Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Inbetween swims on the Moose River.

I have been in the US for over two months now and for the past year and a half I have been trying to think up ways to go paddling with my Canadian friend Matt. In fact, between Debs and I, we have devoted so much time to this topic that I suspect that if last years freshers ever actually meet Matt he will have a hard job winning them over! So when I heard about the Moose in upstate New York, I jumped at the opportunity to meet up and get on the river.

Eager for adventure, I set off to drive the six hours from Philly with Devin (an American friend of mine I met going to Gauley Fest). It began raining pretty hard about three hours in and it didn't let up. This made the idea of camping pretty miserable. On arrival we found ourselves without phone signal and only the name of the campsite Matt and his friends were in. The campsite turned out to be more of a small town (welcome to America) without a tent in sight. Disheartened, I was about to give up when the campsite owner came over and started to look through his list. I wasn't optimistic as he looked shocked when I suggested they might be camping with actual tents. It was at this point I noticed Matts note. To my relief they had bailed on camping and were staying in one of the many cabins.

Matt spent his summer rafting on the Rouge, and had brought some of his buddies (Gab, Kyle, Chris and Fraser), two of which had brought playboats as well as the creekers which they had hired. Their reasoning was along the lines ‘I have never paddled a creek boat before.....I'm not sure I trust it’. It was at this point I started to get a funny felling that the next day might be interesting....

Standing in the makeshift car park at the get on for the bottom Moose that feeling had failed to subside. In fact it had grown considerably when a local friend of Devins who ‘knows the bottom moose like the back of his hand’announced that they were only going to paddle the first 4 rapids as the level was super high. Some clever sod then pointed out we were a group of thirteen which only helped lighten the mood.

Before I go on I would like to say we all had an awesome day on the river, but the following series of events read in a similar fashion to a disaster report.

Matt's friend Gab was bleeding before he hit the water (although there was only seconds in it), an altercation involving a paddle, a tree and a slide had set the pace for the day! The first rapid on the Moose is about 100m after the get on and really sets the pace. A big 50ft slide with a huge

recirculating hole in the middle. For me the second run down spelled the end of my (almost) brand new AT2s. Fraser went a bit far right and when he re-emerged from the hole he was without his helmet. Apparently the buckle had completely unthreaded. I have to admit it was a little worrying to see a helmet floating around without a Fraser.

The next couple of rapids we relatively simple and gave me a chance to get used to the Werners Devin lent me. He bought them off some random guy for $15, they have a 90 degree feather and totally symmetrical blades. Although I am sure they didn't start that way.

At the end of a big flat section we came to some big signs saying PORTAGE. On inspection it was a dam leading into a slide which didn't look too bad. After some persuasion by Gab (who had never been in a creek boat before) we decided it was worth a run. It was! It turned out to be a nice slide and everyone ran it ok. However my brand new habitat had a small disagreement with a rock when I seal launched back in from the side, denting the nose. This left me wondering why I had failed to listen to my own advice (AT2s break and all habitats, apart from Ben's, have dented noses).

Agers falls, a clean 20 footer with a big run out, saw Devins local friend swim and his group walked off muttering something about a broken dam releasing loads of water and some serious rapids. Keen to get the full Moose experience we pushed on. Some way around the next corner we saw an awful lot of boaters on the side and no one in any boats. On inspection it became clear what the locals had meant. Sureform, a big 60+ ft slide, looked pretty serious. Chatting to some Moose veterans the only info I got was that none of them had ever seen it look so big.

I was totaly unsure if the line would work at all, but after watching a playboat go down completely off-line I decided it was time to man up. Pushing through the lateral wave at the top I was faced with water coming from all directions, but before I knew it I was being spat out the bottom. Matt followed taking a super clean line with a huge grin at the end. Fraser followed but got flipped on the first lateral. From the bottom I couldnt see anything other than occasional flash of green from his boat. At the bottom is was obvious that he had run the whole thing human side down, and everyone was so relieved when he rolled up. His helmet had taken a total beating, the paint was chipped off most of the top, and between the vents the plastic had cracked. But it had done its job.

It was Christian's turn next, and 'Power line' delivered his opportunity to take a dip. Some swift throw bag work had him out but his boat had gone down stream and was pinned under an undercut. Some more clever bag work had the boat back in the flow and on a line. Well, that was until the line snapped and the Villain ran the worst possible line down the next big class V.

