Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Whitewater

A little rain and a little thaw opened up the Vermillion River this week.  I was working hard so I had to wait until the weekend to paddle.  Saturday morning dawned with a fresh coat of snow covering everything. Beautiful!  Snuggled in my electric blanket and sleeping in for the first time in quite awhile I did not want to leave my bed to go to a frozen river and paddle.  Thoughts of "Are you crazy?", You're old, you can beg off this run." Yes just about every excuse it the book went through my head.  But I got out of bed and threw the gear in the truck and headed off to meet Josh.
  Instantly my attitude evaporated as I left town.  The fog hugging the valley, frosted trees and new snow brought back the feeling of why I love paddling in the winter.  Sure my bed was warm but paddling in the winter is in itself a surreal feeling.  I was glad I was on my way.

  This was Josh's first winter paddle.  The class V hike down to the river was a new experience for him.  So much more to see with the foliage gone.  Cliffs, caves, crevasses, and many sights that are unseen in the spring and summer.
  We walked to the put in below the falls.  Ice had started to form at the sides.  Long before winters end the whole falls will be covered with ice.  An incredible sight!  Ice lined the banks. Sometimes in little rows of ice bells just touching the water.
  Josh and I put on.  It felt so good to be on the river again.  The last time we had paddled any whitewater was the end of September when we did the Lower St. Louis.  It had been a long time.  I told Josh to splash his face with river water to avoid the gasping reflex if you flipped. Brrr! Chills ran through me again remembering how cold it was.  I then pointed out that the ice shelves at the banks actually form undercuts and were to be avoided.  Then we were off.
  The beauty of paddling in the winter is hard to describe. Brutal cold water. Stunning ice formations and the soft quiet of new snow. Truthfully an environment hostile to life, challenged by those who seek...
  The river was low but still navigable.  Little bits of play here and there.  Triple had a nice feature.  Railroad was in, as was S-Bend.  Donut was great!  We surfed our butts off in Donut until time ran out and we had to leave.  I spent the following day with old pros at winter paddling, Bryan and Dennis, and a third day again with Josh.  The river may be low and the features easy but it's all fun practice for the spring flows.
  The river shows no sign of freezing anytime soon and I believe the level will stay what it is right now.  Winter paddling is dangerous.  Even class I or II can be easily fatal.  If you decide to paddle in the winter take into consideration the temperature, length of river, class, gear, and your skill level. Then make an intelligent decision and err towards safety. Even a large plastic garbage bag can be a survival blanket and keep wind off of you. Easy to store in a boat. If your footwear isn't adequate your feet will literally freeze within a minute. Wool or fleece socks inside your drysuit work good.  Check the large pools on the river to see if they're frozen over. You don't want to be surprised by a river wide ice shelf.  Check the take out to make sure it isn't iced in.  If possible go with someone experienced in winter paddling and knows the river. Winter paddling is beautiful!  Just make sure your prepared.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Floating on Dreams


   I just turned 55 last week.  The thoughts that you dwell on at this age are many.  A turning point in the stretch of time that is your life.  Change. Childhood. Teenager. Your twenties. The full length of your adult prime time.  And now.  I've worked hard in my life. Sometimes 2 or 3 jobs to support my son and I.  Commitments and responsibilities directing my life. Now I find I have the time to do for myself.  Surreal feelings.

  Since I have started kayaking I have lived my inner desires through others. My young friends with no responsibilities, no house. Just river gypsies traveling the world.  I have great admiration for them.  Always thinking to day.  One day will come and I'll get out there.

  This fall has been the hardest in the Midwest.  Not one river ran even once.  Sure...I ran the Cannon River.  Twice.  Beautiful but class I.  It's not the same.  I started looking at trip options.  Chile has always fascinated me since a group of my friends spent an entire winter (their summer) down there. The photos they posted to their blogs were amazing!  Then it hit me. It has to be this year that I go.  I have so many places that I want to see.  It's time. Other than Canada I have never been outside of the US...ever!

