Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Personal Record One Hundred Paddling Days

I took part in the Sacramento Paddle Pusher's attempt to break the largest free-floating raft of canoes and kayaks on a single body of water this past weekend.  The world's record set August 31, 2013, in Michigan's Sutton Bay is a staggering 2,099 boats. Our local organizers were optimistic for a good turnout.  However, they were pretty sure from the start they wouldn't be breaking any world's record. It really wasn't the point of the event anyway. As stated in the Meet Up invite... It's something us local paddlers can do, look back one and say I was a part of the biggest group of paddlers out on Lake Natoma. It's all about having fun.
So when 47 of us paddled out under the Folsom Avenue Bridge for a group picture, it didn't matter that we were 2,953 paddlers short of the world record. We were making a vivid lasting memory of kayaking together. A personal account to say hey, I did it.
Personal records are like that too. Just the day before,  I had set another PR for myself by reaching 100 days of kayaking. There is something very special going over the century mark in all facets of sports from rushing yardage to one hundred victories. The triple-digit number is a mark of achievement.
I did it before in 2012. Winter came to end suddenly that year and I was kayaking on the Otter Tail River in March. I cruised to the most I ever paddle in a year with 117 days. It is still my personal record. If the Red River hadn't a frozen over before Thanksgiving,  I might have added a day to two.  Our personal records are like that. They drive us for more.
In a recent Rapid magazine profile, pro-kayaker Dane Jackson called his 270 days on the water in 2013, a slow year, disappointed by not reaching 300.  For those us like me and Jackson, we always long for just one more day on the water. A record to nobody but to ourselves.
In California now, my PR has taken on a Roger Maris like asterisk, by reaching 100 days in the middle of August instead of mid-September. This time around I didn't have to struggle with frozen and flooding Minnesota rivers and lakes. I got started January 1st, a full two and half months advantage over that 2012 season.  I took full advantage of pleasant weather and my proximity to Lake Natoma and lower American River to aid in my quest for getting to 100. It just seems unfair getting in a kayak day, while hearing that the rest of the country is enduring the polar vortex.
Still, a season is a season. I looked out over Folsom Lake on my hundredth day and paddled toward the foothills. I was a notable day for me and needed a memorable trip. I paddled up the south arm of the lake till I could go no further.  Where the South Fork flows into the lake, I watched the water rushing over the rocks wishing I could go a little farther. Still looking for more. I will just have to save that adventure for another paddling day.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bridge Tripping

There is something about going under a bridge while paddling. It is a mark of progress. A reward for moving forward along the river. A place to start, turn around and finish. I can't remember how many times I thought to myself, to the bridge and back when out paddling.

Bridges are important to every paddler. I don't know anyone who can pass over a bridge either big or small without looking over the edge and checking the water level or swiftness in the current. My next thought usually is, I can't wait to paddle there. 

Going under bridges adds a special appeal to me. To see a world, that everyone is traveling to fast to see. A place in a shadow. The coolness eclipsing me while going under the bridge deck. It's welcome escape from the hot sun. A place to sit in the shade and rest for a bit. 
Nature and industry intersect at these places. I will hear the rumble of the traffic above and see concrete or mental projections off to the sides and just under the surface of water. In urban settings, I find bridges underneath's spray painted with graffiti or littered with makeshift homeless campsites.
On the American River Parkway I had paddled upstream and back from Discovery Park.  I started underneath the Jibboom Street Bridge. A swing bridge from days gone by that now enjoys light traffic in its park setting. Upstream, I paddled by two railroad bridges and a former railroad bridge, reserved for bikes and pedestrians. After passing the I-80 bridge, I turned back into the flow of the river.

All in all,  I passed under 7 bridges on that paddling day. Each one working as landmark along the way. Each one giving me a distant horizon to paddle for. To the bridge and back.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Swift Water Rescue Clinic

"If your buddy doesn't have a throw bag, give him yours," said the River Store's Gigi McBee, "In case you need it."

That was good advice,  I thought looking out over the South Fork of the American River. The river was running fast.  Kayaks and rafts kept coming by, bouncing in the pillow of waves just upstream from Henningsen Lotus Park.  Smiles and fun were the order of the day.  But, rivers are like that. Your friend one day... Over your head and gasping for air the next.  It's good to be ready for whatever it dishes out.

I recently took part in the Swift Water Rescue Clinic for Novices conducted McBee. The clinic was set up to teach fundamental skills for kayak based rescues, rescue throw bag techniques (throwing & retrieving) and swimming self-rescues. The exercise was designed to improve our skills along with bolstering our awareness and confidence on the river.

The rescue/throw bag is an essential piece of safety equipment used to rescue a swimmer and in some cases,  help unpin trapped boats. There should be a minimum of one per kayak on any trip.  I got mine a few years back after capsizing in icy Otter Tail River and not having one. I ordered it the next day and now it comes on every trip. It is a little faded but still holds up well.

We were instructed to practice softball or sidearm style pitches, trying to get the float bag as far as we could into the stream. Soon bright float bags and yellow ropes crisscross the river like spaghetti.   When re-stuffing the bag we were advised to, coil the rope directly into the bag. Coiling it first and then putting it into the bag can cause a tangle that prevents the rope from smoothly flowing out of the bag when tossed.

Soon we were ready for practicing being both swimmer and rescuer.  First, swim across the river through rapids. After some pointers, our instructor dove in to demonstrate.  She took a couple of strokes, gracefully rolled on to her back in the boil and swam out to another side with ease. Two others followed before it was my turn.

There are two ways of swimming through a rapid. Swim defensively or offensively.  Swimming defensive involves floating downstream in a protected position, lying on my back, feet downstream, arms out to the side and with my body floating on the surface as possible. But, in order to get through the rapid and cross the eddy line, I adopt the offensive swimming technique. Swimming freestyle hard through the boils and whirlpool.

I dove into the current and was washed downstream quickly. The chilly water took my breath away as swam through the rapid to the eddy. I took a quick breath and oriented myself before continuing across.  Misjudging the speed of water  I was quickly being carried away from the group.
"Rope!" was called from shore.
A rescue bag was tossed out to me in a softball style pitch. I instinctive swam toward the lifeline and grabbed the line.  Clinging to it the rescuers will swing me toward the banks of the river. I'd was the first rescue of the day.

I would play both swimmer and rescuer several more times that afternoon.  As a rescuer, I quickly realized how the rope becomes very taut with the pull of swimmer on the end.  Pulling and swinging the swimmer to safety takes some muscle even done correctly using a climber's technique of belaying the rope across my back and hips while another rescuer can assisted me by grabbing the back my PFD and helping with the brace.

The skills taught that weekend was invaluable.  Always have a rescue bag handy, and practice using it.  Also, make sure the folks you boat with have them too. The life that gets saved could be yours.

The River Store offers a variety of clinics and workshops throughout the paddling season. For more information, visit them online at