Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Rest of the Story

  Last year during a rain event the Vermillion River came up to huge levels.  As usual when a whitewater river floods during the summer the locals still see it as their friendly fun swimming spot.  Totally oblivious of the danger of swift water. I was in a position to rescue a girl who was talked into swimming down through Donut Hole by her boyfriend when she did NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM!!  Here is the link to my blogpost from that day.  Hero?  No.  As a whitewater paddler we all pull people out of the rivers on a regular's what we do.  And what others enjoy doing for us at times.

  The girl I could tell had very low self esteem.  Though she was very pretty she was carrying a few extra pounds. Not much but her self image was reflected in her choice of boyfriend. He was a garden variety sociopath.  As I was struggling to ferry her on the back of my boat across the current I could see he had no care or concern for his girlfriend and I had to yell at him several times to come and help grab her.  He never did...waiting until I had her safely on the mid river sand bar before coming over.  Then after expressing my thoughts about him taking a girl who couldn't swim down rapids he took her over on the sand bar and convinced her to come and tell me that she really did know how to swim...just so he wouldn't look so bad!!  I was livid!  I also ferried her the rest of the way to shore before I left.  My impression of her was that she was a very sweet girl, very polite, just a girl who had a beautiful innocent glow about her.  I worried about her with that boyfriend.  He on the other hand sent me looks of hatred.  I wanted to tell her that this boy was dangerous and she needed to get away from him asap but the young man stuck to her like glue.  He knew what I had to say.  She did thank me again in the parking lot while the look he gave me was very clearly one of "I'll get you for this".  Ah well...I've seen worse looks.  I did worry for my truck that he might damage it while I was on the river at some other time.

  This last year I thought about her often.  Wondering if she made it away from that thug safely.  I had two regrets.   Not being able to tell her to run as fast as she can away from him and I also wondered what her name was.  I'm a mother so I worry.

  Last week  a few of the newer paddlers and I were having an amazing night on the Verm. Anna, 14 years old and a first year boater,  stomped her first Vermillion River run at a good stout flow.  Amy nailed her first combat roll!  Josh had just bought his first boat and gave it the virgin run on the Verm and did awesome!  Everyone else had a super fun time on the river and we had beer and root beer in the parking lot after.  While laughing and enjoying the glow from the river a pickup truck pulled in and suddenly stopped next to us.  A girl hung her head out the passenger side and asked if we were the ones that pulled her out of the river last summer!  I was amazed!  I said that was me and she just wanted to thank me again!  See, I said she was very polite.  The next words out of my mouth were "Did you dump that boyfriend of yours?"  She laughed and said  "Oh yeah!!"  They parked and she hopped!  She lost the few extra pounds that she had and was a knock out!  Still oblivious to how gorgeous inside and out she really is.  Laughing and having a great time she went off with the guys she was with to see the level of the river from the bridge.

  Personally I couldn't be happier to see her again!  Alive and healthy, without the thug.  When they came back from the river I asked her her name.  Brittany.  I can stop worrying now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Paddlemania! 2011

Paddlemania Paddlers!

 Midwest Mountaineering's 13th annual Paddlemania was enormous this year.  The Midwest paddling community has been rapidly growing. Many new paddlers young and old have found out that the Midwest has some world class whitewater!  Who knew!

  I came up early Saturday morning to a drizzly gray kind of day.  The parking lot was filling fast with boaters. By noon there were vehicles left in the lot but everyone had hit the St Louis River!  Paddlemania coincides with the dam release at Thompson.  A health 650cfs release on the Lower section both Saturday and Sunday.  The upper was a great low level for new boaters or anyone that wanted a pleasant fun float.  The lower a good run for those wanting to step it up. There were experienced boaters guiding people down each section.  Both sections had their thrills and spills.

  By far the highlight of the day was the Slot Machine Show Down.  Below the dam the water spills down massive slabs of rock.  Through a deep cut slot that ends with a tight right turn down a falls with a nasty hole at the bottom. You climb down a crack in the cliff with your boat.  Balance it between a rock and the cliff.  Drop in and you're on your fame or  $#*!  Roll the dice.  Running this drop is gambling.  You either make it through or not.  If not there's a pool below and excellent safety waiting. 

