JennyRightSide’s 2015 Kayaking Season!!

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that I love whitewater kayaking.

Big Cohones Rodeo

I used to paddle a LOT.  In fact, my life revolved around stream flows back in 2006 and 2007. I would chase the rain and drive from Ottawa to Tennessee to West Virginia in order to get on new and fun rivers!

After a bit of a hiatus, I started working with an incredible organization, Team River Runner, which helps wounded veterans and their family in health and healing through paddlesports.  There is a chapter here in Colorado Springs and I’ve been working with them since 2013.  Most of the paddling I’ve been doing lately has been in support of Team River Runner, however I did get a chance to paddle some rivers at my skill level this summer!

April

The season started in April, with two great paddling days.  The first was on Easter Sunday when a group of us met and paddled the Arkansas River with easter bunnies strapped to our boats and some even wore bunny ears!

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Everyone brought a mascot!

Everyone brought a mascot!

The second was the following weekend when a girlfriend and I went to beautiful Steamboat Springs for some skiing.  The snow was very icy and the hills a little painful, so we skied one day, then went into town and she fly-fished upstream while I spent a couple of hours surfing a the fun Charlie Hole on the Yampa. What fun to combine winter sports and summer sports in one trip! And, the Subaru was able to handle us and all the gear!

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May

Then in May we brought three Team River Runner chapters together for CKS Paddlefest in Buena Vista. We have a great campground owned by a veteran that we get to use each year. This year, we had veterans from Salt Lake City, Denver and Colorado Springs together for a fun weekend of paddling, watching freestyle events, checking out company booths and relaxing by the campfire. We were also blessed to have a personal whitewater clinic led by world-class pro paddlers Emily Jackson and Nich Troutman!!

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A week later, I was a student on an American Canoe Association Level 4 Whitewater Kayak instructor course put on by the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and Whitewater Attainment. This was a challenging course for me, having rusty skills and working with young, spry kids in their 20’s!  I worked my butt off to keep up with them on the river, and secretly collapsed, exhausted in my campsite at the end of each day!

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June/July/August

Through the rest of the summer, we held pool sessions and ran class I-II river trips for Team River Runner down the Arkansas River. I also taught beginner classes at the local lake in evenings after work.

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I also managed to squeeze in a great run through the now historic Brown’s Canyon with two awesome paddling chicks, Tara and Becky and two play sessions at the Pueblo Play Park!

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Pueblo Play Park

September

In September I was given my first opportunity to run Waterton Canyon near Denver.  Four times!  What a great III-IV run with access to walk back over and over to run it again.  Here’s the video from that great day!

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One of the highlights of the season was an incredible opportunity to assist on a three day Team River Runner leadership clinic through the Ruby/Horsethief and Westwater Canyons of the Colorado River. What an incredible experience and to work with veterans pushing their limits on some higher class III whitewater!

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I have such a feeling of accomplishment from this season, and really enjoy paying my passion for paddling forward to others!

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Reminiscing: River Waves

We go through life, hopefully living it to the fullest.  Every day is an adventure and every day is as good as you make it. There are ups and then there are downs, but for the most part, how we deal with those ups and downs are the most important.

Break those ups and downs into specific aspects of your life and you can examine even further how you deal with things, and how specific events can influence other parts of what you deem important.

Reminiscing

Yampa!I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about the ups and downs of my kayaking experience. Life can be compared to river flows.  Sometimes the river levels are high, and sometimes they’re low.  It’s how you get yourself (and your team) down the river in one piece and how you grow from the experience that really matters.

Last week, I drove up to Salida, Colorado for a Whitewater Instructor Course. I’ve been volunteering with Team River Runner now for two years but never had any formal instruction on how to teach. I wanted to help my local chapter more than simply being a safety boater and photographer.

The five-day course was challenging.  Jenny Right-Side, who used to paddle almost full-time, traveling the world in search of prime whitewater had experienced a lapse. That full-time kayaking experience went into hiatus in 2008 before I went overseas for work, and never really re-manifested itself.  Life got in the way.

I found myself on the first day of the course sitting among other instructor candidates who could be up to 22 years my junior and who paddle nonstop. This almost 40-year-old definitely had a hard time keeping up!  It turns out kayaking (like most sports) is like riding a bike.  You don’t lose the ability to rediscover the essential skills, but without the muscle it can be an extremely challenging experience.

The whole week forced me to look within myself and determine how badly I wanted this certification and how badly I wanted to redevelop those ace skills I once had, more than seven years ago. It made me think about my river experiences. The people I met, the rivers I paddled and how I continually pushed myself to become a better paddler.

Looking Back

I decided to go back and look at some of my notable surfing experiences, and note how I continually pushed myself to try bigger and more challenging waves on the river.

One of the first photos I found of myself was of my surfing a wave on the Black River in Watertown, New York.

Inner City Strife

This was in October 2005.  I had been paddling for four months, when the river levels in upstate New York went off the charts!  The surf wave, Inner City Strife was incredibly intimidating to me! It only formed at super high levels. There was a low-head dam just downstream from the feature. This meant mad rolling, ferrying and eddying skills were required to surf here.

