Monday, June 22, 2015

Racing Blind?

Racing Blind?

The Pacific North West has a pile of great race events in the spring. The courses range from low volume class 4 on the East Fork Lewis to the waterfall play ground of Canyon Creek and the dangerous and demanding waters of Robe Canyon. These all sounded like a ton of fun, but the only issue was that I hadn’t paddled any of the sections before. The lack of practice and sleep from the healthy party atmosphere supported by the ultra-friendly local paddlers still couldn’t sway me from competing in these quality race courses.

East Fork Lewis

Showing up to the East Fork Lewis I had the misconception that I was on “Cascade Creek”. Setting my boat down in the top eddy I could see a respectable horizon line. I chatted to a couple others in the eddy and was introduced to Chris and Hillary Neevel, who took me under their wing for a quick practice run down the “race course” section. It was about four miles into the section when Chris looked over his shoulder and stated that he wasn’t sure where the race actually finished. Another mile downstream we reached a fun waterfall, after which we called it quits and hiked to the road to hitchhike back to the starting line. Upon reaching the starting line, we were informed that the course was only a little more than a mile long and we had significantly passed the take out. The race lap went relatively smooth and awarded me a third place finish in the long boat division. 

plopping off the first falls on the East Fork Lewis

high fives on the podium

Canyon Creek

A day later Chris, Hillary, and I were standing around in yet another parking lot talking about the next race, which in my head had to be this “Cascade Creek” I was certain we were racing. Turns out I was wrong again and we would be racing down Canyon Creek. Canyon Creek is a significantly harder course than East Fork Lewis and contains a handful of fun waterfalls. The beta at the top of the run was, “When in doubt go off the middle”. 3 2 1 GO! Pulling hard on forward strokes, the initial rapids went well. A couple of blind turns and the first large horizon line appeared, luckily for me there was more than ample safety on the course and I was able to shout out a quick, “Which way do I go?!” to a safety member. The response was comical, a dropped jaw and an, “A a a right!” The impromptu lines were working out relatively well but were definitely far from the fast race lines. As I fell off the tallest horizon line on the course smack dab in the center of the flow, I clipped a shelf halfway down and started rotating towards my head. Twenty feet below I landed solidly on my side, and with a strong brace and forward stroke pulled away from the veil to see safety members helping a swimmer out of the landing zone. The first of the final two ledges, though, was by far the most entertaining. Again I asked which way to go and this time the safety responded with a strong, “RIGHT!” Looking back at this, what I think he meant was right of center, but that was not where I was heading. I heard RIGHT and I was going RIGHT, all the way RIGHT. On the far right side of the river is a funky curler that led directly into yet another waterfall. A solid stroke onto the curler and my thoughts were that this line was way harder than anything else on the course. A nice boof-to-paddle-twirl and a solid extracurricular line was complete. From there the finish line was in sight, and a new section of whitewater was completed relatively quickly and with almost no beta.

Robe Canyon

stout crew

A few weeks later it was Robe Canyon time. At least I wasn’t still messed up on the name of the run, but yet again I had no practice laps. The Robe Canyon is definitely the most challenging of the three races and getting safety onto the course is difficult at best. So the “organizers” have decided to do the race as a team event. Every racer must complete the course with one other kayaker. This was interesting as some people had been training together and others where finding partners at the put in. I was distinctly in the latter group and was starting to chat up a handful of possible partners when Chris “Topher” invited me to be his partner. The course is spectacular and contains a handful of difficult rapids. Difficult enough to put me upside down not once but twice. A respectable finishing spot was attained and the party commenced at the newly installed commemorative bench.

1. Dave & Will                                29:50
2. Ben & Brian                                30:20
3. Sam & Jordy                               30:42
4. Sam & Benn                               31:00
5.Henry & Adam                            31:29
6. Darren, Scott & Christian           31:40
7. Brad & Evan                               32:15
8. Trevor & Chase                          33:20
9. Joe & Dan                                   33:39
10. Chris & Chris                            33:56
11. Hillary & Ellie                          37:14
12. Jon & JD                                   38:45
13. Chris & Leif                              39:37
14. Steve & Conor                          53:54

Racing blind is almost always guaranteed to give you a horrible finishing placement, but it is a spectacularly silly way to see a new section.

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