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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Boondoggle! Did I Mention a Full Moon to Boot?

Last Love

  I will mention no names in this post other than my own.  You would recognize the names as world class paddlers but my intention is just to relate a boondoggle not to judge or criticize.  Every single paddler without exception has their boondoggle days on the river.  If all works out well, we laugh afterwards and most importantly, gain wisdom from what we've learned.  Here's the story.
  My first guide was great! You would know his name if I told you.  After a fun run on the Lower Trancura at a higher level with him he wanted to show me the Upper Trancura and Palguin, but as things went it was not to be.  But that was OK because his friend, the young sensational paddler, stepped in as my guide. You would know his name also.   I paddled one day on the lower Trancura with my new guide and it was fun but not challenging for me. The water had fallen back to very low. I wanted the Upper next.  He's a sweet young man who views a woman of my age in a motherly, or even grandmotherly way.  One NOT to endanger or break.  He told me the upper was very low and that I would have to portage three rapids if he was to guide me. He said he didn't want to be responsible for me getting hurt.  I hadn't paddled in six months and I just wanted to up my game and that was why I was there in Chile.   Joining us on the this Upper Trancura run was a rich Dr.
   The first run on the Upper Trancura was not quite what I expected.  I flipped on a big rapid rolled and then slid into a hole.  Got surfed, flipped, and when I still didn't flush I pulled.  The rich Dr. had lots of problems with that rapid also.  Then came the portages.  My young sensational paddler, got right out and helped me portage the drop.  Then to my surprise he had the rich Dr. run the rapid he'd just told me was too low to run.  I took no joy in the fact that the rich Dr. had a bad run followed by an almost deadly pin.  Ah well.
Merriman Falls

  The next rapid, both the Dr. and I portaged and our young sensational paddler showed why he is world class.  I loved watching him run Merriman Falls!!  Then the last rapid called Last Love. My guide said at this level it was too low and too dangerous to run.   My guide helped me portage the boat and I expected that the rich Dr. was portaging his own.  Then he said he was going to run it with the rich Dr and they'd meet me at the bottom.  Shit!  I finished the day and hoped that the next day would be better.
  The next day came and joining us for the Upper Trancura run was the handsome older super pro boater and another new comer to the camp I'll call the on fire young river nymph. A newer kayaker looking to up her game also.  Did I mention she was oh so cute to boot?
   So I had my rematch with the Devils Throat and I felt good.  I watched and helped with the carnage from the rich Dr.  Then as expected from my guide I walked the big three.  I was quite disappointed  that the rich Dr. and the on fire river nymph were running them it with the two pro boaters.  But I know from experience that when the person leading doesn't want you to run something you respect their wishes.
Devil's Throat

