Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hucking, Swimming, and Shredding

When Sam left me with the keys to his house and E-350 Van, with the words "Take chances" as the last thing he said to me, I knew it was going to be a great week. 

The following day, I ganged up with Steve Cameron and crew to catch Hagen Gorge. It's flashy, shallow, and has a bunch of great slides and ledges... The PNW equivalent of Woodhull Creek in NY, or maybe Patterson for you Vermonters. Except it's way better because it's in the PNW...

Hagen Creek ends after about a mile and 260 feet lower than where we put in. It joins the North Fork Washougal, doubling the flow and immediately falls off Teakettle Falls, a really fun slide to waterfall combo that requires a strong ferry halfway down. There's a stellar playhole at the base of the waterfall...and by stellar I mean uniform and sticky... and backed up by another identical hole just behind it. I forgot the gopro, but these guys put together a great edit from another trip.

The next rapid that's really of note is sometimes called Double Drop and sometimes called Crack In The Earth...which is confusing because later on there's another one alternatively known as The Portage and Crack In The Earth. Anyways, I screwed up the line in the runnable CITE, boofing into a curtain and then flipping in the slot that gives the rapid it's name. I still consider it a success though, since I've always wanted to boof into a curtain...

After several fun class III-IV rapids and a couple weirs with serious holes, we joined up with the Main Washougal, probably tripling the flow and changing the character yet again from pool drop to play. As I cut into the eddy servicing the best playspot, I dropped into another great playspot. It's great because it's super retentive! With a reminder that my surfing abilities are definitely lacking, I slid into the eddy with a sigh of relief.

It was a great day, starting way up in the mountains with snow falling and eventually ending on a river several times larger than the one we began on in the typical lush mossy greenery with sun shining at the takeout. Thanks to everyone that made it such a great day!

The next day, Harrison Rea rallied to get me on the Wilson River with some LCers for a great day of playboating. Unfortunately, I was in a Jackson Fun, a boat designed for someone approximately a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter than me.

At some point in my unexpected introduction to squirtboating, we had a swimmer on our hands, and the three of us remaining in boats piled into a large recirculating eddy. It took a few minutes to get the boat to shore because everytime we reached the top of the eddy we were stern-squirted and sent to repeat the process.

After ensuring our rescuee was alright, I made the comment "if you're not swimming, you're not trying" and peeled out of the eddy. I proceeded to try, really really hard. As I peeled out, I stern squirted as expected, but my momentum carried me to river left and I splatted a point of rock. The point happened to be the downstream end of a rather hideous pocket (complete with depressed whirlpool) that also happened to be the perfect size for a Fun.

I'd love to say that I made a valiant effort to extricate myself while in my boat, but really, I missed a few rolls, reached for the green water, and felt the boat starting to pin up against the rocks. I decided it was time to say goodbye to my impromptu squirt boat, pulled the skirt, and in the same motion grabbed the shore and pulled myself up.

I stared in horror as my borrowed boat was sucked out of sight, straight down into the whirlpool. My borrowed paddle followed immediately after. When the river regurgitated my gear about 10 seconds later, I wasted no time getting it up on the rocks with me. The whole self rescue probably took less than a minute, so I don't think I need to be practicing that any more...

After a few days of working, I rallied out to Mt. Hood for my first day of snowboarding in the West. Although it wasn't the champagne powder of Idaho, the snow conditions were great, and it was bluebird for the first half of the day.
funny that it's called bluebird when my skin gets SO red.

 Great (new) friends made the day even better, showing me down some lines I wouldn't have tried on my own, and providing some great material for my first edit in a while...

Saturday John and Kate plus way more than eight showed me down the Upper Wind while we set safety and ended up prviding safety for other members of the safety crew. The Upper is great fun, pushy, with some pretty big holes. After paying the appropriate tribute to the river gods and bribing some other new friends, I headed over to Hood River for the premiere of "Slippery When Wet" to watch the schweet footage and bro down with Shon Bollock.

With plans laid to paddle Canyon Creek the following day, I headed home fairly early to get a good night's sleep. I helped Kate get her Sandy River float trip together and set a backup plan to paddle Bull Run with her since it was close to the Sandy. I then settled down to wait...

and wait...

