Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween Kettle Trip

As if anyone needed further proof that snowflakes and wind make for great paddling weather, a great time was had by all on the Kettle River Saturday.

Mother nature decided to hand out both tricks and treats to us for our Halloween paddle. On the tricks side, it was barely above freezing with high winds and snow falling when we put on the river. On the treats side, however, we had good water levels, great company, and even a little sunshine before the trip was over.

Nora, Andy, Dave, Spot, and I arrived at the river in two groups, but were floating together by the time we hit Dragon's tooth. The level was about 3' on the bridge gauge (1400 cfs), which left us with not one, but two decent surf waves at Blueberry. If it was warmer, I think the 2nd wave would have been bouncy enough to try some blunts. The waves at the end of Dragon's tooth were also large and steep, and made for easy down-river wave wheels.

The kayakers also took advantage of the water running over Wolf Creek Falls in front of an audience of hikers. I had high hopes for getting a helmet-cam view of running the falls, but was foiled by the cold. Turns out rechargeable camera batteries don't last long in chilly weather and the camera died literally on the lip of the falls. Next time I'll bring some lithium ones.

Dead batteries aside, it was a great way to spend a chilly Haloween afternoon. Here's hoping the rains keep coming!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Black River

Like a last-second touchdown pass that wins the game, the Black River became a great and challenging run after almost slipping into the realm of the mundane.

I hadn't been on the Black since 2003 and the times I had run it had been at very high spring flows. The dam provides water releases a few times a year, but I had never attended one. This past Saturday was a 1-day, variable flow release that would start at 400cfs and ramp up in stages, peaking at 1100 cfs before ramping back down.

The run begins just below the Hatfield dam. Most runs put in at a play wave about 400 yards downstream from the dam. From there down, it's a scenic class II-III river with a couple nice wave trains and a good stretch of flatwater.

Pike and I put on at the wave at 800cfs and were disappointed. It was small and not retentive. Front surfs were possible, but that was about it. We hung out until they pushed it up to 1100cfs, which improved the wave considerably. Still not an epic feature, but it was very surfable. After a few rides, we headed down through a couple of wave trains, slugged it across a mile or two of flatwater, and made it to the boulder gardens that lead to the takeout.

At this point, it had been a nice trip with great weather, but definitely not what I would call exciting. We loaded the boats into the truck and headed back to the put-in. By now, the level was down to 500, so we decided to take a look at the ledges that make up the 400 yards between the dam and the normal put-in. We picked up Matt along the way, who was looking for people to run the ledges with.

The ledges are steep and narrow, with lots of very sharp rock edges protruding everywhere. There's a river-wide hole at the top that looked both retentive and boney, and not at all fun to go into. It can, however, be run along the right or left walls without getting stuck in it. After that, you slide quickly through a couple head-high curlers before going over an 8' drop into a violent, but not sticky hole. That puts you into the middle pool.

From the pool, you head left over a couple of 4' drops and breaking curlers before going over another big pitch with a more powerful hole at the bottom. Luckily, the gradient has you moving fast enough that you can blow through it without getting hung up.

The hole section reminds me of the lower St. Louis in that it's Class III difficulty as long as you're on-line and upright. The consequences for going off-line or upside down make this one a Class IV section, in my opinion.

The ledges were definitely exciting and changed the mood of the whole day. It made the river a fantastic mix of fast-paced and mellow paddling all on one stretch. Big thanks to Pike for the videos, and to Matt for probing the run for us.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lobster, fire, and lots of little states

Big ones, little ones, male ones, female ones, cooked, and wild ones. Over the 6 days that Kim and I were in New England, we came in contact with just about every type of lobster known to man. It was great.
From New England Trip

I guess I'm a bit late getting this up, but I figure better late than never. A few weeks back Kim and I headed out to New England to visit Meaghan and Nick and see the sites. Neither of us had really explored much of New England, so this was a great opportunity. We went to Boston, Newport, Providence, Southern New Hampshire, and the Portland area in Maine.
From New England Trip

We started out in Boston, which I'd never been to before. We made our way around town pretty well, hitting most of the Freedom Trail, the financial district, the Harvard campus, and more. All, of course, while speaking with the heaviest Boston accents we could possibly produce. I don't think an "R" sound was heard that whole first day... To make our first night in Boston even better, we lucked out with a travel site deal at an amazingly high-end hotel right on the water in the financial district. It might be the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. Definitely beats the hostels!
From New England Trip

From Boston we rented a car and headed West to Worcester (aka Wustah) to visit Meaghan and Nick, who were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple nights. They really treated us to a great time, including taking us through the whole process of picking out, buying, and cooking a live lobster and some other seafood. It was great fun and made for a delicious meal.