   At the rapid called  Last Love, the handsome older pro boater stood safety on shore with a rope and the younger one was going to lead.  I didn't care to watch them run so I just portaged down and was getting ready to jump into my boat when I saw a huge kerfuffle come garage sale'ing down.  Boats, paddles, rich Dr. and the on fire river nymph all being chased by the young sensational paddler.  I jumped in my boat and started to chase. The rich Dr. had swam to a mid river, yet river right, large rock and I asked if he was OK.  He at that point took a long time to answer and I was worried he was dazed and stunned.  Then he seemed to realize what I was saying and answered he was OK.  In the meantime the handsome older super pro had joined the chase.  After determining the rich Dr. was fine I went downstream to find the handsome one on a rock behind where the rich Dr.'s boat had pinned and the young sensational paddler had gotten the on fire young river nymph, her boat, and both the rich Dr.s and her paddles to the river left shore.  But the guides paddle was not to be found.  He went back up stream to look for it at the bottom of Last Love. I attained back up river to where I could talk to the rich Dr.  He wanted to swim across so he jumped out into the water and I put him on the stern of my boat and ferried him to the river left shore and left him with the on fire girl.
  Now with a paddle considered lost or downstream our next task was to un pin the boat.  Both of the pro boaters had their kayaks up on rocks just behind where the boat was pinned.  They were able to stand in the river behind the pinned boat and slip a rope through the side grab loop.   My job was to stay in the river eddy behind them in case any of their boats floated off.  This was made hard for me as a large loop of the throw bag rope was sharing the current and eddy with me.  I had to be careful to not catch my paddle in the rope and I sure didn't want to flip with the rope right under me.  The eddy wasn't all that big and had current flowing through it in the middle.
  While watching the pro boaters at work I tried to get their attention and let them know that if they looped the rope around the front that when they pulled it would roll the cockpit up and off the rocks.  Something I'd learned in swift water rescue class but it was hard to get their attention since they were focused on what they were doing and river noise.  So I just stayed where I was, ready to help.
  They pulled hard and the boat came loose.  Unfortunately when it came loose a couple of things happened all at once.  The boat, which was filled with water, caught the current right away and took off.  In the mad scramble to try to stop the boat, the handsome older boater's boat was bumped off the rock.  Then the young sensational paddler did a heroic dive into the current to try to swim and pull the now unpinned boat to shore.  My job to get any of their boats that came loose  was hampered by the loose coil of rope under me and the loose boat caught the current right away and started downstream.  I decided that it was easier to just ferry the boat to river left, away from the rope eddy,  since the handsome older super pro boater surely didn't need two boats on a rock out there.
  With the handsome older pro boater's boat safely in the eddy I hollered to the rich Dr.  "Did he get the boat over?"  My question was visually answered when I saw it further downstream bobbing in the main rapid.  A quick mental count of who was left in a  I tore out of the eddy and started chasing the boat through rapids I was unfamiliar with.  Reading and running.  A few times at the start of the chase, finding myself in some good rapids with a fully filled kayak slamming through next to me. Each slowing of the river I tried to shove it to the side.  No easy feat when it's filled with water.  I'd get it so close then the current would fight back and win.

The bottom of Last Love

  Finally, above a rapid with a larger pool at the bottom, I was exhausted.  At least I had it over far enough that it was out of the main current and floating off down the slow side of the rapid.  I looked up stream to see the young sensational kayaker coming fast so I just waited.  He got up to me and his first question to me was "are you alright?"   The dear young man.....of course I am and the boat's just down there.  He left to get the boat.  I saw a float bag coming down the main rapid and scooped it up and joined him at at the bottom with the rich Dr.s boat.
   Then we waited for everyone to regroup.  The handsome, older super pro boater came down leading the on fire river nymph.    The younger sensational paddler was then free to go down river in search of his lost paddle. He took the handsome ones paddle to use and the handsome older super pro boater pulled out a set of hand paddles to use.   We waited a long time for the rich Dr. to hike all the way down to us and get back in his boat.  The sun was very low when we boated to the end of the run.
  At the end of the run everyone was unhurt and safe.  The young sensational paddler's paddle was never found.  We drank some great Chilean wine and I know we all felt bad about the lost paddle.  It was noted that it was a full moon and I will argue with anyone who says that a full moon doesn't bring out the boondoggles for anyone...experienced pro to the newest paddlers.  Some of our best luck on the river wasn't due to luck at all but to being prepared in advance.  It's not luck that gains experience but training and time on the river.  It's not luck that teaches you to bring extra equipment such as hand paddles and it's not luck that teaches you how to secure float bags and other safety accessories to the inside of our boats so they're not lost to the river.  We laughed and called it a boondoggle but in reality it could have been much worse.  The best river luck is the luck you make for yourself through education and experience.
Salto Feo
   As for me, the long solo read and run through rapids I didn't know and chasing after that boat, was one of my most enjoyable moments of kayaking on my trip...I ditched my babysitter and it was a good feeling!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cinco Pesos

  Valentines Day and I was stood up by a man!  Can you believe it?  Not for a loving date but for the sale of my boat.  I was leaving Chile the next day and did not want to bring the kayak back with me.  I was traveling alone.  Delta does NOT fly kayaks and I had no way of transporting it between all the buses and flights I needed to make to get home to Minnesota.  I was sick to my stomach with worry!  I tried with the help of Ellie, my hostel hostess, to contact all the other boaters we could to see if I could make another quick sale but the answer was not what I wanted to hear.  It was a brand new Villain!  Barely used!   I went to sleep sick with worry about what I would do with the boat the next day.

  I woke up at 3:30am and checked to see if the buyer had contacted me on the  I couldn't go back to sleep after that.  It was the 15th and I was leaving.  I would have to find some way of taking it back with me. As one person traveling alone for her first time unleashed on the international world, I was scared!

