Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stepping It Up

Sometimes you DO IT . . .
You get into the zone and JUST DO IT . . .

We didn't get much whitewater river kayaking in this winter, but somehow I stepped up my game from being a schizophrenic class II/III boater to confidently paddling some class IV.

I'm not sure how this really happened but suspect that it had a lot to do with the time that we spent this winter in the surf zone.

Capsizing in the surf zone when you are kayak surfing is inevitable and even a good strategy so needless to say a winter of kayak surfing meant lots of time upside-down and rolling in moving water.

When I started whitewater kayaking, my main goal was to remain upright. I was terrified of flipping and being flushed down a rapid upside down. Through experience, I have come to realize that a capsize and roll only takes seconds and that you don't end up way downstream in the process. It is almost like time stands still and you roll up in almost the same spot where you capsized. The key is confidence in your roll.

So this whitewater season, I surrendered myself to the inevitability of capsizing on the river. My mantra shifted from take the easy line and stay up-right to see your line and execute it. If things go to !@#$ - roll up and paddle to safe water.

On our Eel River Mountains to the Sea Paddle last month, We encountered a couple of stretches of Class IV. Our last paddle of the trip was on the Middle Fork of the Eel River at 3500cfs. The run was 25 miles of class II and then probably the hardest rapid that I have run yet in the class IV range.

We scouted the rapid and the middle looked downright ugly. It had 2 consecutive but slightly offset recirculating hydraulics - DEFINITELY not a place to be. Neither the left or right had a clear path but the left looked like the best route to take and not end up in the messy middle. Of course the left had 2 considerable hydraulics to be negotiated. The plan was to avoid the first and punch the other one (most likely capsize, flush-out, and roll-up) and enjoy the wave train finish.

Of course, I capsized on the entrance drop into the rapid - rolled up and eddied out. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP - I felt my heart beating through my chest. The thought "I could get out here and portage," shot through my mind. I erased the thought and told myself to charge it. I ferried midway across but should have ferried further to the left. When I turned to head downstream, I was heading right at the hole on the top that the plan was to avoid. I didn't have time to avoid it and tried to drive through it.

It grabbed me and flipped me. I rolled up and continued driving for my target rock on river left. I got there and somehow skirted the flush-out and roll up hydraulic. F - Yeah!!!

It might have been nice to run the lines cleanly, and I am sure that someday I will. But there is definitely satisfaction in nailing a combat roll in a critical situation - not to mention nods of approval from paddling companions.


  1. Cate, Wow! Congrats on your class IV rapid!

  2. Fantastic and Inspiring read! Way to go! Can't wait to meet you... probably headin' up your way this summer sometime with Jack B.
    Lenora (So Cal kayakin' gal)