Conquests of Tankbird


Zoar Intensive Novice 5-Day Whitewater Kayaking: Complete!
July 20, 2009, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Wow, I stuck it out through all five days!

So the first day, as you probably read, was hellishly difficult. At least, the morning was hellishly difficult. It felt like everyone else was more comfortable than me and ready to hop into the river, and I was all saying, “No, um, the lake is fine for now.” Fortunately I wasn’t the only one feeling that way, so a group of us hung back at the lake for some more paddling instruction that first day. Wet exits were scary!

Anyway, here’s the play-by-play with photos.

Our fabulous instructors for the week were Hillary and Sara, who were all too patient with us and walked us through everything. You’ll see them in later photos. Here we are all next to the kayak rack at Zoar. Wow, that’s a lot of kayaks. We have to get fitted to a right-size kayak, and if anything will make you feel like sticking with Weight Watchers, it’s getting fitted for a whitewater kayak. I ended up with a behemoth “Jackson Mega Rocker” kayak that by the second day I had affectionately nicknamed Big Bertha… and the name definitely stuck.
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Now we’re at the Sherman Reservoir lining our boats up on the dock, getting instructed in how to wet exit a kayak.
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Basically, you flip upside down (that part usually happens without your help), then you tuck your head up toward your knees (so you don’t hit your face on a rock in current), pull the pull strap on your spray skirt, put your hands on either side of the cockpit and push yourself out and back away from the boat. We practiced on land first, then it was time to practice in the water. I wasn’t so keen on this idea. It took me a few tries to even look moderately competent, and not flail around like a dying fish. I learned to take a moment’s pause before tucking, just to compose myself. That helped a lot. Then I practiced with a paddle, and took a video wherein I do a terrible job: look how my paddle just sticks out of the water! But I get out of the boat, and that’s success. (There’s a better video later.)

Look at the beautiful Sherman Reservoir! We had gorgeous weather all week.
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Here’s Laura practicing paddling.
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One of the few shots of me in this whole series: I was mostly taking pictures, and it was kind of hard to hand off the camera on the river, so I pretty much hung on to it. Note how stressed and intense I look. (This did diminish.)
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And look, another shot of me!
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Before we finished on Day 1, I wanted to run through a few more wet exits. This really did the trick: I suddenly didn’t feel scared of it anymore. I even took another video, wherein I control my paddle correctly! Note the long addition of me swimming to shore… yeah, you can skip that part.

The next day it was off to the Deerfield river, ready or not.

Somehow we got five kayaks on top of a Honda CRV… impressive.
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Here our instructor Hillary (in the stylish white “Zoar Instructor” penny) points out the fact that this is a river. Actually, she’s pointing out lots of interesting things. We practiced different maneuvers like eddy turns, peel outs and ferries. (For clarification, an eddy is that quiet water space behind a feature on the river. Most of whitewater kayaking involves going from eddy to eddy.)
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Laura tries out some of our mad moves.
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As we hang out in an eddy, Hillary points out some river features downstream.
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Back at the base, Hillary (left) and Sara (right) explain various river features and terminology using this technical “whiteboard with blocks of foam” to simulate the river.
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Day 3 was back at the reservoir. Another beautiful day! We learned backwards paddling and different “draw” strokes.
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Hillary demonstrates different turning maneuvers.
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Here’s Wes, focused on the instruction.
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Look at that beautiful edge!
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Here we’re taking turns practicing “peel outs” across an imaginary eddy line. We pretended this rock was in a moving current and practiced different draw strokes. Laura’s giving it a go while Wes looks on. That’s Sara on the rock.
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And now it’s Ali’s turn, with Hillary walking him through the draw stroke.
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This was a good opportunity to take a picture of Big Bertha, the star of the show. This was my view for five days.
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And here I am, with a reverse-hold self portrait. Serious face!
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Then it was time to load up all the kayaks and head back to the river. I always needed help with Big Bertha… she weighed 50 lbs empty. John seems to have no trouble hoisting his kayak single-handedly, however. Notice Hillary on top of the van, and Sara hanging off the back. When you’re a Zoar instructor, you seem to be more in danger out of the water than in. They both spent an inordinate amount of time climbing all over the vehicles and the kayaks, tying everything down securely to ensure that we weren’t going to send watercraft sailing down Route 2.
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At the put-in site, it was time to unload all the kayaks.
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Look, it’s a rapid! It’s not a very big rapid, but that day, it seemed monstrous.
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Just to show you the moving water, I took this little video.

I ran the easy side that day (I did run the harder/more fun side on Day 5), but once I was in the eddy, I pulled over to take video of the others shooting out of the rapid.

This, according to Sara, is where the Aztecs fought the aliens. It’s also a really nice cove.
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We ended up running a chunk of the Deerfield that day, very fun. We ran a rapid called “Freight Train,” and I practiced “surfing” the kayak in some of the waves. On my second attempt, I flipped the kayak, and got to do my first wet exit in current! It wasn’t bad at all, actually, and since I was the only one of our group who hadn’t flipped, it actually relieved some of the pressure. No big deal!

