Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 50+ - 'Lost Track of Days'

It has now been almost 2 weeks since I last had chance to write up what has been happening on tour and as such I have now completely lost track of the number of days I have been here. It is now the 28th May and I have only 1 week left until I fly back to the UK. The last few weeks have been super exciting and really busy as I have been traveling on the rodeo tour, boating every day in a whole load of new features with loads of new people.
Claire O kicks off the 2012 competiton series with a big loop in Colorado, USA (thanks to Bryan Dorr for the photo
Green River 'The Kellogg's and Pancake Breakfast'
The tour started in a small town in Wyoming called Green River. A 12 hour drive from Reno. We spent a full day driving through the salt plains passed Salt Lake City and through miles upon mile of desert to reach this small mining town in the middle of  nowhere. The event was held on a whitewater park on an Island on the outskirts of town. When we arrived the feature wasn't great but over a few days Stephen worked with Billy Bob to create a fun, feisty little hole perfect for the competition. We spent almost a week training at Green River trying to figure out the tricky energy zapping hole. As the week went on we met loads of new boaters from across the USA including the Kellogg's a lovely family of kayakers. Mum Susie, dad Dan and the kids Grady, Broady, Kenny, Daley, Caidy, Cairdy, Rowdy, Maddy, ... And Ellie. Yes that's 10 kids! And the eldest No 11 had stayed home! All the boaters out here have dogs so there was dogs, boats and kids everywhere it was great. 
Sage figuring out the hole in her C1 (photos by the Kellogg's)
The Green River event is one of the nicest events I have ever been to. The local  town and event organizers led by Katie Duncombe did everything possible to make us welcome. On the day of the event we even had a lovely pancake breakfast, then lunch and dinner in the community hall. Loads of local people came out to support us and there was a very friendly, welcoming and fun atmosphere around the whole event. The event started with the Cadet (U13) class and the eldest Kellogg kids entertained the crowds with some great rides in their tiny Jackson Fun 1's and Fun 1 1/2's. 

Cady Kellogg surfs the wave
Then it was the juniors, ladies and men's. midway through the day there was also a Duck Race. The local fire service water rescue team came out and kitted up in dry suits walked into the water and released hundreds of plastic ducks into the river. The juniors went first with Gradey Kellogg winning after collecting over 30 ducks! Next up was the  seniors and it's was more competitive than even the freestyle. Nick and Dane battled each other for ages whilst the rest of us fought to collect the ducks. Dane who thought he had the perfect strategy going without a spray deck ended up almost swimming losing in most of his ducks in the process and finishing in last place. Despite a complete lack of training for this event. I won with 30 ducks. I also won the freestyle as did Stephen, Lauren and Gradey. All in all it was a fantastic event hosted by some lovely people. 

Claire O and Jessica counting ducks at the end of the race
Other things that happened during the week included the van breaking down, Dane taking some massive wipe outs on the local bike park and learning how to ride a pump (bike) park track. It was also the first time I had ever competed in an event with prize money so massive thank you to Green River for putting forward the money which will be a great help on my trip.

Buena Vista, Colorado - 'Sun, Snow and Mountains'

Next up it was another long drive 8 hours, to Colorado to a great adventure town called Buenna 
Vista for the CKS paddlefest. The paddlefest is an annual event organized by the local shop where padddlers come together to celebrate all disciplines of paddling. Theres a big sale, free demo boats, clinics, party's and competitions. The event takes place in a great new village complex called South Main right on the banks of the river. An inovative idea by Jed .... and Dustin and Katie Urban. South Main is a custom made community for adventure people to live. There's boulder rocks to climb, skateparks, pump and bike parks, a whitewater park, natural product stores, awesome restaurants, trails and bike routes. Everywhere you look there's fun things to do. The whole place is set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains... it's beautiful! At 8,000ft + there's also loads of altitude! 
Crowds gather to watch the action
So we arrived early to start training and found the river level super low 450ish. Luckily the park has some sweet although extremely challenging (because they are so small) holes which run at all levels, so we could still train. Due to event permit requirements the competition had to be held on the smallest of the features so we spent most of the week surfing a 1.5m wide, 6" high, flushy, shallow, small wave. Paddling at altitude is something I've only really experienced a couple of times before in Nepal. It's so strange running out of air and breathe so much faster than usual. I'm really glad we arrived here early to acclimatize. 

