Monday, August 31, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 1, A Dunking

Some parts of the Verde are calm and glassy.   The birds are calling and swooping, and fish literally jump out of the water into the air.  It's incredibly peaceful.

And tiring, if you are using your own clean, renewable energy source to get down river - your arms.

I started looking forward to the excitement of swift flowing water (Read about Day 1: Initiation here if you missed it).
I was still cautious; I knew that thousands of pounds of water could easily pin a man down. When we heard the rapids, we slowly approached, craning to see the end.  We would scope out the best route down, perhaps straight down the middle, perhaps on the right side, then veering left.  We tried to follow the "V", or fastest flow of water, while avoiding any obstacles. We kept our eye out for any eddies or shadows, indicating a submerged rock.

The Verde at low flow has a lot of rocks, undergrowth encroaching the water, and fallen trees blocking the path.

A fallen tree blocks the river.  Look in the center of the photo for Anita in her blue and white kayak.

The first person down a rough spot or rapid would call out the problem areas to those behind.  While kayaking is an "every man for himself" type sport, we looked out for each other and helped each other when we could. I thought I was getting a pretty good hang of kayaking the 'rapids'.

Pride usually goes before the fall, doesn't it?  In my case, it was a serious dunking.

I came down a rocky descent that turned sharply to the left once it hit the river bank.  The flow of water ran directly into a fallen tree along the outside edge of the curve.  That is a nasty, nasty place to be.  I don't know why I didn't see it.
After I cleared the rocks, I had no time to paddle out of the fast flow of water, and it pushed me into the tree. My kayak tipped on the impact of hitting the tree, and the water caught the edge and flung my kayak over.  My hat and sunglasses were swept away as I plunged head first into the racing water. I pushed out of the kayak and away, kicking against the pull to get sucked along the bank and tree.  I came up for air and grabbed wildly at my paddle then kicked hard to catch my upside down kayak.  My sandal shoes and pants felt like a ton of bricks, so I stopped fighting the river and floated with the current, holding on to my kayak as I went.  I was thankful for my life vest, as it started to scrape rocks in the shallower water.

Well, I just completed a wet exit.  Before getting to the river, I worried and worried about getting stuck in my kayak under water.  Once upside down, I didn't even think, I just acted. And I was able to clear it just fine, my splash skirt not even giving an ounce of resistance in that force.

My hubby helped me dump my kayak, and everyone took a 5 minute break while I caught my breath.  We were thankful for the learned lesson of tying all your gear together, so you have only one thing to grab when you tip instead of four.

I developed a healthy fear of rapids preceding a curve as well as heavy water flow running into trees or bushes after that dunking.  The force of the river is nothing to mess with.

And 42 miles of river is nothing to dally on.  Despite being shaken and drenched, I had to push on.

I was glad to stop for dinner a couple hours later.  We found a break in the growth along the bank, and pulled up onto a rocky beach.  We set about finding wood for a campfire to cook over, as well as long, thin branches to substitute as tent poles (remember? I lost mine in the very first rapid). The guys picked out branches, then stripped them of snags with their knives.  It worked like a charm!

And my inflatable trail seat, aka my kayak butt cushion, was found to be worth every last penny, as I perched on it to scarf down dinner and then later fold in half for my pillow.  When you spend three days in a kayak, you have to pack light!

Jari and Anita served up dinner that night and we dined on delicious tasting Alaskan salmon and moose steaks with alfredo pasta.  It was, without a doubt, the best meal we'd eat on our trip!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 1, Initiation

Right off the bat, I have to navigate a rapid.
I have never kayaked a river before, so it's no surprise that I get hung up on a boulder, turn sideways, and fill to the brim with water. The water is not that cold, but it is still a shock. I hop out and all my gear starts floating out of the kayak.  I frantically grab dry bags, rope, and water bottles as the river pushes and pulls on my pant legs.  As I  struggle to push my kayak upright, I see a black bag containing our tent poles slip away!

Wait, let me rephrase that first sentence...right off the bat, I have to navigate fast moving water.

Our Verde River Guide stated that we would encounter 13 rapids on our 42 mile trip.
We felt like we ran 13 rapids in the first 10 miles.
So either we don't know how to distinguish between a rapid and fast-flowing water, or there are significantly more rapids at low cfs (the river guide classifies rapids at 100 cfs, and we were on about 50 to start).

Oh, and by we, I mean Dean and I and my dear aunt and uncle, Jari and Anita.

Photo creds to Anita.  Read her account of the day here.

Where was I? Oh yes, 5 minutes in, I get tipped, soaked, and lose some gear.
What an initiation to river kayaking!
There is nothing to do but move on.

One minute later, "rapid" number two proves that I still haven't learned my lesson, as I get turned sideways on the rocks again. This time, I bail before I fill to the brim.

After that, I learned to point straight and paddle fast through the obstacle course of boulders. I found that I could twist and pivot my own body to help get my kayak around boulders I didn't have time to paddle around. And most importantly, I learned that the kayak spray skirt was made exactly for this kind of kayaking (in a hard sided kayak) and was worth the hassle to wear. Thank goodness I didn't leave it behind in my fear of getting flipped and stuck upside down!

We did have some yin to our yang.  There was as much calm, glassy water as there was rough. Sometimes the river looked like glass, reflecting our top halves, the cliffs and clouds, as well as huge startled birds taking flight.  It was so beautiful and peaceful.

After paddling the glassy waters, I started anticipating the sound of rapids.

I didn't know yet, however, just how dangerous the river could be.

Links to the rest of the posts in this series:
Day 1, Part 2: A Dunking
Day 2: Pushed to Our Limits
Day 3: Grand Finale