We got a bit of a surprise the first night, when we were woken up at 4am to a car horn blaring. I was the first up, and when I looked out the window at the parking lot I saw a Camry Hybrid with a small fire in the passenger compartment. No one was in or near it, so I went and told Meaghan and Nick what was going on and they called 911. While we were waiting for the fire crew to arrive, we watched the flames grow with surprising speed. Within minutes the fire had consumed the interior of the car and had flames towering over the car. The heat caused the various airbags in the car to explode randomly, adding some sound effects to the flames. When the firemen got the flames put out, a brand new Camry Hybrid was charred and we'd all lost a good bit of sleep.
From New England Trip

That morning, Meaghan and Nick took us down to Rhode Island to see the sights. We started off in Newport, which is a surreal town filled with little shops and seafood restaurants. It was a beautiful day, so we enjoyed wandering the city and watching the fisherman unloading lobsters from their boats. We also drove out to see the old Mansions along the coast, including a tour of The Breakers, a huge and elaborately decorated mansion that was built by the Vanderbilt family. After the tour we resolved to build our own ultra-luxurious 70 bedroom home... Maybe next year.
From New England Trip

On our way back to Massachussets, we stopped in Providence to check out FireWater, a large-scale art exhibit set out on the canal running through downtown. It consisted of hundreds of floating baskets arranged throughout the river, filled with wood, and lit on fire. These floating bonfires were stoked by boats sliding along in the dark and adding wood to each basket. There were also Gondolas navigating the water with tourists and other clients while a variety of music played. We didn't walk the entire route, but we covered at least 4 blocks and both ends eluded us. We did stumble upon some fire-dancing performers, though, who put on quite a show. The scent of woodsmoke, sound of music, and sight of twirling flames made the whole experience surreal. It was a very neat surprise and a heck of a way to end our time in Rhode Island.
From New England Trip

From Providence, we made our way back to Massachusetts for another night at Meaghan and Nick's. The next day Kim and I drove up to Maine, stopping at a couple of New Hampshire wineries along the way. Our first stop in Maine was the Nubble Lighthouse, which is tougher to find than one would expect since GPS systems take you to a random dead-end street. The lighthouse was cool, though, and made a fitting start to our time in Maine.
From New England Trip

After the lighthouse, we stopped by the LL Bean mega-store, then made our way to Portland. Portland is a small, seaside city that is great for exploring on foot. We took a harbor cruise, a brewery tour, and checked out lots of local shops and restaurants.
From New England Trip

The highlight of Portland for me, though, was our lobstering cruise with Lucky Catch Cruises. Kim and I each got to go out on a working lobster boat and try our hand at opening and emptying traps, measuring lobsters to determine if they can be kept, rubber-banding the claws, and more. We also got to learn about how the fisherman mark their bouys to distinguish their traps from the others, how to tell male and female lobsters, and all about the regulations that protect breeding lobsters. We even caught (and released) a female that was loaded with thousands of eggs. As a bonus, the trip made for a great harbor cruise and took us past several lighthouses.
From New England Trip

At the end, we got to buy the lobsters we caught for $5 and carry them up the pier to one of the waterfront restaurants that prepared them for us.
From New England Trip

After Portland, we made our way back for one more night in Boston, then headed home. It was a really fun week and we were both surprised by how easy it is to see so many different places in such a short time. Now to plan the next trip...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Wausau 9-7-09

It's tough to beat good playboating in September. The good folks at Wausau Whitewater added two double-releases on the whitewater course for September this year, and it was a great idea. When everything else is drying up and paddlers are normally turning to other ways to have fun, we now get an awesome get-out-of-boredom pass for the fall. There are two-day releases the first and third weekends of the month, and even though I won't be able paddle to both days at either release, I'm definitely heading out to each.

