There is an old Gonzo tale of some mountain hikers preparing for an
assault on some distant hill, wherein a comparison was made between
chickens and pigs and a plate of ham and eggs. The story ends with the
statement that with ham and eggs, the chicken was "involved" and the pig
was "committed". This is an important distinction, and we will return
later in the story to this allegory. That's "allegory", not "Allegash".
The following account of course is only one inexperienced person's
viewpoint and in no way should be taken, understood or misconstrued to
resemble the truth. After all, I'm not even legally ( or morally) a Gonzo.
Long before dawn we left HRM in four vehicles, (one with a trailer) and a
total of 14 persons and 8 assorted watercraft, with two more bodies to
pick up, Richard in Truro, and Kevin in Sussex. Lots of Levys and levity,
a jolly bunch of little smurfs we were in the Warnica yard getting packed,
loaded, roped down, etc. etc., with Master Sergeant & Chief Organizer Mr.
Duffy managing to get us all crammed into a vehicle and off for the first
leg of the journey.....1.5 km. to the Tim's in Fall River.
The plan saw Greg & Andrew together in Greg's sporty Acura toting the Blue
Whale, ( pretty car, ugly boat), Ben in his new Honda CRV hauling the
trailer, with passengers Erin, Darrin, Kathy, and Kevin to pick up in
Sussex. Gordon, Malcolm, Bruce M, Ross and Mark looked much more urban and
yuppie- like with the Stealth on Mark's new leather appointed Outback,
which conveniently had a lovely sunroof allowing the passengers to view
the underside of the canoe. Bernie, Bruce D, and myself took off in my Red
Ricewagon with a sea kayak aboard, and my old pal Rich to load on in
Truro. Oh, we were a wound up, happy bunch of enthusiastic geriatrics.
Sussex for breakfast, we welcomed Kevin to the pack and off to the border,
where we had to register some boats with customs and sit behind a very
technologically challenged woman in a 1974 Chev.Aircraft Carrier for 30
minutes at the drive thru banking machine. She was hopelessly confused by
the ATM, her task made much more difficult by having stopped three feet
too far out and three feet too far ahead to reach the buttons. Suffering
somewhat from CO2 poisoning from sitting in her oily exhaust, we finally
crossed into the US of A and made a beeline down No. 9, cutting off to Old
Town Canoe to see if there were any bargains left, and so Bernie could
feel some hulls, which I gather is some sort of stress reducing mechanism
Humming the tune of " Let's All Gather At The River", we met up at the
bridge at Six Mile Falls, which should be re-named " Sick Smile Falls"
judging by the looks on the faces coming through the next day, and off
loaded our craft for the traditional "Friday Before" downstream run. Some
wanted to try their bravery and boats in the falls, the rest of us wanted
to pee and get moving downstream, which we eventually did. Both, that is.
I have been in a canoe three times in my life. Once was two years ago when
I served as stupid bow paddler for Greg, where as near as I could tell my
only qualification and requirement was a strong back and a weak mind. That
is also the only time I have ever been in white water, if you discount the
coconut bath oil I occasionally add to the tub. Knowing absolutely nothing
I talked Greg into trying Six Mile that year on the Friday, and of course
we dumped, totally, painfully and in full view of a gathering of hooting
Gonzos with cameras. The water, as I recall, was more than a tad chilly,
and I had absolutely no urge to do it again. It looked so easy from the
bridge when I watched Bernie & his partner do it. Who could know ? Anyway
that was two years ago and I'm smarter now. Maybe.
Off downstream we went, me following everyone in my 846 foot long sea
kayak, which needs about three acres to turn around . Carefully watching
the old masters, I timidly approached every rivulet and mini-eddy,
encouraged by Bruce M in the Blue Whale who was hammering through every
haystack he could find. Inexperienced and timid as I was, at least I
didn't plow head on into the first boulder sticking up out of the river
like some of the aforesaid ( but nameless) masters. Bruce finally talked
me into "powering through" the white water, which though scary, actually
worked. Some ran all the way through Thunder Hole, the rest of us bailed
out ( in more ways than one) at the first portage, and reconnoitered
Thunder Hole on foot. Aaaagggghhhhh....SCARY.