   Now that the decision was made came the logistics.  Money first.  Work has been busy providing me with as much overtime as I can handle.   Maybe there was a reason we had no water this fall.  It's left me with time to work weekends.  The last two months have been grueling to say the least.  The price of a round trip ticket isn't cheap. The day before my Birthday I said "Happy Birthday" to myself and clicked confirm.  My ticket was bought.  I'm on my way. Since I have committed to this trip amazing things have happened.

   I am very blessed to have so  many friends in my life.  I have been contacted by many of them with references and help.  Everything in the planning of this trip has fallen into place by amazing circumstances.  My friend Todd suggested I buy the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Chile.   The very next day it was on super sale on the Clymb!  From a  boat to places to stay to incredible adventures to be had.  I am very excited to be going!

  The only fly in the ointment was that the hostel only has a reservation for me to the 9th and after that they're booked.  At first I was worried but then I fell back on my philosophy of when something doesn't happen the way you thought it would it only means there is something more amazing you should be doing. I know that somehow my last 6 days in Chile are going to be an amazing impromptu adventure.  I love a surprise!  

  As I write this I have 51 days until I leave.  I have been searching the internet for information about things to do and places to go.  I see there is a mountain bike trail right next to the hostel.  I will have to have a bike while I'm down there and I'm assured that there are many bike shops in town.  I've researched the rivers and am excited to run as many as I can.  Wow!  It will be almost 6 months since I had been on any whitewater when I go.  The longest I have ever been off whitewater since I've started boating!!!

  Climbing is available and a friend is hooking me up with the best guide who is a friend of his.  Horse back riding in the mountains!  Oh so many things to do and see!  
  For now I work.  Long hours and giving up my weekends.  I miss the time hanging with friends.  But I want to be able to afford all I want to do down there.  You hear the words "trip of a life time".  For sure!  I am still deliriously happy that everything has fallen in place and it's all a go. Many people including myself get stuck in a routine and see others making "trips of a lifetime" and think someday and someday never seems to come.  Due to responsibilities of life at the moment.  And then realization dawns, and it's time to break out.

  So now I live at work.  Connected to my friends through Facebook.  My mind cluttered with Chilean fantasy's...floating on dreams.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


It's been a month since whitewater of any kind has dried up in Minnesota.  With the exception of sporadic surf on Lake Superior the rest of the state is below runnable.  Pacing has been included in my list of exercises. Mind, body and adrenalin in a beautiful natural environment is like my breath of life.  I need it to feel alive.
  I have cheerfully engaged in other sports hoping to fill the time until the rivers run again. It's just not the same. I have thrown myself into planning a super trip for this winter.  Daydreaming and fantasy helps but still leaves me unfulfilled.  Bottom line is passion is interrupted in my life right now.  Where to go from here?
  I have searched my mind for interests that I have had in the past to rekindle.  Having seen the Zorongo Flamenco Dance perform before I was always left with the "I want to do that" feeling.  The dance is as passionate as it comes combined with a flowing beauty that leaves you breathless. Click, click, aha!  Monday night intro class!  I am so there!
  First I checked YouTube for the dance basics.  I'm glad I did.  It does help to have some knowledge beforehand.  I showed up early and asked about the dress code for the class. A simple flowing skirt fits right in.  Clicky heels a must!
  The class was small.  Just the instructor, Deborah, and two other students. It starts off with dance moves carefully disguised as stretches and before you know it you have the beginnings of your arm movements. Then it moved into the foot work drills.   Smoothly it then transgressed into simple steps put together and repeated.  Add another sequence and repeat. Then another sequence of steps added.  Followed by a proper twirl. Before I knew it I had all the steps to Sevillanas.  Of course it was only my first class but I kept up fairly well. I danced,  laughed and really had a lot of fun. I will be back but I will also be back with much more practice under my belt.
  Then the advanced class came in.  The room filled with many women from young to much older than I.  The instructor, Susana Di Palma is a woman I have seen perform before.  Well into her sixties she looks like she is maybe forty but an awesome forty.  She has traveled the world in search of her passion for Flamenco. Just a phenomenal dancer and woman!  I watched her lead the class. There is an essence that fills the room from the dance.  One of strong femininity and ageless beauty. Passion, the soul of Flamenco.  I'll be back because I enjoyed it.  It spoke to an aspect of myself that needs to be fed and without whitewater this is a perfect time to indulge.
  It's a shame I live where I do.  There is so much to learn out in the world and I have to drive so far to do it.  Still it is worth the effort to explore any kind of education because in the end you are really just finding yourself and developing who you want to be.  Passion!  Without it you're just grumpy.