Clay makes the feature look tiny ... ok it is tiny!!!

Broady Kellogg shows us how its done
The weather all week was for the most part amazing, hot and sunny except for the one day that was freezing cold and snowy! The event kicked of on Friday with a big dealer, team meeting. Everyone's here including the JK team, Liquid Logic, Werner, Sweet, Pyranha US, Wavesport... It's a great chance to catch up with loads of people I haven't seen for a long time. Over the weekend loads of paddlers show up to take part in the events. The freestyle event goes really well and I tie in 1st place with Adriene finishing the tie break in 2nd with Ruth not far behind in 3rd. In the men's Stephen lays down some huge rides throwing massive links and combos but its Dane, Matthieu and Dustin who battle it out with some huge rides, especially on such a small feature, for the Pro Men's first place. Dane eventually steels the win with his last ride scoring a huge 1,280 points. Jordan Poffenburg takes two wins (C1 and jnr mens) with some impressive rides and the jnr ladies battle it out with some great high scoring rides. With current world junior champion Lauren Burress scoring McNastys and AirLoops to take the win. 

Matieu throwing some amazing combos to take 2nd place
Saturday and Sunday I'm asked to help teach some Intro to Playboating clinics. It's great meeting and teaching so many motivated new freestyle paddlers and being able to help them to begin to develop their skills. Then it's the open and cadet class events. The feature is such a beginner friendly hole that it is perfect for this event and everyone paddles amazingly well cheered on by a big crowd on the bank and winning some awesome prizes  donated to the event. The paddlefest finally comes to a close for us on Sunday afternoon and we take the chance to relax and unwind by heading back onto the water for another surf and skills session back on the park! 

Stephen coaching playboating in the sunshine
Other fun things that happened this week include going to a gig at the local BV sushi bar where freestyle paddler and musician Jeff Campbell is performing an acoustic set. Watch out for his album coming soon. A great night of live music. Biking around town and learning more skills at the pump park. Jason Craig turning up just in time to compete in the freestyle event. His first event since smashing his back and pelvis in March 2011 making the men's finals in 7th place.Seeing the lads and Adriene successfully run Vitamin B a class 5 downhill bike ride twice. Meeting back up and having chance to properly catch up with Courtney and the Jackson's. Playing my first round of disc golf, which started with a crash course in how important it is not to stand in front of another player during the game after being smacked in the head with a disc by Nick T at the 1st hole! Oh yeah and Nick T winning the party, the less said about this the better!!!

Thumbs up for another great event

Next stop the Teva Mountains Games in Vail!

Day 26 - Day 40 'Reno & California - Creeking, Freestyle and Squirt Boating'

So as one adventure ends the next begins. As I said goodbye too some great friends and officially finished my canyon experience, I head north to meet Stephen and begin life training in Reno. 

Reno home for the next 4 weeks
Reno is known as 'mini Vegas' as its another gambling city but it is also an adventure sport paradise. Set amidst the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 4,600 ft and only 15 miles from the California boarders it is the home to some world class climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking and whitewater kayaking including five great freestyle kayaking features at the Reno whitewater park. The perfect place for an adventure addict. This is going to be my home for the next month. 

Reno the massive adult adventure playground
I arrived in Reno about 4.30pm and it wasn't long until we were hitting the water at the whitewater course for a cheeky freestyle session. Stephen quickly showed me the ropes as he tore up the park making it all look effortless and super smooth. I took to it with much more of a bang jumping into my shiny new red rockstar and crashing, bashing, flipping and rolling my way down the course. Loving every moment of being back in a small boat that I really know. It wasn't long before we were both shattered and playtime came to an end. Then it was a quick Burrito and then bed.
Feeling good back in a playboat on the Reno WW Park
The next morning we were up early and straight back on the river. This time we started with a mystery squirt boat session on swallow falls on the Truckee River. With almost 6 months passing since my last real sessions on the Ottawa last September it was a bit of an ankle aching squeeze getting into them but man when I was back on the water it felt amazing. 