The next photo I looked at was taken in the Spring of 2006. For my one-year anniversary of ever climbing into a kayak I decided to do the unthinkable and enter a surfing competition at one of the biggest and scariest waves on the Ottawa River, Ontario.

Big Cohones RodeoThis wave was much bigger than Inner City Strife and aptly named Big Kahuna. Getting on the wave was a challenge and staying on the wave was a challenge. But I thought, what have I got to lose?  Worst case, I flush off the wave and have to roll downstream. I think I got about five seconds on that wave…

A year later in 2007, I decided why not go even bigger? I know what you’re thinking.  How can there be anything on a river that’s bigger than Big Kahuna?  Enter Buseater. This wave comes in at some of the highest levels on the Ottawa River and could literally eat a school bus. You need to use a tow rope just to ferry onto the wave and then, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you just hang on for dear life.  The water was so powerful, it snapped my paddle in two.

This trip down memory lane truly reminded me of what attracted me to whitewater kayaking in the first place and why I keep coming back to it.  I’ve probably said this before, but when you’re on the river, the only thing that matters is each moment. How you’re going to manoeuvre a challenging rapid, making sure your mates on the river are safe, what is coming up around that river bend. There is no worrying about your mortgage, no trying to figure out what you’re going to make for lunch tomorrow, none of that.  Simply: Every. Single. Moment. Matters.

F = Fear

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There are a lot of things in the world that you could be afraid of.  Some people have irrational fears of things, while other fears are logically based on a past experience. One thing I have learned over the years is that fear can hold you back.

Being afraid to move to a new city. Being afraid to search for a new job.  Being afraid of getting up in front of people and delivering a speech. Being afraid of climbing a ladder. The list goes on.  But if you constantly live in fear, you are not living, truly.

You can be afraid of things, it’s a natural reaction, but it’s how you allow fear to control your life is what’s the most important.

I recall when I applied to college.  I was accepted into both colleges I applied at.  Advertising and Public Relations at St. Lawrence College, and Recreation Leadership at Loyalist College.  Going to Loyalist College would have meant that I would have to move, find a new place to live, find a new job, and make new friends.  I was terrified of the change, considering I didn’t even own a car. I chose to stay in Kingston and go to St. Lawrence.  In the end, the diploma from St. Lawrence likely better served me in my future career as a Communications Advisor, but at that time, all I could care about was the unknown and how scary it seemed.

Since then, I have learned to muscle my way through irrational fear.  I am not a fan of heights. Even seeing someone on the edge of a cliff gives me physical butterflies. But I learned to skydive.  I climbed that ladder on the side of the Mayan ruin in Tikal, Guatemala. I’ve rappelled off of platforms and down rock faces.

Here’s a video I want to share of me kayaking over Pozo Azul waterfall in Costa Rica. No one who has run this waterfall can say that they weren’t afraid and no one should blame me for the 10 minutes I spent in the eddy above psyching myself out, saying “Okay, NOW!”  “This time for reals. Go!”  “Okay, NOW!”  “No seriously Jen, do it!”

At the end of the day, if you hide from those things you are afraid of, they will define you. But, by the way, there is a difference between fear and a legitimate sense of a bad idea.  I’m not saying you should just jump over the edge, but I’m saying you should carefully calculate whether your fear is legitimate or psychological and determine which way to go with those feelings.

E = Easter Bunny Paddle

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Date: 5 April 2015

River: Arkansas (Pinnacle Rock)

Level: 434 cfs

Paddlers: Me, Frank, Sharlene, Ed, Katy, Jose, Jim, Jim, Rich

On Easter day, many people have their traditions.  Church, staying at home, easter egg hunts, chocolate, the list goes on!  I am proud to say that I did not consume ANY chocolate yesterday, but I did participate in a pretty cool tradition here in southern Colorado! The Annual Easter Bunny Paddle on the Arkansas River!  The local paddling group, Pikes Peak Whitewater Club gathered folk for an easy paddle followed by a potluck picnic on the shores. I considered myself lucky to be invited along.  The rules of the Easter Bunny Paddle is that each paddler had to attach a stuffed bunny on the bow of their boat.  Some even took it a step further and duct taped bunny ears to their helmets!  Note for next year: find bunny ears for my helmet.

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This section of the Arkansas was one I hadn’t paddled before, and it was at low water so for this big water boater, it was a bit of a challenge maneuvering my short playboat around rocks. The Pinnacle Rock section was a fun class III run, which apparently gets even more awesome as the water level rises!

The weather was so great (23 degrees celcius) along the way, we saw fishermen along the shore and families having Easter picnics and having fun along the river.  It was so great to see people taking their children out on Easter and spending it in the outdoors together as a family!

Enjoy the photos!

Group poses for a photo!

Group poses for a photo!

What a beautiful April day on the Arkansas!

What a beautiful April day on the Arkansas!

Everyone brought a mascot!

Everyone brought a mascot!

Sock Monkey Bunny ready to go with Angry Fish!

