Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Travels

"This is God's Country" explained an older gentleman with a big burly beard and a very wholesome look. I was in Wyoming and looking for the nearest gas station before heading over the pass into Jackson Hole. I found out very quickly during my westward travels to always fill my tank and be prepared for anything before heading into the great unknown. Arriving in Jackson sometime around 1am that night i was relieved to know that I would make it to my ACA instructor certification class the next morning, which was my first priority during my westward migration.
Teton's, Jackson Hole WY

Early morning encounter with a Bison

Gros Ventre early morning photo mission

ACA Instructors

I found myself breaking down my priorities throughout this past trip into 3 simple subjects. Number one; my family and friends, number two; my future, and number three; my kayaking. Leading up to this trip I had spent 3 months with my family and few childhood friends in WI so priority one had been taken care for the time being. That left me with the desire to progress myself and my future which lead me to Rendezvous River Sports for an instructor certification class with Sam Drevo as the instructor. The class had 2 Nols instructors, as well as many other fantastic paddlers that made for an amazing learning environment. During the course of our 5 day class we pushed each other to perform at the highest level possible using the information that we were learning and the knowledge that we had. Did you know that the first 6 to 8 inches creates the most power in your forward stroke?!?!?! Until this class I didn't and afterwards I feel 10 times more confident in my own personal skills as well as my ability to teach others what I have learned. Wrapping up a super productive week in both my education and my photography it was time to make the next move... it was between going to Fibark or putting on a 3 day river trip in Idaho with my best friend Andy McMurray. I had never heard of the river Andy was talking about so I started to ask around and after seeing Aaron Pruzan and Eric Semore's eyes light up to the sound of the word "Secesh", I knew where I had to go.

Team Boof or Die road tripin

Gearing up for the Secesh

Andy's first look at the portage

Breakfast under the tarp

Dry your stuff by the fire, it works great!

Overlooking the entrance to the Miracle Mile

If you've ever heard of the Secesh then you've probably heard of its largest rapid, the miracle mile! It's and eye opener for sure, packed full of huge holes, crazy seams and a big water feel that continues to demand your attention for what seems to last forever. Its awesome!!! Unlike anything I had ever paddled before the Secesh was a proper way to be introduced to Idaho river running. Continuing day two of our trip required us to paddle another Idaho classic, the South Salmon with a respectable flow! In fact it turned into some of the more full on big water I'd ever run and even found myself locked into a surf session with one of its larger hydraulics. I remember Andy yelling "hold on" in the mist of my fully loaded creekboat cartweel session, a few more thumps and I had had enough. To the river I swam and after some strong team work on both of our parts we had contained the situation. It had been 2 years since my last swim and a great refresher/learning experience as well. As I continue to develop my river skills it is evident that anything can happen out there and no amount of training will ever grant you perfection. This is where good judgment and experience will pay off, as well as continuing to hone and develop every type of river skill to insure you achieve every goal you set out for. In any case it was still a really big hole as well as late in the day. So we put up camp and enjoyed the magnificent canyon, with some hot cous-tuna-ramen-surprise! Situated about a mile above our last big rapid on the South Salmon our morning whitewater appetites were fulfilled once again with more class V for breakfast. Reaching the confluence with the Main Salmon we were graced with a bald eagle as almost "rights of passage" and a chilled out float back to the car. Idaho was proving to be much more than just potato's.

Staying warm in the hot springs on a cold day

Looking back upstream at the confluence of the Main Salmon

Alec Voorhees catching air on the Bladder

Hiking into the Sawtooth Mtns.

The Super Slab, 4 pitches of slab happy granite

Sawtooth Mtns. view after our 19 mile bike ride

By this point in my trip I was hooked and Idaho was rockin my world. Basing out of Banks and living on an island on the North Fork of the Payette, I picked up a few days of work for Cascade Raft and Kayak to continue the lifestyle I love so much. The Long family which own Cascade are some of the best instructors I've ever met. Instructing year round from Idaho to Chile it was a great pleasure to work with such amazing people! As Idaho continued to amaze me I found myself surfing some of the best waves I'd ever been on, waves like the Bladder, Climax and topping it off with Gold's Hole! I learned the concept of clean blunts and managed to get a few small ones around but really enjoyed the feeling of my first helix! Such an explosive move, I've never felt anything like it! One of my other major accomplishments during my stay in Idaho was a "Full Top to Bottom" run down the North Fork of the Payette. This was not something I did the first day seeing this magical river, but over the course of a month. Breaking down each section, scouting all the major rapids, and giving this river the respect it deserves! A few of the days that really stick out most are... My first run down the lower five at 5,000 cfs with Micah Kneidl leading the way; Jason Craig's and my first run down Jacob's ladder at 2,700 cfs with Alec Voorhees leading the way; and finally Andy McMurray's and my first Top to Bottom with Will Stubblefield leading us down. The North Fork is a true testament to a hard class V kayakers skills and will let you know where you stand as soon as you put on.

My last run down Scraming left on the North Fork

Micha and Kevin's run down the lower Five in a Topo Duo

Kat Levitt surfing Gold's Hole

Bryan Kirk clean Pan Am at Gold's Hole

East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon

Big Dipper at Otter Slid on the N. Fork

Leaving Idaho wasn't an easy decision to make. I'd paddled 11 new sections of whitewater, took thousands of photos, and made many new friends in my travels. But my priorities had changed and it was time to make the 2 day trek back see my family in Wisconsin as well as help instruct at Wausau Whitewater. In fact the Midwest Freestyle competition starts August 21st, and Colin Kemp and myself will be teaching a 2 day freestyle clinic before the comp. The past few years have been a huge success and I'm looking forward to this years event rockin out like all the rest! Until then I'm enjoying the time at home and the great water levels in WI right now, with the Root river reaching a 2 year high things couldn't be better!

Burn area in ID

Clear Water ID

Sunrise in Montana

Daisies in Montana

Badlands Rock, South Dakota

PS: The villain L served me well!!! Handling everything I could throw at it and performing it with ease. I heard it described as agile by a few of the North Forkers, with a bit more edge than the Rocker it did big water justice! Also, I love the 93 gallons of room, making multi days a breeze when packing all your gear in. Thanks for the great boat design!!!
Root river Fun!

Live from Jackson WI,
John McConville

photos courtesy of Matt Nolan 524fotos.com and Emily Meredith