Squirt Boating on the Truckee

The spot was a super gentle squeeze on a seam behind a small island where two flows rejoin at the perfect angle to make a super smooth, super deep mystery seam. Being at almost 6,000 ft altitude set deep in the mountains the water was freezing and the altitude made breathing hard. But that said with the sun out and kitted up in gloves and wetsuit masks/hoods it's on a great spot to play. Stephen had it dialed in already so within no time was hitting 20 second rides. I was a lot more shaky, taking time to reengage my squirt specifics abs and retrain my lungs and mind to trying to stay clam and full of air for the longer rides. I paddled Stephens KOR for the start of the session then had chance to jump in his super tiny - like ridiculously small Slip - what a boat. Floating about 3 - 4 inches below the water it was tiny but super cool. By the end of the session I was hitting 6 - 8 second rides.

The drive upto the Truckee

Then it was back to the play park for another freestyle session. The next few weeks followed a very similar format squirt boating in the mornings and playboat in the afternoons. I got to meet up with loads of old friends and also make loads of new friends.

Another great meal out with friends this time hosted by Chrales Albright in his incredible home

With so much to do in Reno resting was really hard so we intermixed our freestyle and squirt boating sessions with some world class creeking 'rest days'.

Life in Reno
Here's a few outakes from my diary of some of the main days out on the Californian creeks.

Day 30 - 'Wahooooooo......'

Today started as many other boating sessions do. Roll out of bed, head to a bakery/cafe, eat, chat about amazing runs, drive to said run, paddle, have fun, finish, relax, chat and bed. However this one is one that will stand out in my mind for the rest of my life. Today at the point at which we went paddling we went creeking... and I mean we really went creeking!!!

Californian Creeking

We started the day on the North Fork of the Kaweah a lovely class 4 relatively steep but not super pushy run. Smaller in feel to the Dart except way steeper and totally continuous. In fact take all the best bits of the Upper Dart put them together and keep repeating them, but only better, for maybe 5-6 miles and throw in a super sweet 20 foot bedrock rapid and you have the North Kaweah. It was beautiful. 

Chris Tulley on the Kaweah

After this amazing warm up the plan was to head to the South Kaweah. Amanda and Nathan both said they were going to sit this one out as they weren't feeling it which got my adrenaline pumping as it meant it could be a potentially full on run. We got to the bridge to check it out only to find the levels a little low so instead we decided to head to another local gem of a river the East Fork of the Kaweah. We arrived at the put in about 3.30pm and started the 45 min hike down the steep newly cut trail to the base of the valley. As everyone was now back in the group and getting onto the water my adrenaline had settled as I thought we were heading into another super cruisy run. Little did I or most of the group know what we were putting ourselves in for.
20 mins in to the 45 min hike!!!

So we jumped on the water excited to have completed the hike and set off to the first fall. We jumped out to scout the incredibly large looking horizon line and found a sweet 20 foot fall into a feisty looking hole next to a wall! Amanda and Nathan set off on the portage and Chris and Macy set off and ran the line. I went next punching hard to avoid the hole. Last up was Stephen who hit the perfect line but in his river running boat resurfaced pointing across the river and quickly got recirculated in the hole. A good 20 seconds later having utilized most of his freestyle and squirt boating skills he pulled himself clear and joined us in the eddy below. Now in the UK if we ever found a really sweet massive runnable fall like this it would inevitably be followed by several miles of flat or grade 2 water, but no not here. This was only the start of a 4 mile class 5 gorge!

Claire O dropping the first 20 footer on the East Fork
Having survived the first fall it quickly became apparent that the water levels in the canyon were pretty high. We headed on further and came across the 2nd big drop this one not so clean. We all opted to portage and Amanda and Nathan decided it was time for them to call it a day. Unsure of what lay in store I toiled with the idea of hiking out, but being on the water with such a strong team who were all making similar decisions on the rapids so far and feeling in a really good boating zone I decide this was it, I wanted to give it a go. I also really didn't like the idea of the hike back out to the car! 
Checking out one of many massive horizon lines