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Water!

That's it.  It's final.  The last day of release on the Lower St Louis.  There is no quality whitewater left in Minnesota at this time.  Believe it or not, life doesn't end.  It doesn't even have to slow down.  Just keep charging forward taking the opportunities as they come.  Search yourself and search out what you want.  It's out there.  Information is probably a click away.
  Right now for me it's time to take a breather.  I have a couple of ailments that just won't go away so a trip to the Dr. was in line this week.  First off, my hand. Dr. looks at it and says you need to see the hand surgeon.  "Would you like a mammogram with that" I say "What?"  She says you're due for one so I say ok, why not.
  Next I whine about my heel.  I had stepped down on a sharp rock in soft booties and it's hurt now for five weeks. Dr says Plantar Fasciitis.  Ibuprofen and ice. The nurse asks if I'd like a flu shot with I at McDonalds???

Hand surgeon today looks at my finger and says I have trigger finger.  He sticks me with some cortisone and says to give it three weeks. If there's no improvement then there's surgery that can be done.  So all in all with an incredible amount of water that I paddled starting in late winter to just this last weekend two booboos at the end of the summer isn't bad.  It's actually a good thing to let your body take a sabbatical from paddling.  Letting your muscles rest and heal will only make them stronger.
  But what the devil are you going to do in the meantime?  You can only watch so much kayak porn before you go blind crazy.  Plus how will you see those paddling friends.  The ones you've shared your soul with on the rivers. Well now it's time to do all those other sports people have been saying are fun but you've ignored for so long because you couldn't see past your paddle.  For me it starts with  mountain biking.

  For years some of my boating friends have been telling me to try it out.  You'll love it! It is a lot like paddling.  On the other hand I have seen many of them seriously injured from that sport and shied away.  Until last fall.  I caved and thought I'd just buy a cheap bike and give it a try.  I found an old 1998 Specialized FSR for $200. Good enough for trying out the sport.  Yes, it is just like boating...addictive.  Fast pace mind and body...hit your line or hit a tree.  Addictive!  The adrenalin rush you were missing away from the rivers you can easily find on a single track trail. Plus the beauty of nature surrounds you and you're able to go where few others can.  It's the perfect compliment to a paddling lifestyle.  When it's dry and sunny the bike trails are fast!  When it's wet and rainy you keep off the bike trails and head to the rivers. Yin and Yang..perfect balance.

  Go rock climbing!  Learn your knots. Work with ropes and beeners. All this not only gets you out with your paddling friends but it builds strength and stability.  It teaches you how to work with ropes which is something you will need on creeks and rescues.  Another mind and body sport in a beautiful natural environment.
  What else has been on your list of things that catch your fancy?  Personally I was actually caught in a hall in the YMCA after a weight workout.  A friend I hadn't seen in awhile grabbed my arm and pulled me into a yoga class.  In past years I've taken a few classes when I had time.  Yoga builds strength and flexibility and for kayaking strength and flexibility are very important.  Next class is Tuesday...I should be there. Really, I should!
  OK what else besides surfing weather reports for weather that isn't there. Or hanging on Facebook and forums hoping someone has some secret whitewater location that will magically appear. For me it's a time to dream.  Maybe South America this winter. What to do with my next seven days off.   Where I could travel.  How to make it happen. What new boats I want.  Is that new gear? It's also a time to repair what you have.  I look at my fleet and they have taken some abuse this season.  Time to learn how to weld plastic.  Fix my Thermarest.  Get my gear washed and ready to go at the drop of a drop.  Fall rains have always came.  I can't remember never getting a good fall bump on the rivers.  This lull is just that and should be used and enjoyed. The leaves are starting to turn.  Even a flat water paddle down the Cannon or Kinnikinic river is a beautiful way to enjoy a day.   It's also an easy enough float that all your non whitewater friends and family can enjoy.