  This year 20 paddlers including me, gambled.  The most ever!  The top prize was an oh so sweet yellow Jackson Star  generously donated by Jackson Kayaks!  One by one we all tried our luck.  Beatdowns and swims galore!  A few good lines and some great escapes.  All in all the house won this year but I think the spectators were the ones who really won.  People were stopping on the road and there was standing room only on the shoulder to watch a hoard of crazy kayakers having fun.

Really!  What could be funner than Slot Machine?

 Then came the big drawing for swag!  Jade Zachman won the Jackson Star! Congratulations to Jade!  The table was filled with much more though and everyone was able to get something.

  The sun never did come out  and a feeble attempt was made by the clouds to get us wet but it didn't stop the festivities.  Brats were grilled, beer was drank.  Stories were told about the days carnage or victories.  Several newer boaters were able to run sections of the Lower St Louis for the first time thanks to expert guiding   An awesome bonfire overlooking the reservoir completed the evening.

  Then the rain came with intent.  An all night torrential downpour!  I stepped out of my tent in the middle of the night to find my tent was in an inch of water.  I moved it to higher ground and went back to sleep.  In the morning it was like waking up to Christmas.  Levels on the creeks and rivers were climbing! A rare occurrence in June!  Plans were made and everyone headed to their own piece of heaven.
  Thanks again to Midwest Mountaineering and Jackson Kayak for an incredible fun weekend!  Next year proves to be even bigger!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Paddlemania 2011 Quick Edit Slot Machine

Here you go.  A quick edit of some of the gamblers this year on Slot Machine.  As you can see the house did very well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There are Times.....

Argh!  What a day at work!  I nearly ran out the door and was questioning my sanity for NOT having a boat in the back of my truck.  I needed the soothing of my river.  The melting of chi into relaxing mush.  But I had made a decision to mountain bike tonight since I had spent the last four days in a row on the river.  I stopped off at home and checked the radar online. Ooh the rain looked so good on the radar but why did it have to be so close on my mountain biking day?! I took a chance and headed to Memorial Bluff.
  Driving through town I could see the dark clouds in my rear view mirror. Guesstimating the time I would have on the trail I figured I could always loop out to the fields and get back to my truck and  only get minimally wet.
  I took my familiar trail and kept an easy pace today.  This week I finally started investigating the advanced trails.  One loop I was familiar with and getting better.  If the rain held out I was going to try another loop I was curious about.
  Faster around on the trail.  Checking the clouds every time I got close to the fields. The rain was so close I could see it coming down on the other side of Red Wing. Still dry on the bluff, I ventured on. The air thick with warning.
  Thunder rumbled to me. I was on the backside of the bluff and still pressing on.  I could see the clouds dark with lightning flickering generously across the sky.  So close!  I had to make a decision.  I had three options.  Take the field...the fast way back to the truck.  Take my familiar blue trail to the end or satisfy my curiosity and take the advance trail that branched off.  I picked number three.
  It started off tight with lots of curves and narrow lines. This was going to be nice!  Then oh wow!  That was a jump I didn't quite expect! The super dip came up fast and then OMG...screetch to a stop...look at that jump...and the landing.  I "portaged" thinking "oh yeah,  I can so do this next time through."
  I pedaled on. I came around a corner shortly after the OMG jump and stopped and stared! There are times when you come across something that not only excites your appreciation for beauty but also calls to your soul.  The vista before me was like a ravine from Avatar. Trails intersected.  The one from the left arched over the ravine on a rustic wooden bridge and joined my trail and headed up hill.  What called to me was incredibly the other trail that flowed from me under the wooden bridge and steeply down the ravine.  Tall ancient trees creating an intense dark green canopy denying much of the days struggling light.  The sides of the ravine were steep and narrow, covered in last years leaves flowing down in colors of muddled bronze to the smooth vein of dirt that followed the narrow floor of the ravine descending until it was lost from sight.   More thunder...surreal...quiet yet everything spoke to me on a different level.  Other senses aroused.  Primal. A yearning to go there and just see more.  More thunder and another decision.  Descend or ascend? 
  Ah so much to do and I want to be able to explore this reflection of Heaven when I have all the time in the world to absorb it in. I chose ascend and headed back to my truck. The lightning was closer and I could feel a few drops. I made it back to my truck and loaded my bike and headed home. The raindrops became serious as I pulled onto my block.  My thoughts were of what I now call Avatar Ravine in my mind...tomorrow I'll go and see what's around the bend. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Colorado Memorial Day Trip and Angels

