Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Girls in Bikinis!

No, it's not just an attention grabbing title. But I'll get to the girls in a little bit.

I just returned home from a 3-day paddling trip to the Channel Islands. Sorry I didn't hit my SPOT when we got to the beach but I had packed it away in the wrong place and didn't want to dig it out of the bottom of the truck after getting packed for the long drive home. But the trip went well and mild weather made for some easy paddling. This was the classic Channel Islands - the perfect 3 day crossing trip. We launched from Oxnard; paddled over to Anacapa Island to explore and camp for the night; paddled on to Santa Cruz Island the next day and spent the night there; finally we paddled back to Oxnard. It's a great intro to kayak camping, open crossings and cave exploration all wrapped up into a long weekend.

View Anacapa-Santa Cruz in a larger map

Our crossing to Anacapa was under grey skies and calm winds. We headed straight for Frenchy's beach, the only place you are allowed to land, for a short break before working our way to the landing cove. The landing cove represents the biggest challenge of the trip - the dock is ten feet above the water. Hauling fully loaded boats up to 'land' is quite the feat. Pedro had devised a hoist system for a similar set up on Santa Barbara Island that would allow one person to do the task along - or at least that was the theory. This was our chance to test it out. But as we rounded the corner we were confronted with a group of bikini clad girls jumping off of said dock. Pedro now had plenty of hands to help haul up kayaks but for some reason chose to go it alone. The system was proven (it worked, but not pretty) with one boat but for the others I jumped up to give him a hand.

The next day the lowering of kayaks from the dock was much easier (maybe it was the help of gravity, maybe the lack of distractions). We paddled through the famous arch and around the south side of Anacapa where we ran into a curious pod of sea lions - check out the video below. Then we crossed over to Santa Cruz, a relatively short crossing at four miles but notorious for headwinds that funnel through the gap. But winds stayed light and we made it into Scorpion Cove before the sun broke through and winds picked up. Since we all have played in the caves around the landing sight numerous times before we decided to take a hike up the canyon to find the Island Ironwood - a small tree that only grows on the Channel Islands. I've been to the islands dozens of times but never heard of this particular tree before - it's cool when a familiar place still has something new to discover.

The third day we had another early launch. The forecast was for winds increasing and out of the NW. We were headed NE and figured a little action, hopefully at our sterns, would help the 20 mile crossing fly along. But the winds never came - even as we approached Oxnard and the sun came out it remained calm and warm. we landed early in the afternoon in time to grab a little sushi (the normal burger joint was closed) and head on home. Not a terrible way to end a simple little trip. More PICTURES HERE and a nice little clip of the sea lions checking us out below:

Astral Swim Contest - Twenty Seconds

The contest is now over - I finished second :(  But the story's still a good one, so read on. Help! I'm a finalist in Astral Buoyancy's 'Swim' story contest. It's my write up of my swim through an underwater cave on the lower Kern river a couple years ago. There are three finalists and Astral is letting votes on Facebook decide the winner. So take a quick moment and read the stories HERE and then go vote HERE.

The winner gets a new Astral PFD but since I have plenty of PFD's if I win I will raffle it off for a good cause: The Jason Craig Recovery Fund.

And here's the video from the swim, just in case you want to see what really happened:

And here's a different write-up I did for American Whitewater (they didn't use it but I think it's actually a better version - just didn't fit in the size constraint for the contest...)

Twenty seconds

Time passes differently on the river. The days are longer, filled with more than should fit into a twenty-four hour period. Each minute seems to have endless possibilities. Every second gets stretched out to a tangible period of time with multiple thoughts and actions. This slowing of the passage of time is often a pleasing aspect to river travel, but it takes on a more extreme character during a crisis.

We’ve all heard the stories: I was in that hole forever; I was under water for minutes; I thought I would never get unpinned. But usually these are exaggerations, the actual time spent under duress being far shorter than the true reality of the situation (or what our friends experienced while watching the action). But there is a difference between the time measured on a clock and what we experience on the river.

Twenty seconds. That’s how much time I spent underwater, mostly in a cave. The helmet cam video proves it, though it is black for a lot of that time. It felt longer to me. And to my friends watching from shore. But I still had plenty of air in my lungs when I emerged so it might actually have only been twenty seconds. But those twenty seconds were filled to the brim with thoughts and reflections.

