Monday, September 29, 2008

Lower Louey

Nora, Dave, Graeme, Pike, and I headed up to the Lower on Sunday to take advantage of one of the last fish-flow days of the year. We had a great time with lots of firsts. It was Graeme's first time on either section of the Louey, which is kind of amazing because he's definitely an experienced paddler. It was Pike's first time running the entire Lower, it was Nora's first day with her new creeking helmet, and my first time in my new boat.

We left the cities under a dreary overcast sky that was alternating between mist and rain, but about 45 miles from the river we left the clouds behind and had clear blue skies when we put on the water. The leaves were short of peak color, but beautiful just the same. Gorgeous day for paddling.

The level seemed lower than I remembered at fish flow, but that didn't stop us from having a great time. The first half of the river went by quickly and easily, with the only non-planned maneuver being me somehow getting turned backwards in the middle of First Sister and having to boof the last tier of the drop in reverse. Even that went fine, though, and we continued on.

We ran a river-right line through Octopus that I hadn't tried before. We hit the always-fun rock-slide entry and Graeme's splash put up a wall of water that looked like the spray from a slalom water skier. The middle of the rapid had plenty of rocks to dodge, but if you followed the flow you could make it without bumping aroud too much. It ended with a fun, corkscrew slide that dropped you nicely into the pool. Everyone made it down without incident and we got some video and pics. Check Nora's blog for the footage and I'll try to post my own videos on here when I get a chance.

The boneyard was, well, boney. I tried the left half of the river through the shallowest part. Don't do that. It sucks.

Swinging bridge was fun (as always), though a bit bumpier than usual due to the low level. Dave, Graeme, and I all wound up with some level of brace to get through it. Dave caught his thumb on the rocks and wound up with some nasty bruising for it. The slide out of the hanging pool went perfectly, though, and we all cleared snakebite without incident.

We had quite a crowd watching from the swinging bridge and shoreline. They were cool enough to clap and cheer for us as we paddled under the bridge.

Great weather, nice fall colors, good company, fun water, and no carnage (except for Dave's thumb). Awesome trip. I'll post vids/pics when I get a chance.

Jackson Hero Review

I just had my first day in an '08 Jackson Hero and, since there isn't much in the way of independent reviews out there for this boat yet, figured I'd chip in my two cents.

About me:
Size: 5'11", ~165 lbs, 32" inseam, size 9 feet.
Experience: 8 years, primarily in playboats, but with some big water and creeking

What I was looking for was a boat that I could use on rivers that were too much for the playboat to handle -- mostly Class IV-IV+ stuff. Because of my background in playboats, I really wanted something with a planing hull. Some other comparable boats I've tried are: Dagger CFS, Pyranha Burn, and Liquid Logic Jefe.

My first trip in the Hero was on the Lower St. Louis River. It's a class III-IV run with steep, boney, technical drops. It was running at approx 350 cfs. On the whole, I was very impressed with this boat. It did everything that I wanted it to and was easy to get used to. It's short length let me make the moves I needed to in between the Louey's rock spines, and it's edges carved when I needed them to but didn't catch or trip me up. The boat also boofed easily, clearing Snakebite and other lesser holes without a problem. My biggest fear for this boat was that its short length would make it difficult to punch through sticky holes. Though I didn't face anything really huge, I pushed it through enough holes to say that I'm no longer worried about it at all. I'm not sure if it's the shape of the deck or some other design trick, but this boat walked through the holes as easily as the full-on creekers I've paddled.

In flatwater, the boat feels like more of a creekboat than I was expecting. Though it does have the Fun's planing hull, the initial stability isn't as rigid as the playboats I'm used to. It has more of a hybrid feel. Same goes for rolling. It was definitely easy to roll, but it had more of an even, gradual feel to the roll as opposed to the quick snap of my playboat.

I have noticed that the ultra-bouyant bow has a tendency to get pushed side-to-side by cross-currents more than other creekers. It doesn't seem to be a big problem, but is something that I'll have to get used to. The only other issue that I had with the boat was having to keep tightening the backband, but I've heard that you have to let the ropes stretch a bit when they're new. I also chalk some of that up to just not being used to that system.

So, I'd definitely give the Hero two thumbs up as a lighter-duty creeker. I'm looking forward to getting it out on some bigger stuff in the spring!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Verm Cleanup

Sunday was the Annual Vermillion River Cleanup, and we couldn't have had a better day. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were plentiful, the sponsors were awesome, and it was a great experience all around.

The river was in better shape this year than I'm used to. We only found about 1/2 as many bikes as normal, and less trash in general. It was great to see! Because there was less hauling to be done, a few volunteers were able to devote their time to trail clearing! Over the past couple years, about 8 trees had fallen over the path between the bridge and the falls. The tree crew cleared them all and trimmed back some of the overhanging branches that made it difficult to walk. The trail is now clean, clear, and as safe as it can be. Now if only we could find a way to get some stairs over there...