Sock Monkey Bunny ready to go with Angry Fish!

Getting the boats ready at the put-in

Getting the boats ready at the put-in

Convoy on our way!

Convoy on our way!

Swiftwater Rescue

A few years ago, I wrote a post about my earning my Whitewater Rescue Technician level I certification.  I truly felt that it was worth every penny, and that everyone who paddles should at least have this qualification.  You never know when you might be in a position where you must rescue or assist in rescuing someone on the river.

Six years later I still feel that way, and as a volunteer for Team River Runner, I think it’s even more important to refresh my skills.  I heard that the rescue skills you learn have a 6 month lifespan if you are not given the chance to put them to use (although that’s a good thing) or practice them.

Last weekend, six volunteers from the Colorado Springs Chapter ventured into the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area with a couple of instructors from Fort Carson to certify (or in my case, recertify).

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Instructor Tara shows us a quick and dirty “no-knot” around a tree.

The first day was spent going over basic river safety, reading whitewater, knots, throwing rope, and different systems for lowering rescuers into the water, or using a mechanical advantage to haul things out of the river.

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Me practicing the quick-release on my rescue PFD.

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Sharlene tossing her throwrope

Although I remember some of what I learned on the course I took in 2008, some things came back as they were taught and of course, as I’m getting up there in age, some things I didn’t remember at all!

I’ll be the first to admit that the second day was rather painful! Despite it being the middle of May, the wind roared through the canyon, and the weather progressively got worse as the day went on. We all had dry suits of some type on (mine were semi-dry pants with neoprene gaskets, but I had latex gaskets on my drytop), but as our instructors reminded us, they are called “dry suits” not “warm suits”!  I had fleece on under my top, and neoprene on under my bottoms, and I was still cold!  It was actually warmer *in* the water as opposed to out of it, and the cold wind and rain did not help one bit!

Yet, we stuck with it! We spent the day on the river, practicing swimming across the rapids and catching eddies, throwing rescue rope and pulling victims in to shore, working together to walk across a river in a pyramid formation, releasing pinned boats and dragging them in to shore, and rescuing stranded boaters sitting on a rock in the middle of the river!

Pulling a swimmer in to safety.

Pulling a swimmer in to safety.

We were given scenarios, and as a team required to come up with solutions and work together to conduct each rescue. All-in-all, we all learned a lot.  Regardless of your paddling ability, swift water rescue skills are essential, especially when you’re leading a river trip that may have paddlers with disabilities, like Team River Runner might.

We were done just in time for some thunder, snow and sleet, but if we can conduct river rescues in that type of weather, then we can do them pretty much anywhere!

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Our newly qualified swift water rescuers!

I am NOT smiling in this picture. It's more of a grimace. Brrr!

I am NOT smiling in this picture. It’s more of a grimace. Brrr!

 

Missions, Resolutions and Realities

My career has gotten in the way of my life. My desire to be successful has resulted in very little “me” time. I admit, it seems it is working. I keep telling myself that I only have to hold out a few more years until I’m in my comfort zone, but it has meant that in the last year, I have had one vacation that lasted longer than a week, and it’s the one I’m on right now.

When I lived in Beachburg, I was blessed to share my home with some really great people: Jeremy, a paddler never intimidated by the “pro” circuit; John, a whitewater icon, bringing his business back to Canada and looking for the perfect place to call home; and Billy and Carly, an amazing couple looking to get back on their feet and establish a base for their growing family.  They weren’t the only ones – other amazing travellers from around the world have come and gone and left an impression in my life.

Since then I have travelled the world – southwest Asia, Africa, Iceland, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Europe….   and despite whatever I’m doing, or where I am, the fond memories of my time in Beachburg keep coming back.

My husband wants to see what this whitewater kayaking “hype” is all about.  I have taught others to paddle, and over the years helped many develop or reignite their passion for paddling, but there is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to teach him.  One thing I have learned over the years, and a common theme in the whitewater community is: never teach your significant other to paddle!

So I come back to Beachburg.  Only one person I know would be able to get my husband excited about paddling, and ensure that he has all the skills to do so.  In fact, I would argue that he would probably become a better paddler than me (although that’s not really saying much).  It’s Billy Harris.  Billy just opened up to his friends and followers in his blog with a confession about fear and internal sabotage.  I encourage you to read it, it is honest, open and I am positive that we have all “been there” at one point or another in our lives.  Even the best of us experience some setbacks in their goals and dreams – and if they can be honest with themselves and attack those setbacks, then so can every one of us.  Whether it be with work, paddling, diet, fitness, lifestyle, relationships, the key is to recognize what has happened, open your mind to the change needed and recreate the life you have always wanted.

I am hoping that I will be able to see Billy and Carly again this spring, and hoping that he is back on the water full-force for two reasons.  1) I don’t believe Billy should ever be off the water (I recall in 2005 watching Billy in one of Ben Aylesworth’s grand whitewater productions and immediately being drawn to that passion and excitement about paddling and wanting to be just like that); and 2) so he can continue to share his passion for paddling with my husband and others around the world who would be half the paddler having never met him.