Old School FSR
Memorial Day saw me heading west to visit my son, Shane, and his girlfriend, Nicole.  I loaded up a creek boat and a play boat because, hey, it's Colorado!  I also threw in my mountain bike remembering the great trails in the Boulder area.
  The trip out was long with only one unfortunate event in the parking lot of a wayside in Colorado where two thugs tried to steal my boats while I was in the rest room.  Dark and traveling alone late at night I know I look like an easy mark.  My truck was the only vehicle in the car parking lot and a very large lawn separated the truck parking area.  When I came out of the rest room I saw two men walking away from my truck and crossing the lawn back towards the truck area.  When I got to my truck I saw one of my boats was pulled up but the cables thankfully held.  There was a pile of propaganda newspapers next to the truck they had just dropped.  Obviously they had planned to break some windows on my truck for a quick grab and decided not to. Looking back it could have been much worse.  I know I have a Guardian Angel watching over me.
  I arrived at my son's very late after a straight through drive.  My son's girlfriend offered me a Raging Bitch beer to relax and it was off to bed shortly after. Raging Bitch is actually very good!  A Belgium IPA.
  With everyone still working the work week I was left to my own devices during the day.  First off...check the river levels around Boulder.  Everything was below runnable with a few exceptions of low runnable that I wasn't interested in.  So I loaded my bike and headed to Eldorado Canyon to ride and sight see.
  Just coming into Eldorado Springs is unique. The paved road stops just inside town and everything is dirt and pot holes from there to the park.  Sleepy unique houses and structures. Mellow dogs walking loose.  Art studios, Yoga studios and a really awesome pool at the end of town. Just beyond that is the entrance to the park.  What I didn't expect was that Eldorado Canyon was a climbing mecca! Bouldering, Trad, Sport, and eerily enough it was also a location where people free was all there.  Unfortunately I had only brought a harness and shoes with. Foolishly not thinking on my part.
  I drove to the top and parked and took the trail recommended by the ranger. Then I followed another trail and had a gorgeous view of the Flatirons! It's amazing up there.  I rode far enough that I came down in the foot hills and took the road back to the park. I love this place!  I scouted the too low South Boulder creek and saw why it's class is V+ but dangerously beautiful.  Later when Nicole came home from work we went back since my day sticker was still good and we hiked.  That's when we saw the free climber.  Nuts!!! But he made it about 3/4ths of the way up before returning.  Still nuts!
Free Climber...nuts!
  The following day went the same.  Left alone for the day I followed Boulder Creek through town on my bike and went up into the mountains on a trail that followed the creek.  All it would have taken was just a little bit more water to run it but it wasn't to be so I biked.  Outside of Boulder I came to a climbing area and again thought how foolish I was to leave my rope and draws and such at home.   Honest...I wasn't thinking!!  But the day was still incredible on my bike!
  Finally the weekend and my son was off work.  We had a wonderful Saturday together hitting up the Boulder Festival and then touring a Meadery.  This is the oldest form of fermented beverage known to man.  Wine derived from honey.  It was all very interesting including all the tasting!  We both bought a bottle to take with.  That evening I had to run to Buena Vista to pick up a boat from Jackson for the Vermillion Clean Up and my son and his girlfriend were attending an exclusive brewers party.
   I checked the levels of the Arkansas before leaving  and saw it was low runnable.  I brought my boats and left the bike.  I was lucky enough to make it in time that evening for the Freestyle Finals!  Watching it was amazing!  Lots of Pro talent there throwing around Jackson Rockstars.  I watched until the end and then had dinner with friends.  Slept in the truck and declined paddling on Sunday and just headed back to spend the day with family.
  When I got back Shane, Nicole and I rode Betasso Trail.  It's a really nice single track and we just loved it! Mountain biking is becoming just as addicting as paddling for me.  The sports compliment each other perfectly!
  My last day I spent on a foothills trail south of Boulder while everyone had to work.  Mountain biking is a sport that I never thought I'd be attracted too but I was so wrong.  It has all the appeal of whitewater paddling.  The mind/body connection.  The lines to hit.  The adrenalin. It has it all plus a very good work out!  I know now after being on many other trails that my home trail on Memorial Bluff is a very quality trail and I'm lucky to have it so close to home.