The support crew had the vehicles ready and we all went off to clog up our
arteries at the Coach House restaurant, which is handy, if nothing else.
They don't skimp on the grease or the gravy, I'll give them that much, and
if you convert to Canadian dollars, you're actually buying oil at about
the same as the OPEC wholesale price.
Lots of discussion, strategy, planning and old war stories, then off to
bed for a fitful 6 or 7 hours of tossing and turning. At about 4 in the
morning, I decided that the most important thing I had learned the day
before in the 5 mile practice run was that I sure as heck didn't know
enough to do the race in a sea kayak. Bad enough sitting in the front of a
canoe with somebody telling me what to do every stroke, there was no way I
could learn to read a river in two hours. The other problem with a sea
kayak is that due to its' lack of maneuverability, I would have to pick my
line of attack a long way back from any rapids or haystacks. As a bow
paddler two years ago I could be involved, as a solo I had to make a
commitment...and very early for each piece of whitewater. Remember the ham
More grease at the Grange Hall at 7 a.m. Avoided that like Six Mile Falls.
Another lesson I learned two years ago, as there is still part of one of
their breakfast sausages lying undigested in my large intestine. I'm not
sure what part the 96 year old lady dozing ( or dead) with her head on her
chest at the front door plays in this event, but she's there every year,
along with the re-constituted scrambled eggs and the adrenaline induced
frenzy to get to a paper-less polyethylene portable toilet. An event like
this is just SOOOO much more fun as the chicken than as the pig.
Hung around the start long enough to see most of our NS contingent off,
and to watch a fair number of hapless fools dump before they even got to
the start line, a humbling and woefully embarassing act, then zoomed
downstream ( in the truck !!) to Thunder Hole, where I got the best seat
in the house on an overhanging branch which stuck 8 feet out over the
water, 20 ft. downstream from the haystacks, which were increasing in size
as the tide fell.
First ( of the Gonzos) was the Stealth, with Gordon and Malcolm, oops, a
little far left, grazed the haystack, lots of speed and sufficient
power....they're through, looks pretty easy. Then it's Kevin and Darrin,
lots of youth, confidence and power, they blasted it by. Then Ben &
Bernie, Ben looking concerned in the bow, too far left, too far left,
close, but again experience and finesse pays off and the Levys are
scooting downstream to the finish. Rich & Duffy appear, aarrrggghhh, way
too far left, they're caught in a haystack and the Penobscot is down,
Cameron makes it to shore with the help of one of the divers, Bruce is
swept downstream unwilling to let go of the canoe....then I see him make
it to shore downstream. I keep looking...no Blue Whale, it should have
been here before the Stealth, where's my fellow kayaker? Hours go by,
still no Whale, and by now the Camper with Andrew & Greg should have been
here. Wait, what's that across the river ? It's a herd of fully dressed
Gonzos walking along the bank with a Whale and a Camper in tow. Woe oh,
woe, at least we're all safe and accounted for.
For sheer entertainment, mirth, and an all 'round good time, you gotta
spend three hours on the tree branch. The dump rate at Thunder Hole was
between 30-40%, and there were some classics. There were broken canoes
floating by, paddlers being swept by boatless, tons of gear happily
shooting downstream without its' owners, divers and rescuers going crazy
in all directions, cheers and ooohs and aaahhs from the assemblage.
Gladiator's got nothing on the drama at Kenduskeag. One couple got turned
around above the break and came through the torrent backwards unscathed.
Two girls came over the shelf sideways with a big thump and a splash and
sailed off just as if they knew what they were doing. Pros were wiping out
every minute, and rank amateurs with no gear and less sense made it
through totally unmarked. These are the same folks who get caught in
tornadoes and dropped on a sofa fourteen miles away in another county with
only a hangnail.
