Some Soul Searching.
Our new crew showed up late that night - several of the same folks we had paddled with on Little White a couple of weeks before. I was hoping that our repeated runs on Callaghan and Cheakamus would have us warmed up to where we would make a better showing. We tried to talk them into running Rogers or trying Douglas, but the crew opted for rapids over hucking, so we headed to the Upper Birkenhead.
As we put on the Birk I was not feeling confident or at my best, but I gritted my teeth and headed off downstream. The Birkenhead gradually builds from class II to III to IV to a little flurry of V, then you have a big log jam to avoid, 2 runout rapids, and it's over. So I had some time to try to get my groove on. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. As the rapids got harder and harder, I felt more and more uncomfortable, until I eventually ended up getting out and starting what amounted to a riverside hike out of the gorge. The river level was higher than I had expected, and higher than the last time I had seen it. Ironically, our friend Jeff who had also done the river at higher water said this medium level was harder than low or high. There was enough push that the rapids fed into each other, but not enough water to convert it from a technical obstructed run into a more flowy feeling run. I thrashed and sweated my way through the gorge while they scouted and ran some things, and portaged others. We finally made it through the thick of the gorge and past the logjam, and I got in my boat to run the final couple of ledges on the way out. I was bummed to have gotten so mentally broken down in there, but felt I had made the right choice by stepping it back and walking.
Unfortunately, the Birk wasn't going to let me go that easily. On the last little ledge, I dropped off with the wrong angle and stuck in the hole. I surfed out of the hole to the right, only to get sucked into a worse boxed in hole in a neighboring channel. I fought it for a while, but it was clear that I wasn't coming out of the hole in my boat. I pulled and went deep, waiting what seemed like an eternity to resurface. When I came up, the top of my helmet was bump-bump-bumping on the underside of a rock. I washed under, and came up in the eddy behind the rock under Jeff's boat, and got another head bump before I surfaced and swam into the eddy. As I crawled out, I could see that Dan - who was running just behind me - was now in the nasty hole. It seems he had been speared by my boat as it resurfaced after I swam, and it knocked him into the bad hole as well. Soon he swam free, but his boat (with float bags) stayed in for about 10 more minutes before it finally washed out. The only thing MIA was my paddle.
We reached the takeout 1/4 mile later and I was totally exhausted from the hiking and the swim, and was dying to get out of the river. It was probably past 7 in the evening, and I had been slogging through the BC brush in wet longjohns all day. Jeff looked over and asked if we were continuing downstream to look for my paddle. It was just the push I needed, so while the others ran shuttle Jeff and I continued almost another mile downstream through log choked waters, feeling that there was no way the paddle could have passed through the clogs of logjams and undercut banks filled with exposed roots. In the end there it was, pushed against the bank in a small eddy with one blade sticking out of the water waving at me - a mile downstream of where I let my trusty Lendal go. We retrieved the paddle and finished paddling out to the road, where we were soon picked up by the rest of the crew. Having gotten their fill of intense river running, those guys joined us for another fun run on Callaghan the next day before they headed back for the US. Thanks to Jeff, JD, and Dan for their patience with our foibles - and sorry about leaving my boat in your way, Dan!
After the Birkenhead incident, Andria and I did a lot of thinking and talking about why we were having so much trouble on the rivers this summer - especially familiar rivers on which we had no trouble in the past. Early in the trip we had thought it was lack of time in our boats, but that explanation simply didn't fly after 4 weeks of paddling on the road. The problem was not that we weren't paddling well so much as that we couldn't focus as well on what we were doing as usual. In the past, our mode has been to finish up all office projects for our publishing and guiding business and head out with nothing hanging over our heads. This year was different. With the immense scale of the River Gypsies Guide that we're working on, it was impossible to finish before we left. We basically sat at our desks until we were about to explode, and then stood up and jumped in the van for a kayaking trip due to a desperate need for vacation. The result was two kayakers who are used to going on paddling "expeditions" wandering around trying to figure out how to take a kayaking vacation. The amount of mental and emotional energy that we had been putting into the creation of the book left little reserves for hard kayaking. This especially manifested itself when the rivers got continuous and required high levels of concentration for longer periods of time. Single drops were fun, while many of the more continuous rivers that we usually enjoy in the Northwest felt harrowing. I had never before realized to what extent our traveling and kayaking is a "job" in that it requires a high level of focus, determination, and concentration. Needless to say, we're looking forward to finishing off this book and getting our focus back to traveling and kayaking. It's a constant balancing act, and I have a new respect for those who can work an intense job and also kayak at a high level.
With those realizations in hand, we were ready to leave BC and head for home - but fate would have it otherwise...