Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leave It To Me To Screw Things Up!

Rob and I navigating down a narrow canyon filled with
class 3 rapids - typical of the Black river
Photo: Ben Albert

Not everything goes as planned - as I too frequently seem to find out. In reference to my last post, I will have to retract the statement of my inaugural trip as it never happened; as you are soon about to find out. I did however get to paddle the Black river (upper & lower) on Sunday with Jim, Rob, & Ben and had a great time, - for the most part.

Despite the rain, once steaks, potatoes and beer found
its way into our stomachs, it was all smiles!
Photo: Ben Albert

Our arrival at the put-in on Saturday night was marred by the rain that decided to start when we got there. We quickly got camp set-up with a tarp and attempted to stoke a fire for our steaks. It all seemed hopeless at one point, but 4 cold starving guys huffing and puffing into the dying fire literally breathed new life into the pathetic flames and got a good blaze going. Hunger is good motivation, coupled with cold beer.

Merlin's convincing gaze that kibbles just
don't cut it when steaks are around!

The next day started bright and early with frost, as the anticipation for river running was all on our minds. The roar of the class 3 rapids along the narrow canyon beside our camp was reminder enough of the excitement and nervousness ahead. After a hearty breakfast, we rigged the boats, donned our drysuits, and pushed off from shore as the river gods were waiting to devour us.

All set to tackle the challenging but rewarding Black

Its always with nervous energy running the the first few rapids. Despite the fact we all recently paddled whitewater, we still had to shake the bugs of doubt out of our heads, especially since this river was much more challenging than the ones we've previously experienced. After getting through the first canyon and taking a few drops down some rapids, we were in our element. At least I thought...

Expecting the best, but preparing for the worst!

The same drop that put Rob and I through the spinner!
Nice job guys! I guess its live and learn!

The next rapid had a 2-3 foot drop followed by a couple class 2 tech rapids, but it was the initial drop that was a concern. Last week Jim's brother and girlfriend dumped when the curling wave spun them over. Jim & Ben wisely took the opposite side while Rob and I decided to challenge the tricky one. We totally knew what to expect and planned accordingly, but we unfortunately lacked enough speed. We made the drop okay, but didn't make it over the curling broadside wave which then held us there and spun us over.

The Black provided plenty of thrilling runs

The dump should have been harmless, except I used my left out-stretched arm to push off the ledge to keep us from going over. Well it didn't work and the instant the boat went over, the force pulled my body down below the locked arm against the rock. Yeah, guess what gave?! (if it worked I would have created a new whitewater technique - the low hand brace!) While floating/banging against rocks down the river, I knew there was something odd and painful regarding my shoulder, but my attention was focused on dodging rocks and getting to shore. Once I got out, I noticed my arm was still arched over somewhat awkwardly, so without thinking I pulled it over to only hear "pop!" "Oh, so my shoulder was dislocated!"

Here a clip of Jim and Ben running a challenging
canyon on the lower Black

We only just started our paddle and I didn't want to end it now. My shoulder ached, but I could move it, so I decided to continue on when the guys asked if it was okay. As the day wore on, I was more and more aware of the pain and the fact that I was losing my range of motion. I was still having fun running massive class 3 rapids, dropping down big chutes and navigating through mini-canyons, but I was getting to my limits of pain tolerance. We finally stopped to discuss the few, if any options and I decided to take my first ever Advil. The guys told me to stop being a sissy and take it. I knew they were right. We had over 15kms still to go and the only way I could do it was to down the anti-inflammatory painkiller. Wow, did that ever work! There was still pain, but noticeably less so, enough for us to continue on.

These crazy boys slid down a rock slide to get down this chute!

If I wasn't already a hinderance, 3/4's of the way down, I also realized the keys to the car was in the truck at the put-in! (only me!!) After another pow-wow, we decided to just finish the trip and deal with it at the end. Fortunately as we crossed Hwy 7, we saw other canoeist loading up and they ever so kindly agreed to drive Jim back to the truck! (I've always believed that paddlers are great people!) What luck! So the trip ended on a high note for our Black river adventure. However, that's where the good news ended. The pain medication was gradually wearing off and by the end of the trip, I was in agony again. There was no way Rob and I could continue on the Skootamatta river for the next 2 days. So we called it off and headed home after a nice meal at a local joint in Madoc.

