Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lower Mad, I enjoyed you, plenty

Dear Lower Madawaska River,

Last Saturday I enjoyed you, plenty. Thank you for giving me permission to enjoy your curves and form.


So a couple of weeks ago I made friends with a fun new person. I say "I like paddling" and he says "Let's go paddling". And here's the magical part: we actually GO PADDLING.

We drove up to his cottage on Friday night to get us in the right sort of area, i.e. where most of the water is the kind with current, and so we could get going early on Saturday morning. To start the paddling day we had a quick breakfast at the small-town diner, and then drove off to meet two of his friends. One of them lent me this little beauty. (Only mine was red, not camo.)

Here's a quote from the site:

In collaboration with American slalom champion John Kazimierczyk, Esquif has created a canoe with the performance of a high quality composite with the toughness of Royalite. Looking for lightness, precision and acceleration? The Spark will surprise you.

Well the Spark surprised me alright. I, a gal who has spent hundreds of hours in canoes and many in tough conditions, dumped not once, but TWICE while JUST SITTING THERE in FLAT WATER. How's that for precision and acceleration?! RAH!! Maybe there was even a third time that I tipped just sitting there, but really, I dumped so many times on Saturday I lost count.

(not my photo, I borrowed it from the Internet)

Last year when I took the women's solo whitewater open canoe course, I remember I was with all these women who were experienced flatwater and whitewater tandem paddlers, and we all remarked at one point or another "Jesus Christ, it feels like I've never even BEEN in a canoe before".

And it's true! Solo whitewater canoes (even ones that aren't race boat slalom models) are funny little creatures. Making the switch (especially from flatwater) is sort of like driving automatic all your life on small side streets where you rarely drive faster than 40 km/hr, and then suddenly having to learn standard. Only, you learn standard on a freeway. At 100 km an hour. And the first time, you find you're in this thing you discover is called 1st gear and you nearly blow out your transmission and clutch again and again as you figure out how to shift up. And you have to look for the gas and brake pedals while you're flying along, because they're not exactly where you might expect them. So imagine now that I had only learned standard once before, over a few days, a year before, and was suddenly hopping back on the freeway to learn more. In a Ferrari. That's what Saturday was all about.

The Esquif Spark is so spinny and agile that you feel (as the fella who owned it said) "as though you've got a ball bearing right under your bum". I felt pretty game to go for it, but I couldn't remember a goddamned thing except the basics: 1) keep your paddle in the water 2) power strokes are at the front of the boat and end at your hip 3) lean downstream 4) DO NOT GRAB THE GUNWALES.

I noticed a huge improvement once I remembered, on about the third set of rapids, a little thing you might call "how to steer".

The thing I liked the most was that the guys I was with were so laid back that they just kept smiling and hauling me out of the water when I dumped. I got to just feel out what worked (in the beginning, precious little) and what didn't. With them being so relaxed, I stayed relaxed, and stuff started to come together and make sense on a physical kinetic level. I even started to remember how to do things properly. (And there was also that random older guy in the neon helmet who took pity on me at the end of one particularly "wet" run who kindly and briefly reminded me of how to properly execute a couple of strokes while we hung out in an eddy. Thanks buddy!)

It was also totally new for me to be with people who were strong capable paddlers (extra useful for the constant rescues I required) but who in general had little to offer me in terms of technical instruction. Either they didn't know enough about solo canoes (because they were mostly kayakers) or they were unwilling to teach (not in a mean-spirited way, more in a humble "what do I know" way).

By the end, I at least managed to run a few rapids that had some minor technical elements and some pretty big water without dumping. It was exhilarating to punch through some waves and actually exert some control over the boat. The course I took last year left me feeling intrigued; but this more casual experience -- despite the greater abundance of mistakes -- left me feeling totally enthused. I can't wait to go again.

My new paddling friend asked me if my post was going to include details about all the "RIPPIN'!!!" I did on the river. My response: "what, like all the rippin' I did when I dumped like a goon just sitting there in the flatwater?" His charitable reply: "No, those parts didn't NEED rippin'. Mention the parts that NEEDED rippin' that you RIPPED!!"

In compliance with this request, I just found a trip report (you don't have to read it) that refers to one set I "ripped" in my borrowed red Ferrari as "the canoe eater" (Raquette Rapids, 12th para or so).


At May 19, 2006 5:43 p.m., Anonymous blackbeltbarrister said...

I think 'don't grab the gunwales' is valuable advice in almost any venture. I shall keep in in mind if I a)brave our only local supermarket at 6:15 pm on a Friday evening ever so slightly pissed from a spontaneous late afternoon pint on an empty stomach b) prepare for five three hour mind achingly difficult exams requiring me to answer (for example) whether the Land Registration Act 1925 rendered equitable interests overreachable if capital moneys are paid to not less than two trustees c)ever attempt hollandaise sauce.


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