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Beaverfest

Thursday-Monday Sep 1-5, 2005
Participants:
Kayak: Rick Cooley, Simon Wiles, Cheryl Robinson, Jake Whitcomb, Chis Skalka, Bobby Pfister, Dave, Max, John Bungard, Steve Graybill, Ed Clark
C1: Joe Stumpfel, Alden Bird
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Author: Alden Bird

At least to get all this paddling, briefly, down on paper. Let's see, the first day I did Fish Creek in NY. Actually, the river was very high and the folks I met at the take out bridge opted to run a side creek instead. Somewhat disappointing.

Next day Jake and Rick and I hiked 3 miles up the trail and ran John's Brook in Keene Valley. 5 miles of Big Branch style boulder gardens. Jake fired up the usually-portaged drop and impressed me deeply by acing it.

After that, we drove over and took a fast, sweet run down the Middlebury Gorge and then some runs off Otter Creek Falls.

Next morning we woke and Rick and I took a quick run down the Middlebury again and I experienced one of the most rewarding moments in my short boating career.

For years I have been making due with a right stroke while going off the waterfall (Fallopian) in the heart of the Middlebury. It never works. Since I am a right-handed canoeist, it is very difficult for to me make the hard move to the right off the waterfall. Consequently I often end up in the dangerous river-left "room" that is hard to escape.

But on this day, I broke through. I finally gathered the courage to try a cross-bow boof off the 15-foot Fallopian. I let Rick go first, so he would be ready to pick up the pieces if necessary. I caught the eddy just above the lip (not frickin easy - I almost fell out backwards!) and looked over my shoulder. Since we were in the depths of the unportageable section of the gorge, nobody could have watched me visibly psyching myself up. Years ago I climbed in to scout the waterfall and it took almost 30 minutes of dicey rock-climbing moves to get to the edge of the cliff above. So as I held onto the cliff while bobbing in the eddy on this day, it was just me up in there and I was a little on edge to say the least.

My mind was not exactly made up when I peeled out. At times like this, I think of a former kayaking friend who used to say, "I'll make a game-time decision." Yet when I got to the edge, it felt right. I went for it.

The water was low. I was worried about landing upside down - so little balance does the crossbow offer in turbulent water. Still, I knew that Rick was down there and that made me feel safe.

I came around the corner. No speed. I twisted my body into a pretzel - cross bow. I grabbed the lip with my paddle as I started to fall and swung as much leverage into the blade as I could, my whole frame propped over the edge with no brace, 15 feet off the deck for a split second. I flung out from the falls seemingly the same as always and landed and braced for the inevitable explosion of white tonage on my stern and the inevitable combat roll that would be demanded of me.

It never came. I landed clear of the falls - miraculous! - safe in the coveted river right eddy - right next to Rick. I shrugged. I couldn't believe it had worked. It didn't feel that different. It reminded me of when someone gives you gapingly common-sensical advice, like, "Maybe if you just talk to her," and then you wave your hand, "No, that would never work!" But then, miraculously - it does.

We had to do another run! Rick didn't want to. But then Scott and another guy showed up and we just HAD to join them.

We did not catch a single eddy in the whole first mile through the upper gorge until we were above the waterfall. I was last in line. I watched everyone disappear down the hole-in-the-wall slot that leads to the long, flip-you rapid that pours through the notch-in-the-cliff that is Fallopian Falls. At the lip I took one cross bow stroke to correct my angle -- and then another on a "delayed boof" as I tilted downward. Again, I landed flat -- this time indisputably far (even for my own instincts) away from the white, falling water.

After that, the rest of the run was glorious. There is nothing that compares to a familiar, magnificent river in the company of (low-key) old friends who are just as blissfully lost on their own adventures as they are keeping an eye on you from 10 feet away while bombing the rapids and sliding off boof rocks like skiers off jumps.

After that we met up with everyone else and headed over to NY and ran many more rivers: the Boquet, Ausable, Oswegatchie, the Moshier, Eagle and Taylorville sections of the Beaver, and the Raquette.

The trip ended with a ferry ride across Lake Champlain at Essex at sunset on Monday. Nice way to relax and unwind after a great deal of whitewater.

See you on the river.

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