How to deal with a torn neck gasket!

We all whole-heartedly agreed that we had an amazing time. The Black river certainly did deliver when it came to heart-pumping pure adrenline runs. It challenged us all to another level and pushed us to the limits. It is guaranteed that we will be back for more, whether on the Black, or the other half dozen rivers in the area. It was totally worth coming here! Thanks guys for making all happen!

Ben proudly displaying the repair
(cough!, choke!) job!

Update: The following day I went to ER. Sleep the previous night was torture. The news was not good - they confirmed the shoulder was dislocated, but I also fractured a bone above the head of the humerus. (probably was when it was violently ripped out at the odd angle) Worse than that, the ER doc thinks for sure I tore the rotator cuff, - just great! I'm going to see a shoulder specialist next Monday to confirm so I'm crossing my fingers. Unfortunately I'm now out for 4-6 weeks! Arrggghhh!

Jim and Ben perfectly lined up for this huge drop!

This is really frustrating and I'm just furious, just when things were looking up. Now I have 2 trips and a whitewater weekend that will probably go down the drain! What luck! After just getting over the stress fracture in my leg, now this, - what the heck?! I don't usually believe in superstition, but if what they say happens in threes, I'm not looking forward to it! (hmmm, maybe I should take up scrap-booking for the rest of the year? - nah, the scissor will probably kill me!) Anyone want to see a movie?!



PS. My brother's wife's water broke!!!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

2009 Inaugural Canoe Trip!

Yeah, sure I’ve been paddling for over a month now, but they have all been day trips and frequently it was pretty cold. But when you start driving to work with the window open and the heater turned off, it’s a sure sign of things to come, - canoe trips!

This weekend there is a big whitewater event in Marmora (near Peterborough) called Mackfest. (its an acronym for Marmora Area Canoe & Kayak Festival) Here's the website: http://www.mackfest.ca/ It’s basically a gathering of like-minded whitewater paddlers taking advantage of the spring melt on various local rivers/creeks in the area. So guess where I’m headed?! (it takes a little more than guessing) Nope!, unfortunately I won’t be attending the actual event as I have to work tomorrow, but a bunch of friends and I are going there to paddle the day after. I’m sure there will be still be lots of paddlers around, but our group will be a side show to the main event.

My friend Jim Baird paddled the weekend before on the upper and lower Black river and had a blast. After sharing stories and photos of the amazing river, I was hooked! (I would be the only fish swimming in faster than the fisherman could reel the line in!!) So we are going to head out tomorrow after I finish work. The plan is to camp near the put-in before heading out on the Black first thing in the morning. But of course, that would only make it a day trip!? (some of you were paying attention!) So to take advantage of the time I have off, Rob and I are going to head immediately afterwards to Skootamatta Lake and continue paddling down the Skoot for the following 2 days.

The weather will be a mix of sun and rain and moderate temperatures, but who really cares? Just the anticipation is worth it! Besides, guess what I’m wearing!? If not the laughs from the disastrous runs or the occasional dump we may experience, I have the female fuscia drysuit (see previous post: Credit River Race - Going For Gold) to entertain my group with! (hope there isn’t too many other macho paddlers around!) I’ve already told them to laugh all they want (colour and rear hatch), because I hope during the paddle they have to make a more considerable contribution to the bush! Then we’ll see who’s laughing!!!

Be in touch soon with pics and hopefully some video!


PS. Just for clarification, the fuscia drysuit is not mine! I’m borrowing it until I get a hold of a men’s Level 6 BLUE drysuit! Huh!

