Costa Rica Delivers Flood-Stage Rivers, Kayaking Down Volcanoes And 40′ Waterfalls (oh my)

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.costa rica

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.

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The Most Frightening Whitewater Kayaking Experience In 8 Years Of Class V Boating

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.

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The Best Dam Beaver I Ever Had

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.

The 2nd drop on Eagle
The 2nd drop on Eagle

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.

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The Sickness

cas1I went to bed listening to the rain beat against the windows. The violent storm gave me a strange sense of peace, like it always does. I dreamt of paddling all night long. I awoke ready to skip work to hit the river, but there were several inches of snow and it was still snowing. I dejectedly went to work.

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?

TV Crew Films 4 Crazy Americans Floundering Down The Class V Section Of Gatineau, Somehow We Survive … Barely


Mike running the ‘class V’ section, he’s the tiny dot in the middle of the picture.

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.

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