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!