PPS. I may have a new appreciation for women and their idiosyncrasies as I squat to go pee!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Imminent Arrival of a New Paddler

Spending some time with by brother and his very pregnant wife

Who?! What?! Where?!, - no, I'm not announcing a new paddling partner! (although, truth be told I guess I could be) Its even more special than that. Its an exciting time in not only my life, but those of my brother and sister-in-law. Its the dawn of a new age in the Lee's family as we are soon about to witness the arrival of the first grandchild. And of course, who better to know than me that this special child will be a paddler! (wink, wink)

My brother can always be counted on to
be a joker, even at his wedding!
Photo: Nelvin Cuvin

Last year was quite a busy time for James and Kerry. It was also significant in terms of the many milestones they had reached - purchasing a home, getting married, and then Kerry becoming pregnant! (talk about full steam ahead!) Kudos, congrats, job well done to both of you! Although, my head was often spinning being involved in all their comings and goings in the past year. Thank goodness when it was all said and done, but its really now just the beginning!

The lovely couple at their amazing wedding!
Photo: Nelvin Cuvin

Once I heard the news of the pregnancy, I was elated and happy for them, but I knew it also meant significant lifestyle changes. James and Kerry had frequently joined me on many canoe trips throughout the years where we shared many laughs and good memories. Even though it didn't signal an end to trips entirely, it was certainly going to change things for the foreseeable future.

The soon to be new love in their lives

Changes are certain even with my brother, who has tripped with me for many years on our annual boy's canoe trips. I'm sure he will be on hiatus for awhile. (Honey, can I go canoeing? Please!!) Only last year we finally got to paddle together in the same canoe as we were always partnered with less experienced people. We paddled great together and had an amazing trip as partners. So much for that now!

James and I tackling some rapids on the Dumoine river. We were
a great paddling team running all the rapids clean!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

Of course I was saddened to think that I probably wouldn't be tripping with the newlyweds for some time, but that is reality. James is now chained to Kerry (I'm going to feel some heat!) and every decision was a, "I'll get back to you" response, but I understand the reasoning. Marriage is one thing, but pregnancy is totally different,....mmmm, maybe not. : )

Great memories of tripping together and some of
the crazy things we did out there!

Many people would ask me if I was ready to be an uncle. Quite frankly, I didn't have a clue. "Yeah, I guess?", was the usual reply. Like how do I prepare?!! I don't take those baby prep classes with them, I don't have kids myself, and all I really know is how to conceive one. (grade 6 sex ed, see I remember something!) Funny though, I've learned a few things by trial and error - like trying to buy a shower gift from a baby registry. After more than 2 hrs of frustration, I discovered and learned new baby lingo, vocab, and stuff. Oh, and by the way, before painstakingly picking out all the gifts, remember to check the "Required" and "Received" list! (trust me on this one!) I should have took a female with me!

"What the heck are these?!" Flippers?
Photo: James Lee

I recently visited the couple and got a good chance to talk with them about the pregnancy. The due date is merely 2 weeks away! When Kerry opened the door, I was astonished at the size of her stomach! If I squeezed a basketball in my shirt, that would be her! They also showed me the baby room and all the cute stuff in there. I was amazed at literally all the stuff one could get for their baby! The colour video monitor was the neatest thing - not only can you hear the baby, but watch it in colour, and then to top it off, it has night vision!! Sign me up for a rebirth in the twenty-first century!

Amazed at how big Kerry's stomach was!
Are you sure there isn't more
than one in there?!"
Photo: James Lee

The most incredible experience I had was a chance to feel the baby move. Maybe being a single guy who always thinks about paddling, I think there was a bit of disconnect with women and pregnancy. But when I was able to put my hands on Kerry's stomach and feel this living, breathing, cognizant being, I was instantly moved. Initially, I was a little freaked, (I had visions of Alien swirling in my head) but the more I realized there was a small living human being separated by a thin layer of skin, muscle and fluid, I was totally beside myself. For heavens sake, the baby even had hiccups!!!

"Hey little one, want to go paddling?"
Kerry always gives me
that look!

