Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt

Recently our chapter of Team River Runner participated in some different events; and the newest (regular) Vets in attendance had the opportunity to run some new rivers.  Saying they enjoyed it is a major understatement.  I was able to participate in the Tame the Tyger River Race & Festival on April 24th.  (Unfortunately, I had GoPro mount issues and don’t have any video or pictures from the day).  I did manage to find some images online from a photojournalist, however.  It rained before the event, and soon after we got off the water, but the weather was perfect for the paddle downstream.  The level was pretty good, we had some decent flow to cover a lot of the shallow rocks but it wasn’t near flood stage.

Dennis readying to put on the river.

Dennis readying to put on the river.

Kevin M on the Tyger River, his first paddle on a river other than the Saluda

Kevin M on the Tyger River, his first paddle on a river other than the Saluda

The increased water flow and weather kept a lot of the recreational floaters from the event.  In the past, participation was around 200 paddlers for the day.  If there were 50 this time, I would have been shocked. Warren Wilson College of course had a strong showing for the actual race.  Crowd or not, our group of 6 (5 Veterans and 1 dependent) were excited about our day.

Driving down to and back up the hill to where boats were staged and registration setup was an adventure in itself!  I was driving the Chapter’s van-a 15 passenger green land yacht that is definitely not built for the off-road!  I had a blast rednecking it in the mud, and boy did that thing sling some mud.  There were several vehicles that got stuck, it kept the Spartanburg County Park Rangers busy winching vehicles out of the mud.  You know it’s going to be a good day when you get to nail the gas pedal to the floor and yell “yeehaw” as mud flies behind you!  The day did not disappoint!

Our group readying to make our way down river (Kevin M not in image)

Our group readying to make our way down river (Kevin M not in image)

Having the river essentially to ourselves was pretty nice.  We played and worked our way down river, and man we worked it hard!  We were the last group off the river, and not just because yours truly tested her drysuit for leaks on the last rapid!  This was only my second river trip of the year, and the rust and tight muscles reminded me of it frequently.  It was exhilarating, as always, to be on the water!

Kevin had been up since 2 a.m., unable to sleep because of his excitement about running a new river.  His smiles, laughs, and enthusiasm the entire day were a treasure!  I wish I could have found a picture of him on the rapids, I am sure his smile would have been billboard big!

The river course is drop and pool, about 7-miles of Class I-II+ rapids.  The increased flow actually washed out some of the smaller features and made the flat water seem more plentiful and long.  It also afforded the chance to run some lines that are normally to dry to run.  The rapids are long shoal-type, and can be surprisingly technical (for an event that will rent a kayak to anyone to just paddle down!).  It’s always fun to paddle a river that is not so familiar as to be a bit of a challenge.  Boat scouting, trying to recall which line is clearest…keeps you on your toes.

Linda on the rapids

Linda on the rapids

Gordon making it look easy

Gordon making it look easy

Dennis shooting the rapids

Dennis shooting the rapids

Gary taking the lead through a section of river

Gary taking the lead through a section of river

The day ended at the private campground where BBQ and the fixin’s were being served.  We had a whole 15 minutes before they stopped serving food!  It was the most delicious food ever!  But after nearly 5 hours on the river, shoe leather would taste pretty dang good.haha  I’m looking forward to the next adventure, but hopefully won’t have to eat any shoe leather.

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It’s Been A While

I’ve been meaning to write a recap of 2014 and exclaim my excitement for 2015.  Seeing it is nearly mid-April, that obviously wasn’t very high on the priority list.  When I logged in to the blog, I was shocked to discover I haven’t posted anything since August of 2014!  Tempus Fugit, and the older I get, the more-so it flies; I seem to have lost my concept of time along with my near vision-got my first pair of bifocals a couple of weeks ago.

So what strange, exotic journey and adventures have kept me from writing?  I wish I had some to report.  The truth is, it is life itself that has kept me busy and much too scattered in my thoughts to sit down and peck out anything worth note.  Don’t get your hopes up dear readers, this may not be anything worthy of note.

As far as paddling is concerned, 2014 ended on a somewhat bittersweet note for me.  One of my greatest sources of inspiration and motivation, Eric Guzman, moved with his family to VA and I don’t think I’ve every fully bounced back from the “loss”.   I switched gears to find more time for myself, family, home projects, and personal paddling time.  I’ve had very good intentions, but I’m afraid my execution still needs some work.  I have stepped down from most of my volunteer roles with the paddling club and cut back my time commitment to Team River Runner.  Theoretically, I should have oodles of time; but I still have the same issues of inertia.  I’m in a weird place.  I feel lost.  I either feel completely unmotivated or lack any confidence in what I should or am trying to do.

