Monday, June 11, 2012


(This is the truth, and also more than the truth.)

It sure does feel like falling. If you try to fight it things just get out of control. That's how you end up hurt. It's best to just let go, tuck up, and wait it out. Of course, sometimes you do everything right and things still get broken.
Letting go and tucking up on Metlako Falls, Eagle Creek, OR
Kate Daniel Photo
It's always a choice, too. Whether it was a spur of the moment decision with a convenient pool at the top or a missed takeout where you ended up gorged in at the lip with no choice but to fall, there were a series of choices that led to the moment you tip over the edge.
One of the ones without many options. Brokeback Gorge, NY
Taylor Krammen Photo
And once you've made that choice, it's all what you make of it. Things accelerate quickly. Changes are hard to react to. Sometimes, even letting go doesn't work as well as you had hoped.
Reacting. Pixley Falls, NY
Brian Murphy Photo
When you're falling, that's all that exists. For some it's natural. Others feel their stomachs drop out. Everyone takes some time to wonder how they got there in the first place. Inevitably you start to wonder how long it's going to last. Above all, it seems bigger than it really is.
Metlako Falls, OR
Kate Daniel Photo
So you hang there.
In ecstasy or agonizing anticipation.
"Remember, this was a choice." Metlako Falls, OR.
Ethan Smith Photo
And just pray you don't hit bottom.
Kate Daniel Photo
And now for something completely different.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Best Place On Earth

You know it's true because it's on their license plates...
I haven't been around long enough or traveled far enough to make such a bold claim, but I can certainly say that it's one of the best places I've ever been.

British Columbia has been on my list of bucket list destinations since I started kayaking. Back then, it was more of a pipe-dream than an actual goal. The likelihood of me making it within striking distance of that particular part of The Great White North seemed negligible, and even after spending a summer in Oregon, the area still seemed inaccessible.

And so when Don "Cap'n Holiday" Butler extended an open invitation to explore the Whistler area, I knew the outcome could only be legendary.

Equally important to the success of the trip was an appropriate partner in crime...
Enter Kate "Skate" Daniel
Yes, the mission to B.C. could only be a success...

Kate took the day off on Thursday to pack and "acquire" a sweet mountain bike for me to borrow on our extended weekend. I held up our departure until about 6 that night, but I was getting more people stoked on kayaking, so I think I was forgiven.

We proceeded to drive (cranking Weezer and Insane in the Membrane the whole way) to a rest area about 20 minutes south of the border. On the way, we suffered a couple technological casualties, including, but not limited to, a totally shattered phone. Suddenly disconnected, we settled in for a cramped night in the car.
Despite tight accommodations, Kate awoke chipper as always (after "just 30 more minutes")
Apparently Canada doesn't believe in the concept of an inter-province (Because they aren't states, after all), so we had to battle rush hour traffic through Vancouver, which is home to about a tenth of the province's population.
Fortunately, we had a pretty clear idea of our destination
As soon as we got on the Sea to Sky Highway, things just kept getting better.
Sea-Check. Sky-Check. Highway-Check.
Yup, they got the name right.
After a brief stop in Whistler Village to get directions, we were welcomed into Don's gorgeous home for the weekend. Kate and I settled in without hesitation and gladly recovered from the drive while watching the final stages of the Giro D'Italia... which the Canadians ended up winning.
Go Canada, eh!
Skate, scoping things out.
Don made pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, er... stove, in this shot.

After unloading gear from his last class, Don showed us down the Calcheak, a class II-III staple in the Whistler area that combined the Lower Callaghan with a section of the Cheakamus. The numerous surf holes were friendlier than expected.

It was a great introduction to the whitewater of the area with some pushy features, a bit of wood, and incredible scenery.

My appreciation for having a local guide on these rivers can not be overstated. It was very common to watch the river drop away around a bend with no significant eddies in sight. In most cases, the rapids were mellow class III, but every once in a while there were places you really wouldn't want to end up.

After a stellar first run in B.C. (my first international paddle, we rallied to the Lost Lake mountainbike trails for my first international pedal, setting the pace for the rest of the weekend.
We returned to a delicious roast chicken dinner with strawberries and ice cream for dessert, plus a hot tub session. I slept well.