Back on the pond for Day 4, and this time, we got to learn some very, very beginning steps to rolling.
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The more advanced part of our group practiced a little more significant steps to rolling. The first thing to learn is the “hip snap” that brings you upright. To do that, you practice dunking under while holding a partner’s boat, and using your hips to right yourself while using your partner’s boat as little as possible. I definitely used Laura’s boat for help more than just a little, especially when I slipped a little farther under than I wanted to! I’d better work on my obliques if I ever hope to be able to roll a kayak.

Hillary took some pictures of me practicing.

Under I go… (notice the upturned kayak in the background)
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And back up again.
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Ugh, water in my eyes!
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Going under again…
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MORE water in my eyes!
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Back to the Deerfield river and into some stronger current. Here Hillary demonstrates an effortless peel-out and eddy turn. She makes it look so easy!
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She’s pointing out some sort of downstream feature here. John looks very interested. Sarah (edge of picture, different Sarah than the instructor Sara) is leaning over to get a better look.
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This is after coming through a really fun rapid! I don’t remember what it’s called, exactly, but it was really fun. Kleziak? Something strange like that. Comment if you know.
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For the record, when we re-ran this on Day 5, there were two girls tubing (no helmets, PFDs, or shoes), and one of them overturned in this. She freaked out so much she started flailing and Sara had to tow her out with her kayak…the girl was sobbing and practically hysterical. I’m sorry, but if you’re that freaked out about falling out of your tube that it makes you cry, WEAR A PFD. Morons.

The end of Day 4 and two of our brave lot decided to run Zoar Gap. Zoar Gap is a textbook Class III rapid, and let me tell you, the step up between Class II and Class III is a little big! Both of them overturned on this run, the first try for both of them. John ran it first with Hillary, but i missed it because I had just gotten to the lookout point. Then Wes ran it with Sara. Sara’s in the blue boat; you can see her approach, then pull aside to let Wes go ahead, then paddle to catch up to him. A valiant first attempt for John and Wes!

The next day was Day 5, our last day, and we were going to do a full-day river run. Here we are chilling out way at the top of the Fife Brook section, below the dam.
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This is the Fife Brook from which the river section gets its name. Yes, the big Fife Brook section of the Deerfield gets its name from this little bitty brook.
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We ran this river mostly as we chose, eddy-hopping through the rapids. I caught a bunch of eddies in this one section, and here I stopped behind a nice flat rock to take a picture upstream of some others in our group.
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The day went by way too quickly, and it was a real blast. At the end of the day, we ended up at the Zoar Gap, and it was make or break time. I decided to go for it, after all, it was the last day and I’d only had one wet exit. Laura chose to sit it out and was kind enough to videotape everyone. Eugenia and Sarah both waited for me, Ali, John and Wes to run the river, scouting it out first, then came down and ran it. John did beautifully, and Eugenia did the whole thing without overturning! Awesome!

Here’s me and then Ali.

Note Hillary come down first in the blue boat, then me in Big Bertha, then Ali in his red boat. Note how we both overturn in the same spot. I got swept into a side eddy and spun around, and when that wave hit me I couldn’t recover. So I got to do my second wet exit in current, which was a little scarier than the first. This was for two reasons: one, my foot had a little trouble getting free of the boat, and two, as soon as I got my head above water, I was swept under again. I totally lost my boat, but I kept my paddle, and for that I’m super proud! It was quite a rush and an amazing experience. Maybe I’ll be more ready to do it again sometime, because I’m certainly going kayaking again.

Here comes John, calm and poised as can be, paddling his way right down the middle.

And here’s Wes, who did a really bang-up awesome job rescuing himself from an almost-capsize before he got swept under.

Here comes Eugenia in the green boat, powering her way down and running all the way through! Awesome job!

This is Sarah, who made it almost the whole way through before she got flipped. Apparently, when she was underwater, she was so mad that she’d flipped that she tried to right herself again! Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to roll yet, so she had to wet exit.

It took three people to drain Big Bertha while I waited far upstream, and Hillary was kind enough to tow it back up to me. I hopped it and ran the last section of little rapids with Ben, another instructor. I guess you can consider this the video of me paddling off into the sunset.

All in all, an amazing week. Exhausting, emotionally challenging, physically painful, and psychologically draining, but incredible despite (or perhaps because of) all these things. Two days later, I’m still sore, I’m bruised like I’ve gone ten rounds with a brick wall, but I’m happy and proud. And most importantly of all, I’m really excited to get back on the river again.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Wow, thanks for doing such a great job documenting this week. It was a lot of fun.

Comment by Laura

I’m SO excited for you. I actually started to believe that I could do that too!! 🙂

Comment by Jerri




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