...and wait...

and then finally, I waited some more.

At 1, I had given up all hope on paddling something gnarly, so I headed out to Bull Run for a quick lap on some class III.

Or so I thought. You see, Kate is a rally-er, despite her reluctance to admit it. When I suggested a game of EDDY (think HORSE for basketball, but for kayaking), things got real, real fast. We were a pretty even match, and made some pretty spectacular moves out of the usually mellow river features.

In an hour, we made it approximately 100 yards from the put in. It was the most fun I've ever had in a single rapid.

And that pretty much sums up the awesomeness of last week!
Monday, March 19, 2012

The Illis[t]nois[e]- A Triptych in Literary Form

We wake. The patter of rain we fell asleep to has eased to a steady and subtle hiss. It casts an ominous haze over the burnt and broken hills. Globes of water settle on our skin. They trickle and drip deep into the thick layers we wear to ward off the chilled, pre-dawn air. The rain has a voice; it whispers, I’m here to stay.

We don drysuits, skirts, and lifejackets. The bright splashes of color do little to cast away the depthless grey. We drain our boats. We check the level. It’s rising. He said he’d never put on this river in the rain. He said…

What he said is drowned in the insidious hissing. Our thoughts are drowning, too. The weight of the rain shrouds the clarity of our minds just as it shrouds the clarity of the river.
An not-so-bright, but still early start on the Illinois
-Michael Gordon Photo

You’re in deep now, deeper than you’ve ever been before. Deeper than you know. You left all signs of humanity at the put in, and there’s a full day of paddling before you’ll see one again.

Though the current drags you inexorably forwards, time is lost between the canyon walls. It wells up and swirls in the eddies, allowing your senses to absorb every ripple as it passes. The river displays an infinite array of colors as it casts rainbows in the mist, the chill of winter lurks among the snow coated pines that cap the mountains surrounding you.

More striking than the sights of the untouched wilderness is the melody of the river in it’s most natural and wild state. The crashing wave is more dramatic than any climactic cymbals, the melody more dynamic than a symphony. The roar of the river resonates through every inch of your being.
Michael Gordon Photo
Have you ever been in love? No, not with a person or a place. In love with a moment; a brief slice of time, flitting in nature but remembered for a lifetime.

Everything just fits; any more and the world of your heart might explode. Nothing’s missing. It’s a moment when everything feels right that should, and you move past confronting what feels wrong and just accept it.

In this moment, I am in love with the great cresting rollers dashing themselves against the rocks, with the warmth of the sun-not-quite-setting, the rumble of tires on pavement. I am in love with the exhaustion begging my eyelids to close, the ache of 33 miles of whitewater nestling into my shoulders, and the smell of the river stuck in my clothes. I am in love with the silence settling on my soul.

Inspired by the Illinois-In-A-Day expedition, composed of Ben Orkin, Harrison Rea, Michael Gordon, and myself. Special thanks to "other" Ben and Chloe for driving shuttle and allowing the whole adventure to happen. For a detailed description of the 33-mile overnight section that we paddled, visit the Oregon Kayaking page and check out the Illinois River.
Monday, March 5, 2012

Manifest Destiny

I've been fascinated by the west and the west coast for as long as I can remember. Last summer, I was inspired to take my own odyssey to work at eNRG Kayaking in Portland, Oregon. I had no plans beyond having a sweet job kayaking... no idea where I'd stay, or what to expect, but I had a tent and a lot of optimism.

I was fortunate enough to develop a great relationship with owner Sam Drevo right off the bat, and ended up crashing in his office for most of the summer. The other instructors turned out to be awesome as well, and at the end of the summer I was pretty bummed to be leaving.

It should come as no surprise then, that I've returned to the place that sometimes feels more like home than the area I grew up in. But first... an account of my final days in the North-East...

Really, it's been an awful winter, at least in terms of facilitating high activity levels and overall enjoyment.  It didn't snow. Temperatures jumped from 50 degrees to -10 overnight. I was working 50 hours a week more often than not, just trying to make enough to pay for rent. The only good part about the weather was that I didn't feel like I was missing out on epic powder days all the time.

And then the northeast heard I was leaving.