The winter months were full of pool sessions and the usual frustrations and limitations of that venue.  I was all too glad to get outdoors and on the river in March.  River nights are always good, they fill me with joy and for the time we’re on the water, I don’t have to think about anything else.  I volunteer to help others through the therapeutic healing of kayaking, but I need the “head check” as much as anyone.  I’m grateful as always to the core group of paddlers that I spend a few hours with weekly.  The group dynamic is really good, we seem to gel well and everyone is motivated by a genuine desire to help each other.  In my usual self-critique and feedback, I can’t help but think I fail them in some capacity every week.

One of the very reasons I stepped down from things was so I could work on my personal skills.  I haven’t managed to do that once.  It leaves me feeling like there is something missing; a big gaping hole that is open to self-doubt and vulnerability.  Sometimes I think it’s written on my face and everyone can see it.  I wonder why the hell anyone would expect me to “be the leader”?  I continually ask myself why I think I should have such trust instilled in me, I’m not worthy.  I want to crawl under a rock.

In more confident times, teaching the importance of stroke timing to members of Team River Runner

In more confident times, teaching the importance of stroke timing to members of Team River Runner

The issues that arise from teaching paddlers with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are unique and challenging.  Memory lapses, though we all have them, are compounded.  As an instructor it does plague me with questions about what I can and can’t do, am I getting through, are my instructions clear, do they even care what I am saying?  I find from week to week personalities can change, skill sets ebb and flow, there is regression.  I say that not as a complaint for the condition, but blaming myself for the setbacks.  I feel I’m trapped under ice and I haven’t found a way to break through.

I respect and admire every one of the veterans on our team, and I love the new paddlers that have joined us recently.  I want them to have fun and be safe.  I want them to learn more than just paddle strokes, I want to teach them the joys of paddling and the responsibility it carries.  We’re a team, we look out for one another, never leave a man behind.  Something we all know the importance of through our (theirs more than mine) military experience.  Here’s hoping I’m successful!

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SWR, another one in the books

Just wrapped up the 2014 edition of swiftwater rescue on the Saluda.  This was my last big clinic to organize as Palmetto Paddlers’ Safety Officer.  Despite cool temps and relentless rain, 32 paddlers from across SC and NC spent a day in chilly 62°F water to practice various whitewater rescue techniques.

Our group included 6 firemen from the Columbia Fire Dept’s SWR Team.  Many thanks to the awesome group of volunteers and instructors that put together valuable training.  We covered a wide array of skills and scenarios using the ReThRoG (reach, throw, row, go) rescue principles.  They included, wading, swimming, throw ropes, unresponsive boater rescue, CPR, strainers, foot entrapment, and z-drags.  Karen Kustafik, Andy Grizzell, Allyson Davis, Greg Winch, Tim Ray, John Derrick, and the members of the CFD did an outstanding job teaching and allowing us to practice rescue techniques.  A great big thanks to Linda Johnson, Dennis Osborne, Mike Hollis, Allyson Davis, and Jan Kelly for helping shuttle all the boats and making logistics just that much easier.

Participants were broken into 3 groups of paddlers and trained as teams.  Each visiting various scenario stations setup on the river.  They were led by Steve Crabb, Les Case, and Eric Guzman.  Since this was my “final act” for a club clinic, I opted to just float around and check things out.  I enjoyed seeing everyone engaged in learning and seemingly enjoying themselves.  I look forward to the next time, and someone else taking the reins and organizing it.

Map showing participant locations via their Zip codes

Map showing participant locations via their Zip codes

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Training

Starting the nitty gritty of planning SWR training on our local river.  I always love the organization aspect of clinics, trips, and outings.  It can be rather stressful, planning things out, coming up with Plan Bs and trying to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.  I like to do a lot of advanced work, so as the date draws nearer I can actually slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Of course there are so many others involved with an event of this scale, to all of which I am eternally grateful.  Back to planning…

SWR - Imgur

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Chick Paddle on the Tuck

Kayaking has to be one of the best ways to kick off the official start of Summer; make it an all girls affair and it becomes a perfect way!  So this past Saturday the 21st of June I joined Allyson Davis and 11 other ladies for a trip on the Tuckasegee River in Dillsboro.  The Tuck, as it’s commonly referred to, is a great Class II run that I have come to enjoy taking inexperienced boaters down.  However this trip was organized and led by Allyson, so I had the luxury of hanging out near the back with the sweep boater this time and getting to practice my river maneuvers without worrying too much about who was following me.  Of course, regardless where you are and what your role during a paddle trip, everyone looks out for one another.  Add to that the positive vibe and nurturing spirit of a ladies only affair and you have one of the most relaxing and chilled paddle environments ever.