I'm positive the baby said "yes" by moving!
Kerry: "Oh brother!"
Photo: James Lee

I've always been mesmerized by the beauty outdoors - dramatic sunsets, rich fall colours, cliff top vistas, delicate flowers etc. Its a beauty beyond compare that deeply moves me, - which is why paddling in the wilderness is such a draw for me. Well that immovable pillar has recently had its foundations shaken. I haven't even seen this living entity nor is it even mine, (wouldn't that be a story!) but I have been touched and moved in a very special way - much like being captivated by a stunning scene. I would have never imagined being so excited about having a niece or nephew, but now I am. Beauty is present in many forms and I have just discovered another one. In time I will be a proud uncle, and the first order of business for me, (of course when appropriate!) is to take him/her on a canoe trip as my new paddling partner. I owe it to the young one to reciprocate discovering beauty.

(What?!!, change diapers as well?!!! - I didn't agree to that!)

Wishing James and Kerry all the best
with the delivery of their
first child!

Looking forward to it!


Friday, April 3, 2009

Mar 29 09 Credit River Race - Going for Gold!

Kelly McDowell, Manager of Complete Paddler poses
for a picture with me after the race
Photo: Ben Albert

You know the saying, "Don't jump before you can walk"? Well, I've come to terms with it. It's not like I didn't understand the implications, its just that I got caught up in the moment. Contained in that evolutionary grey matter atop our shoulders, there is a constant battle between emotion and logic, - and I will painstakingly admit, emotion won out this time.

I'd had already paddled 2 weekends in March and missed the opportunity on the third due to the Sportsman's Show so I was itching to get out again. So when Kelly McDowell from Complete Paddler told me about a slalom race on the Credit river the following weekend, I said "I'll be there!" without much thought. Since I've never seen a slalom race before I thought it would be interesting to watch, takes some pictures, and maybe, just maybe paddle the course when it was finished. I quickly relayed the event info to other friends and hoped some would join me.

Kelly and I had recently talked about solo whitewater boats, so he asked whether I would be interested in paddling one. Of course I didn't want to lose an opportunity like this so I wholeheartedly said yes. Time has a way of making things much clearer, and so reality started to set in. Here I was, going to a race with experienced slalom paddlers and I was going to attempt paddling a solo boat for the first time! If you don't know, solo whitewater boats are much shorter than regular canoes, have a pronounced rocker (looks like an upside down banana) and is very tipsy if you don't know how it paddles. (like me!!!) Well, I figured I could just test paddle further downstream of the course away from everyone.

Well, the day of the race came and my friend Ben decided to join me. I called him earlier that morning and asked whether he was interested in paddling the course. Like me, he thought he was just going as an observer, but when I told him Kelly was bringing several boats, I figured we could possibly paddle the course tandem. Even though neither of us competed before, we've paddled whitewater confidently together and I knew we could do it - despite the possibility of coming in last. He hesitantly agreed to bring his gear and said he would make the final decision once we were there.

We met at Streetsville Memorial Park where there were trailers, tents, and several boats all around. The race day weather didn't help with the rain and overcast sky, but I was getting excited. After speaking to Ben and Kelly, we decided to go for it and paddle the course tandem. It made us feel better when we found out it was Kelly's first time as well. Although, he was partnered with an experienced slalom paddler and he encouragingly said we couldn't possibly do any worse. (yeah right!)

Since I didn't have a drysuit, Kelly kindly loaned me one for the race. The only problem was that it was a women's. Considering the importance of staying dry and warm with the rain and the possibility of tipping in the frigid water, I knew it was necessary, but,...the drysuit was purple! With all the paddlers around it was hard not to notice, and if I recall correctly, not even the women there wore purple!! (sigh!) So I reluctantly donned the drysuit and tried to be positive and thankful. (really Kelly, I was!) Then I noticed an odd feeling behind me. I grabbed at the annoyance only to notice it was a huge upside-down U-shaped zipper! Men's drysuits have a waterproof zipper across the crotch, guess where a women's drysuit zipper would be?! Yeah, it was the rear hatch!! Not like I needed more attention!! (stop laughing!)

