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Old 12-13-2010   #1
Paddling Since: 96
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 1,372
The Roll

I wrote this several years ago, 4?, before I was living out here. I don't believe I ever posted it here cuz it didn't seem gnar enough for the Buzzards. It takes place on the section of the Ark with the House Rock rapid at a medium high flow. Anyway, an off season read...


We were on a new river, in a new state, in borrowed boats. She was upside down in a highly aerated almost toilet bowl type of a spot at the bottom of the crux drop on a run at the edge of her comfort and experience. She missed her first roll and I held my breath waiting to see what would happen next.

I've been paddling with my kids for 10 years now. My son and I caught the fever immediately and paddled passionately (100+ days a year) from the first year. My daughter was 9 years old that first year and not interested in whitewater. Winters would come and she'd come to the pool with us and snap off hand rolls on both sides but still she wanted nothing to do with being scared on the river. No worries, I was happy that she had even that limited exposure.

She paddled the Nantahala one year. That winter the whole family (four of us) went to Chile and Chris Spe's beautiful operation on the Futaleufu. Her brother and I paddled the Futa for 10 days while she and her Mom took lessons from some of the World's best on the class 2/3 Espolon. Still, the combat roll was not part of her repertoire. Her talent and basic skills were obvious and beautiful. In fact, her ability to paddle class 3 without flipping contributed to her having no experience with combat rolls.

In more recent years she has paddled a couple times a season with us and styled the easy 3's that we got her on. Always we were just psyched to be able to share a run with her. Often she'd end up leading and if you got close enough you could hear that she was humming or singing some song to herself. One of my best days ever on the river was when the family followed her brother to the Worlds in Graz, Austria and she and I slipped away from the drama of the comp and paddled the source of Vienna's drinking water, a class 2/3 section of the Salza. The main thing I remember from that run was leading her into a beautiful rapid with multiple house size rocks and realizing after we entered on river left that we were going to have to make something of a hairy ferry (for a class 3 run) to river right in the middle of the rapid. We eddied out at the bottom with me more psyched than her that the two of us had styled the drop. I still have the snapshot displayed of the two of us at the takeout with paddles crossed as we stand with the river and the Alps in the background.

Two summers ago we ran the Kennebec Gorge at 2400 cfs. At that level the run becomes something of a pushy and at times technical class 3. Even at that level the Alleyway is big water and with her on her brother's stern and me sweeping immediately behind she flipped on a big diagonal. I watched her go for her roll but the water was so dynamic I could see her whole upside down body clear of the water as she went for her hipsnap. She swam. Her brother had her on his backdeck in seconds and I pushed her boat to shore. Old friends who were with us said it was the fastest rescue they had ever seen. She was nonplussed and styled the rest of the run but it did nothing in the way of exposing her to the confidence of a successful combat roll.

This past year she went off to her first year of college. The girl from the deep woods of Maine chose Pratt in Brooklyn, NY as her first stop in her new life as a young adult. Manhattan by subway several times a week was her new challenging technical run and she styled this too. The several times that her Mom and I visited her in NYC it was she who led us, and I was similarly thrilled when we would eddy out in some fantastic little restaurant that she wanted to share with us. None of this seemed to faze her and I feel quite sure that her river exposure helped her navigate this new part of her life.

So, her beloved brother now spends his summers in Buena Vista, Co. with his new lady. And we all went out to visit them in June. That is how Chloe and I found ourselves on the Arkansas river paddling yet another amazingly beautiful class 3 run. It was just the two of us and we had been having a great day. We got to the hardest drop, House Rock, and got out to scout. There was quite a pushy and dynamic wave train leading into the drop and most of the river went to the left of the rock. A diagonal sat at the lip of the drop feeding away from the rock but into a big wall on river left. Below the diagonal and against the House Rock sat a big aerated swirling toilet bowl kind of a spot that looked real intimidating on a class 3 run. We looked at it, discussed the line that we wanted to hit, and walked back to our boats without any drama. As I pulled my skirt on I felt a surge of predrop adrenaline and it wasn't all just out of concern for her. We decided that I would lead and she would follow after I hit the horizon line. Our plan was to use the diagonal and angle left a little to take the toilet out of play. It was funky enough so that I drove my bow into the wall on the left at the bottom of the drop and finished the runout backwards. I looked up to watch her hit the horizon a little right of where she wanted to be and she flipped on the swirling edge of the toilet.

I sat there. I sat there and watched in a way that is probably familiar to most parents. So much invested in so many ways in your child. And yet ultimately they are on their own. I knew she was not happy. I knew her first instinct was to swim. I saw her set up for her roll, I was psyched. She missed it and I held my breath with her. A moment passed and instead of her surfacing separate from her boat I saw her setting up for another attempt. This time she snapped it off and immediately eddied out in a little micro eddy in the wall on the left. I was almost certainly as psyched as her. She gathered herself for a minute and then paddled down to the next eddy where I sat waiting to high five, make that high ten her. We both knew something big had just happened. She spoke of her determination and the tears that she felt wanting to come. I felt that most satisfying feeling of watching one of your children take a difficult step and move into a new arena of confidence and competence.

Little did either of us know just how big a step that was.

We paddled as a family again, this time on a slightly harder section of the Arkansas and she paddled with a new level of aggressiveness born of her new confidence. She didn't flip but she explored the river more and her impeccable technique and style seemed even more beautiful to watch. Her Mom and I returned to our beloved Maine woods but she stayed for another 10 days to hang with her brother and maybe paddle a little. We got home and started getting excited calls from her telling us of her training in a couple of the Ark's holes with her brother and her future sister. She spoke of spinning in the holes and sessions with a couple dozen rolls. She was concerned about the lack of a close play hole back here in Maine. Her brother would tell me with amazement of her progress and her beautifully instinctive technique and style. I was envious of his time with her but I was not the least bit surprised. After all, I had watched him through his progression and hers was no less beautiful, she just had a different pace.

I've written often about boating and the personal sense of accomplishment and the amazing community one can access through it. I've shared some of the incredible ride of watching my son become a World Champion. But, there is something really different, and beautiful, and inspiring in watching a young girl become a young woman and learn and grow and excel at her own pace in her own elegant way.

Thanks Chloe, you're the best.

Phil U. is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-13-2010   #2
White Water, Nebraska
Paddling Since: 1998
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 37
Wow - amazing story. Touches me strong, as I have a young daughter and aspirations to one day have her on the river with me. I am familiar with that spot as I've had to land a combat roll of my own there. Frankly scares the crap out of me thinking about taking my kids down the first Class 3 run - different kind of fear than stressing about your own safety as I know you understand. I imagine the rewards are incredible, but like any parent I would puke my guts out and never forgive myself if something bad happened on the river and I introduced it to her. (or my son for that matter) On the other hand, my kids are 8 and 6, so I have a few years to contemplate the opportunity cost of being too afraid to show them introduce them to something so beautiful and powerful. Like you did, I imagine I'll arrange the meeting and let them choose the if and when.

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Old 12-14-2010   #3
lmyers's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 4,207
Well written Phil. Thanks for sharing.
GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences.
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Old 12-14-2010   #4
brenda's Avatar
bc, CA
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 316
Beautiful...but you should have put a "tissue warning" at the beginning. I am tearing all over my keyboard.
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