The final rapid, Crystal,
looked big and scary, but confident that I had it under control, despite the 90 degree tea spoons, I decided to go first to take photos. In my defence I got the line fine and was only capsized by a wave at the bottom. Nine or so roll attempts later this didn't seem particularly significant. No matter what I tried I couldn't roll and I had no idea what was coming next! Thankfully when I emerged I was in a large pool (a good 100 ft away from the next dam) and some friendly boaters were there to witness the dent in my pride which now accompanied the dented boat and broken paddles!

Matt once again styled the line only having a cheeky roll at the end. Devin, on the other hand, had a much more interesting line. This apparently involved a minute of being worked, a capsize between two of the drops and running the final drop distinctly human side down. All I saw was a bloody face drifting by clutching a boat and a paddle. I was on hand to help and dutifully took pictures of him as he drifted towards the dam.

All in all it was the most incredible weekend, which reminded me that we are all in between swims. Also on a positive note WRSI are sending Fraser a new helmet for his troubles and AT are replacing my paddles!

Nick Bennett

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sitting on the side.

After a year of watching friends go out kayaking and having fun on the water I can finally start thinking about getting back in my boat myself. It has been a long journey since I dislocated my shoulder in Austria this time last year with a lot of bad news, broken promises, missed deadlines, a few tears and a lot of insurance claims without having much good news to keep me going. It sometimes got a little tricky to see if getting back into kayaking was really worth it. But now I am hopefully at the end of it all and can start think about getting out of the gym and back in my boat.

Since I capsized last year and embarrassed myself by missing my boof I have been on the mend. It started well with me being back in my boat in time to paddle for the British Universities Kayak Expedition (BUKE) selection weekend and getting picked for the team to head to Venezuela which I promised to my fellow team mates I would be fully fit for. I also managed to get another day on the Border Esk back in Scotland around that time but that was the last time in nine months I had a proper paddle.

However, after the delights of being picked for BUKE, my shoulder came out again during the Christmas holidays and then again and again until we decided the best option was to operate. March 17th came and I found out the reason for my shoulder constantly dislocating was due to a broken shoulder socket which wasn’t spotted in the scans or x-rays. After two shoulder operations I now have two screws holding a bone graft in place and a lot of ligaments that have been shortened to keep everything held together.
Choosing to have surgery though has meant I had to miss out on a large amount of boating. Firstly a holiday to Corsica followed by breaking a promise to Ben and Eoghain about going to Norway with them and finally the expedition to Venezuela. Luckily the trips all had enough members to go ahead and it looks like everyone had a super time. But watching all the blog updates and photos put online hasn’t been that easy to enjoy without a bit of regret and jealously.

I also didn’t manage to help out the canoe club in Edinburgh as much as I should by becoming a bit of a bystander having not being able to lead trips, teach and just help run the club. It is very hard to stay motivated and tell beginners how amazing kayaking is when I couldn’t join them. Instead I got to watch as the guys and girls progressed by learning to roll, running harder rapids and generally having a good time.
I don’t think I will ever forget the day when it all went wrong or all the pain I have been through. But now I can look back on everything and maybe learn a little from all of this. I have learnt that boating when you’re tired leads to mistakes, being strong and having good shoulder stability by going to the gym will help by making paddling possible for longer without getting tired and also keep your shoulder in your socket, while also keeping your elbows down keeps your shoulders in a much safer position.

Setting aims and goals, big or small, helps with training and motivation and is something that I should do when I go boating. I have been picking dates for when I can paddle again, first it was after Christmas, then Easter, then Wet West and now hopefully next week. It is really hard watching one go past and not being able to make it but having a reason for it has helped. In the same way choosing lines and making them, understanding why you didn’t make them and thinking about how next time you will make you them rather than rolling up at the bottom with a slight shake of the head and a laugh from your mates before paddling on without a second look isn’t the best thing to do.

However I have seen how amazing the kayak community can be, such as the guys at Sickline who asked what was up when I was holding my shoulder and all looked upset that I couldn’t race with them, to the guy who ran all the way around the river to make sure I was okay and then to the guys at Edinburgh who have given me a hug, cheered me up and will hopefully hold my hand as I get back in a boat and look after me over the next few weeks and months.

Sandy Douglas