Yes, that's the rear trap door zipper!
And apparently the suit is not
purple, its fuchsia! Whatever!
Photo: Ben Albert

After hoofing the fully outfitted boat to the starting gate, I could feel the nervous energy that comes with competition as everyone was scoping each other out. (either that or they were wondering why a guy was wearing a purple female drysuit!) The awful weather did have a side benefit, - the lack of participants. That meant only hardcore paddlers came out - which could mean they were the best of the best (great!), or dummies like me that had a better chance at looking somewhat respectable in a smaller group! It didn't help when were heard there were some national champions and even an Olympian! - but in those other crafts, - kayaks. Phew!

When Kelly got in the solo boat and ran a few gates to get an idea of the course, it was immediately obvious how difficult it was - navigating fast moving water, exiting tricky eddies, and trying to nail the gates. I swallowed hard and said to myself that there was no way in hell that I was doing the course solo. As there wasn't much time, Ben and I took the opportunity to paddle the tandem boat through a few gates to also get an idea. We managed okay, but it was nerve-racking. We quickly went to register for the race and and was told $20 could enter you for both the tandem and solo. You'd think logic would have been flashing like crazy right about now, but I looked at Ben and I asked, "Want to?" Maybe ego, maybe peer pressure from paddlers standing around, or just plain stupidity, but since I didn't want to say no first, he said "Ok", so I relented and said ok too.

On our way back up, we walked stoically side by side. We had some time and we were probably both deep in thought of the looming fiasco ahead. (at least I was!) As we stood in the rain surrounded by the many paddlers, the call came for the solo boats to go first. I hoped and prayed I would be called last. Wrong! After 2 boats had gone, I was asked to go. Of course I was mortified, but it didn't help that everyone was encouraging me as well! So I grabbed the boat, shoved it in the water, and saddled up. All I could think was just don't dunk. Not here, not now. As the time judge counted down, I focused on the upstream gate 5 feet away. I told myself, "Relax, you'll be fine." "Go!", the ref yelled and off I went, driving the paddle deep into the current aiming for the gate. The boat wobbled uncontrollably playing havoc with my balance, but the gate was almost in reach as I strained to get through when all of a sudden my world went brown! Holding my breath to prevent gulping in river water, I pushed away from the thigh harness and stood up. If for once I could just disappear, it would have had to be now! Needless to say, I'm sure there was some giggles and laughter. Despite the embarrassment, I asked to start again. There was no way I was going to stick around!

Needless to say, I finished the run without dunking again. Not that I did well by any means, but it was over and it felt good to finish it. By the time I had brought the boat back up, Ben wisely took the boat upstream and got a feel of the boat before running the course dry. (he didn't dunk) Despite the debacle, it was fun. So much in fact that emotion overrided logic once more and I decided to run the course solo again. I started a lot better this time but managed to dunk midway. (only me!) Oh well, like it could get worse!, - I finished much worse than the first run.

Kelly soloed well and came in second place in the men's OC1 (open canoe solo), unlike me, I was dead last. However there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Surprisingly, at the award ceremony, Ben and I were shocked to find out that we came in first place in the men's OC2!! Woo hooo!! I'm sure the gods were feeling very sorry for me being the only one that dunked that day; not once, but twice!!

Who would have ever imagined us coming in first place!
Certainly not us! Men's OC2 champions! - lol!
Photo: Imorze Albert

What?!!! It's not gold?!!!
Photo: Imroze Albert

I have to say, despite everything I had an amazing time at the race, sentiments felt both by Ben and Kelly. We met a lot of people at the course that were extremely friendly and encouraging. I was also surprised to find that this was the 51st race and is the second oldest whitewater race in North America, - wow! I know for certain I will be back next year with hopefully better solo paddling skills! I want to thank Kelly for the invitation, Ben for fearlessly joining me and all the organizers and volunteers that ran the race in the miserable conditions. I realized that day emotions are an integral part of our human psyche, because if we allowed ourselves to be controlled by logic, life would be pretty boring and I wouldn't have such amazing (and funny) experiences to write about!

There were also lots of great prizes at the race. I won
a new Salus whitewater PFD! I'm positive
they felt sorry for me!
Photo: Imroze Albert

(Is there possibility of Giardia in the Credit River?! - cough, cough)