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.