At last the adventure and the excitement was over, well except for Erin
and Darrin, who had their own awards presentation, but that's a story for
another day and another storyteller. Still, it's nice to know there are
still some romantics out there, and you gotta like what the under 25's add
to this trip. And the support crew.... what can you say about these guys ?
Erin and Kathy doing the Imax recording, shuttling vehicles, looking after
Dad and the boys. Germ Ridden Ross and the ever good natured Mark, more
than willing to do anything for you.... lose your jacket, sneeze on your
Satay chicken, pick up your wrecked rudder. How could the rest of the
serious athletes manage without their love and unquestioning support ?
It's almost enough to make me want to be a Gonzo when I get old enough.
After a refreshing hike up the newly named Mount Duffy the next morning,
Rich, Bernie, Bruce D & myself harmonizing on " One More Mountain To
Climb, One Less River To Paddle", we boogied for the border. On the 8 hour
trip back, Bruce and Bernie diagnosed and dissected every rock, ripple and
reaction of the whole sixteen mile race, and I'm sure if I can only
remember one fiftieth of the lore and hindsight I'll be a contender for an
Olympic paddling medal. But first, I've gotta be a pig.
The GONZO Canoe/Kayak Racing Team and Aquatic Club splinter group made
it's 6th annual migration to the Kenduskaeg Stream white water race in
Maine, USA. I offer the following as an overview. A couple people have
been delagated to write persoanl reports, any others please feel free to
take pen to hand.
Per the usual start time of 5:00am, we were off Friday morning. Mountain
Dancer in his new Honda vee-a-cule, wife Kathy, Erin Levy and Darrin Gray
hauling the trailor resplendid in four greean Old Towns, Sungod's
Penobscot 16, IMAX's Penobscot 17, Dipper's loaned out Camper, and
Darrin's brand new Penobscot 16 baby. They will be picking up Kevin
Wentzell in Sussex at breakfast. In Fireball's Acura was Andrew W., on the
roof was the Blue Whale. Mark Stein, looking fast with the Stealth on his
roof, had VIKING, Goat, Dipper and the Scrounger hidden in the depths of
his NEW Subaru, while Sungod, IMAX, and Popeye(to be picked up in Truro)
travelled with Rocket Ronnie. I now know where his name came from--Truro
20 minutes, Sussex, 45 minutes, the I-9 in less than and hour. Like being
on the Concord.
Timmies at Fall River, Breakfast at Sussex, check into Twin Cities in
Brewer, lunch at the Coaches grease pit, off to the river to check it out.
Some did some runs at 6 Mile Falls and then wer'e off down through the
white water section. couple spills and dumps, water cold, down to the
Thunder Hole. It was quite exciting but a lot was learned. Rich and I
dumped, rolling off a large pillow(rock underwater) sideways. On race day,
now knowing the route, we hit the pillow directly on and went over it with
no problem. Why go around it? After a few runs at Thunder Hole, enough to
know that it was going to be disaster city there the next day for many
craft. Rocket said at least 1 in 4 went down there, sometimes 1 in 3.
It was time to go home, get dry and warm, up the calorie count and into
bed for tommorrow's race.
RACE DAY--To be continued.
The Sun god
"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."
-Will Durant, historian (1885-1981)
I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in a whitewater race held with 450+ other canoes/kayaks in Bangor, Maine (Kenduskeag).
I entered the weekend thinking I was, as Malcolm says, "bullet-proof" and finished the weekend shaken and slightly stirred. I am still trying to sort out the after-effects of being pinned against a rock for a bit, then ejected into really cold water to spend the next few minutes trying to salvage the kayak and my part in the race only to end up desperately trying to save my own skin. The kayak did the cataract on it's own and now looks like I feel. Some obvious injuries like split cockpit, a hole in the aft, a trashed rudder and a large buckle in the prow. Whether myself or the Whale will ever be the same again remains to be seen.