What lay in store and what we experienced over the next 3.5 hours was some of the best whitewater I have paddled in my entire 20 years boating so far. Absolutely amazing full on, heart pumping drops, boulder gardens and slides. With the exception of Stephens surf and Macy's pothole eddy breakout session - 10 mins spinning (upright) trapped in a pothole eddy at the right hand side in the base of a fall, pulled on a line to safety by Chris - we nailed all the lines. Everyone paddling amazingly strong and well. 
Stephen watches as Chris pulls Macy to safety
I didn't allow myself to think about the class 5 grade of the run at any stage, instead of thinking of it as a class 4++ allowing me to stay super focused and calm. So much of creeking for me right now is a head game! We reached the end just as it started to turn dark, absolutely shattered but also overwhelmed with emotions from what we had just experienced, paddled and seen. I have never looked back upstream having paddled a run and seen such incredible steep whitewater - insane!!! Turns out the water that day was pretty high, 1,800cfs instead of the usual 1,000-1,100cfs, and we had possibly just completed the highest ever water descent of this run. Full on class 5+!
What an incredible gorge!

Day 25 - 'ER'

Today we loose the Frenchies so we are up early to help them pack up and say goodbye. It's brilliant to think that 3 weeks ago we had not met and now we are great friends who have shared many memorable experience and whom we will never forget. 
Antonie waiting for the ride home
By 7am we are back in bed trying to salvage an extra few hours sleep. But not for long Andy's suddenly feeling really I'll. By 8.30am he's in ER at the nearby Desert Springs hospital in agony from a kidney stone. Luckily we get him help early and within 6hours we are out and he's feeling a lot better. What a rough way to spend one of his last days in the USA. The original plan was to rent a Harley Davidson and drive into California but the day ends up a recovery day / shopping day for Rob, JB and Ted. 
Fun Times in Vegas!!!
Luckily we all muster up the energy to head back to the strip for our last night in town. We watch the water shows for the last time. Place our final bets on the Rollette table this time on the correct No (36) but still not winning anything. Take one last trip up the Stratosphere tower and say goodbye to the Nevada mountains and desert and craziness that is Las Vegas.
Loving the Bellagio Water Displays
I never thought that I would miss Las Vegas but I think I will. It symbolizes the start and end of an incredible adventure with great friends old and new that I will never forget. It is also the home of the Bellagio water display which I found fascinating to watch. Will I return to Las Vegas? Probably not, but if I do it is my ambition to paddle and do a freestyle / squirt boat display choreographed to fit with the water music display. I did ask this time but we couldn't really fit it in... and they said No!!!

Day 24 - 'He Did What?!?!'

Replace the faces with Rob, Scout and JB and you have the night in Vegas (minus the baby!)
If you have ever seen the film 'the Hangover' the storyline vaguely reflects the night Scout, JB and Rob had in Vegas. Biting animals, late night and far too much booze. Only main difference was BJ and Scout remembered it all. So we wake early to hear all about last nights adventures then it's time to say goodbye to Scout and thus begins the steady departure of the team. We spend the rest of the day relaxing, cleaning clothes and shopping before heading back into town. Tonight's adventures start in Venice as we at at an awesome Italian restaurant next to the waterways with Gondola's floating past. We enjoy an ice cream as the sunsets on the 2nd floor re-creation of Venice in the Venetian casino hotel. Then we head into the theatre to watch what I can only describe as the craziest, maddest most amazing production ever 'The Blue Man Group'. I  can't really describe what happened during the 1hr50min show all I can say is go see it, it's insane!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 23 - 'Take Out Day - Waterfalls in Wilderness to Casinos in Vegas'

Last morning sunrise over the canyon
We wake up to the beautiful view of Antoine bathing in the waterfall. I slept threw all the storms in the night unlike the others (thanks to Scouts vodka mix) so i'm feeling pretty fresh. Everyone else is shattered, cold and soaked. Turns out Scout woke twice to look outside and check we weren't in danger of being washed away by a flooded stream!!! JB rings out his sleeping bag, bivy bag and socks and we decamp and head back to the beach. Using the toilet can for the last time is a final symbol that this is it 'our last day'. We all manage to pee without getting killed by a sand avalanche and then pack up the rafts for the final time. 
Which way to Pearce Ferry?
Rob and Andy decide to paddle the rafts out the final miles and the rest of us jump on the raft. I'm torn as to whether to paddle or paddle the oar raft but the cold morning combined with the idea that I can finish the trip in a new form of whitewater transport one I couldn't do only a few weeks ago makes sense. Andy spends an hour perfecting his floop before joining me and JB on the raft. It's a great opportunity to get a few quick interviews about the trip. Before we know it we see the vans and the take out at Pearce Ferry - our trip is over!
Final view looking back upstream at the canyon
The remains of the 18 foot raft!
The end of the trip!

