Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hood River Revisited

I finally got a chance to head back up to the Hood River over the weekend. It had been over a month since I last paddled the Hood, which was the weekend of my ugly swim... I NEEDED to get back up there to confront the after effects of this swim.

Now, in my opinion, kayaking is one of those sports where overthinking can be detrimental to a person's enjoyment. This isn't to say that scouting or looking at a rapid isn't beneficial or even needed on occasion. What I'm talking about is letting your mind wander out of the moment while in a rapid can really mess with you. See, when I'm paddling at my best, I'm totally in the moment, reacting to and with the water... essentially, I become a part of the water. When you start to think about what is happening or will happen... like, "oh boy, that's a big hole there, I really hope I don't flip and have to roll... wait, what if I miss my roll... oh, that would be bad, there is another rapid right below it... well you can see how that could impact your feeling of "oneness" with the water. That January swim started me down the path of thinking... a very bad place to be, for sure.

Now, I'm no Psychiatrist, but I figured the best thing to do was to head back up to the Hood and face down the demons that had been plaguing my head for the over a month. Either I would come away feeling better and at peace with my paddling or, well, I'd be a basket case.

Saturday dawned and I geared up for the drive out to Hood River, Oregon. Flows were going to be on the low side of good, so I felt pretty good about the trip. My buddy Mike Glass (who was with me on that fateful day in January) and I met a few friends at the Kayak Shed in Hood River and a paddling buddy of mine from the Tri-Cities in Washington, Jim Gaines, drove down to paddle. The group was on that I felt really comfortable with, so I was feeling even better about the trip.

We quickly got shuttle set up and headed up to the put-in. I was a little nervous as we slid out into the river, but after we got through the first rapid, I started to calm down a bit. The water was cold and the wind was blowing, so we all hunkered down to keep warm. The Hood at this flow (4.25 feet) is a fun Class III/III+ish boulder gardeny run, that allows you to really work on your "read and run" skills, as well as your eddy hopping skills. I hit a couple of really deep braces early on, which garnered a slap on the back from my buddy Mike and started to feel in the grove as we moved down the river.

Each rapid seemed to flow very smooth for me and I had that seamless feeling of being at home in the water. We quickly approched Island Rapid (Class IV) and we all dropped in, picking our lines through this technical boulder garden. Once through, I think I produced the loudest whooping and hollering I'd done since January... I felt great! As I looked downstream, I noticed that, just around the corner was the place that knocked me out of my boat back in January... to be honest, I tensed up a little and felt a little bit of fear creap in. However, as I mentioned in my last post, fear is a part of life and I was resolved to make it my companion on this adventure and not my adversary.

Here on the Hood, the river makes a hard right hand turn and piles into a large headwall and then makes an immediate left hand turn around a huge rock on river right that, at higher flows, becomes a huge hole (this is where I got thrashed). I saw my line against the wall and executed it just right and then nailed my line well to the left of the large rock and took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.

As I passed the spot where I came out of my boat, I began to relive that day in January... I could feel the cold of the water against my face and hear the noise of the river as I pushed out of my boat... Mike paddling over to me and us not being able to get into the eddy above the next drop... his apologizing for not getting me to shore and us dropping into the 100+ yard long rapid... me letting go, so he wouldn't get swamped in the holes that were bashing us around... it was as if I was there all over again. I saw the lead in and the spot where I let go of Mike's boat and I got a real appreciation for how far I swam that day... it was a LONG way. I moved my down, dodging rocks and holes that had beaten me up that day in January and spotted the root ball that I grabbed, giving me a brief respite during this swim... it was nearly 3 feet above the water level. (on that day in January, it was about 3 inches above the water.) I then saw the tree branch that I grabbed to get out of the water and remembered thiusing my last bit of engery to grab that branch and swing into the eddy... it was a very lucky grab. I pulled into the eddy right across from my January exit point and just sat there for a moment. I felt a little choked up, not really sure why, but I guess I just felt so grateful to be there, with great friends on a beautiful river. My buddy Jim paddled by and I peeled out to meet him. I told him the story and his eyes just went wide and said, "Man, that is a long swim!". I just laughed and said, "Yea, you should have been there."

We bounced through the 5 or so rapids that characterize the end of the the Dee to Tucker section of the Hood and met everyone at the take-out. We were all smiles and laughs.

We all headed to the Hood River Taqueria for some excellent Mexican food and beer with great friends before heading back to our respective homes. Personally, I headed home to sit with my lovely wife and tell her about my day... she knew how important this run was for me and was eagerly awaiting my return and the story of my day. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

You know, I feel privileged to be a whitewater kayaker. I don't claim to be a great boater, or even a particularly good boater, but I love it. Unlike any other sport, it allows me to see something in myself... to push myself in an environment that is both specularly beautiful and, at time, dangerous. I am, indeed, a very lucky guy!

Until next time, take some time to see the world around you. Not just from the window of your car or home, but up close and personal. Once you are there, you won't regret it.


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