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While I haven't been catarafting very long in the grand scheme of things, I do feel the need to constantly challenge myself. I feel the urge, perhaps it is a natural human instinct, to run the rapids that are in front of me, on the river I am running that day. While a portage of a rapid or hazard is necessary for survival (and I've done several to date due to river wide logs, or other hazards, etc.) in my mind somehow I get this impression of defeat (don't ask me why - it doesn't make sense!). I know what would happen if I hit those river wide logs, plus I am a husband, and father of a 5 year old, so common sense prevails and I portage and I don't dwell on it too much however. I am sure I am not the only person that feels this way - that I am not alone. And it is not something that I came up with on my own but a feeling that pops up in my head when I am using my common sense and portaging or skirting around a hazard. Why is this?

So you come to a difficult rapid beyond your ability or skills. Common sense says portage/avoid or skirt this rapid but there is a part of you that wants to see if you can get through....you can make it... you don't like the idea of not running this section for some reasoN (with the exception of perhaps a big falls or something).

- do you get this feeling? do you see where I am coming from?

- have you ever ran it just to see?

- have you been humbled? did you realize limit?

- did you get your arse handed to you and/or get hurt?

- why do we feel the need to constantly push even though it doesn't make sense? is this a species survival thing or? (even though we don't need to run this rapid to survive - is it hardwired into our genes to want to push the envelope to get somewhere?).
 

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I typically save all major consideration of my skill and ability levels, or lack thereof, for when I am clammoring atop my overturned raft or wondering from the bank if I will ever see it again:)
 

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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why written by Laurence Gonzales addresses many of your questions from a psych point of view and why human instincts drive us in certain directions to conquer. He does a pretty good job of explaining about those that make these decisions and the consequences of them as well.

I've gotten my ass handed to me just to see if I could do it. Maytagged 3 times wondering if I'd live asking myself "so is this how it ends?" The desire to take a swift water rescue course and knowing my mortality was the result of "just seeing if I could do it". Listen, you get one chance to make a fatal mistake. I'll try not to be so cavalier next time. I've got 2 young ones and a wife I can't leave yet. Spending 4,000 miles on the road each month puts me at a really high risk too. I need to put that into perspective as I'm flirting with other high risk activities like rock and ice climbing. If I can minimize my risks I may be able to skirt disaster where others don't. Do I need to quit these activities? I don't think I do.

Go out and have fun but know what can happen and prepare for the worst. Know your limits is a good way to be conscious about it. Just me opinion FWIW.
 

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when I first started boating.... I wanted to push everything.... wanted to run as much class 5 as I could... after a few horrendous swims.. and seeing a few body recoveries... I have mellowed tremendously. they say second year boaters are the most dangerous people on the river... something to consider...


I have learned from some old timers... that paddling can be a life long pursuit of happiness... no need to rush. id rather style class 4 than survive class 5. that's just my 2c. im stoked you are stoked on boating! have fun and be safe ! cheers!
 

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I had only run 2-3 class II+ rivers before I decided to take a guide school to increase my knowledge. There were MANY eye openers for me in guide school that helped me learn to respect the river.

Swimming my first class III rapid in 43 degree water in April in a 3 mm wetsuit.

Seeing the forces involved in unpinning anything.

Seeing how difficult coordination is on a river when trying to effect a rescue of any kind.

Seeing a 4 foot log recirculating in a class IV rapid for 3 days straight.

With a healthy respect for the river, I learned quickly where my comfort zone was, and I push it only when I feel like it. Otherwise, I walk around. Some of my crew still feel weird about portaging, but I want this feeling to diminish.

For me - the "Can I run this" internal voice is much quieter than the "what are the consequences of swimming this?" voice in almost all situations. This limits what I can, and will run, and I'm just fine with that. I'm a relatively new boater too (4 years or so), so maybe this will subside as experience increases - but the point is that until my skill-set supports the "can I run this" voice with ability, I will always be the "second year boater" that may be creating a situation.
 

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I had only run 2-3 class II+ rivers before I decided to take a guide school to increase my knowledge. There were MANY eye openers for me in guide school that helped me learn to respect the river.

Swimming my first class III rapid in 43 degree water in April in a 3 mm wetsuit.

Seeing the forces involved in unpinning anything.

Seeing how difficult coordination is on a river when trying to effect a rescue of any kind.

Seeing a 4 foot log recirculating in a class IV rapid for 3 days straight.

With a healthy respect for the river, I learned quickly where my comfort zone was, and I push it only when I feel like it. Otherwise, I walk around. Some of my crew still feel weird about portaging, but I want this feeling to diminish.