New Friendships Formed from an amazing trip
The final view of Lake Mead

It's amazing what it is that surprises you about returning to the real world after weeks in the wilderness. Arriving back in Vegas only two and half hours after finishing on the river is probably one of the biggest culture shocks possible. Lights, cars, people, noise it's unbelievable. We pull up outside the Stratosphere Casino Hotel in the massive rafting minibus with 6 kayaks on the flatbed trailers and get some surprise looks from the doormen and concierges. 

The Stratosphere
After a quick conversion we are sent away from the posh limo area and round the back of the hotel out of site. Luckily they are really accommodating and find a room to store our boats and kit. 
Unusual load in the Limo area at the hotel
It's not long then until we are all crashed out on the comfy beds in the hotel room. There's a massive TV in the room but none of us are interested we just layout on the beds and stare out of the windows at the mountains. 6hrs, it's only been 6hours since we were sat on the raft. Andy shivering and blue from a mild case of floop induced hypothermia wrapped in a sleeping bag, hat, down jacket and gloves paddling an 18 foot raft full of rubbish and s**t and now we are laid out on the hotel bed about to have our first warm shower in 3 weeks and hit the casinos!!! 
Stark contrast from last nights views of the canyon
Tonight's Scouts last night in Vegas so we all muster up the last of our energy and we hit the town. We start with an awesome meal in China town at a restaurant recommended by our taxi driver. Then we get a lift (not a taxi just a friend of the Chinese restaurant manager) in a Hummer to New York New York and after a quick serving of Ben and Jerry's we head fully fed to ride the Roller Coaster - again awesome, highly recommend. On the big loop on the roller coaster Andy's hat gets ripped from his head (I'm sure it doesn't want to complete this journey NB Diamond Peak) this time it's Antonine to the rescue catching it mid loop t' loop and returning it to him at the end of the ride - insane!  
Its like a scene from Oceans 11
Next up its casino time! We head to the Bellagio and watch the first of many water shows. Suddenly everyone begins to relax as we watch the water fountains dance to the barring tunes and then head inside to hit the tables. Within seconds Robs gone then he's back he's just turned $2 into $15 he's buzzing and quickly gone again. After a crash course in Roulette before the trip I head over to the Roulette tables to put $3 on No 9 for my mum. When I find one I'm excited until I see the min $200 bet sign. No way! Eventually I find a min $10 table and find a seat. Antione and Andy join me in loosing my first $30 at a casino. Fun? Kinda, Did we know what we were doing? Not really, An experience i'll repeat? Nope! But $30 towards seeing the water shows I guess is ok. We eventually find Rob who is now $76 up and head back outside. 
Fun and Games in Vegas
Shattered me, Andy, Antoine, Anne and the Ted Piper head back to the Stratosphere. We head to the roof and ride 'the big one' a better description would be 'the s**t one' don't waist your cash on this ride. If you do go however do go to the roof. The view is amazing especially with all the lights in the night. We can just make out the canyon mountains in the distance, what an insane 3 weeks!
Trouble in Vegas we can just make out the moutains in the background behind the lights of Vegas

Day 22 - 'Raining'

