Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gates of Lodore: Day 2

Day two was when everything began to gel together. The day dawned cool and crisp since we were still hours away from direct sunlight ensconsed between the high cliff walls with a promising blue sky high above us. I was anxious to get back in the ducky again but willing to wait my turn. But I had a hopeful little hunch that the chill in the air - and the even more striking chill of the water - would discourage others from volunteering to kayak. As luck would have it only one new person volunteered to fill the two ducky spots. Of course, the other ducky-er from day 1 had also stepped up as willing to brave the cold for another chance at whitewater up close.

The guides had us try a more interactive version of rock/paper/scissors called hunter/bear/samurai to see who got to start the day sitting in water. Hunter/bear/samurai requires the players to stand back to back and on the count of three to turn around and strike a pose - either aiming a gun, bear claws out or brandishing a sword. Hunter beats bear, bear beats samurai and samurai somehow beats hunter.

On our first attempt, we both turned around in bear - probably because it is the easiest thing to do and requires the least amount of thought on one's first attempt.

(The girls doing a little Hunter/Bear/Samurai (that may look like archery) reenactment - plus one Charlie's Angel)

On the second try, I outsmarted him by pulling hunter (basically, the second easiest thing to think of when someone yells "3!") to his repeated bear and I won! I would be the lucky one to sit in icy water while the shadows kept the temperatures low . . . at least I was dressed for it in my paddling pants, and an extra layer under my jacket. I loved how the water bubbled up on top of my pants!

The morning found me falling more deeply in love with kayaking because this time? This time it was actually fun! Less nerves, more adrenaline. I was over the initial fear factor and into the "wow, this is awesome!" part. Well, mostly. I still had to paddle my way through Tripplet Falls and avoid getting sucked into the "birth canal" - yikes!

The main thing I remember about this run was the part just above this pushes you closer to the wall so you have to paddle pretty hard left to avoid getting sucked into the birth canal part - ie, all that scary, narrow white stuff between the boulders. I was paddling along at a safe distance behind the lead boat following his "line" as instructed. Until he was sort of stalled out and circling and I could not slow down. I yelled at the guide that I was passing him because - how could I stop? And he said to keep going and I paddled and paddled and paddled and pointed my nose left and never even looked at that crazy birth canal for fear it would suck me right in. There was some more technical maneuvering I somehow managed to pull off successfully without getting myself wrapped on a rock or tipped - a serious hazard we were told. Check off a boost in confidence for me.

We rounded off the morning of whitewater with one more rapid - Hells - which kayakers had to skip. Or at least we had to skip part of it. We still had some fun maneuvering on the bottom half, just skipped the part that our guides aren't allowed to let us go. And I was surprisingly disappointed!

When we stopped for lunch I took the opportunity to write in my journal a bit and said this:

We are pulled off on a beautiful sandy beach on a bend of the river. The river takes another bend just downstream around a marsh. And the red rock walls of the canyon rise straight up around us stained with varying patterns of streaking black. The sky is blue with long flat clouds with wispy edges and a strong wind. The day has warmed considerably from when we set out this morning.

After lunch I turned over my kayak and paddle to someone else for the afternoon. . . which proved to be a blessing since that strong wind only grew stronger and blew straight at us all the way to camp - I was spared from a lot of extra paddling. Instead I got to play passenger for the first time on the trip as Diego rowed and I snapped photos in a futile attempt to capture the feeling of the moment.

I also inexplicably volunteered to take a turn at rowing the boat. Wow, was that ever pointless! I offered to try in a ridiculously hard spot when "uncle gusty" (our head wind) was blowing especially forcefully. I suddenly had no concept of the difference between push and pull and was unable to muster enough coordination to push or pull (whatever the guide yelled at me), keep the oars straight up and down and actually get them in the water. I believe I also lost the ability to tell the difference between right and left. We got spun around and caught in an eddy a couple of times and I finally gave up when I backed us up into a sandy beach. As much as I sometimes envied their jobs, the guides did not have it easy - just ask the newbie Danny.

We had two guides - Lars and Diego and one guide-in-training, Danny. Since this was Danny's first run on this river he could not take any passengers, he just carried our stuff - including the groover. (I will refrain from using any of the earthier jokes about this particular job.) When I was in the kayak, during the flatter parts of the river, I spent a great deal of time chatting with little Danny. I think at that point he was probably the guide I knew the best since the others were generally caught up in conversation with the passengers on their oar boats. As the afternoon wore on and the wind persisted, Danny fell further and further and further behind. Most of the afternoon we could not see him at all.

When one of the kayakers decided she had had enough rowing into the wind, the other boat tied it to the back to tow and I hopped in for a little ride. It was a lot of fun and incredibly peaceful to just lie there and look at everything that was trailing behind us.

That night's camp proved to be the best evening of the trip. Shortly after we set up our tents for the night, we gathered in our dinner circle and Loron pulled out his guitar. People sang along to songs they knew as the guides prepared another delicious meal (mmm, burritos!) and I tried to gather my thoughts and capture the moment so I could remember the feeling of being tucked into the trees away from the gusty wind, Janet's excitement that Danny chose to play "Ripple" on the guitar, everyone singing to the Beatles, Shannon exclaiming "this is what it means to be a happy camper!", the family feel of the group that were strangers just a day earlier and most of all to remember the part where I wrote: "I am so happy." And someone captured a slice of that bliss in a photograph of my blurred pen caught in motion.

And that was all before dinner which was followed by dessert!

As night fell and the stars shined their hearts out for us with radiance, a few of us were reluctant to call it a night. The sand was extra soft and shooting stars were far too common. After some games and tricks in the sand that included a bizarre balancing game concocted by one of the guides that I cannot begin to explain, I dazzled them with my silly freakishly long armed/little head trick that I am also unable to describe (you just have to see it). A couple of people crashed on the beach staring up at the stars caught up in conversation and the three guides and my favorite co-rafter - "Janet After Dark" who had enough drinks in her to be a bit rambunctious, sat on the boats talking. One of the guides had a battery-operated speaker for his ipod so we listened to music as we got to know each other in a way that you can only do sitting outside in the dark under a moonless sky. There is something about the faux anonymity of darkness that loosens tongues and encourages depth of conversation. Of course, along with the depth came the silly when Janet got a hold of the ipod.

Soon, our conversation turned into 80s dance party on the boats. It was one of the best parts of the trip - even if I could not convince Janet that I was sober . . .


Tiffany said...

That image of the "birth canal" will never leave me. Or any of your pregnant friends, I would guess.

The trip sounds amazing.

autumn said...

How fun. What a great adventure. You've inspired me to be more adventurous. Maybe, I will take an oar with me next time I get in the bath.

michele said...

i love spontaneous dance parties.

Artax said...

What a fun trip!

Erin said...

What an awesome trip! I've always wanted to do that run, but I'm afraid it's too hard for me.

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