Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colorado River Race 09

Well over 30 kayaks and canoes attended the 2009 Colorado River Race put on by Canoe Colorado from Dotsero, CO to Hanging Lakes just upstream of Glenwood Springs. This year, race organizers started the unlimited class (basically anything super long, skinny, made of paper thin composite, and that you can keep upright goes) in the last wave so we got to spend the whole race chatting it up with the plastic kayaks and fiberglass open canoes as we cruised downstream in our feather weight composite racing kayaks. Special thanks to Jan Kees of Jan Kees Kayaks in New Zealand who express shipped me a rudder pedal replacement from around the globe after Heather and I damaged one paddling on Lake Dillon several weeks ago.

Several wildwater kayaks were placed, by default, into the unlimited category which is hardly fair to them considering they are 15ft long versus my longtime favorite choice for any race up to class 4 of a JKK Supernova ( at 22 ft. long and no wider than my buttocks plus 10 millimeters.

Mike Harvey, fellow US Wildwater team member, was present in rare form as always. My favorite memory of this race was about 30 seconds into the race you'll see him in a blue/white kayak on my left wearing his Nascar style Colorado Kayak Supply ball cap that just speaks for itself in this paddler's quiver...where is the porch rocking chair, PBR, and spitoon I say but clearly a classic move for Mike from Salida, Colorado. Mike finished a solid 3rd behind several faster boat designs and only seconds out of 2nd.

This stretch is a class 2- swift but flatwater hammerfest where I kept reminding myself of the less than famous words of my east coast mentor, Chris Hipgrave, who says all you need to know about winning races is simple..."1) Keep it the middle 2) paddle like hell.... and 3) the fastest time wins". I made a poor choice of skirts in that I kept having to lift the skirt after every rapid to keep the skirt full of water from filling the cockpit so 3 seconds to empty it was worth the drag I'd get if the cockpit fills with water but you see me messing with it a bit much and some great one handed balancing thru rapid wave trains.

For any paddlers looking for tips on paddling a 22 ft kayak thru tight class 3-4 rapids in other races, start with flying a Boeing 747 down a one lane bridge and keep it steady I say! Seriously, the key is:

1) stay on the inside edge of flow (you can't make moves against the current, ie from the outside back to the inside, as easy as inside to outside!)
2) time every stroke in just past the wave apex so you're balanced on top of, not on either side of, each wave so the boat tracks straight and you don't flip
3) keep a high angle on your stroke again so long boat doesn't explode left or right as you balance on the wave apex. A low angle stroke makes you zig zag off of every wave followed by a swim!

Watch how my cadence changes up or down depending on the frequency of wave hits in the rapids. The key to going fast thru rapids is avoiding as many wave hits/friction as possible by micronavigating (hence the only reason you see me turn the boat on it's side in the first rapid to avoid a small wave hit) and timing your progress thru the rapid..."keep your skirt dry we say".

The calm home stretch of this canyon this year and Neil Young's song Old Man made me think of my older brother Josh who passed when I was a young 24 just like you hear in the lyrics. I always envision someday he'll be an old man reflecting how similiar our lives were so I added it to the final calm flatwater portion at the end this year for kicks. Hope life is good for you to Josh!

I had a great race in spite of slower flows and a final headwind combined with a bit of fatigue from pacing my patient Joy Robertson in the Leadville 100 Trail run yesterday. While I won this race for the 3rd year, I was unable to improve the course record time of 1:05:08 I set last year finishing in 1:06 but enjoyed seeing the well attended race; especially the recreational canoeist that cheered all on from their wide bottomed craft.

Next up, Cataract Canyon in my wildwater boat Labor Day Weekend!

Little Brothers Need Big Rapids

So my not so little brother Mitch Ford, from my days in Big Brothers Big Sisters outside of Chicago, Illinois, and his 7 family members came out to vacation in Colorado last week. I couldn't have been happier to meet up with this action seeking family of 8 brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents. I remember the days when Mitch was a spunky 11 year old who could turn a soccer ball on a dime. Mitch has been working up in the Great Lakes last year and is looking forward to potentially starting college next year.
He indirectly taught me alot about growing up that I had forgotten. Number one, even with a solid family, I reflected that growing up is tough between the pressures of being a good student, being a good athlete, and still being a teenager. There is pressure in our young lives from every direction....pressure to go to college, pressure to be popular, pressure to be a good citizen, pressure to become independent, pressure to be a good son....endless pressure buffered by lots of unconditional love from our parents. Just maybe all that pressure works out and we all turn out just right. Mitch sure has and I'm very proud of him even with my short time knowing him as an 11 year old. Let's all take the time with our own siblings to be a good big and little brother to each other hey?

He's grown to over 6 foot tall I couldn't fit him into the front of my new Jackson Kayak Dynamic Duo tandem whitewater kayak so he jumped in with his brothers and sisters in the mega raft for a run down one of Colorado's classic late summer class 3 runs...Lower Gore Canyon near the headwaters of the legendary Colorado River. This section was packed with late season rafters, duckier's, fly fisherman, drift boats, and my favorite part of this stretch...bald eagles waiting patiently for their next meal.

There is something very human about the lure of rafting and kayaking that sucks us all in. As you see in the video link below, rapids are a metaphor of life...all good things start with a very calm peace with tranquil surroundings in the standing pool above every rapid, your thoughts then rush together as you eye the point of conflict as the pressure converges to one critical point, your pulse quickens and teeth grind. It is then that that peace returns in the crux move of the rapid as you eye your escape. The violent bouncing up and down and side to side lessens and you accelerate choosing each stroke placement (aka word choice) carefully and, if you respect the power of that point of conflict, the rapid rewards you and returns you to the ensuing calm with a sense of accomplishment that is yours and yours alone. The more conflicts we survive, the more unstoppable we all become. In life, it is our choice of words that equate to our choice of each stroke. Even the right stroke at the wrong time proves to be catastrophic.

As my teammate once said it best, gravity and moving water...otherwise known as your judge and jury. This run was all smiles at medium water levels and the Fords/Cuervos and their trusty 1970's throwback guide Mike ran this run like champs.

Adventure runs deep in this family as even Mitch's grandpa was egging for some more big wave hits at the takeout. Next year, they are sure to come back earlier in the summer to take on Brown's Canyon near Salida although that stretch was too low for an August 1 launch. See the action for yourself at !