Final views of the canyon
9am and we are up and on our way again. We are all knackered after a very fun but tiring night. Several of the guys opted for a night on the rock shelf with not a lot of space BJ opting to sling himself to a rock to stop him rolling into the river. Scout, Anne and I opt for the raft and have a watery sleep which leaves Scout with motion sickness for the day! We travel a few miles downstream to the last hike of the trip.
Shattered me, Andy and JB opt to chill on the beach (small muddy patch of flattish land) and spend the day learning how to tie knots whist avoiding sand slides. The whole river at this point cuts a deep channel through banks of sediment which regularly collapses causing mini sand avalanches to crash into the water. Everyone else heads off into what I can only call an overgrown jungle bush in search of the falls. Several hours later they return shattered, scratched and worn out from the hike. Turns out 10 mins upstream is a beautiful waterfall. The other one, a few hours upstream, didn't exist neither did a trail. So they had just bushwhacked for several hours for no reason before eventually calling it a day. 
Cutting trail through the canyon wildness in search of a waterfall
It's hard to believe this is our last night. Especially as we are tucking into a feast of food, a massive salad, fresh salmon starter and shears delight or Shepard's pie soup specially prepared by BJ. We laugh, joke and celebrate our journey over a bottle or two of vodka and Scout hands out the official 'Byron 2012 Canyon Trip Awards'. I am honored to receive awards for 'stores keeping' and also 'the best creepy crawly award'. Scout awards himself the 'terrible in the morning award' and Antoine dominates the evening with awards for climbing, guitar playing, beat downs and rolls. We also take the moment to share our favorite moments, memories and highlights of the trip. What a great way to reflect on the trip.
Its not suprise its so green here after all the rain
As the beach  is so small and muddy and exposed to sand slides we decided to camp at the base of the first fall. After far too much vodka we scramble / stumble up the overgrown path. The guys have set up a mini camp a massive tarp and two tents at the base of the falls on a rocky opening. Luckily I have a place in one of the tents away from all the boys and the rain. Yes that right rain! And there was loads of it. On our last night in the canyon, the heavens opened and it poured with rain. Scout, Ted and I were the lucky ones in the tents. Antonine, Anne and Andy managed to avoid the rain and just get eaten under the tarp. JB and Rob weren't so lucky. JB got eaten and woke up with an en suite bivy bag. Rob who had decided to sleep on the rafts got the hardest hit eventually taking shelter under a table on the raft!

Day 21 - 'Night Float'

Pumping water on the beach first thing in the morning
We wake early to find we have visitors. We are camped at the site of a tragic accident many years ago where a few early explorers died. There's a plaque on one of rocks in memory of the paddlers so another groups stopped to take a look. They don't stay long though as they have arrived midway through our communal shower session and have found me, Andy, Anne and JB showering in the icy waters photographed (of course) by Antoine. It's Andy's first shower of the trip and he screams as I pour the ice cold water through his hair.
Icy cold shower time in the canyon
Yesterday because of the head wind we only covered 7 miles so we have a lot of distance to do today. We set off and after an hour or so of flowing flat water  we raft together for a floating lunch. We continue to raft/float the whole day stopping only briefly for a relief break at the site of the only eco toilet on the river and the worst I've ever seen and we chat to some guys who work on a monster power raft who kindly donate us some ice. 
Claire O Cooling down by flipping of the raft into the cold water
We are still short on miles we have over 40 left to do so we decide tonight will be our night float. From 230 miles to 280 miles there are not a lot/ no really campsites so it's common practice to night float this stretch. 
Night floating the canyon (prior to the head torch ban)
Night floating involves tying the rafts together, piling all the boats, kit and people on board and with a couple of people taking shifts to steer the boats float on through the night. We start our night float at 9pm and finally pull up to sleep on an awesome narrow ledge at about 4.30am after covering 22 miles! I would highly recommend a night float to anyone it's surreal! You can see the canyon walls all around and very little else. Luckily Rob has insane night vision and Scout has great guessing skills and managed to guide us with Andy at the helm safely down the canal like channel with only 2 big bumps. 
Imagine this image but in the pitch black and that was our night float navigation technique
Ted had the best sleeping arrangement passed out on a thermarest on the table deck at the front of the boat. Everyone else squeezed in on top of bags, boats, fridges. I was great! 
Girls sleeping on the raft
Boys sleeping on the ledge
Highlights if the night are 1) it's a full moon but it's nowhere to be seen! 2) JB and me almost being wiped out off the raft by a tree (on Scouts shift) 3) crashing into the only undercut rocks on the river (Scout again) 4) hearing all the sand slides 5) peeing in a bucket on board the raft... the less said about that the better!