I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I decided to stay dry this year and do shore cleanup. Thankfully Alex (and later Mike J) brought water gear and waded the length of the river, pulling out all kinds of debris. In fisherman's pool Alex found an old motorcycle and several other large or stuck-in objects. Mike had an old climbing rope, so we rigged up a pulley system to drag them out of the water and up the cliff. The water guys tied on the object, Jay and Art rigged the rope through a tree-mounted carabiner, and I backed my truck to the edge of the cliff to provide the pull. It worked great for the Motorcycle and the first stuck-in bicycle (see the video on Nora's blog), but when we got to the second stuck-in bike we had a bit more trouble. I'm not sure what it was caught on, but the second bike was so stuck that we snapped Mike's 1100lb-rated climbing rope trying to get it out. Apparantly when the rope snapped it looked like a 100' bull whip, cracking like a gunshot in the direction of my truck. Thankfully, we were all standing well clear of the rope and nobody got hurt. Unfortunately nobody got that on tape, so the story will have to suffice.

Huge thanks to Nora for organizing the cleanup again this year. As always, she put her heart and soul into making it the best it can be and really pulled through. She got swag from lots of great sponsors, cooked tacos and homemade salsa for everyone, made the reservations with the Park, got us all gloves and bags, and made a kayak pinata! Thanks for all the hard work!

Last, I have to once again give a huge thanks to Jackson Kayak,, and Julie out at Wausau Whitewater because the boat I won at the Midwest Freestyle Championships came! It's a lime-green Jackson Hero, and I'm incredibly stoked to try it out. Though I haven't gotten it on the water yet, I have spent some time sitting in it in my kitchen (this is why I live alone) to get the outfitting just right. Can't wait to get it on a river. Thanks again to everybody helped make the event (and the raffle) possible!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Canoeing Weekend

Kim and I met up with several of her friends down in Whitewater State Park this weekend near Rochester. We did some swiftwater canoeing on a narrow and windy river filled with stumps and other objects. While I think we had a pretty solid group of paddlers, these obstacles definitely caused some mayhem in the swift currents. We had one boat flip twice and another flip once. The other three boats made it through high and dry, so all in all, I'd say the canoes won the day with a score of: obstacles 2, canoeists 3.

After paddling, we headed back to the State Park for bonfire, excellent camp food, and some drinks. The weather was cool and fall was definitely in the air. Beautiful time for camping.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Photographers Wanted!

Anyone know a non-paddler that wants to take some pictures? I took all of 11 photos at the release yesterday because the paddling there has just been too much fun to bother with the cameras. Yesterday's release was a blast! It was pretty much the usual suspects out there, plus a ton of newer paddlers who were practicing on the lower portions of the course. Aside from the course regulars (team pabst, Wagonwheel, etc), there weren't a lot of advanced paddlers present, so hole time was abundant and you had your pick of the upper features. It was pretty much just having fun in great, uncrowded features with a bunch of friends. Tough to beat that.

Nora and Laura were both present and looking like rockstars. Both are on the verge of loops, Nora's got cartwheels now and Laura's starting to work on them. Its fun to watch and see them hit these new moves! Nora had some bad luck, breaking her new paddle when she got washed into some rocks. Though that was really disappointing, she made lemons into lemonade the way that only Nora can. She used it as an opportunity to try some different paddles and different offsets and wound up having a great day! To help offset the loss of the paddle, she got her new helmet so she was stylin' as she sampled the different paddles.

It was great catching up with the Team Pabst guys again. I don't think there's a better group of guys anywhere in the sport and it's always a blast paddling with them. I just found out that Matt's now a Bliss Stick rep, so it should be fun to see them showing off the boats this fall!

As for me, I had a great day and finally figured out why I was never coming out of the water straight on my loop attempts. Once that was fixed, it was tons of fun. I even hand paddled for a while and discovered that I can do both cartwheels and backdeck rolls without a paddle. Definitely a fun surprise.

As this was the last Wausau release of the season for me, I've really gotta say thanks to everyone out there that makes it such a great place to be. While there are many people behind these events, my hat is off to Julie for putting her personal and professional life on hold so that the rest of us can enjoy the course and all of the fun things that go along with it. In addition to organizing and staffing the events, Julie writes grants and recruits sponsors to make these releases possible, and is trying to get a new instructional program in place for next season. If you make it to either of the remaining releases, make sure you stop the registration tent and let her know how much we appreciate all the hard work!

Now everyone needs to wish, hope, pray, and whatever else you can think of for some big fall rains!