Put another way, the kayak gods gave me a little cuff behind the ears.
The trouble I got myself into wasn't a big deal. There were a number of factors that made the spill memorable. The trouble started with my attitude, was notched up a bit with my gear selection, preparation and obvious lack of skill, then compounded by the fact that I was in race mode and all this was finished off with a series of small decisions (or lack thereof) that turned a small accident into a potential disaster that I won't forget for a while.
First, my attitude. To say that it is fun to bang through waves, wind and haystacks in rivers, lakes and the ocean would be an understatement. Paddling is fun like biking is fun. The difference with biking is that I have been doing it all my adult life as a commuter, messenger, MTB racer and long-distance tourer. It doesn't take long, or many brains to figure out just how dangerous cars, rocks and trees can be. But water! Water is so nice, so friendly. You swim in it, drink it, dive in it. No obvious danger there. But as we all know, water can be deep, be VERY cold and be VERY powerful. I do believe that my respect in this area jumped exponentially this weekend.
Next, my skill. I don't mean the ability to peddle a bike or paddle a kayak. I mean the skill of maneuvering the kayak through it's current environment, in this case Class I and Class II rapids on a fast river with high water. My technical skill as a bike commuter would rate very high. Years of day to day experience in all sorts of weather and traffic have honed my skill. It is always amazing how many ways a car can move in traffic, not following the rules of the road. Anytime a new situation pops up, I analyze in my head, sometimes for weeks. I'm always looking for unique situations that may put me in danger.
White-water skill really has 2 parts. The actual running of the river that particular day and overall concerns on any white-water course. First, overall course management.
There are 2 famous places in the Kenduskeag Race, where spectators flock to see spills and miraculous near spills, 6 Mile Falls and what we refer to a ThunderHole. Lacking any real whitewater experience, I think of these as the trouble spots that I may or may not get right in practice, or in a race. Actually, when the water is as high as it was last week, the scarier spots are just above the obstacles. Falling out of the kayak here means that you may be pushed through these water holes with or without the boat. Using that logic, another spot opens up a potentially dangerous, and that is the run between the I-95 bridge and the old Maxwell Mill, an obstacle that all participants must portage. Put another way, kayaks/canoes and people (in or out of their boats) go over 6 Mile and Thunderhole. Boats and people are not meant to go over the Mill.
Still no big deal. I spilled 200 meters from the takeout and had lots of time to get out.
Secondly, in actually running the course, you need to be aware of slow places and rock shelves to avoid for various reasons. Unlike running, cutting across the river to zip past someone doesn't work in a river because getting offline usually means running into the slow water in the turns or shallow areas. As for the shelves, eddies, rapids and rocks, to say my knowledge is minimal would be an understatement. I am learning, but not at a pace to match my dare-devil attitude. The water underneath me is always doing things I don't understand. I'm being pulled towards rocks or pushed away from haystacks in a manner that I just barely comprehend.
In mountain biking and white-water, you need to pick a line that gives you the best shot at maintaining your speed without compromising your safety. Now, I love to do this mountain-biking. You try to look 20 feet ahead and keep away from the big things, while setting up for corners and rock/root obstacles and ignoring what is actually under your wheel if at all possible. My brain just loves being in this mode. Nothing else fits in your head, just the line and how you're dealing with it, your balance and your energy output. Why I don't do this in white-water I can only put down to the fact that we do so little of it.
So how do I deal with novice line picking. You guessed it. I just plough over the obstacle and hope I make it. Needless to say, it's just a matter of time before you run into something you can't handle.
OK, so I'm in a race, in a area that spilling would not be a good thing. Still no big deal. Why spill. The people ahead of me are picking lines and I get to see the results. Trouble is, I have been chasing a yellow kayak for almost 2 hours and was just behind him at 6 Mile, got ahead in a rapid section just below that and just fell behind in the portage (hard to dump all that water out, seeing as how I didn't have a skirt). We've just passed under the I 95 and I want to pass this guy before the forced takeout. Everyone else is going left, but we had cased the river the day before and the best line was right. Actually, a specific area on river right, but I headed right asap and with some speed.