  They call this Indian Summer. Temperate days, chill nights. Colors an artist can only envie. Play hard at cross sporting.  Try something new.  Clean the house, knock off some projects. Winterize now because shortly...before you know'll rain.  And the rivers will run.   And life will feel normal again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rapids Riders Vermillion River Clean Up 2011

How much love can a little river generate?  Some places are special and have a place in our hearts.  The Vermillion River in Hasting MN is one of those special places.  An urban playboat run tucked into a canyon surrounded by what could be a spectacular park but has deteriorated into a brush overgrown urban natural area with bike paths through it.  Along with the grown up brush, the fringe people make this area their element.  Kids with nothing to do but trouble.  Drug addicts and drunks. Homeless and  the lost all find their way to the Verm. Nothing is ever so simple and with all the beauty and pleasure the river gives us boaters we accept it with the bad and coexist. Love is always complicated that way. Unconditional.

  45 people showed up today to show that unconditional love for this little river.  Determined to step into the wilds of this lawless area and cheerfully clean up the debris. A very daunting endeavor!  Paddlers arrived early this year and set out in groups and alone.  "We'll take the far side." "We'll head down to RR pool"  "I'm headed to the falls"  Impromptu plans at the pavilion resulting in full coverage of the park.  Some people went into the river.  Some took the trails. Some in the park above.  For three hours paddlers from around Minnesota worked very hard to remove all kinds of junk.

  The informal contest is who can find the most bikes!  We usually get 20 to 30 bikes out of the river each year!!  We were close to that number this year.  Oddly enough a whole bike rack with bikes still attached was found in the river and pulled up the cliff by volunteers and removed!!  Sadly, one full suspension mountain bike was found.  Older model and not salvageable.

  The other informal contest is who can find the most unusual item.  This year there were several items but I think the heavy weight punching bag took the crown here.

  Whiskey is the drink of choice in the back bushes. The amount of bottles found is staggering!  Another shocking discovery was a pile of over 200 used hypodermic needles. This is so tragic in  many ways.
   These needles were NOT picked up by our volunteers as they are a bio-hazard.  They were reported to the authorities and will be cleaned up and dealt with by professionals. 
  The pile of debris removed grows big!  The volunteers all return to the pavilion for a pizza lunch provided by Friends of the Mississippi Trevor Russell, from MFR, gave a very interesting talk on the water quality of the Vermillion River.  It is the only urban trophy trout stream in America!  Amazing!  He went on to explain the coming project in place to restore clean water to the Mississippi and it's watershed.  Friends of the Mississippi are an incredible organization that keeps projects going year round to improve the wetlands of the water shed.  This has a direct result in improving not only the river habitat but also our quality of paddling.  Several years ago there was massive building of pre-planned neighborhoods in the suburbs up stream. The most dangerous threat to a natural trout stream is the urban runoff.  Rain that is shed from streets directly to the river not only carries pollution but is warmed by blacktop raising the river temp to uninhabitable for trout. Water that is not slowed also causes major erosion to the river banks.  FMR has many projects to plant rain gardens and natural habitat to slow run off which cools the river and naturally filters pollutants.   And of course slower runoff means the river holds water levels longer.  The housing projects have all  incorporated rain gardens in their design to protect the Vermillion. Thank you FRM!

  Then we had the swag drawing!  It was so exciting!  This year Jackson Kayak donated a Star playboat to give away!  Brian Guimond won the boat!  Brian already having a Jackson playboat turned around and immediately sold it to James Iliff, who was stoked to be able to get it!  Midwest Mountaineering as always was a great supporter!  WRSI for the second year donated a beautiful helmet for our swag table!   Seals Sprayskirts joined us this year donating a great mesh gear bag!  Immersion Research was new this year on the swag table donating several great items to wear and Werner sent us a goodie package also.  3M has been with us for about 5 years donating gift bags of products. KIND Healthy Snacks provided the fuel with a huge box of delicious bars. Gluten free and heathy...not to mention tasty!!   Thank you to all our sponsors!  You Rock!
   For a few hours given up on a Saturday morning by 45 determined hard working paddlers the Vermillion River is a better place to be.  Thanks to all who came and worked hard!  Let the fall rains begin!  Photos by Bryan Zlimen, Trevor Russell and Nora Whitmore.  More photos from the day can be found here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Midwest Freestyle Championships 2011