Caleb and I made our way out to the first release Saturday night and were treated to perfect camping weather while we caught up with the other paddlers. Sunday morning we got to take advantage of the first-ever breakfast buffet at the VFW. $5 for blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and beverages! If you're camping out there from now on, leave the breakfast bars at home and head over there. It was awesome. After breakfast we were both off to a little bit of a rough start (maybe ate a bit more than we should have), but found our grooves after taking a morning break.

Caleb's been working on getting his cartwheels down, and after yesterday can definitely check that off his list. He was wheeling away in little drop all afternoon.

I seem to have found my loops again, managing to land the majority of the throughout the day. It's a great feeling to be able to get in there and throw the moves with some confidence again. Wheels, spins, and loops were all working. Now if only I could get that to happen on a competition weekend...

We didn't take any pictures, but got some video in the afternoon. I missed Caleb's best runs, but you can get the idea from what we did get on film. He managed to get some strong runs for me, which seems to never happen once a camera comes out.

By the end of the day, we were both grinning like fools and happy as can be. Warm weather, warm water, great features and great friends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Midwest Freestyle Championships!!

From '09 Midwest Championships

It was like a gigantic party with all of your best friends, but with a backdrop of awesome whitewater and amazing freestyle moves for entertainment. That was how I'd describe the Midwest Freestyle Championships in Wausau this past weekend.
From '09 Midwest Championships

There were nearly 100 competitors going head to head in freestyle competitions, boatercross races, and other events. We had record numbers for nearly all of the levels of competition, but especially huge beginner's and women's categories. Both had big increases in both over last year and the weekend was definitely more fun for it.
From '09 Midwest Championships

Several pro and sponsored paddlers competed this year, as well as the local experts fighting for the top spots. The expert and intermediate level events were held at Little Drop, which was more retentive and versatile than last year's spot. That difference showed in the number of cartwheels, splitwheels, and other spinning moves competitors were hitting. Don't get me wrong, there were still plenty of big air loops and space godzillas, but it was fun to see some more balanced runs. Also, the new venue was way better for the spectators with tiered seating, lots of space, and no train bridge to get in the way of the view.
From '09 Midwest Championships

I participated in the Boatercross, the Intermediate Freestyle, and the Team Freestyle events. The boater cross was a head-to-head downriver race that started just above Big Drop and ended towards the bottom of the course. Along the way were obstacles and required moves that jammed all of the racers together and led to some great carnage. No one was injured, but Big Drop definitely saw its share of flips and pile-ups as heat after heat of racers piled into the side curling wave on river right.
From '09 Midwest Championships

On my first heat of boatercross, I nearly ran over someone as they flipped right in front of me in Big drop, then I flipped entering the eddy for the attainment. I rolled up, caught a lucky break climbing into the Little Drop eddy, and wound up winning the heat. After that, it was time to run back up to the top for the "Finals." Because there were so many competitors, however, we wound up with 9 finalists and had to split into two semi-final heats.
From '09 Midwest Championships

My semi-final run went much smoother, without me flipping at all. There was a bit of bumping and crowding in the Big Drop eddy, but the run ended up pretty smoothly with me finishing 2nd. That was good enough to get me into the Finals, where the boat bumping began almost immediately. I found myself neck-and-neck with a much longer boat just above big drop. As we entered the drop, he pulled slightly ahead of me and I was able to push his stern and send him off-line. That lined me up perfectly for the bouey, and then it was neck-and-neck again through little drop. Once again, I was saved by a lucky attainment move getting up into Little Drop Eddy and wound up 2nd overall to Collin Kemp, who (in addition to being a really nice guy) is supernaturally fast. Because I was either racing or running back up for the next heat, I didn't really get to see many other people's runs, but I know that nearly everyone gave it a shot.
From '09 Midwest Championships

The Freestyle was lots of fun to watch, with John, Collin, Craig, Tommy, Doug and others really putting on a show. I had a couple decent runs, but definitely know that I could improve upon them next year. I wound up 6th in the intermediate division.

