Groundhog Day

Stephan declared last Wednesday to be Groundhog Day. He divided us into two groups and sent us down a Class 3 rapid on the Nantahala River over, and over, and over. Fifteen times in all.

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We sat in the classroom while he described several paths that would take us through the rapid. He talked about the obstacles: Block Rock, which we could recognize because it was directly across from Billboard Rock. We should let the raft bounce off Block Rock to set up the best path through the rapid on the “A” route. As long as we remembered Position, Angle, Speed and Timing, the raft would literally guide itself. My raft did not.

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I’m the one in the front of the boat with the white stripes down my sleeves.

We would have three opportunities each to guide our group through the rapid. No one really wanted to be the first guide, so I volunteered.

The rapid began with Top Hole, which we should under no circumstances hit squarely. Everyone would surely be thrown from the boat should we hit Top Hole squarely on center. Just past Top Hole, we would take a sharp right turn and the current would lead us through the last rapid, Bottom Hole.

On my first run, the raft hit Top Hole despite my best effort, and landed us in a tailspin as we approached Bottom Hole. Hamilton was yelling, “Just go with it!” When we reached Bottom Hole, we were going over backwards. I dived to the bottom of the boat to keep myself onboard…. it was not the last time I found myself there.

Brandon guided the raft down the “A” route perfectly on the first try, but for most of the 15 times down the rapid we were drenched and hanging on for dear life. Kathryn pulled off the perfect “A” course, and we still found ourselves jumping for the center of the boat to prevent capsizing. Bodies collide when they all jump for the center of the boat, and we went home with our fair share of bruises.

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Kathryn’s Perfect “A” run.

Once down the rapid, we found the eddy just past the photographer’s stand where Stephan was waiting with valuable feedback about our latest turn as guide. The photographer’s stand quickly filled with onlookers who, from what I overheard throughout the day, were thoroughly entertained by our repeated descents down that rapid.

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While guests of the Nantahala Outdoor Center floated down the calm waters past the rapid and finished a fun day on the river, we hauled our raft out of the rocky shoreline, shoved it up over our heads, walked it up the stairs, down the sidewalk, and back to the top of the rapid, where we did it all over again, and again, and again, and again….

Rafting is now over and kayaking begins this week. The assigned reading was from one of our text books, Basic Kayaking.

Chapter Two covers 10 fundamental paddling skills, such as Launching a Kayak, Leaning the Boat, the Hip Snap, Eskimo Rescue, Tuck Position and Wet Exit. Also among these ten skills were Vision and Attitude:

Vision – looking where you want to go – is a less concrete yet still fundamental paddling skill, one often overlooked. Take a global view. Concentrating on the big picture also has a physical advantage. If you look where you’re going – that is, if you turn your head in the direction the stroke is taking you – your eyes will lead your head, which in turn will lead your torso, maximizing your body rotation and power.

One more thing, be positive. Visualize success. Confidence cannot be manufactured out of thin air, of course, and one must bring fundamental skills and an appropriate level of caution to the river. But like all sports, whitewater kayaking can be a huge boost to the spirit, especially if you go into it with a positive attitude. If you believe you can do something, you probably can.

Wise words for boating, and for life.

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