For me - the "Can I run this" internal voice is much quieter than the "what are the consequences of swimming this?" voice in almost all situations. This limits what I can, and will run, and I'm just fine with that. I'm a relatively new boater too (4 years or so), so maybe this will subside as experience increases - but the point is that until my skill-set supports the "can I run this" voice with ability, I will always be the "second year boater" that may be creating a situation.
Well stated, I worry more about what happens if I dont make it much more than if I can make it. I also stay off streches with big stuff I know I shouldnt run, I know myself well enough to know that saying I will portage and actually doing it are two different things.
 

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I think one thing that comes with experience is pushing different limits.

You have a lot more limits than just "whats the hardest class run I can survive."

How small a boat can you overnight out of? How many nights can you spend on a day run? Can you do a bike shuttle self contained solo lap, from home to river and back?

As I found my limits in terms of difficult drops, I simply looked in these other directions.

I enjoy working low consequence highly technical lines where I can go all-out, and my only penalty is a blown line or a hit rock.

But I've also never felt like portaging is defeat. I'll portage something I've run just because I want to get set with a camera this particular time.

Not much room for pride on the water... it serves only your ego.
 

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I realize my limits when everything starts to go in slow motion, and time nearly stops..in my head it gets quiet....my senses are heightened..I know and feel everything in my surroundings...those are those "oh sh!t" moments......Grab the perimeter line..she's going over...this is gunna hurt.

I guess I finally realize my limits when I reach them. Limits may be skill, equipment or river/environment conditions. But, once you know your limits, you make better choices next time around. However, I love/hate being paid to push my limits in a commercial raft with paying customers.
 

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I guess I finally realize my limits when I reach them. Limits may be skill, equipment or river/environment conditions. But, once you know your limits, you make better choices next time around. However, I love/hate being paid to push my limits in a commercial raft with paying customers.
I've never guided, so please don't take this as a generally anti-commercial comment.

But, IMO a guide should NEVER be near or past his limits with customers, unless conditions changed unexpectedly.

Presumably only ignorance is preventing those custies from realizing how in over their heads they might be. That's ok when a guide is in the comfort zone and can provide a safe experience. It ain't ok when it leads to unpracticed swimmers on water that makes even the guide nervous.

This happens in Boulder Drop on the Sky and I can't help but feel sorry for the folks whohave paid good money to get a fun ride and drew the guide who is in over their head, leading to the scariest swimming experience a person has ever had.

pushing limits is for good days with the right conditions and a crew you trust. don't risk other people finding your limits!
 

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I've never guided, so please don't take this as a generally anti-commercial comment.

But, IMO a guide should NEVER be near or past his limits with customers, unless conditions changed unexpectedly.

Presumably only ignorance is preventing those custies from realizing how in over their heads they might be. That's ok when a guide is in the comfort zone and can provide a safe experience. It ain't ok when it leads to unpracticed swimmers on water that makes even the guide nervous.

This happens in Boulder Drop on the Sky and I can't help but feel sorry for the folks whohave paid good money to get a fun ride and drew the guide who is in over their head, leading to the scariest swimming experience a person has ever had.

pushing limits is for good days with the right conditions and a crew you trust. don't risk other people finding your limits!
Every guide I know is willing to "crash for cash" and "flip for tips" if the situation and people in the raft are right for it. They work for tips and nothing makes a group of dudes happier or gets a custies wallet open faster than thinking a guide knowingly went past where he was supposed to make sure they had as much fun and excitement as possible.
 

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This is a great topic and Slickhorn I completely agree with your thoughts. As I've gotten older I've enjoyed pushing my limits by going to more remote places and figuring out more complicated logistics like the Chetco River.

I've watched many people push their limits too hard, eventually become humbled, and then stop running rivers.

Not every guide is willing to "crash for cash" or "flip for tips" - that's more of an adrenaline, day trip mentality. Most outfitters that do multi-day wilderness style trips are very safety conscious and have guides who are running rivers well below their ability.

There are many professional guides and outfitters who make sure their guides aren't in over their heads. These professional guides call them "guests" or "clients" and not "custies" or "peeps".
 

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I know I've reached my limits when I am no longer having fun. Doesn't happen very often since I don't run class 5, but sometimes continuous 4 can stress me (especially when wood is present) to the point that I am not enjoying it... I just want to survive.

Agree with Slickhorn as well, been getting more into logistically challenging and interesting trips rather than pushing harder on whitewater.
 

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Good thread. I can't help but reflect on how this question might come up for a rafter vs a kayaker. Learning to kayak is hard. Almost all are humbled by the river in their early progression. There are still plenty of young bucks that acquire some basic level of skill and then are ready to go out and tick off runs that are as much about the size of their balls as their appreciation of where they are but they too are typically humbled by their over reaching. The poster Go Big is an example of that mind set and as an older boater I just hope he learns respect for the rio before he gets hurt, or worse.

I don't mean to put rafting down in any way but it is, IMHO, an easier way to start getting on the rio. And perhaps a way to not have to come to terms with "your limits" as quickly.