Huge thanks to Julie, Cole, Collin, Chad, and everyone else who organized and help run the weekend. It was action-packed, full of fun stuff, and definitely made for some great memories for all involved. Also congrats to Melissa for winning the new boat this year! It couldn't have gone to a nicer and more deserving person. Speaking of the boat, that was one of a ton of really awesome prizes put out by Midwest Mountaineering, World Kayak, Whitecap Kayak, Jackson Kayak, Bear Paw, and more.

From '09 Midwest Championships

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Twin Cities Paddle

Last weekend Kim, I, two of my nephews, and three more friends rented (gasp) rec kayaks from REI and paddled 15 miles of the Mississippi River. We put in at Boom Island, just North of Minneapolis at 9am. By complete coincidence, this was also the time that they blew up the Lowry Bridge just upstream from us. As we were getting in the boats we were greeted with a huge double "BOOM!" If that weren't enough, we also put in at a boat slip right next to a makeshift houseboat that wound up in the newspaper that same day. We thought it was a bit strange that two people were sleeping in a partially-enclosed boat with chickens... Check out the link at:

Anyway, after the put-in oddities, we started downstream towards Downtown Minneapolis. It wasn't far to our first lock/dam near the Guthrie and Stone Arch Bridge. This was the first time that any of us had been through a lock before, so we weren't really sure what to expect. We found the "Pull" rope near the entrance and got to talk via speaker with the operators, then were allowed into the lock. Once inside, one person holds onto a rope (do NOT tie it to yourself or your boat), then the others hold onto their boat. We're still not exactly sure why this is necessary, but I guess it keeps everyone in place and easy to keep track of.

To our surprise, we didn't even notice when they began lowering us down. We just suddenly noticed that there was a water line on the wall that wasn't there before. The descent is completely smooth and without any sensation at all, even in a kayak. That lock wound up being the tallest of the 3 we did that day at about 50'. It was a really cool experience and may just qualify as the slowest waterfall I've ever run...

After the lock we paddled past the Guthrie, the Gold Metal Flour sign, and other cool landmarks, then hit the second lock. This one was shorter (about 1/2 as high) and we breezed right through.

After the second lock you come up right under the 35W bridge, which was neat to see from beneath. It's very cool to see how smooth and elegant the bridge is. With no visible platforms, railings, or other structures, it almost doesn't look real. Pretty cool.

After the second lock and a few more bridges, we passed the U of M, with a great view of the Weisman art museum. A short stretch later and we were down to the Ford plant and our third lock of the day. We made it through smoothly and were put into a busier, but more wooded part of the river. We stopped for lunch at Hidden Falls Park, which was about 1/2 way through.

After Hidden Falls you move into a stretch of water that you would barely realize is in an urban area. Tree-lined shores, people fishing, and a lack of bridges or structures make it feel much more secluded than it is. The only thing that keeps you aware of your location is the amount of traffic on this stretch of the river - barges, day-cruise ships, pleasure boats, and even other kayakers.

By the time we could start to see the St. Paul skyline, we were all starting to feel the miles in our shoulders and arms. We were also trying to beat the storm that was closing in on us, so it was comforting when we could start to see familiar landmarks. As we closed on our destination, we past the Science Museum, the paddleboats anchored along shore, and all of downtown. Our last landmark was the Wabasha St. Bridge before we took out at Harriet Island.

We got the boats out, ran shuttle, and loaded up just as the rain started to come down. On the whole, we timed it pretty well. We ended up paddling about 15 miles with a strong headwind that nullified any benefit we might have had from the current. It really felt like an accomplishment when we finally made it. Definitely a good time, but next time it might be better broken into two sections, with the break at Hidden Falls.

Either way, it was fun and probably good for me to spend some time in a non-whitewater boat. Now to think of the next adventure...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dan's Stoney River Video

Dan F put together this awesome video of our Stoney River trip from this spring. Check it out!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Wausau Opener!

Talk about making the most of a cool, gloomy day. The temps were around 50 with a breeze that made it feel cooler. The sky was heavy overcast, just waiting to rain. The great thing about kayaking, though, is that none of that mattered at all. Once I got the gear on and got in the boat, I was warm and comfy. And, as a huge and surprising bonus, the water was extremely warm. All that water sitting in the sun up in the reservoir definitely pays off.

