Thursday, June 23, 2011

USA Nationals, Salida CO, Our Trip to the “Heart of the Rockies” - June 2011

USA NATIONALS SALIDA/FIBARK CO (is this my last big race?):
I am just happy to be able to be competing. My shoulder has not held up to the rigors of whitewater training/racing, perhaps due in part to the rocky rivers of the Eastern US. So getting to go to Nationals again was a joy and an honor.

2011 was a banner year for snowfall in the “fourteener” region of the Arkansas river basin. River flows were a romping 3000+ CFS when we got there and grew to 3500ish later in the week.

As a result, the Sprint Course was a romping stomping solid and continuous big Class III that took about a minute.

For me, it felt like a minute long wresting match, but apparently I am my own worst critic as the video and pictures that I reviewed showed that my form was very solid on race day.

All those years of training and coaching I have given over the years have apparently helped ingrain the correct form when it counts.

While I was all geared up to do the Sprint on Thursday afternoon and the Classic at 5PM on Friday, the good Lord had a different plan.

Our day on Thursday started off with a call at 3:35 stating that Harold (Lynn’s Dad) had died. So we begin our day planning our return to ATL and Birmingham AL for the funeral (see the Tribute to Harold Mask below). Ultimately what worked out best was to fly out of DEN to ATL on Friday a.m., so once the arrangements were made we headed off to Salida to help Ed Loeffel with organizing the event. A second but lower priority was to do my best (in my old “No Name” C-1 that I borrowed back from Denny Adams).

I was reminded again why I love Wildwater. The 10+ mph current made you feel like you were flying down as you tried to hammer down an awesome, continuous, big surging Class III and right through the middle of town. But it is also the camaraderie that makes our sport special. Wildwater is a small close knit sport where we still try and help each other with technique, lines, and even sharing boats. When Lisa Adams asked if she could share boats with me 10 minutes before the first race, I was happy to help out as my old “No Name” is now technically her boat.

I was quite happy with my Sprint runs on Thursday and I stacked up quite well against the kayaks and was second to Tom Wier our top C-1. While I was hopeful that at least one of the younger up and comer’s would beat me, they still have their work cut out for them, and I finished second.

When the organizer heard of Harold’s death and that I had to leave after the Sprint race, they allowed me to take my classic run (with Terry Smith doing the timing). In spite of feeling a bit tired from the sprints, and feeling downright arm weary, I decided to go for it and knock out my “classic” distance race along with Colton Popp. WOW, that was one of the hardest races I had ever done. It was brutal, as I started out the race on brisk pace only to run out gas 4 minutes into the rate due to the thin air at 7000 feet. After getting really sloppy, I was forced to slow it down and try and try and let my oxygen debt catch up with me. What would have taken a couple minutes back east took twice as long but I was gradually able to start properly driving the boat and pick the pace back up.

But when it was all said and done, the FIBArk Whitewater Festival is one of the coolest paddling events on the planet. I am just glad I got to be a part of in (although it was abbreviated) and finish both of my Nationals run.

Will this be my last Nationals level whitewater race? Probably. I need to focus on my shoulder, and if I get it fixed I will more than likely become a flatwater and all around fitness guy.

As we typically do, when USA Nationals are in a garden spot on the planet, Lynn and I try to turn it into an outdoor adventure trip.

This year was no exception as the Salida/Buena Vista/Chaffee County CO area is well known as the “Heart of the Rockies.”

It started with the SUV we rented (we got an incredible deal from Alamo).

While the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee does not have as much clearance as the older models, and is not quite as nimble due to the elimination of the lower gear range, it did work well for what we needed it for and it got a solid 25+ mpg. Armed with 4WD, we were able to get to the trailheads we needed without fear.

Being prepared is key to hiking in CO. I typically pack twice as much water as needed, a light weight jacket, and an extra base layer or two (and we like Patagonia’s products for this).

For day hikes I normally wear shorts and the full height Keen Targee II boots and Lynn likes the lower cut Keen Targee’s (but wears long pants).

Dark glasses are essential as you never know when you are going to cross a snowfield.

Since the snow was still present above 11,000 some of the trails that we normally do were off limits. As a result, we hit several of the trailheads we love that were less affected such as Denny’s Creek/Browns Cabin (west of BV), Buffalo Peaks Wilderness area (NE of BV/Elephant Rock), and trails around the Saint Elmo area.

WOW, what a great adventure. The combination of getting to view some incredible mountain scenery and wildlife was just downright inspirational.

Depending on how everything goes, Lynn and I may try to return in mid-September during peak leaf change.

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