Jack Blomquist

This weekend was the 2011 Midwest Freestyle Championships! Sunshine and smiles was the theme for the weekend! Paddlers from all over the Midwest converged to throw down and party.
Jonathon Sisley

Brian Tupper

  Each year representatives of Jackson Kayak hold a freestyle clinic for beginner to advanced paddlers. The three top instructors, our own John McConville , World competitor Colin Kemp,  and Brian Tupper teach two days of nothing but freestyle.  The results from the clinics that are reflected in the competition are phenomenal! New kayaker, Nick Pritchard, learned to cartwheel just the day before competition in John McConville's class and nailed first place in the beginners class!
John McConville
Colin Kemp
   The competition in general has benefited greatly with the addition of these classes.  Giving substance to dreams of "going big".  This synergy has brought more and more paddlers each year to Wausau Whitewater to try their skill against some of the best!
Bryan Zlimen

  This year our own John McConville took first place in the men's expert division for the fourth time in a row! Colin Kemp, a world competitor, took a close second with our own Craig Esposito taking third!  It was no easy feat to be at the top of the expert division this year.  Each paddler in the expert division had it in them to place...they were all that good!
Craig Esposito and John McConville
Jake Ament

  The women's division was dominated by Melissa Grover who won first for the second year in a row.  Christa Gornjak taking a close second and Ashley Knutson taking third!  Ashley is also the director of Wausau Whitewater!  She competed in many classes all while keeping a huge event perfectly organized! Thank you Ashley for all you do at Wausau!  Full results can be found at Wausau Whitewater Park.
David Conrad

  The freestyle team event was a hoot again this year with a whole lot of creative paddling!  And lots of carnage!  The boater cross did not have a heat that didn't have boaters upside down and colliding!  The competition was a hot battle in both these division!
Ashley Knutson
Christa Gornjak
Melissa Grover

  Part of the magic of The Midwest Freestyle Championships is the community.  Tradition has found us every Saturday night in the parking lot of the VFW playing Four Square late into the wee hours.  Someone always rides the plane at the VFW in ever creative ways despite the chain link fence surrounding it.  It's always friendship and  and smiles when we all get together!
Kristoffer Kuhn
Komtanoo Pinpimai
  Behind the scenes the very backbone of Wausau is at work.  Our hard working team of volunteer rescue swimmers, led by Dan Conrad, are expert at swift water rescue.  Pulling paddlers and gear out of rapids preventing many injuries!  Many others generously donate their time to man the tables, scribe, erect the structures and keep events moving smoothly.  In a word all these volunteers are AWESOME!  Thank you so much for what you do!
Diana Kittelton
  Familiar faces returning each year contribute to the magic!  Chad Kehn returns every year to judge the competition.  Fair and precise in his judging, he lends a continuance of stability.  We are lucky to have Chad as our very own judge!  A big thanks to Chad!
  Mike Schroeder was in attendance to witness the joy his design brought to all the paddlers.  He has worked hard for years to create a world class whitewater park.  His design is creative, beautiful and innovative! We can only be blessed that he has dedicated his time and talent to the park.  Thank you Mike!!
Kevin Haro
Zack Porod
Ben Peters

  The end of the day on Sunday brings the tear down and then the drawing for door prizes! Top prize this year was a Jackson Star!!  Bob Menard won the drawing for the pretty red kayak!  Every paddler won something in the drawing!  Amazing!  A big THANK YOU! to all the sponsors who help put this on!
James Illiff

  The saddest part of the day is the goodbyes. The apex of the summer is the Midwest Championships and it's over.  Hugs and farewells.  Sweet memories embedded to relive in dreams and day dreams.
  I posted four volumes of photos on Facebook.  Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and The finals. Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sign of the times...

