As the 8′ high waves came and crashed on my head the only thing I could think was “Get back in your kayak and get out of here or you will die”. I frantically splashed around in the water while the most powerful current I had ever experienced thrashed me around uncontrollably. The boat hit me in the face giving me a black eye, I tried time and again to get myself into the swamped sea kayak and roll it up but to no avail. Eventually I gave up and grabbed my 500lb sea kayak filled with water and started swimming toward the vacant beach.
Words cannot accurately convey the majesty and awe that the Magdalen Islands inspire.
I launched the kayak as the sun turned red on the horizon. Strapping a headlamp on I jumped into my 14′ sea kayak and tightly gripped my favorite paddle and forced my way out through the surf. The beach was tiny, only about 20 feet wide and was the only beach for miles in either direction. The swell caused the giant kayak to tip and sway more than I ever thought possible in a sea kayak. A few feet away the waves pounded the rocks and cliff face. The lighthouse shot up from the cliff. As I paddled away I felt like I had found the edge of the earth. Here the land abruptly ended and sheer sandstone cliffs that would easily give way under your feet shot up hundreds of feet into the air. There were caves everywhere that were easily carved out by the forceful action of the waves. The surging tides would trap air in the holes and they would build up pressure and blow out air, sometimes high up into the air. The noise and the surging water struck a nerve somewhere deep inside me. I plunged the paddle into the water stroke after stroke and mile melted into mile. Before I knew it the sun had disappeared and the lighthouse was miles behind me, completely gone from view.
I had to check out one of the caves before I turned around so I cautiously turned on my headlamp and started paddling into one that looked creepy. The water was rising and falling quickly and the cave went on for a long way. After several hundred yards there was no light left except the light from my headlamp with no end to the cave in sight. As the swell surged up and down little holes in the walls would blow out water, sometimes with surprising force. It was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time, I decided to slowly back paddle my way out again.
Paddling back under a full moon was totally unreal. I could see the waves crash against the rocks and the cliff face rose up hundreds of feet with the moon peaking over the top. I paddled with a furious intensity for miles until I reached the lighthouse again. I left a flashlight on my car so I could find it on the cliff face, the two red LEDs stared out at me in the water like some kind of hideous beast waiting to devour me.
Although I generally avoid going to the same country twice, Thailand was beautiful enough and the food is good enough to visit it a second time. This time instead of traveling around the entire time I was there I was lucky enough to settle down for over a week on the island of Koh Phag Nan and kiteboard for most of my visit.
Getting there was a little tricky, not once but twice we boarded a flight then were kicked off due to technical difficulties. In all my years of flying this has never happened to me even once, so it was something of a shock to have it happen twice on the same trip in different cities. Many other travelers were quite disheartened but Sun and I did a good job of taking everything in stride. The airport put us up in Tokyo in a very nice hotel with an amazing breakfast buffet. We were amazed by the efficiency of the Japanese and their very nice flush toilets with 15 different buttons for assorted butt-washes, deodorizers and even a fake flushing noise.
When I first arrived I felt like I had died and gone to paddling heaven. Everywhere I looked huge landslides had removed parts of the road. The rivers were swollen and running that dark coffee brown color. Several bridges had recently collapsed, others were closed because the recent rains had moved the foundations. This is how my Costa Rican vacation began … 11 straight days of class IV-V rivers.
For the past week it had rained nonstop and things had been way too high to run. Finally there was some relief and the sun was starting to peak through. They had refused to let me take my kayak on the plane because of some silly trade embargo against Costa Rica for the holidays. Even worse than that my flight was delayed three hours so the car rental place was closed. They were nice enough to leave a note though, so that was cool. There was some Costa Rican sleeping behind the rental car counter, I asked him if he had my car, he told be to sleep in the next car rental booth over in Spanish. I followed a very attractive Australian woman I had met on the plane to a local hostel. Apparently she was going to Costa Rica to do conservation work with Sea turtles. Once at the hostel I tried to get a room with her which the woman at the counter found quite amusing. She put me in a room with some scuba diver from London who apparently also followed another attractive woman from the airport on sea turtle conservation work. Man what a racket, get all these attractive woman to do conservation work and lure unsuspecting Gringos into your hostel. Me and the limey stayed up late into the night talking then finally crashed out.
Prologue: I wrote this true story for Dennis Squires’ wilderness adventures book. Unfortudently Dennis died paddling in NZ several years ago so its unlikely this story will ever see print. I am posting it here instead.
First Decent of Augers Falls
You can see the tiny eddy in the crack of the rock at the top left. The water level was much higher when Mike made his first descent.
Ever have such a bad experience boating that you could hardly talk about it or write about it for years. An event that instilled so much fear in your being that it would fundamentally shift the way you kayaked forever? Mike Burns and I had an experience like this several years ago on the Middle Branch of the Sacandaga in Upstate NY.