At the top of the rapid I am focused as the rocks and holes fly by at high speed. Then the final hole spins me around before the big drop and everything switches to slow motion. Once backwards I have time to debate whether I should try to spin around or just go with it. In a fraction of a second I weigh the pros and cons: if I miss the spin I’ll go over sideways and get recirced – or maybe surfed towards the cave; if I go over backwards I could still stay in the current and go past the cave. I decide to stay backwards and backpaddle for as much speed as possible. It doesn’t work.

As I hit the bottom of the drop I feel my stern get turned sideways and the current grab my edge. I’m flipping with too much force to try to brace so I immediately go into a tuck, ready to roll before I’m upside down. In the white chaos I pause to see if I’m in the hole or flushing out. I feel the push of current that says I’m free and have time to note the power of that current as I begin my roll. Part way through I'm stopped – I hit the rock on my way up and know that the rock is above me, holding me down. I'm in the cave and the light quickly fades.

I pull my skirt as my boat comes to a rest pushed against the back wall of the underwater cave. I know exactly where I am and quickly exit the boat, choosing to release my paddle since it will be no use to me now. I quickly scan my environment – I can see the light coming from upstream but the flow of water pushing against me makes that route unattainable. I reach to the ceiling to try to get above the water – but there is no air pocket to be found. I start to feel around with my hands, looking for a passage out or anything that might prove useful. I notice that my boat is still right next to me and I wonder if it has an air pocket of its own. I leave that for later since I still have plenty of air at the moment.

As my search comes up empty part of my mind considers my situation in the abstract. I might actually die in here. There’s no flash of past memories, no thoughts of regret or curses for the cruelty of fate.  There is acceptance, the understanding that this situation is simply a logical outcome of the choices and actions that led to it. This is what we choose to risk when we paddle at this level. I accept that risk but I am not ready to accept that final outcome so I focus back on the situation and how to change it.

I feel a tug on my feet, the current going down and pulling me with it. I remember the story of a past boater swimming down and out this very cave; I remember that he got stuck on a tree branch in the process. But I know that to stay is to die so I push myself down, further down into the dark, further from the air above.
Now the sensation of speed has momentarily returned. I feel the rush of the water and sense the walls flying past. But the darkness is complete and my fingers no longer reach the rock. I note that the tunnel seems long, that I’ve been moving fast for a long time now. 

Then I'm out. The current fades and openness returns. I orient myself and see light far above. As I slowly rise I know I am safe. I think back on my time in the cave and how my mortality was so starkly laid bare before me. I note how calm I stayed through it all and marvel at the clarity of my thoughts. As I am still rising towards the surface I realize that my friends are up there waiting and now I feel distress. What must they have been thinking during this long stretch of time? What horrors were their minds conjuring? What did I just put them through?

And then I break the surface. I grab a lungful of new air and time resumes its normal flow. I still have a sense of purpose in swimming to the shore and I note my friends waiting there with throwbags in hand. I reach the rock and climb up and out of the river. Now safe my thoughts become a tangled mess: I am happy to be alive; I feel awful for my friends; I am pissed at myself for my mistake in execution; I am totally uncertain if my decision to run the rapid was foolish, stupid, brave or all of the above. The clarity and calmness are gone. But I am glad to trade the cool, detached awareness of imminent danger for the chaos and hassle of a complicated boat recovery. As long as time continues to flow on I am content to move at its pace. But those twenty seconds now account for a large portion of my life, what I learned and experienced during that time will stay with me forever. Those twenty seconds were full.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