  I had plenty of time to think of how I would possibly  handle moving all my bags and an 8'8" boat.  The thought of wheels on the boat crossed my mind and I thought Graham's skateboard would work great but where would I ever find a skateboard on very short notice in Pucon, Chile?

  I was waiting at the hardware store 10 minutes before it opened to buy a tarp to wrap it in.  I was standing outside trying to come up with alternatives and solutions to problems that hadn't begun to exist yet, when I looked down and saw a shiny new cinco peso coin on the bricks.  Now I am a believer in "Pennies from Heaven".  When you find a penny it means someone in heaven is looking out for you!  This was not a uno peso coin...this was a whopping cinco pesos and a peace settled in me that what ever happens today God has this one....relax...try to relax.  You only need to get the boat from the hostel to the bus depot.  Get it on the bus to Temuco.  Transfer it somehow from the Temuco bus depot to the airport a half hour away.  Get it on the LAN Airlines to Santiago.  Then the really daunting task of getting it on Delta, we do NOT fly kayaks, Airlines.   Then home to Minnesota.  All this by myself and I can't speak Spanish well nor can I hear well.  But God gave me five peso's...not one...five, so I have faith...along with a sick stomach and nerves.

  The hardware store opened up and I walked in.  There were beautiful wood cooking stoves right at the front.  Yes, I can and have cooked a lot on those and do miss it.  Right after the wood stoves, on a table, were about 5 skateboards!!  OMG!  When God gives you skateboards you buy a skateboard!  And they were cheap!  Only 8 Lukas!!  So I had a tarp and wheels to boot!  Back at Ellie's I wrapped and tied the boat with my paddles in a nice bundle with a skateboard for wheels!  Straps for handles.  It looked good!  Ellie gave me a ride to the bus depot and said farewell.   She is such an awesome person and gave me her phone number in case I needed any help from Pucon to Temuco.  She would be there for me!  Knowing someone like her in a foreign country is priceless!!  Thank you Ellie for everything!

  I walked the boat up with all my other bags to a lot of stares and comments.  When my bus came and I tried to load, the bus driver took one look and said NO!  He was very firm!  NO!  Then a lot of Spanish and finally two young men who could speak English came to my rescue.  I was directed next door to the freight shipping to talk with the man there.  No he could not get it to the airport before my flight left.  I wanted to cry then but the man was a Jefe.  He took charge in a very authoritative way.  He walked back to the buses and talked with a different bus had left...and three men determinedly stuffed the boat under the bus.  By putting it in diagonally and raising the back, it fit without a half inch to spare, not kidding!!  I was so happy I hugged them all while almost crying.  They took it in stride and loaded me on the bus and bid me farewell.  Driving out of Pucon tears did come.  I loved the people, the culture, the country, the water.  Chile is amazing and I couldn't have picked a better place for my first International destination!  I was on my way!  I will be back again someday.

  I arrived at the bus depot in the middle of downtown Temuco.  I asked a man at the desk to call me a taxi, por favor.  Un grande taxi!  I had a grande package.  He saw the boat...everyone saw it because it was so large and said a taxi couldn't help me but not to worry.  He had another man come out who spoke English and he explained they had some calls out and were waiting to hear back.  Good news.  A man with a red truck would come right away and pick me up!  OMG!  The kindness of Chileans!  The young man with the red truck was so nice!  He couldn't speak English but I did understand that his sister speaks it very well.  In fact he went to pick his sister up on the way to the airport just so she could ride along and talk to me.  She is in her last year of college to become an English teacher and she was so happy to talk to an American!  On the way to the airport we passed a taxi and they explained that it was their Dad.  He was the taxi driver who arranged for his son to pick me up.  They dropped me off at the airport and she offered to translate if needed.   The lady at the counter spoke English so we hugged and kissed a Chilean goodbye and when I offered them a tip they refused and literally ran out the door so I couldn't give it to them!  The sweetest people!!

