Sunday, June 23, 2013

Go Pro or Go Home...Go Pro Games and FIBARK 2013!

Mike Dawson (NZ) 1st, Jeremy Rodgers (USA) 3rd.
Martina Wegman (Netherlands) and Mike's girlfriend
I think? won the woman's overall and Steep Creek.
So those of us that thought the longtime Teva Games becoming the Go Pro Games in 2013 would result in some degree of contracture of the event were seriously wrong. The biggest multisport festival in the US held in Vail, Colorado, now with Go Pro as the title sponsor, took another massive leap in the direction of growth. Registration and spectatorship was robust in all events with particular expansion of the slackline and stand up paddle board disciplines. Where else can the action seeking kayaker to the dog lover to the climber to the shopper find all their heart desires in one weekend in 2 square miles?

With most of the debate settled over my custom kayak creation 2 Teva Games ago, Heather and I once again loaded up the Mazz and headed to Vail in the Ultimate Multisport Van. Heather entered the 4 sport Ultimate Moutain Challenge in the Pro Class where she’d kayak class 2-3 Gore Creek, mountain bike, run a trail 10k, and finally time trial on the road bike up Vail Pass. Quite a full plate in any one’s book and I was proud of her for diving in such a competitive field. After the kayak stage, she sat in a comfortable 3rd place (queuewith all the elite Xterra multisport females salivating for the mountain bike stage that afternoon. Heather rallied through the remaining stages and learned a lot about herself and the stout female competition at this year’s Go Pro Games. When the economy bounces back, sponsorship dollars and prize money comes back and boy did it ever with uber multisport athlete and past Ultimate Mountain Challenge Gretchen Reeves barely getting edged out for the title by less than 1 minute and only 2 minutes separating the top 3 females in over 255 minutes of multisport head to head racing.

My Heather recapping a tough mountain bike leg in women's
Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
While Heather was running all over Vail Resort, I focused on the kayaking events.The BudLight Downriver Race is my favorite  16-18 minute race down 4 miles of Vail's fast flowing Gore Creek. Because the river is only class 3, it leaves lots of options for trickery that us adventure racers love bending the rules till they almost break. Well this year, the rules didn't break but they nearly sank:) The Prijon Capri is only 12 feet long and 43 lbs. Well under the 13 foot limit and not as long as the best in class Liquid Logic Remix Stinger, it's the best choice as long as the water level stayed medium to high. With it's sea kayak keel and minimal rocker, I've got just as much length in the water but significantly narrower and much lighter at 43 lbs. For the sake of head to head racing, I loaned my ringer Prijon Capri  to slalom and freestyle legend Eric Jackson after some intense prize money reallocation negotiations. His run went smoothly until he took out at the wrong bridge and had to re enter his skirt costing  him some unfavorable time. The Prijon Capri made it back just in time but I missed my warmup and had to sprint to the start line and make a Superman dive start then skirt up while under way. In all the confusion, I had zero time to check the kayak and the stern hatch was loosened when the kayak got transported and dropped on the starting area grass. This rapid increase in pressure combined with me leaving it loose the night before while emptying bulkhead allowed the normally bomber designed hatch to remain unfastened so halfway down the 4 mile course, I noticed a) I was beating my split deadlines to each river landmark b) I was losing control and sliding through the turns on rapids like high schooler practicing drifting in his sports car. After the rear bulkhead filled half the kayak to the brim and I began to pop a wheelie full time,  I looked back over my shoulder to see the hatch cover dangling beside me knowing there was no way to reach back and close it or empty the tanker I had become. 

Hotel Hybridlife at GoPro Games. Room service was first class.
I limped through the bottom half of the course doing a mega crunch to weight the bow enough to keep me operational and crossed the finish line at Covered Bridge in Vail. A NBC sports reporter got a chuckle asking me what happened out there as I emptied the bathtub I just paddled downstream and the best response I could muster was "pre flight checklist ignored". Total rookie mistake but somehow I mustered a podium finish but well off the pace it would take to dethrone New Zealand slalom and extreme paddler Mike Dawson's flawless run. 