Jay Peak got slammed with 2 feet of snow overnight, and I just happened to have a pass that weekend (Thanks for ditching me Cory).

But the thing about Jay Peak getting 2 feet of snow is that surrounding areas usually get at least some of that snow too, and my car was not making it up the access road on the spare. Fortunately, Kay offered to drive her car (affectionately known as Henry). Unfortunately, Henry uses all seasons, which is kind of like using flip-flops for an arctic multi-day expedition.

After an uneventful drive to Montgomery, things got a little steep, and Kay's car started getting less affectionately known as "The giant pile of german shit" as Subaru after Subaru swerved around the struggling vehicle. At the top of the first hill, Kay relinquished her seat as pilot willingly, while I slid in behind the wheel muttering about women drivers, gingers, and flatlanders.

While driving myself was less terrifying because I could at least feel responsible for my untimely death, I regretted getting behind the wheel immediately. I was as gripped then as I ever have been while kayaking. Maybe not as bad as SUPing, but definitely close. There was absolutely no traction, and bright lights kept popping up on the dash while the tires spun and the windshield fogged over from the heat of the engine. It seemed to take forever to reach the top of each hill, until finally, we made it past the last big one and just had a valley to cross before the home-stretch.

Oh yeah, that "valley" happens to be more of a ravine.
Like this, but going the other way. And steeper, definitely steeper...
I would let off the brakes long enough to reach 4 mph and then lightly tap them, and then slide for another 5 feet. So really, I got to go snowboarding before I even put the snowboard on my feet. Henry likes to shred too.

When we finally made it to the mountain, it was all worth it. There were times when I'd step out of my bindings in the woods because it was too deep to move and sink down to my chest. And it kept dumping all day. We didn't take many photos that day, but I did hook it up with the Gopro as you should have seen above...

On the way back, Desi drove, smack talking the road and only slipping off once. Which was rather remarkable since we had to take the back way home. And they don't make roads very straight in VT. It took us over 3 hours to make the normally 1.5 hour drive because some frenchy(canadian) bus driver decided to rally and park it sideways across the road.

The next day, Matt Ide, Taylor Krammen, and I rallied up (on bare roads) to Bolton Valley for some great blue-bird powder. Definitely in the top 5 days of resort skiing.

Monday, I headed home. Tuesday, I unpacked and repacked. And Wednesday I was Portland bound.

It was to be my first time flying alone, and it was going to be flawless. After we got my bag checked, I said goodbye to the parental unit (dad), and headed through TSA without a problem. The first flight went well, no turbulence and a cool climber to talk to on my way to O'hare.

At the end of my layover, while waiting at the correct gate, the passengers from the previous flight unloaded. The ticket-checker announced that we didn't have a pilot.

I thought they were joking. They were not.

Almost 2 hours later, I finally reached an agent at the customer service desk and sorted things out. They booked me a room at The Hilton, conveniently attached to the airport, and flew me out at 5AM the next day. To Denver.

As excited as I was to visit the mile high city, I didn't appreciate the time of day I arrived there, or the fact that I had flown a few hundred miles out of my way to visit. After a brief layover there, I hopped aboard my connection flight only to be surrounded by 2 rather large men who didn't seem to be interested in making conversation.

At least I didn't have to drive.

A few hours after I arrived in Portland, I was introduced to Erik Boomer just before he presented a slideshow of his Arctic Epic, a circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island. The dude's one of the adventurers of the year... no biggie.

The next day, Sam and I rallied to Sahalie Falls with a few others to set safety and potentially run the 78-footer. Boomer ended up being the only one to drop it, and Sam provided the perfect toss to keep him from swimming the gnarly rapid just below. Forge Motion Pictures was there filming with their RED Epics, a camera worth more than my debt from school. It was a good first full day in Oregon.

Saturday and Sunday were quickly consumed by the ENRG Guide Training program, which I co-led with Sam and a few bros from last summer. A SUP on the Lower Clackamas provided entertainment for all, and the next day marked my first day kayaking on a river in 2012 with a double header from Revenue Bridge to Dodge Park on the Sandy and a quick lap on Bull Run. Plus I got to train with the PMI Reach System, which pretty much everyone needs to check out.

Full days with bigger plans each day... It's gonna be a good one!

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.