had found a rock behind my boat to stand on.  The water coming over the boat was ice cold and still pushing me hard so I had to hang on with one hand and try to tie something off on the boat with the rope.  All I could find was my back band rope.  Well better than nothing.  My heat and strength was leaving me very fast.  My hands in my gloves were not working very well and I was starting to shake.  I wanted the boys to throw me a bag with a carabiner on it but communication for me was difficult.  They knew I wanted a biner so they slid one down the rope to me.  I was getting even colder and weaker.  I didn't have the ability or strength to clip the carabiner on the end of the bag so I just clipped it onto the back grab handle.  That was it. It wasn't on good enough to try pulling but it was on the boat.  I couldn't do any more at that point.

  Now I was looking at the swim.  Shallow and down over rocks.  This was going to hurt and I was praying to keep my feet up so I didn't get a foot entrapment. The other deadliest scenario for a paddler.    I then slipped off the rock, assumed the swimmer's position and as soon as I hit the bottom swam hard since a swim through the next rapid called The Box would be a trip to the least.

  On shore I was shaking from head to toe.  Adrenalin, cold and exhaustion.  Now we all stood looking at the boat.  We took count of the rescue equipment we had with and experience.  Dave and I had taken swift water rescue classes and all of us had years of experience.  It was decided that half would go across and try to work from that side of the river since the boat was closest to river right. Ken stayed in his boat in case it came loose so he could catch it before it went into the Box.

   We were able to get a rope under it  but each time we tried to pull it wouldn't move even a bit.  The depression it was in was an incredibly perfect fit for my boat.  We tried a couple of other rope moves but without having one tied off on the handles it just slipped off the boat.  The guys talked together on the other side of the river and then paddled back.  It was getting late in the afternoon.  The boat would have to stay there.  Dave had a GPS so it was decided that Dave and I would hike out while the other four would paddle out.  We would all meet at the Y in the road.

  We stowed Dave's boat and my paddle and started the hike.   Dave pointed out the direction and said it was just over a mile to the road...through the woods over ravines and ridges.  We bush whacked and pushed through brush.  Climbed over logs and slipped in the wet snow.  After a bit Dave went to check his GPS.  It was gone!  Oh my!  We were lucky for that inch of wet snow as we followed our  tracks back until we found it.  Dave looked at me and said he was surprised I didn't see it when he dropped it.  I usually see everything!  I'm pretty sure that was a flag about how my condition was at  that point.

  We hiked on.  Dave was having some trouble with the GPS. The area of Minnesota we were in was the center for iron mining in the state and compasses didn't work in this area.   He also mentioned that the batteries were low.  Hmmm.  The directions weren't making much sense to me and it was very disheartening when we came upon tracks in the snow...ours.  We had circled.  The compass on the GPS wasn't working so we couldn't get it to point where we needed to go.  We had to walk and see by where we were from the last reading where we were headed.  Getting closer to the road we came across a trail that took us to the road. It was a two hour hard hike out.  I won't lie when I say the thought of maybe having to spend the night in the woods with a search party out looking for us was heavy on my mind.

    Left or right to the Y?  GPS said right.  So we walked down the road.  Again the GPS said, no, now the Y is behind we walked the other way.  Vroom, a car came around the bend and yippee!   It was the boys looking for us.  It was getting very late.  Everything would be much better in the morning.

   We got motel rooms in Ely and ate at a micro brewery called the Boathouse.  Excellent food and beer!  And I made one odd request of my waiter.  "Do you have an old pool cue with maybe a broken tip you have laying around"?  I wanted to tape a carabiner to the end of it with a rope to clip into my boat from shore.  The guys all assured me there were enough sticks in the woods that would work...did I say that beer was good?


The next morning we were in high spirits and the day promised sunshine.  Waffles and coffee and we had a plan.  Dave with fresh batteries in his GPS and I were going to hike in.  Dan, Tony, Ken and Andy were doing the paddle in.   The hike only took an hour with a functioning GPS but with the warmer temperatures and full gear on Dave and I were near heat stroke when we got to the river.  The paddling group had just arrived maybe two minutes before us and Tony already had a proper big stick.  Dan Gorilla taped the rope and biner on and held onto Tony as he leaned out to try to hook the grab handle.  A couple of tries and they rearranged the tape.  Tony leaned out once again and SNAG!!  The rope was binered to the boat.  WhooHoo!!   Tony gave a couple of tugs and it moved this time.  They quickly set up a Z Drag and with one pull the boat popped right out of it's overnight bed!!  Whew!  They tied another rope to the boat and tossed it over to Dave.  We lined the boat over and I was on a rock as far out as I could go and caught the rope and brought the boat in!!  We were one happy crew!!
The spot where I pinned.
  Then it was time to take an inspection of my boat.  The damage to the boat was very minimal.  A dent in the bottom and three big scratches.  That was it!!  On the inside I didn't know what to expect.  My water bottle, throwbag, float bags, foam outfitting and everything was still in the boat!  The seat pad had came off of two rivets and that was the extent of it's overnight stay in the Stony River!  Truly amazing!  What I had feared the most was that the boat was too damaged to paddle and I would have to walk it out to the road.

    Everyone was happy with a job so very well done we then looked at the next rapid...The Box.  It was low and steep and you could see a lot of rocks.  I looked at one and said "That's a pin!  I'm walking".  Physically and emotionally I was done for the day.  Tony, Dave and Ken agreed and were walking.  Dan, who has become an amazing paddler in his L'Edge ran first and really nailed it.  Andy who has also been just amazing in his L'Edge followed...and pinned on the rock!  I swear my heart stopped as I watched him working his boat free of the pin.   He finished the run off endering out of the hole and a big smile on his face.  Wow!  We all paddled to the lake and finished out the run.  What a weekend!  Personally I couldn't get off that river fast enough that day and I swore to myself  I would never run it again.  Then as I down loaded the photos my heart changed.  It's a beautiful was just short changed this weekend on the water.  Next time I'm shooting for over 4 on the gauge...I hear it's a hoot at that level!
  Looking back on the whole ordeal there were a lot of things that worked out so beautiful.  The crew for the day was the best!  Everyone worked well together and we all seemed to fit into the solution in different ways.  I got a first hand lesson in how fast hypothermia in freezing cold moving water can take a body down.  You read about it but it's scary just how fast it happens in real life even with a dry suit on.  Personally I will carry more in my boat and on my personal self on runs that people consider low water easy.  Anything can happen anywhere at any time.   I wasn't  the only one who had left some of my rescue gear in my truck that day.  Gorilla Tape!  Good stuff!

  I was spooked after that had happened and cautious the rest of the run...yes I was nervous but understandably.  I paddle many, many hours and it is to be expected that sometimes things like this just happen.  I don't know of any paddler that hasn't had a bad day on the river.   Will this affect my paddling?  I probably won't care for low water runs much...but then I wasn't a fan of low water runs to start off with. Mentally I'm OK with it and looking forward to my next run...this weekend!

  I'm also impressed with the beating my new boat has taken.  My Jackson Villain took a hard piton in Chile and the dent had popped right out within hours.  This years Villain has a new grab handle.  I was wondering how it would hold up with a Z Drag attached and the huge amount of pressure it would take to pull it out of the rapid.  It was rock solid!  The boat had a large dent on the bottom and three big scratches.  The dent was mostly popped out by the end of the paddle.  The next day it's barely there.  The factory outfitting all stayed in the boat, hip pads, foam, etc.  Nothing came loose or tore off after a night in the river.  All my gear was binered in and stayed on the boat.  Nothing tore loose.  That's one hell of a boat!

More photos from the weekend by Andy Bergstrom