boof rock

Student #2 looks good (before the landing)
As instructors we all love the moments when our students have a breakthrough and feel that moment of success when understanding and accomplishment emerge from persistence and practice. But sometimes we also take a little glee in the those little failing that indicate the students are trying but haven't quite got it yet. Last week while teaching some whitewater students how to boof I went first and demonstrated on 'boof rock'. Then I set up in the eddy to take pictures as they came down. The first student caught the edge of the rock and flipped. I wasn't too worried - it's deep, flat water below and he knew how to roll. The next hit the boof but didn't stick the landing - over he went and without a roll he waved his hands for a rescue. As I put away the camera and came to his aid the next student hit the rock in the right spot but without momentum - over she went. As the one student grabbed my bow and started to right himself I realized I had three students upside down, all within a couple boat lengths. As my guy flipped himself up using my boat I saw the first student finally get his roll as the third was struggling with hers. I quickly handed my guy his paddle, gave him a shove into the eddy and got to my roller just as she decided it wasn't working for her and she grabbed my boat and came up. Three down, three up and no swims. They haven't mastered the boof but they all had smiles after the attempt - what more can you ask for. (for the record, student #4 bypassed the rock but student #5 nailed it perfectly)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hold the phone - summer's not dead!

After all my talk of switching into sea kayak mode I got a late night call from Matt saying he was planning to run the N Stan, leaving early the next morning. Amazing that such a great stretch of river still has water (barely) in the middle of September. It's only a two hour drive and Matt was planning on doing a bike shuttle but wanted a third person for the trip (three is much safer than two). Lydia was the third and it was her first time on the N Stan and her first time really creeking. The weather was suppose to be perfect and I hadn't packed away my whitewater gear quite yet so I joined in on the fun.

And fun it was - a perfect day of carefree boating. The low water changed a lot of the rapids but for the most part they still help up. The first rapid of the day is the toughest and it had a fair amount of pin and piton potential. (The actual first rapid at the put in is a class V+ nightmare that we didn't even consider at these flows). Matt and I charged it and we both had smooth lines that made it feel like we had accomplished something and also helped us to relax the rest of the day. The river itself was clear and picturesque and it had the right combination of pools and easy rapids with a few more technical ones thrown in. Lydia was picking things up as the day went along and really got the hang of low water, rocky creek paddling.

The single biggest drop is actually the very last one, right below the bridge at the take out. Matt went first and briefly disappeared before popping up upright and giving the go ahead. I had the same basic ride but manage to keep my nose up enough to just get instantly surfed out the side of the hole. Lydia was dead on target but still subbed out and emerged upside down - but rolled to the cheers of the onlookers above. In fact a super kind older couple watching the action came over to show us the pictures they had taken and offered to email them to us. And after they asked how we planned to get back up to our car at the put in and we showed them the bike they offered to load all of us and our gear into their truck and drive us back up. Now that's the way you end the summer with style.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer's over - let the sea kayaking begin!

Out of staters often complain that California doesn't have seasons - not like they do back east or in the midwest. We just have nice weather year round. It's not exactly true but even if it were it is a strange thing to complain about. Our seasons may not be as dramatic but there are some key signs that summer has ended: we had rain in the forecast (only got a sprinkle, but that doesn't happen in the summer); most everything in the Sierras on Dreamflows is in the yellow; and the raft traffic on the South Fork American is only mildly annoying when teaching a class. Personally, my seasons are broken down by activity as much as weather.

Spring and Summer are whitewater seasons - the rivers are flowing, the weather is warm and there are a ton of options. I might get out in my sea kayak for a trip or two, I may do some flatwater paddling on the lake, but primarily I'm in my creek boat. But by Fall most of the rivers are dry so I start to head off for more ocean paddling. The weather on the coast is at its best - light winds, less fog, warmer temps. This is the time to plan big trips or just head down to San Fran for the day.

While I don't have any big expeditions in the works for this season I am looking forward to a couple of great sea kayak trips. First, I'll be heading down to the Channel Islands in a couple of weeks. Just a quick three day trip out and back to a couple islands I've been to many times. But The Channel Islands is where I started my paddling career and it is always special to head out there for some kayak camping. Then next month I will be heading back up to Oregon to teach at the Lumpy Waters Symposium. Last year was my first and it was the funnest trip of the fall. With some more friends headed up there this year it should be amazing. I can't over-emphasize how fantastic this type of symposium is for all those involved: the instructors learn from each other as much as the students learn us and together we have such a great time on the water and off. Then it looks like I will be leading an ACA Coastal Instructor cert course or two this fall/winter and then it will be time for the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium before you know it.

Here's the video from last year's Lumpy Waters to get everyone in the mood for fall ocean paddling: