Monday, August 24, 2009

Lower Yough Trip

The Youghigeny river is located in Pennsylvania, about 3 and a half hours from DC. It was quite the drive and while I wish I had been able to go for the entire weekend, at least I has the time and chance to make it for one day. I arrived the night before for a little car camping and we headed out for an early morning launch of 9:00. Basically we had one hour to get to the launch point after setting up shuttles. We were actually on the river just after 10:00 once all was said and done. It was almost a comedy of errors. First I forgot my prescription sunglasses and I don't have a backup strap for my regular glasses, so I had to go back for them after my trip saturday morning with another group. Once I got to the campgrounds I realized I forgot my tent pegs at home with my hammock. I found out that one of the other people's car had a dead battery so the morning of the run, we had to jump her car which she then got promptly locked out of while it was running. She had to wait for AAA to come and help her while we set up shuttle. She showed up just before 10:00 and we were able to get her set up and on the water. After that we all had a good run.

I have never run any other river but the Potomac. The Lower Yough is rather pushy and I wasn't quite sure what to expect considering all the not so pleasnat things I had heard about it from other people. Entrance was my first experience with the Lower Yough. It wasn't so bad but I did flip my edge and had to roll. I ended up being the first roll of the day. We all had done practice rolls earlier but I was the first in current. The water was quite cold. I wasn't sure what to wear but after talking to everyone and seeing what they were wearing, I decided on the semi-dry top, as that was what I had with me, and a mid-weight wool base layer. Good thing too as I think if I had been wearing less I would have been cold. The day was overcast and a bit on the cool side which was nice. At one point I did start warming up but a quick roll fixed that problem.

So at this point I have had a relatively good beginning. And then I found out that Cucumber was the next set of rapids. I have not heard anything good about this rapid. In fact, most people tell me they have taken nasty swims here. So I was not looking forward to the rapid, but after we passed through I started to wonder two things. First, it was easier then expected so I wonder if they had a higher water level. Second, how on earth do rapids get their names. Cucumber?!? At least Entrance made sense.

This one was going to be a tough one. I didn't remember hearing anything about it, but the large warning sign near it and the serious talk was enough for me. It wasn't that bad but it was big and pushy. I made it through then found out the rock was so badly undercut that people get sucked in and don't come out. It is a really bad place to fall in.

This one I was waiting for. Not only were we going to stop for lunch but this was a nice play and surfing spot. As I was coming down I decided to hit the wave and see if I could catch a surf. I started down backwards and slowly tried to line myself up. I managed to catch the wave but lost the surf and flipped over. I held the position waiting for the water to level out a bit but it never did so I rolled and found out the wave had held me in an upside down surf. I was back on the wave and surfing again until I got flipped again. I rolled back up more quickly this time and found I had been ejected. I managed to get in a couple of good surfs and I also managed to forget my nose plugs once, hit my shoulder on a rock because it was shallow, and lose the grip on my paddle but luckily I managed to keep one hand hold and roll back up. All in all it was lots of fun to surf and watch the surfing. This was were I had to swim when I ran into a friend's boat, wedged my paddle and flipped in shallow water. Oh well. Not too bad of a place to have to swim.

Bottle of Wine
I think this was the easy rapid that we were supposed to eddy hop at. I caught the first eddy then I didn't fight the current enough and it pushed me downstream. I really have to work more on strength and boat control. I really shouldn't let the water push me around so much. I also had trouble boofing, mostly because I wasn't sure what I was doing but I also wasn't lining up the last stroke correctly. I need to have a last stroke on the side further away from the rock and I have to push my butt over so I hand flat. I tried twice but missed each time. There was no harm in missing but I should work on that too as it is another way to control the boat.

Double Hydraulics
I actually missed this one almost completely. The safe line is down on river right, and I was following someone and didn't realize I had taken the easier line. Likely a good thing as I was having boat control issues. I didn't really have a chance to see the hydraulics though, but the map made them out to be bad. Maybe next time I can get into them a little more.

Bruner Run
The last rapid before the take out and almost the only rapid I was able to catch the last eddy perfectly on. I could see a really nice eddy immediately at the bottom of the rapid so I aimed for it and caught it perfectly. Now if only I can do that more often and on demand.

There were more rapids then this, but these were the more memorable ones. The entire run was lots of fun and well worth doing. I really wish I had been able to do the run both days as I think I would have learned more. I do think this helped me learn some, more to do with river reading. I have to pay more attention and get more control over my boat. I was able to lift my head up from my bow but I don't think I looked where I was going enough. So there is still lots of room for improvement.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sea Kayaking

I haven't had many chances to get my sea kayak out onto the water and I feel pretty bad about that. I really need to improve my comfort level and ability in kayaking if I want to do such a huge paddle as I have planned. As such I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the outfitters in the area had a social paddle session that I could join. At the same time, since I wanted to go through the instructor training, I joined the group as an instructor helper. I will eventually be taking my training and certification with the same outfitter so this is a great way to improve my teaching ability as well as get my boat back on the water.

Teaching Flat Water
As I knew the instructor, it was fairly easy to join up and paddle with the group. I wasn't sure what to expect at the first paddle and thought I would be following around another instructor to watch and learn. What actually happened was I was given a few students to work with for rolling practice, then I was put on the spot to teach a small group of students how to do a sculling draw. The instructor who suggested I teach this stroke will also be my instructor for the certification. So it was time to put on the instructor face and paddle at the best level I could. By the end of the two hours, I was exhausted from teaching, and the double portage. But after talking with the instructor, it looks like I am on track to have at least an L3 certification to teach. I would like to see if I can get a higher level. If nothing else, going through the training will help me improve my abilities even if I don't get the certification.

On one of the next paddles I helped with, I was filmed. Mostly for some basic strokes to demonstrate ability. This is supposed to be a good teaching aide as well, but I dislike watching myself. I do manage to see what I am doing wrong though which does help. It seems each time I go out with this group I get put on the spot, which is nice. It challenges me to be on top of my game. It is interesting that the more I work with the instructor the more he tries to convince me to come work for them. He is trying to steal me away from the competition. I have been invited to join then on their saturday Potomac tours to show off the beauty of the Potomac to new paddlers. I wasn't able to go this time, but I should be able to go next time if I am not teaching.

Back on the Ocean
I was out with a small group on the weekend and finally managed to get my boat out on the Chesapeake Bay. While the pace was quite relaxed, it was nice to get back into proper torso rotation and even surfing a few waves. It was a very hot day though and I managed to get a fairly nasty burn on my shoulders. My kayak handled quite nicely and I can't wait to get it out again. I really do miss the feel of the boat, even though whitewater is fun for playing.

Maine Rough Water
In order to improve my abilities, I just registered for a rough water symposium that is set to occur the beginning of September in Maine. The symposium is over 4 days and it will take me two days to travel there and back. I am looking forward to it with a slight level of dread. I registered to go through the BCU 3 star sea training and assessment. This will be in rough water with big winds. I am not sure I am in shape enough for that but I guess I will find out shortly. I am also not sure about my abilities out on the ocean in rough water. I simply have not had any major opportunities to get out in such conditions recently. I have been doing a lot of whitewater kayaking which I hope will help my abilities. They do suggest that cross training in another discipline like whitewater or canoeing is a good idea.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Little Falls to Lower Yough

I have been invited to do a river run of the Lower Youghigeny (known as the Yough to paddlers). I have been very apprehensive about going as I have really only experienced one river in a kayak, the Potomac. I was on the Upper Gauley in a raft and that would have been way to much for me in a kayak. So I was apprehensive of going to the Yough. I have run the Potomac Gorge at least 3-4 times this season and in high water but I have no idea what the Yough is like other then the stories I have been hearing. In order to get an idea of what to expect, it was recommended to run Little Falls. So today I ran Little Falls, and was nervous about that too. I had, again, heard stories that made this out to be a horrible section. Once we got to Little Fall, we beached the kayaks and walked over to scout the falls.

Little Falls
There are two ways to get through Little Falls, the Maryland side or the Virginia side. As we were coming down the Potomac, we were eddy hopping for practice as well as to let our guide know how comfortable we would be as the water became progressively faster and bigger. Once we got to the rapid, the guide suggested that we would be good to take on the more challenging Virginia side which is a far better indicator of what running the Yough would be like.

The line through Little Falls was pretty simple. The water flow would push you where you needed to go and it was a matter of maintaining boat control just to avoid the rock, affectionately known as meat cleaver. The current flows between cleaver and the island creating a drop into a hole followed by another drop then you are through. The first time, I ran through following someone and once I passed the first wave and was heading between the rocks, I lost focus on looking ahead and focused on the hole I was about to fall into. As such I ended up upside down. I rolled back up, forgot to paddle and went over again. Once I was back up I was off to the eddy to wait for the others. I wasn't the only one to flip but we all made it safely.

Once at the bottom, we went around the island and decided to run it again. I wanted to run it again as I wanted to go through without flipping this time. We had to portage our kayaks up over some nasty and very hot rocks to get back to the top of the rapid. I ran again, following someone again and was successful this time. I managed to keep my focus ahead and kept paddling as needed. The water was quite pushy and bit but I just paddled and kept going. The other new guy flipped again and was actually dragged up onto the rock before he managed to get back up.

Lower Yough
So after that, while I can't make it to the Yough for the Saturday run, I will be able to make it for the Sunday run. I am still a little apprehensive but I think I can handle it now. This will be a good way to better my abilities which I sorely need. I can't just be a Potomac whitewater paddler. This is going to be a great trip as we have a mix of the experienced and the inexperienced.

Turns out this will be a great weekend to go to the Lower Yough too as there will be a Falls Festival. I haven't been to it before but whitewater people know how to party. I might have to clean out a keg and bring some of the homebrew. It will be easier to keg it then trying to find time to bottle it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Teaching others to kayak

Since I have received my certification to teach whitewater kayaking, I have taught five classes. It has been pretty good and I feel I am improving in both my delivery and my skill. I do know that I have a weak point in not being able to do a hand of God rescue, but as long as the person can T-rescue themselves, I am okay. We get all levels of kayaking ability in the classes. More so in the second level class then the intro class. But even in the intro class, there is a fairly large dichotomy of paddling ability. Some people seem to get things right away, and others have trouble working out how to best balance the boat. Many people, after taking the first class, then take advantage of the social paddles and really improve their abilities. Some people come out with rolls after a few socials and are ready to tackle more. It is great to see people improving over each class and social paddle. People I taught just a few weeks ago are now rolling and playing in the current. I remember I was there just a year ago.

Teaching is both harder and easier then I thought. It is harder to organize my thoughts in a cohesive flow to best describe a technique or drill. I also have to be careful to not over explain or simply bore people as they are trying to learn something. Some people require less instruction then others so I try to teach to them then give more individual help to those that require more help and explanations.

At the same time, I have fun doing it and seeing people understanding and applying the concepts and drills that it is easy to teach something to someone. Some people actually will self-discover something and I just have to guide them to improvements rather then teach the entire concept.

I have been enjoying helping with the flat water instruction as well and am looking forward to certifying in that soon too. I am not quite sure what I prefer teaching. Each sport has its perks. The whitewater play boats turn so easily and are fun to paddle, yet the sea kayaks require more technical skill and track nicely through the water. In either case, improving my teaching abilities and skills in both sports is well worth the effort.