So, that's how the first Wausau release of the year began. I got on the water early and had the place pretty much to myself for almost 45 minutes. I think the weather took a bit of the hurry out of people's journey from parking lot to river, so there was room and hole time to spare!

As always, it's great to be back at Wausau. The course is nothing but fun from top to bottom with lots of variety and friendly features. It's also a great place to catch up with and meet other paddlers. It was really nice to see Team Pabst again after the off season and I look forward to paddling with them this summer!

Nora took some time to guide some newer paddlers through the course. All three handled it really well and were surfing and punching through the features on their way down the river.

I was making my maiden voyage in my new (used) boat. I got a great deal on another Kingpin and couldn't pass it up. Mine was getting pretty worn out, but I still hadn't found another boat that I liked that much, so when I saw this one up for sale I grabbed it. Looking forward to getting a few more good years out of it!

After a frustrating year of regressing freestyle skills last year, I finally feel like I'm starting to get some of the bugs worked out on my tricks. I've pretty much got my loop entry issues worked out, now I've just got to get my arms up and speed up my rotation. That said, I did hit 3/3 in little drop and about 1/2 in the street bridge hole. The rodeo hole remains my nemesis, but I'll keep working on it.

That's it for now. I was hoping to get some helmet cam footage, but my warm-up run never ended, so I didn't get back to the truck to grab it. Next time... This week will be the Canoe U Survivor's party, then I'll be spending this weekend here, likely doing dry activities for a change. Here's to another summer of Wausau whitewater!

1) checking out the new boat
2) Pamela running Big Drop
3) Doug, looking very Zen as he punches the rodeo hole
4) Pamela's brother (name? sorry!) punching Rodeo
5) Me getting a faceful
6) Mike M in the rodeo hole
7) Melissa in the rodeo hole
8) A huge, freaky looking bug on the rocks by Rodeo. Anyone know what it is?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Continuum Class

What a great weekend! It was graduation weekend at Canoe U and I helped teach the Whitewater Continuum class. With Bobzilla as the lead instructor, 7 motivated and talented students, and 2 awesome safety boaters, it was tough to go wrong.

We had perfect weather on Saturday for our run of the top portion of the Lower Louey. We practiced skills and played on the features from just below the big rock tongue (which I've now found out is called Tablesaw) through Big Glassy. The dam was releasing 660 cfs for us, so there was plenty to challenge the students with. We refreshed the basics, worked on boofs and attainments, talked about how to get the most out of a short boat, and spent lots of time practicing moves in and out of the swift current.

Bob and I were lucky to have Jeremiah and Brian J, both expert-level boaters and great teachers, as safety for us. We were even luckier, however, to have students that were so good at rolling and self-rescue that the safety boaters were barely necessary. That left them free to help teach and keep students engaged.

Day two was on the Upper St. Louis, which was running at about 1700cfs. Our students spent lots of time working on draws and draw ferries, as well as surfing skills. It was amazing to see how much their paddling improved just over the weekend. By the end of the day Sunday the whole group was comfortable with moves that were brand new on Friday. Whether it was ferrying out onto 1st Wave using only a draw, taking charge and controlling the tempo through a rapid, making a mid-air boof turn to catch a micro eddie in the middle of 210, or any of the awesome moves made this weekend, the students were tearing the Louey to shreds. Throughout the weekend I saw every paddler in the group hit at least one major milestone moment like that. Watching them hit those moves and really take control was nothing short of inspiring and I was smiling all the way home thinking about the weekend's highlights.

Much of the credit for those improvements has to go to the students, who gave 100% to every skill we showed them. The rest, however, goes to Bobzilla for putting together a program that really pushes paddlers but never loses the fun and adventure that makes the sport so great. His creativity and technical expertise really show and I feel fortunate for the opportunity to teach with him.

A big thanks goes out to Bob Dodds for cooking a wonderful meal on Saturday night, complete with a flaming dessert! Also, thanks again to Alan, Chad, Art, and all of the others who put in the effort behind the scenes to make Canoe U happen.

Finally, big thanks to Jeremiah for taking the river pics this weekend. I didn't get a chance to take any, so he stepped in and got some shots of the students in action. Now I'm looking forward to spending a weekend in the Twin Cities and then to the Survivor's Party!