As soon as we unloaded the Ultimate Multisport Van, it was time to clean it and repack days later for the 2nd biggest whitewater festival and race in the US at FIBARK  in Salida Colorado, one of the oldest, longest, and most debacherous whitewater races in the world actually. 

FIBARK is quite a different race than the Go Pro Games which restricts paddlers to sub 13 foot and plastic 50 lb kayaks. FIBARK lets the river decide what kayaks may pass safely along it's marathon distance course from Salida to almost the Royal Gorge. The kayak of choice is a 23 lb 15 foot long carbon fiber wildwater racing kayak which incidentally is my primary kayak design of choice for FIBARK's 26 miles of class 3 and 4 rapids.

Andy Corra, 2013 FIBARK winner, executes a perfect line through the exploding
hole of Cottonwood Rapid
Durango's Andy Corra, 9-time race winner and Guinness world record holder in distance kayaking happens to own this race and is probably going to retire before any of us develop enough to beat this American paddling standout. Andy mentored me in my early wildwater days and I crewed for him on his world record attempt on the Yukon River in 2010 so it was a race for 2nd place with past race winner Gary Lacy, Spanish slalom champion Jordi Domenju in a C2, and Salida's own Steve Holmes. 

I regressed back to my adventure racing roots again and rigged my kayak with a custom bilge system for this week's trickery. In a 2 hour race, most of us raced in years past with a Hydropak hydration bladder inside the cockpit. This year I rigged a bladder hose from the floor of my cockpit to a hose leading to a bite valve holder on my pfd allowing for me to both hydrate with my favorite race day drink,  Nuun Kona Cola, and empty my kayak all along the way. Other than loosing my bite valve going through Bear Creek Rapid at mile 4, the gadget was flawless and the river water that got through my skirt turned into Nuun Cola which had me smiling all along the 26 mile course. For those neahsayers who subscribe to the seed not the soil theory, I did add 2 iodine tablets as well but no telling if they had enough contact time to oxidize my nemesis...Giardia...but at day 7 post race I'm still pun intended:)

Yours truly "reacting to cold water" aka carping for the photographer
at Cottonwood Rapid. My cockpit full of Nuun was the only thing
keeping me afloat.
So after 24 miles sitting in second place by a slim 3 minutes behind Andy Corra, I came to Cottonwood Rapid which is the scene of many lead shuffles over the years. While a straightforward Class 4 rapid with 2 distinct line choices, bad and worst, it's just a slap in the face after paddling 2 hours at anaerobic threshold in a tippy racing kayak full of water (except mine of course:) As I approached Cottonwood, I couldn't get a handle on whether to take Andy's left side line (which requires laser like precision but certainly the fastest) or Gary Lacy's right side line (which requires luck that only Gary has). I hesitated at the top setup wave and exploded off the main hole pointing right instead of left. Right it is and I greased that thing like a bull  in a China closet followed by getting maytagged like dirty skivvies in the washer on heavily soiled setting.The hilarious photo above showed up on the front page of the paper with the caption "Jeremy Rodgers from Boulder reacts to the ice cold water" which is just hilarious as any kayaker knows that's "carping" after I did a back deck roll through just enough to grab a few oxygen to clear the rapid turbulence before finally returning to forward progress. I like paddling the Arkansas right side up or right side down I say...two completely different rivers.

So FIBARK ended at mile 26 with Andy Corra in his usual slot uno in 2 hours 20 minutes with me about 4 minutes back followed by Steve Holmes and Gary Lacy, who incidentally chose the same sideways upside down side stroke down the right side line of Cottonwood. Mike Freeburn, another standout US paddler was injured and had to set out FIBARK but certainly deserves acknowledgement in any FIBARK writeup.

Next up, swiftwater paddling camp for Colorado adventure racers Sunday July 14th 10am at REI Denver and Confluence Whitewater Park. Email me directly for details gang. Jeremy_rodgers AT hotmail dot com.

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