  I turned to the counter lady and she looked at the grande package and said "Is that a kayak?  We don't fly kayaks".  Oh no!  My heart sank.  I mumbled something to the effect that it was a surf ski and like a kayak but not.  I told her the story of how it was supposed to have been sold the night before but the sale fell through and now I had to get it home somehow.  She got it and looked me dead in the eye and said "It's NOT a kayak then?"  And I said no it's not. She knew it was and God bless her for allowing it.   She did say that it was only checked through to Santiago though and then I would have to check it through "We don't fly kayaks" Delta.  The charge for the over size was a nominal $24.  Her last question for me and she was serious..."it's NOT a canoe is it?"  Ha!  Oh's definitely not a canoe but I do have one at home.   It was now 2pm and my flight left at 6:55pm but everything was working with a five peso promise of faith.  I got really hungry waiting for my flight and bought a chocolate bar to survive on until I could eat again.  It was a long afternoon but I was very thankful for the amazing chain of events that had gotten me to where I was with my boat.  The next jump was the crux.  I had faith.  I had cinco pesos in my pocket.

  Joining me on my flight to Santiago were two families from the New River Kayak Academy.  They were also  flying back to the states that evening.  The Jennings's family was on the same flight in Santiago to Atlanta as I was.  It was good to travel with other boaters at that point!  Again, in the Santiago Airport, my grande package was attracting a lot of attention from airline workers and from travelers.  One man even asked to take a photo of it.  This was the crux of my trip.  If I could get it checked on this flight it was home safe.  The Jennings  family and I knew how crucial this was. I had told them the story of the five pesos so we all had faith.   Alexis Grace helped me bring it to the counter...this was it.  The man took one look and said.  "That will be $ that OK"   YES!!!!  OMG!!  YES!!  It was on!  Euphoria set in!  All was well!  More than well as the convoluted trail of occurrences could only have been orchestrated by God! The kayak was coming home!  Thank you Lord!!

What!? I have to recheck it in Atlanta?  Nutz...I missed my flight by time I had gotten through customs and Homeland Security.  Unbelievably I was rebooked on a direct flight instead that arrived before the original two more flights I was to have been on.  Things were still going strong.  I called my friend Shirley, who was picking me up in her Audi, and told her that I would have to leave the boat at the airport and come back with my truck.  She suggested I call Miguel and have him come up with his truck and pick me up boat and all as he was off work today.  Thank you Miguel!!  Right now I and my boat and everything are home.  My truck started right up after sitting for three weeks! .   My house still stands and everything is fine here.  I'm waiting for the heat to come up and the hot water heater to heat up some water for a shower.   I have another boat.  I'm sure it will be put to good use.  My son doesn't really fit well in the Habitat so maybe a large Villain will be a better fit.  Either way I had not named this boat as it was to be sold.  Before leaving for Chile I had shaped some closed cell foam to outfit the new Villain I would have in Chile.  I had come to the conclusion that I wanted my thighs in tighter and really loved the way the new outfitting worked with the new boat.  I was a bit upset about the sale falling through but to be honest, deep in my heart I'm glad the kayak came home with me.  The outfitting is perfect for me!   The color was my first choice of color but curiously the bottom of the boat's mixed up colors actually resemble the Andes Mountains.  My three souvenirs from Chile are a black geode bracelet, a mate cup and my Villain.  On my way home during all of this I wanted to name the boat.  Something Chilean or Spanish.  Something to remind me of my time in Pucon.   Only one name comes to mind...Cinco. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

First Days in Pucon!

The flight down was a combination of delay, relay and run for plane.  But as it always does everything worked out and I landed on time in Temuco, Chile!   I wasn't in the country but an hour when I got my first kiss!  It's customary to kiss cheeks when you meet or say goodbye here...I'm going to like this place!

  I arrived at the Pucon Kayak Hostel in late afternoon.  Sun shining bright and hot out!  I hadn't slept in well over 24 hours so I was fried.  Still I hiked around and looked at the river and checked out my boat.  The hostel is an amazing place!  From domes to bunkhouses to gypsies wagons.  The center piece is a quincho!   This building is a pure form of artwork!  It's the gathering place for everyone here.

   My second day here the weather had turned colder and misty.  Still tired from my trip and not too much for cold weather paddling I went about getting my pesos and shopping done.  When I finished the weather turned to a cold drizzling rain so I just decided to hang out and outfit my boat.

  The third day the temps were very cold and still overcast and drizzle.  I took a mountain bike and put on 30K for a good start.  Just after I got back to the hostel the rain came down seriously and it rained for two days....remember all those prayers for rain up north.  Well God does deliver but he gets to choose the time and place.  No matter.  I had a guide arraigned for the next day and the waters were rising!  Sunshine and warmer was predicted!