Teresa and I drove and were joined by 3 other ladies; Sue, Lisa L, and Deborah.  You ever go on a long road trip and suffer through endless channel surfing on the radio trying to find music you like?  Well I can assure you, the ladies in the back seat kept the conversation and laughter going for the entire 8hr round-trip!  I haven’t laughed that hard in a very long time, especially after we stopped for dinner that evening.  Something I have noticed about socializing after a paddle trip is how much fun you have and the memories you make in the process.  But I am jumping ahead of myself.

We hit the road a little after 8am and arrived at our rendezvous point around noon.  The parking lot was packed and the river brimming over with a rainbow coalition of boats and craft of most every conceivable shape, color, and size.  It was a great site, but also a bit nerve-wracking when trying to set shuttle.  Add to that a driver (who shall remain anonymous) that got lost leaving the parking lot, just trying to get on the river was quite stressful.  However, we did manage to regroup and all get on the water a short while after arriving at the put-in.

Most of the teaching areas were full of various groups conducting clinics in some form or another.  This made for a very quick run to and through the rapids.  Sometimes a river being brought back from the brink of “death” can be both a blessing and a curse.  I started paddling the Tuck a few years ago and it’s popularity has really taken off in the last year.  What was once relatively quiet and remote feeling is now a major paddling destination and almost too busy to enjoy.  Almost.  There is no time like river time; and in the right company, all the detractors simply disappear in the miles of dancing water.

We had beautiful weather, a bald eagle soared overhead at one point, and we didn’t have a single swim or mishap.  Perhaps one of the best highlights of the day was jumping off a boulder into a deep pool.  One lady got a beautiful combat roll and we all cheered with joy, as women do on the water.  It was simply a great day on the water.  Everyone was smiling and jovial at the take-out and remarked how wonderful a time they’d had on the water.  I couldn’t have agreed more.  I digress.  Thanks to each and all of the special ladies that shared the water and their time with me, it was simply amazing.  Here is a short video I put together of the day: (note the group photos at the takeout are only of 1/2 our group)

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/98978794″>Women on Whitewater</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user11867358″>The B Team</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

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Best Kayaking Video, EVER?

You decide, methinks it’s a winner.

’cause Life’s too short to be so damn serious!

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Saturday paddle with Team River Runner

Lower Saluda River- June 7, 2014

Group photo at the put-in

Group photo at the put-in

This past Saturday was another great day on the river, marked by perfect weather and lots of members just happy to be on the water.  We had a total of 15 “butts in boats”, though our token canoeist did stand up quite a bit, so not sure if that counts or not.  The water level was quite low, but we managed to weave our way through the rocks and nearly everyone tried running a portion of Millrace Rapid.  We bumped and weaved our way through; then the surf, ferry, and attainment session was on.

As we made our way downriver, we encountered the local whitewater class practicing swimming rapids.  Herding 15 people through a popular play spot full of people we know and paddle with, without being disruptive is a little tough.  I hope our presence wasn’t too obtrusive, but I suspect it was more than just a little.  Once we relayed the message we needed to move out of the other group’s class, we hit the flat water between the two most popular rapids on this stretch of the river.  Here I asked Eric to lead the group in a game of Duck and Duckies; a simple game of mimicking the lead boater or “duck” as they maneuver around the river.  It resembles baby duckies following after their web-toed mom and dad, hence why it’s called Duck and Duckies.  Pretty clever, right?  Anyway, as we got strung out a little I stopped paddling and had everyone start wagon wheeling around in a circle, practicing their edging technique-valuable drill, not practiced often enough.

We found a spot to play a bit of kayak football between old stone bridge abutments, remnants of the pre-Civil War river crossing that is now near the Zoo property.  Split into two groups, Eric captain of one team, and Justin the other; Eric’s team was the triumphant 3-0 shutout winner.  We won’t talk about the incident where a team member flipped and ended up having to swim out of their boat.

After this bit of energy injecting activity we continued down to Shannon or Shandon (depending what era you started boating) rapid.  Some of the team opted for seal launching, while Eric took our new team member to scout the rapid and learn how to read water.  I setup on a rock to take pictures as members paddled through the rapid.  I got clear shots of some, but then the other group caught up with us and got intermingled as well as the tubers and rec boaters from local outfitter shops.  Some of us played in the rapid, carried back up for another run, others took a more leisurely approach and made for a snack and hydration break.