Earlier this spring MN DOT had placed a big sign on the bike trail at the Vermillion River just a few feet from the bike bridge.  It was held down with some sand bags.  I shook my head as I knew it would soon be thrown in the river by the local kids. It lasted on the trail for longer than I thought but then I saw it half way down the cliff hanging on some trees.  I thought, "At least it's not in the river."  It stayed there quite a long time until one day when I entered Triple Drop I saw it right in the middle of the river. Emergency eddy out!  I pulled it out and stuffed it up against the cliff and a large rock where hopefully no more kids would see it.  I called the Hastings Park office and reported it.  Barry said he'd have the park crew go and pull it out.  They couldn't find it.  I offered to paddle down to it and tie a rope on it but things never came together and it didn't happen.  Then I found the sign stood up right next to the river...the kids had found it again!  So I stuffed it back in it's hiding place and hoped it would last until the clean up.  I had horrible visions of that sign getting lodged in RR Hole causing serious injury to any paddler who would flip there.  Yes I am a Mom so I worry!   Powershading into that sign could take your head off!
The rope throw
   Everything happens for a reason.  I had a flat tire this Friday after paddling the Kettle River.  Great friends helped me get the tire fixed but I was on edge all weekend since my spare was ruined and the garage man said it wouldn't last long.  I planned to pick up a set of tires before heading back home on Monday morning but I was only able to get one for my spare.  I stopped in Hastings and made an appointment for 10am the  next morning.  Then I made a quick stop at the Hastings Park office to sign the papers for the Rapids Riders Vermillion River Clean Up.  Kristen wasn't there so I said I'd stop back in the morning after I got my tires changed out.
Pinned down by water

On it's way up!

   The tires were on in no time at all and I headed to the Park office to sign those papers. I saw Barry while I was there and asked about getting the sign out of the river.  I told him I had time to kill and could do it right then.  He got the maintenance supervisor and he told me he'd meet me there at noon. They looked to be a couple of muscular men so I thought they would be able to handle hauling it up the 89 feet to the bridge.
  I paddled down and pulled the sign from it's hiding place.  The boys threw down a rope and I tied many, many knots making sure the sign would not come loose on it's journey to the top.  I told the boys to pull and they did.  But the sign just flopped into the river and was pinned by the water.  Ah well...  I waded in and tried to pull it out.  It wouldn't budge!  While feeling around for purchase I found a 1 inch hole at the top of the sign.  I ran the loose end of the rope through and then using my weight on the rope slowly pulled the sign up and free.  I yelled at the men to pull again while I held the rope end to keep it from swinging into the middle of the river. They were able to suspend it half way up when I saw they had tied it off.  They had to call in 2 more men to help with the job.
  My part being done I hopped into my kayak and surfed Triple and then hit up Donut Hole.  It was low but fun! I walked up, changed and went to thank the men for getting it out.  I found out they had only gotten it as far as the bridge and couldn't get the legs past the bridge.  They had a forked branch they were trying to push the rope with.  I moved the branch down low under the chain link fence and stood on the branch to hold the sign away from the bridge.  The sign came up and we rocked it over the fence and onto the bridge.  High fives and smiles all around!!
   The effort put in to bring this sign up was a lot.  It required gear, knowledge, team work, and 5 people to remove one sign.  It took us an hour in all to get it out.  This is just one piece of garbage in our favorite play river...just one.  Rapids Riders has been cleaning this river for over 10 years now.  In those years we have literally removed tons of garbage from the Vermillion River and hauled it up the cliffs by hand.  Bikes, appliances, scrap iron, light posts, and even one motorcycle. The effort is tremendous but rewarding to be able to show a little love for this river.  This years Clean Up is Sept. 24th at 9am.  Meet at the falls pavilion.  This year we have many sponsors that have donated door prizes.  Jackson Kayak,  Midwest Mountaineering, Immersion Research, WRSI, Shred Ready, Seals Sprayskirts, KIND Bars, Werner Paddles, Friends of the Mississippi, Adopt a River, 3M and more coming!  Always a good time!
Everything happens for a reason...I'm glad I got the flat tire on Friday!  Without that (bad) event the sign would still be in the river!
This is one BIG sign!