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.

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!

Team River Runner Colorado takes on the mighty Arkansas River!

Date: 24 May 14

River: Arkansas Stone Bridge to Salida

Level: 1600 cfs

Paddlers: Me, John, Herman, Rich, James, Hyrum, Chloe, Andrew, Traci, Tom, Mike, Seosaimh

CKS Paddlefest is a great Colorado kick-off to the summer paddling season, held in Buena Vista, CO.  This year it aimed to raise money and awareness for local youth in Chaffee County, Colorado.

Two of Team River Runner’s chapters, Colorado Springs and Denver decided to set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) halfway between Buena Vista and Salida and take part in the festivities.

 

Livin' on the edge!  Actually we were allowed to camp there. We found the sign in the bush!

Livin’ on the edge! Actually we were allowed to camp there. We found the sign in the bush!

We set up a nice little camp on the side of the river. The weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the weekend, but we still managed to get a camp of 20 people! For the second year in a row, Air Force cadets from USAFA joined us to help as shuttle bunnies.  There’s no better feeling than not having to run shuttle!  It makes the logistics so much simpler and lets us focus on our time on the river.

Our river crew was a crew of 12.  We had a combination of experienced paddlers, paddlers from last year, and brand new river rats. Our rule for this trip was that each participant had to have a minimum of two sessions in the pool to make sure they understood the basics.

When we run the river, we take a variety of boats with us in order to accommodate all of our paddlers. Two paddlers this time around chose the sit-on-top kayaks, which looked so comfortable – like paddling a couch down the river.  I was jealous with my legs jammed into a short playboat!

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Blowing up the sit-on-top.

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First things first. Checking the outfitting. Don’t want to get uncomfortable on the river!

My stubby (but super fun!) little playboat!

My stubby (but super fun!) little playboat!

Our run down the river went great!  The weather was surprisingly nice, and our new paddlers were kicking butt! We discussed hand and paddle signals so we could communicate from afar on the river, and we practiced paddle strokes, ferrying, eddy catching and just plain fun rapid-riding!  Weeee!

One of the floating couches. Nice deal!

One of the floating couches. Nice deal!

Chloe rocks the second floating couch!

Chloe rocks the second floating couch!

Practicing our mad ferrying skillz...

Practicing our mad ferrying skillz…

Overall, the run between Stone Bridge and Salida is a class II run, but further down toward the town, there is a low head dam with a paddler chute along river left. The chute is a three pool drop, but at this level were without major consequence.  We had all the paddlers get out and look at the chute from the shore, and had some of our more experienced paddlers demonstrate the lines for us.

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Scouting the chute from river left.

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Checking out the run from upstream.

We set up communications at the top, middle and bottom of the run along with throw ropes and live bait in case we had to jump in and grab boats, people or gear.

We had a couple of swimmers at the chute, who were able to eddy out quickly and boats were gathered at the bottom.  Everyone had a blast going through the rapids!  Later when we arrived at the Salida play park, however we had a mini-yard sale.  We claim we did it for the benefit of the spectators on shore!  Our river rescue skills allowed us to make sure we didn’t lose any gear, and the cadets were waiting for us in town to load our boats and head back the FOB.

Here’s a little video of our day on the river.  Hopefully we have convinced a few more people to come out with us on the next river trip!

 

 

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!

 

A is for Adrenaline!

Image It’s been a really busy couple of weeks for me!  I went back to Canada and then came back to immediately start working night shifts at my work – 12 hour shifts at that!  I don’t usually work shift work, so I learned a lot about how my body can (or can’t) adjust to that type of body-clock change! I was just playing around on Twitter last week and noticed a lot of people I follow were using the hashtag #atozchallenge.  I got curious. I looked it up. I forgot about it.  Then I noticed an influx of the hashtag this weekend, looked it up again and thought, hey, this sounds interesting!

In a nutshell, the A to Z Challenge is a blogging challenge for the month of April, where bloggers submit an entry each day (except Sundays) and each day corresponds alphabetically with a letter of the alphabet! For example, on April 1st, you write about something that starts with the letter A, April 2nd is B, and so on.  Yes, I know it’s April 6th today! So because I’m 5 days behind, today’s rest day will be catching up with everyone else. The only other glitch is that I’m not an official participant.

It turns out, I can’t participate right now – not officially, as the participants were required to sign up prior to April 1st.  Part of the challenge is to visit other people’s blogs as well and leave comments.  It’s an exercise in discovering new writers, making connections, and encouraging feedback. So I have decided I will do this on my own. I don’t need no stinkin’ linky list!  I will follow those I see using the #atozchallenge hashtag on Twitter instead!  So I am a self-proclaimed and unofficial participant, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun with it!

[By the way, does anyone know how I can wrap my text around the “A” photo I put at the top? Sincerely, WordPress luddite]

The letter for April 1st, is “A”, well obviously!  I am choosing to write about adrenaline. Meriam-Webster defines adrenaline as follows:

adren·a·line noun \ə-ˈdre-nə-lən\ : a substance that is released in the body of a person who is feeling a strong emotion (such as excitement, fear, or anger) and that causes the heart to beat faster and gives the person more energy

I choose to define it as a body’s natural reaction to any situation that seems unnatural. Whether it be getting through a crisis at work, or a perceived physical threat to one’s body, adrenaline is that “fight” instinct that your body develops on its own, without warning, and with no consideration of what your mind is doing!

I have lived with adrenaline most of my life.  It’s what has helped me get through some really tough times.  I know when it has kicked in, because I start to vibrate, get hot flashes and my skin gets really clammy.

In 2005, I paddled the Lower Gauley river.  I had been paddling for only a few months, and I felt confident, yet nervous at the same time.  Long story short, there is a huge rapid at the end of the river called “Pure Screaming Hell”.  The name certainly didn’t inspire confidence, and when I was told there was a huge sieve at the bottom right that I should avoid at all costs, I was pretty much done.  I followed my paddling partner down the first set of waves, nervously dipping my paddle into the accelerating water. He hit a wave and did an ender, while I paddled right into the bottom of his boat. I flipped, my helmet smashed off the rocks in the bottom of the river, and that’s pretty much all I remember.

The story I got after I came to in a hospital about an hour and a half away, was unbelievable.  Although I don’t remember anything after seeing my bow slam into the bottom of the other boat, I apparently rolled myself back up, and paddled through the rapid toward the sound of my friends yelling from an eddy on the left. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to the eddy, and immediately slumped over, unconscious.  My friends escorted me in my kayak down to the take-out, where a helicopter picked me up and transported me to Charleston, WV.

You hear stories about folks who are able to lift cars off trapped people, or others who all of a sudden can carry people twice their weight out of burning buildings. What I went through that day on the Gauley River, even though I don’t remember any of it, was most certainly the most intense moment of adrenaline rush that I have probably ever felt!

What was your scariest/intense moment where adrenaline kicked in and got you through something dicey?