The rest of the trip was rather uneventful, save seeing a fisherman who unfortunately caught a turtle on his line, and a fly fisherman who reeled in a nice striper bass.  We spent over four hours on the river, hardly enough time for some of us and more than enough for others.  We were all smiling at the take-out, so that is a sure sign of a great trip.  Here’s to a summer full of great trips and the growth of our local TRR Chapter.

I put together a short video clip of the festivities: fun day!

 

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Hot off the Press…

Nearly everything in life is taught through mentoring and folks eager to share their knowledge, experience, and wisdom.  Kayaking is no different, in fact it is one of the most “mentor rich” activities I’ve ever participated.  Whenever the chance presents itself, I pay it forward to others so that we may all be enriched and grow through experiences together. I put together some logistical info of local(ish) runs for my friend Eric as he steps (competently) into greater leadership responsibilities for Team River Runner.  The info can be seen here.

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A Change of Pace

This Saturday, I joined Mike Hollis and six other intrepid explorers for a paddle around Persanti Island on Lake Marion.  One of the first Palmetto Paddlers kayak trips I participated in was on the lake, but at a different landing and area, so this was my first Persanti trip.

Readying at the landing

Readying at the landing

DSC_0006 copy

Info kiosk at the State Park

The weather was absolutely perfect; clear blue skies and what started out as a chilly morning quickly became the ideal paddling temperature.  And with the appropriate amount of sunscreen, we all enjoyed the sunny conditions.  The total trip was close to 8 miles, I was surprised at the size of the island.  And as usual, I am amazed at the natural world and the beauty that abounds.  The trip description promised some large alligator viewing, so I tempted my record of destroying non-waterproof equipment by dropping it in the water and brought my DSLR along.  I am happy to report both myself and my camera finished the day dry and still operating.  However, we only saw one 3′ alligator swimming along the banks all day; but we are reasonably certain we heard them “croaking” and calling out to one another in the shallow lily fields.

Pair of Osprey returning to feed their young

Pair of Osprey returning to feed their young

There were plenty of birds to observe, among them Cormorants and many Osprey in nests feeding their young.  This sort of trip makes you wish you had “perfect light”, very long telephoto lens, infinite time, and a steady shooting platform.

Spanish Moss, one of the things I love about living in the south!

Spanish Moss, one of the things I love about living in the south!

As we meandered through small inlets and coves, tracking down wildlife and flora, we came across some interesting sites.  Yellow water lilies (not sure of their official name) were probably a day or two from blooming, while some white ones were on display.  From the main channel we could see an area that was full of the white lilies so we paddled in to get a closer look. This is where I snapped one of my favorite images of the day, a dragonfly on a lily pad.  I spotted him on a lily but he flew off before I could get the camera ready.

Beautifully alien-like, a blue dragonfly among the lilies

Beautifully alien-like, a green dragonfly among the lilies

Among the best “creepy” moments came just before we stopped to take a break on the island to stretch and refuel with snacks.  I was checking out tree stumps to get some possible close-ups and happened upon a hollow tree with a large snake skin entangled in the brush.

Remnants of a slithery visitor

Remnants of a slithery visitor

Our day ended with a stop at Lone Star BBQ, which I wish I’d taken pictures of!  It is one of those wonderfully eclectic places known far and wide and a source of pride for those in the small community it inhabits.  Most surprisingly was the fact there was a moped, yes moped!, gang out front when we arrived.  It was an odd site, probably 100 mopeds (think 80s vintage) and the riders who we mused were dressed like Hell’s Angels.  Anyway, we were glad we arrived as they were all leaving, I don’t know if we’d had a place to sit or much food to choose from if we’d been there any earlier.  So the food was delicious, the ambiance incredible (a 100 year old mercantile and local hangout), and the company was delightful.

It was nice to take my long boat out, enjoy a much more relaxed pace and see some nature that isn’t native to whitewater rivers.  It affirms my belief no one should limit their kayaking experience to one particular kind of paddling trip, there is so much to enjoy and appreciate.

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The Power of Video

One of the coolest tools I learned to use during instructor certification is video.  It helps develop a critical eye and the feedback is invaluable.  Best part is the ability to record skills over and over again and to see progress as you work on technique.  I am co-instructing a semester kayaking class with Karen at USC, and this past Wednesday we setup our GoPros and recorded the kids working on their roll.  I put the video together, along with some comments during the slow motion portion.  I think once they review it, things will make more sense and they will have a better understanding what is going right, and what still needs to be worked on.  Without further ado:

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