Saturday was spent as follows:
Paddling the Lower Birkenhead and napping on this sweet swinging bridge.
Breaking and attempting to repair a bike chain.
Digging ourselves into and back out of a pretty deep hole.
Alpenglow admiring.
 It was a great day, the highlight being a self guided tour of the Upper Cheakamus. After our aborted attempt at repairing my bike chain, Kate and I headed to the "Upper Lower Upper Put-in" for the Upper Cheakamus with beta from some bros at the takeout telling us to beware of the second hole after the suspension bridge.

Naturally, we decided to put in below their suggested put-in, and above Don's suggested put-in. In doing so, we subjected ourselves to a boat hindered hike several hundred "metres" through the woods and miraculously (read "through my innate sense of direction") found ourselves at the only reasonable eddy in sight. It was fine though, because I got to play in the snow.

It was at this point that Kate began question the wisdom in following me down a river neither of us had paddled before.
It wouldn't be the last time I would see this face...
Despite these (valid) concerns, we set forth through the most challenging whitewater we were to experience on the trip. I boat scouted through the class IV relaying nonverbal beta wherever I could. We arrived at the suspension bridge sooner than expected, without significant difficulty, and stoked on the experience.

Things quickly got gorge-y, and horizon lines started popping up all over the place. After a particularly hard to read ledge with a strong hole on the right, we slowed down and put more effort into figuring out exactly which rapid had the big nasty hole in it.
Nope, not this one...
Kate Daniel Photo
After blasting through the above and catching a convenient "last chance" eddy at the lip, it became quite apparent we had found "the big one." With no easy portage or scouting options in sight, I took a couple spins around the eddy line to get a better look and then went for it, nailing a SWEET boof off a flake on the left. The right consisted of a steep foam pile with a strong recirculation and pretty much no exit options.

Kate followed shortly after, hugging the left wall just a bit too closely. Her bow knocked off the wall and time slowed down as I watched her piton the same flake I boofed off and get knocked back into the hole. She disappeared completely, then rocketed out in a huge stern stall-pirouette and then disappeared again. After some sidesurfing and at least one more significant ender, she pulled her skirt, proving the bros at the takeout were right when they said "you either punch it, or you swim it."

I charged forward to get to a rock and throw a rope while she took a half-body recirc and as soon as she flushed into the eddy on the right I took off after her boat. With some fortunate side currents and a mindfulness of ferry angles developed during the very class that led to my late departure, I bulldozed the boat up to Kate and had her back in the boat just in time for a local crew to come down.

Sufficiently shaken (and in Kate's case, stirred), we asked if they'd be kind enough to show us down the rest of the run, which they were happy to do. What followed were numerous bends with pushy class IV and the occasional chute to negotiate. On one rapid, I was following along through the thick of it and noticed a potential boof flake out of the corner of my eye. Without taking the time to consider there could be a massive hole on the other side, I charged towards and felt the bow of my boat get thrown to the sky while I accelerated more rapidly forward than I had ever been before. I landed stern first in the middle of a boulder garden, recovering just in time to dodge a couple big holes and continue down.

At the takeout, we thanked our guides and met back up with Don at Dup's, the best Burrito place in Whistler. His eyebrows raised a bit when we told him about our put-in and he broke into a grin when we told him about our experience in the gorge. 
Then I made pie. Kate helped... sort of. 
Either way it was delicious.

The next day started slow, with a dip in the hot tub.
It's hard to rush with views like this...
We rounded out our trip with another good bike ride, which also allowed us to do a post-run scout of the Upper Cheakamus. It was great to come back after having run it blind and see everything again, especially getting a good look of the hole and how gorged in we were.
Kate checking out the "easy 6 foot boof" at the suggested put-in by the bros.
soaking it all in...
With a brief pit stop and roundabout hike to a rather large falls, we headed home, arriving in Portland happy and exhausted around 1 am.

Maybe the numerous crystal clear rivers with wildly ranging levels of difficutly (all within about a 30 minute drive) that tumble down the valleys and canyons between still snowcapped peaks have something to do with it. Maybe it was the miles of technical singletrack twisting between ancient trees blanketed in moss. Maybe it was because it was my first multi-day vacation in months.

But more likely, it was the company I had on the trip that made British Columbia the best place on Earth.

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