  Well as things go when the water rises guides go (understandably) for the class V fun so I had to wait till afternoon for my run on the lower Trancura.  I took the bike up the Rio Turbio for another 30K bike ride.  Just an amazing place!  I met a young college student going the same way and he wanted to talk English and I wanted to talk Spanish.  It worked and we had a great time exploring.  There are climbing areas back the and I was also able to do a little bouldering.  But oh my!  Such great sport routes up there on fantastic rocks!!

  Back at the hostel my guide was back and ready to go.  Nothing is done in a hurry down here and I really don't realize time or days's good.  My guide is Tino Specht from Bomb Flow!!  Oh yeah!  I know I won't have to worry on this river.  Looking at the river there were far less rocks, thank you rain!  We warmed up on the first drop and then headed down.  The water was just big water fun.  Nothing too hard...just big fast fun!  One wave was so big it almost stopped and surfed my Villain!  I felt pretty good after warming up on that run.  Unfortunately Tino had plans to head to the Fuy the next day so I ended up getting another guide. I wanted one more run on the Lower Trancura for warm up before hitting harder runs.  My guide for my second run is Aniol Serrasolses from Spain!  Watch for the next Bomb Flow episode and you'll see Aniol!  As it turned out Tino didn't go to the Fuy as planned and another couple joined us with Tino as his guide.  The water had fallen back to the level it was the day before but it was still fun.

  Next up today the upper Trancura...a step up from the lower.  Then maybe work up to the Palguin.   So far there have been amazing things down here.  The buildings are incredible works of natural art!  The food is amazing!  I had the pleasure of going out and dancing one night and I can still move it :)  All is good!  So would I ever come back here!!  Oh hell yes!   I can see why many boaters and people make this place their home.  Next year for sure!
  I have 2 more weeks here!  I'll write more when I can get to town which isn't often.  Con amour de Chile!!
Did I mention Volcanos!! Wow!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Environmental Learning Center of Red Wing goes Whitewater!


The Red Wing Environmental Learning Center has gone whitewater!  I met the instructors Brad Nagel and Chad Nelson a few years ago when they commissioned pool time for kayaks at the local YMCA.  With a hodgepodge of older donated kayaks, paddles, and gear they were teaching rolling in the pool.  Personally I was overjoyed to not have to drive an hour plus to go to a pool session. It was heaven to just drive 5 minutes and be in a warm pool with my kayak.

  Brad was interested in what we have been doing with the pool sessions in the cities.  Polo, skills, rolling, and open pool time make up our winter pool activities in Brooklyn Center through Rapids Riders.   We talked and Brad being a long time whitewater paddler was very enthusiastic about developing a whitewater program for his students.

  Last winter I loaded up my quiver of kayaks and brought them to the pool along with whitewater paddles and spray skirts. We played hard and had a lot of fun.  Brad was hooked on the Jackson Star playboats. Working with Jackson Kayaks, the ELC was able to buy 10 Jackson Star series kayaks to jump start their program.

  This last summer went great for the ELC whitewater program.  Brad and Chad introduced many young adults to whitewater paddling.  They made several trips around Minnesota and Wisconsin, with their students, running our classic Midwest rivers.

   This coming spring, Brad and Chad, will be leading a trip to Southeast to run rivers such as The Nantahala, Nolichucky and other SE classic runs.  Focusing on getting his young adults ready for this trip, he had set up pool sessions for teaching basic skills to the ELC students.  Rolling was easily mastered by the students and they acquired a very good understanding of kayak polo.  Lots of fun!  They're in for a trip of a lifetime!

  Whitewater kayaking has been a welcome addition to all the amazing programs the ELC offers. Climbing, ice climbing, skiing, backwoods trekking, rafting trips, canoeing....the list is long.   It's a very well run organization  providing many opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to young adults. It will be great to see where these boats will take them in their adventures.

  This winter the ELC added several new whitewater specific paddles to their gear box thanks to Midwest Mountaineering. .  Still needed are whitewater sprayskirts.  The ELC is a non profit organization and any donations are very welcome. And tax deductible!  Gotta an old skirt?