Prolog: John’s Brook was first run solo by Dennis Squires (RIP bro) in the 90’s. Dennis had been telling me and Mike to hit it for a while and with the spring runoff we finally got a chance to hit this gem. This article was published in AW Magazine.
So there I was, the better part of the way down what was easily the most difficult creek I had ever paddled, standing on the shore waiting for Mike to walk down, after paddling a long section of class IV-V by myself trying to catch up with Mike’s lost paddle. My spray skirt had been badly ripped on a log which was stuck under an undercut rock and Mike’s skirt was also badly ripped. Luckily mine had ripped first so I had gotten dibs on the only safety-pin we had which was now holding together the tear and keeping my little creek boat from sinking like the Titanic in this heinous 350+ fpm creek known as John’s Brook. If John’s Brook had been a movie review it would have read like this:
John’s Brook is the newest in a long line of productions aimed at appealing to the segment of the kayaking community that have hit their heads on a few to many rocks. The first two hours is spent watching kayakers hike up 3 miles of steep rocky trails dragging 100 lbs of gear through the mud, over creeks and over huge boulders. You can tell from the gradient that once these guys hit the water, there will be hell to pay. While most runs gently ramp up for the viewer, once they get to the water Johns creek starts out full-bore and never slows down. The entire 5 miles is just one long climax with little or no interruption. Most people who enjoy this spectacle will be forced to switch over to auto-pilot or will end up running out of energy and adrenaline after the first 15 minutes. After the first couple of hours, you wonder when it will end, and whether or not the actors will just say “enough” and walk out of the canyon.
The following article was published many years ago in American Whitewater Magazine, a not for profit group I was involved with when I kayaked every weekend. The river written about is the Beaver river in upstate NY near Belfort and every year hundreds of boaters would gather from all over America to run this little gem.
So there I was running one of the more difficult class V runs to be found in NY backwards on a $50 bet. Thoughts of my sweet one year old son and his beautiful mother did NOT fill my mind. Survival was the focus here. How to pull off this stunt without getting flipped, swimming or worse. Marty probably didn’t think anyone would really take him up on his offer for $50 to run it backwards. The decision was already made before I started not to accept the money from him, so why was I doing it? Fame, fortune, glory? No, I was doing it because I wanted to prove to myself that I had put off running the Eagle section of the Beaver to a point in my paddling career where I could run it backwards. The crowds faded from my mind and all I could think about was, where is my boat, where am I pointed, am I ready to brace? Complete focus. The run was not pretty, but better than many other paddler’s forward facing runs.
Walking to work I neared Cascadilla Creek, a little 500 fpm gem in the middle of Cornell. It sounded like a freight train as I approached. The sound was glorious to my ears. Entranced I found my way down the trail and before me was the most powerful display I had ever seen. Hundreds of cfs cascading off 30,40 and 50 foot waterfalls landing flat on hard rock. Even
at these levels the pools at the bottom did not fill in. I had a sinking feeling that running these falls without a landing zone would guarantee a great deal of pain. I ran back and forth like a squirrel trying to find the line. Then I realized it, I have the sickness. I threw my head back and laughed out loud. What separated me from all the mindless drones walking around above was that I wanted to live, to really live and experience everything. People without the sickness would almost certainly think that I was just trying to die, not live. I realized that it is not a sickness, but an obsession to suck the marrow out of life. I may never run Cascadilla gorge … but I do not want to get well either.
Later that day I saw my son clap his hands in a sonogram. It was one of the most moving moments of my life. It was so real. I rejoiced that my little son was happy and alive and growing in Marlo’s belly. I begged Marlo to run shuttle so I could run a little class II run up at Taughannock falls. There is a little 1/2 mile run with lots of surfing waves and holes
at higher levels. The park police came and gave me a real hard time. I think he wanted to punch me in the head. In his reality I was a crazy idiot who was out paddling in a blizzard risking his life and the lives of the people that were going to have to come and rescue me. In my reality I was just doing what I loved and being as cautious as possible. The lack of
understanding of the sport by the officer and his uncertainty and insecurity with what I was doing made him very angry. He could see that I had the sickness, to him I needed therapy.
What’s a paddler to do?
Trip report of the Gatineau Festival 2001
This weekend to the Gatineau festival was by far the best paddling weekend all summer. I was skeptical about the 6 hr drive and the $45 Canadian entrance fee. After all was said and done I can safely say that it was well worth it. I have never met any culture that was as hospitable as the French-Canadians. The fed us, shuttled us, let us camp and gave us hot showers and kept up a nice fire that burned all night long. Never once was I made to feel as stupid as I felt for not being able to speak French. Being surrounded by the french speaking Canadians all the time was really weird, it was almost like being in another country. I guess Canada is another country.
We arrived Friday Evening and checked in, there was already over 100 people there. We milled about then crashed for the night after getting all the info we could on the river. They handed out these neat little maps in French and English that showed all the channels and in one little section had a nifty big X on it that said “don’t go here” with Class V rapids right next to them. Needless to say, we’d be running that channel the next day.