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.