Did I mention that I didn't have a skirt (requires a specific PFD to wear a skirt and I'm missing both). Still no big deal. I take in water and lose a bit of time at takeouts. Ah, but perhaps the reader can see what's building here. Not a big mistake, but a series of little problems. There are always problems. As a Gonzo, I'm trained (brain-washed?) to ignore many of these in order to "Just Do It" Lot to be said for that attitude, but it can have its drawbacks at times.
OK, I heading river right in a hurry, but so is the water. This is a tight section (duh) and I'm approaching the problem shelf rather quickly. Jeez. I am not going to make river right enough. Dang. First rule of balance sports like kayaking and mountain-biking is to keep straight as much as possible. Bad things happen at angles. No time for the chicken and pig routine. The river is going over this shelf and into a big haystack. My only choice now is straight at it.
It is amazing how deep the hole is before the haystack. My, my. There is no doubt in my head that this is the biggest hole I've encountered in my very short career. The kayak just keeps going down. Man. The water is up past my hips and I'm still going down. The lack of a skirt crosses my brain and I seriously doubt that I'll be popping up on the other side. The kayak stops at its nadir, then starts to pop. I am desperately trying to keep my balance. I just might get out of this yet! Yikes. The kayak torques towards the shelf and just the front pops up with me still swamped. I feel myself get pushed towards the shelf and for the first time, I am scared. I don't want to be trapped against this thing.
The absolute power of the water now enters my head. All this is happening in a split second, but your brain can process a lot of info in that time span. I panic a little, but really, there is nothing I can do at this point. Luckily, the kayak twists again and continues to pop and head downriver. I'm again thinking that getting out in one floating piece is an option. That thought is quickly dashed as the kayak now has mucho water in it and I just get flipped over as I hit the haystack. Another moment of panic as my feet don't clear quickly. Ah, I'm out. Now my thoughts quickly move to keeping with the kayak and looking for the paddle. Ahha, the reader says. You've already mentioned the speed and chilliness of the water. There is a forced takeout in 200 meters and lots of volunteers. Get out of the water, you fool!
Unfortunately, our hapless hero is thinking down different, inexperienced lines. I can see the paddle, but a meter away. But I can't reach it. Too much force in the water, and HEY! It is mind-numbing cold. The body parts aren't responding as they should. Never mind, I need to save paddle and kayak. Luckily, a volunteer in a drysuit jumps in, asks me if I'm OK and agrees to chase the paddle. Now I just have to get me out of the water, yes? No, I spend time trying to right the kayak ( Duh???).
Man, this water is cold. My arms are not moving and I ….FINALLY… notice just where I am. About 100 meters from the cataract. People are yelling at me "Leave the kayak" (you dummy) and throwing tow lines that fall 5 meters short as I'm still in the middle of the river after all this time. I know, the reader is thinking... Darwin Award candidate.
OK. Time to abandon the kayak (still a tough decision…not my kayak). But hey! It's between me and shore. Precious seconds wasted getting out of its way. I can see the shore now, but also the cataract. Just enough time to swim over to that last piece of shore jutting out. Did I mention that the water was moving pretty fast when I dunked. Well, you guessed it. Even faster now and I've been in the water probably 30 seconds.
I cannot describe the feeling of windmilling my wooden arms and legs towards that last outpost of land that would keep me from a whitewater surf job on that cataract. I was (and remain) scared down to my willies. I'm sure people and boats, together and apart have gone over those falls, but I doubt I would have not gotten injured and perhaps quite seriously.
I have vivid memories of being pinned against the rock shelf for a split second and of the last 5 seconds trying to get out of the water. Hoohy. I've been that scared on a bike a few times and I figure you only have so many of those in a lifetime before your number comes up
Needless to say, the proper response to a spill in whitewater prior to a forced takeout is to get number one OUT of the water.