  Sad to leave but I had to go.  I made the trip home in one long drive again arriving late at night.  I made an appointment for an oil change that day and was informed that my fan clutch was extremely bad and I was very lucky that I wasn't stranded somewhere like Nebraska.  Again my Guardian Angel on the job!
 With every intention of paddling this trip the low water and bad timing prevented it from happening for me.  No regrets since I got to spend quality time with family and get to know my mountain bike better.  Of course the water started to rise the last day I was there and I see it's gone sky high right now. Timing is everything! Still, I loved every minute in Colorado! BTW in Colorado my bike was considered a classic...back home in Minnesota it's just old.  I think it rocks!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Canoe U 2011

  HUGE!  It was HUGE this year!  With four full classes of students it was the biggest Canoe U that I've seen since I started 6 years ago.  Even more exciting was the amount of safety boaters that volunteered!  Usually there's a shortage of safety boaters for the classes but not this year.  Canoe U Graduates from previous years and experienced paddlers flocked to help the newbies out!  Between safety boaters and instructors many classes had more support paddlers than students.  An excellent ratio!
  The first weekend started out staying at the Norway Group Cabins in the St Croix State Park. Nice cozy cabins and a great central hall with fireplaces and a super kitchen!   Our volunteer cooks are the best and food was plentiful and great!
  The water chosen for the first day was the lower Kettle.  Lots of practice on flat water and easy moving water. Our students learned basic moves such as ferry's and eddy moves. A good day on the river!
  Evening came with intense storms.  The lightning show was beautiful!  Morning broke clear of rain and the classes headed to the upper Kettle in Banning State Park. More flat water work and then running some real rapids.  I was happy to see the level had come up high enough to cover most of the annoying rocks but not too pushy yet for the students. Our class had a great day on the river...challenging but they rocked it!  There were lots of smiles at the end of the weekend as we said good bye for two weeks until Graduation Weekend.
  Could there have been a better weekend for Graduation Weekend?  I don't think so!  The weather was the most perfect I've ever seen!  Sunshine! Warm! And you won't believe this but the easy wind was at our backs for the long flat water paddle on the Reservoir!!  That almost never happens!
  This is the weekend we push our students a little bit more.  Our class did the upper St Louis on Saturday.  Lots of eddy and ferry work.  Lots of flips!  I was really impressed with how determined the students were and especially how long they hung out for a T-Rescue! They did awesome!  The level of the river was great! 2100cfs which meant annoying rocks were covered but not too pushy...perfect!

  Sunday our last day on the river we chose the upper Kettle through Banning.  The last day together before sending these people out on the rivers on their own.  It's my last chance as an instructor to emphasize the skills they personally need the most to run rivers after they leave the safety net of Canoe U.  We warmed up on flatwater. Ran Blueberry Slide. Some students ran it a second time.  We sat in the sunshine and had lunch watching the other classes run Blueberry and Shoulder Hole.  Then we ticked off the rapids one by one.  Happily throwing them off the seal launch rock below Dragons Tooth.  "Yes we're sure it's safe to do this"  Little Banning Rapids we let them pick their lines down. Then one last run of Hell's Gate. It was a great day on the river!  By far the best thing for me was watching everyone of my students paddle the long flat water at the end using a great forward stroke! 




Wednesday, June 01, 2011

She's Here!!!

Back in her protective sock until September 24th!
Here she is!  A Brand New Jackson Star!  Generously donated by Jackson Kayak for the Vermillion Clean Up. This boat has already seen some miles in her journey to Minnesota.  First in the truck of Clay Wright  for 1333.88 miles from the Jackson Factory to Buena Vista, Colorado.  I'm sure she picked up some great river karma and infused river talent by association on that trip.  Then 1046.21 miles in the back of my truck to Minnesota where she'll wait for the lucky person whose name gets drawn.  Of course hanging with me will give her a tendency to be a gypsy.  You'll go places with this boat for sure!  Mark your calenders for September 24th this year and plan on being there to give our sweetheart river the loving she deserves! Thank you Jackson Kayak for everything you do for the sport of paddling!!