Really, for me, your limits are in your face from the beginning as a kayaker and you earn your way. There is no faking it. My limits (comfort level) change day to day, run to run, and rapid to rapid. One of the most basic skills on the rio, again for me, is learning to get past that ego thing. I have paddled with some of the very best boaters in the world and watched them portage with zero sense of shame or defeat. I have often done runs where I know that there are drops that I am going to probably walk but I will get to see and experience a special place that few others will ever get to see.

It takes a special mindset, courage if you will, to tackle boating. But one of the best lessons the rio can teach us is humility. IMO, the best boaters challenge themselves but know a deep love and respect for the rio and know that they are always dancing with something much bigger and more powerful than themselves.
 

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Having started as a kayaker and then moved to a cat boater I would agree with Phil. The learning curve and consequences are greater in a kayak. Something about sitting up higher and not having the river right in your face.

We have all seen both kayakers and rafters progress too fast and take a serious swim and never come back. A slower progression worked for me, I spent years on the Numbers before moving up to Pine Creek. Also having started as a kayaker, being upside down was not as big of a deal.

It is harder for rafters to step up to a harder run and just portage the hardest spot. For rafters it is typically all or none. My big breakthrough was going light enough that the portage option still existed.

Many rafters get into it for the camping and multiday trips and are not as interested in the harder runs. But as a kayaker it is more about the challenge and skill improvement. And kayaking with others, it is easier to watch and pick up tips and encouragement in the eddies.

A few years ago I went up to the North Fork Payette determined to run the whole thing, but came to the realization that Jacob's Ladder and the Golf Course would remain beyond my limits. Coming home to family was more important!

And there is no question age changes how I look at these things. Over the last 20 years, I'm sure I have road scouted Rigor Mortis at least 50 times, but last summer when three of us cat boaters went up to run it, it was easy for me to decide to just watch them run it. But it was a Great show!
 

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Hi,

As an old guy -- 68 -- with some known (but generally well controlled) health issues, I have begun to realize a different kind of limit. This was driven home to me by a serious flareup of a long-dormant rheumatoid arthritis condition, while on the Grand Canyon two seasons ago.

The first is that if I am boating with others and some infirmity of mine pops up unexpectedly, I could quickly become a burden, or even a risk, to them. Now that's one thing if we're talking about a day trip on Westwater. But it's another if you're halfway through a Grand Canyon trip. That wasn't the case back then, but it could have been.

The second reason is a bit more subtle. On my GC trips, I've rowed big boats and carried lots of gear that was important for the group. And sometimes I'm a part of the core of experienced folks who manage things on and off the water. If I fall out in any serious way, their reliance on me as a key participant is in jeopardy. And that's something that could adversely impact the rest of the trip -- ruining an experience in which they have invested huge amounts of time, money, and emotion. I'd hate to be the cause of that.

All of which explains why I've begun to calibrate more carefully the kinds of trips I go on, and my role in them. Shorter trips, with other experienced folks are still on my radar. And I still hope to do a solo Grand Canyon trip -- might sound crazy, however if something happens then, it will only impact me.

But the bottom line -- and sad fact -- is that at my age you begin to realize that the skills you've enjoyed using for years are perishable.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
 

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Limits and Flow

This is a challenge for many. I know for myself, I have at times struggled to keep my passion and actual skill set in check. For example, I can watch a film of rad paddlers shrop dropping Upper Cherry Creek and think, "I can totally make all those moves." When in reality I am probably not ready to run the most challenging gorges and the 12 mile hike in would put a signifiant strain on my body.

I like what folks have said about fun factor, when I am on a new and challenging run I am thinking stay calm, stay focused and let yourself have fun. Often times in is not until I have repeated the run multiple times that I really begin to understand it and flow better through it.

For newer paddlers this can be a challenge. Many studies have suggested spending 10,000 hours on a skill set before reaching proficiency. If you spent 10,000 hours building skill on Browns Canyon and Numbers then perhaps when you stepped up to Gore it would be much more palatable. Same with the Gore to North Fork, or OBJ to the Little White progression.

Thus, I have a higher level of respect for paddlers that make an effort at putting the time into building a solid foundational skill set. Instead of filling their log book with a bunch of class IV runs that they survived their way down.
 

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One thing I haven't seen brought up is who you boat with. This has a major impact on what I am willing to do. I evaluate the skill set of the people I am boating with, maybe I don't know them all that well, maybe I do. If I know that I most likely have the higher skill set of the group as far as abilities and rescue experience, then it is not the day for me to push myself. I then take responsibility for the group's safety and want to be in a position to help, not be helped.
If I have people in my group that I know are equal to or more advanced than me, I am more willing to push myself to my limits. This requires a pretty high level of trust. I have had a few day trips in the last year where I felt more comfortable to push my limits because I had people I could rely on if problems arose.
 
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