Ah. The kayak gods are not finished with me yet. I standing on shore sans kayak and paddle and I'm safe. Right? Well, all except for the fact that I can't breathe. My body is shaking so hard, I can't draw a single breath. I really can't breathe and panic sets in yet again. A volunteer is talking to me and I calm down thinking someone will help me if I pass out. I catch a bit of air and deal with the questions being asked of me.
As soon as I can breathe, I look around for the guy with my paddle. An official wants to know if I'm dropping out. Heck no! Not if I can find kayak and get back in it. I scramble over to the paddle guy, thank him profusely and head over the bridge and down into the spillway area. People are asking me if I'm the guy with the blue kayak, so my hopes go way up. I'll finish this sucker yet. Of course, the reason they are asking is because they can see it trapped in a little cove eddy across the river.
I don't give up yet. There are a few playboat guys standing around and I try to convince one of them to get the kayak out of hock, but they plead lack of experience to go in that section of pretty fast water. I finally get my nylon shell on me and am standing there amongst all the tourists, sopping wet and shaking like a leaf.
Single white male, with lone paddle, looking for a companion kayak.
I give up, turn to an official and DNF myself. Very sad. I really wanted to run ThunderHole, and beat that yellow kayak and I had a decent time going with all that winter weight training moving my arms.
I trot back to the race finish about a mile or so, getting lots of comments from the tourists about me or the battering my kayak is taking (Hey! We have pictures) I finally stop shivering, as it is a nice, warm day. Gonzo Support gets me to a dry set of poly and the feeling is indescribable. Whow. I'm alive, warm, got a nice buzz on from 21/2 hours of paddling hard, the sun is shining and it's Kenduskeag. You can't beat that
Gordon, Mark, Ross and I get up river and track down the Whale, which has since popped out to another rock shelf, taken another beating, been rescued by another drysuited volunteer and is now in the hands of Greg and Andrew after a similar dunk in the Camper.
I rescue the home-made rudder as a momento (it is really trashed) and there is an opportunity for me to technically finish the race. Ahh. The fun and games disappear for a second and I'm reminded just how freaking scared and cold I was. There is no fight left in this dog today. Better to stay warm and dry, reflect and come back another day.
Not finishing Kenduskeag 2001. Good luck or bad luck? Who knows, it may have saved my life.
The Kenduskeag Weekend (or how two guys shuffle 4 cars):
Well, for the first time as a wanna-be kayaker I traveled with the
fearless Gonzo waterfowl (or is that foul) to Bangor for this year's
exciting white-water race. Scrounger, who is now known as Typhoid Mary and
I were in charge of supporting this motley group.
We had the tough job of
shuffling cars/kayaks/canoes/stinky socks/greyhound running tights/lousy
Malcolm Goat car games etc. for the weekend - whereas the other guys only
had to battle high (I mean HIGH) fast running cold (did I mention frigid)
white water in floating devices smaller than my car. My hat's off to these
brave guys - 'cause I've never seen so many people fall out of boats in my
Now, to clarify, it was not the Gonzos who were experimenting with
the shrinkage factor, in the water, but the other non-Gonzo's (there were
478 boats) who sent their canoes down the river, mostly upside-down, then
their paddles, and then realized they were being washed away as well. I
have also never seen so many officials, in survival suits, rescue so many
people at one time!
As strictly an observer this weekend, I had a blast (as always) with my
fellow Gonzos whose camaraderie improves with age. It's something like old
cheese. (Or was that Viking's socks?)
I think I will try a kayak at the Warnica Marina this year, but on a calm
day, on the lake, close to shore, with the hot water running in the
shower, and perhaps a rope tied to the stern of the thing anchored to the
shore, with search & rescue near-by. What me nervous? Ha! It was no big
deal this weekend - shuffling cars.