Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Perfect Day

Whitewater. My addiction. Or perhaps passion, since addiction con notates a continuing indulgence. And while my recent outings (in the last 6 years) have not been as frequent, they have been memorable. Last summers five day paddling trip to Wausau was excellent, for example. I was on my own, like the old days. I got to teach a little and train a lot. I visited many family members and friends. I introduced a great young man to the sport. And I reacquainted myself with my slalom boat on big water. I even won some money, which I spent on gas and extra Whitewater T-shirts and sweats for my boys. Our local slalom was also a blast last year, with hot competition among the "senior" women (maybe they could call us Cougarettes) and good runs for Kevin. We traded keeping Alex on dry land. And there have been various days on creeks in the spring, several good surf days out on the big lake, and play sessions with friends down in Taylors falls. Yes, great and memorable days, but not like this one.

Today was perfect. I wish I had a camera along, but will have to resort to 1,000 words instead. Picture blue and breezy skies, warm water, and bug free woods. Deep woods, cut through by sparkling whitewater. And into this scene came a group of seven. A nice number for a long leisurely paddle down 4.5 miles of whitewater. The group could form and reform, making variations, stopping to play and visit, and keeping it lively. No one was in a rush. There were two families of three, and a spare. Four parents, two kids, and an experienced local boater out for his first cruise of the year. Alex won the prize for youngest, at five. Jethro got the nod for bravest, at eleven and in his own boat. Mama Beth was second bravest, alone in an inflatable with the five year old. Kevin paddled shotgun in his play boat, and actually did not need to stay real close. It was happy and mellow paddling in the SS Kinney. No threat of falling out, except when a tired boy threatened to throw himself overboard at the end. But more on that later.

This little trip was a gamble. How does your average five year old deal with going down a long whitewater river for the first time? Well, no one actually knows as so few have done it. His last trip had been approximately eight minutes, he did great then he was done. He wanted out, and that was it. No second run. No way. This was going to be a wee bit longer, by about four hours. But the advantage was that no one would be on shore, daddy would be in a boat too, the car would be out of sight, and actually everything he was familiar with was out of sight. No roads, no paths, no trails. Just the river. And me with a dry bag full of treats. This was a good strategy.

And he liked the rapids. After the first experience of getting wet at the front he decided to sit closer to me, and that was just fine. He got nervous and started shouting, "Whoa, Whooaa, Whoooaaaa!" as we went down wave trains, but was soon wanting to go down more, or paddle back up to go down again. He had his little canoe paddle in the front, I had my kayak paddle in the back. He would sometimes get to swinging it about, or tossing it overboard, in which case it would take a rest behind me. The treat bag was useful for long pools between rapids, except the time he ate a granola bar way to slow and I had to go down stream trying to avoid all splashes so it would stay dry in his hand. It worked. The Louie is a nice progressive river so the rapids and waves kept getting bigger. By the last few he was grinning ear to ear in the drops.

He also liked the setting in general. At the start there was a nice little drop to play in, so he and the other boy got out on the rocks and had their own fun. Floating in a 1 1/2 foot "pool" that was 5 feet across with a little jet of water through the middle, scrambling on rocks, looking at various wildlife. At the half way point we all stopped at a canyon and climbed up to a rocky overlook to bask in the sun and have more treats. And at the end he was tired of sitting in the boat, so he draped himself across the bow, dragging arms and legs in the water. We didn't move very fast, but it was fun. He was rather cranky at that point and kept saying, "If I fall in, if I fall in!", and I kept assuring him, "I'll drag you out". But he really did want to go in so we worked together to almost lower him all the way into the water, but then he would get unsure so I would drag him back in. It was a very good time. And he bonded with Jethro too. Jethro was giving him tips on how to paddle, and initiated a few splash fights. Alex was shouting for Jethro to come over to our boat by the end of the trip.

I would be lying if I said there weren't a few tears here and there, mostly due to being wet and staying wet in clothing. And also getting used to paddling gear. Plus some blinding sun, and generally a new environment. Next time we will have better gear, sun glasses with floaties, and more treats. Over all, however, it was a stellar day. I am happy, and satisfied, and ready to go again when we get the chance. Kevin swears he will paddle Alex next time, and bring the dog too. For that I will surely find a way to keep the camera dry. As for this first trip, the acid test was when we got to the dock four and a half hours after our start, and Alex asked, "Why are we done???".