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Class 2 Clinic

Saturday-Sunday Jun 28-29, 2008
Kayak: CJ, Jim, Paul, Kristy, Brian, Debbie, Alex, Shane, John
Open Canoe: Alan
Organizer: CJ Carline
Difficulty: novice WW
Level: medium
Gauge (cfs): 800
Author: CJ Carline

I was not quite prepared for the first question out of the participants of the clinic, "What is your motivation for doing this?" I gave a quick novelty answer, but it was an interesting question that I pondered over for the rest of the weekend.

Following on the heels of a very successful Novice Clinic, I already knew this was going to be a great weekend. It started with everyone rolling into camp Friday evening. We stayed at Woodford State Park in Vermont as the parks in Massachusetts near the river were pretty solidly booked. This turned out to be a great thing as the sites are twice as large, the sites aren't right on top of each other, the grounds are cleaner, the staff is much friendlier, and there aren't so many ridiculous rules. For $6.50/night at 3 people per site, you just can't beat it.

Saturday morning we headed to the usual paddler put-in on Fife Brook. Two of Zoar Outdoor's buses completely blocked access to the put-in road much to the dismay of a lot of private boaters, but they moved about 10 minutes later. Good thing, there were a lot of angry canoeists impatiently waiting behind us in line! Thanks to Dawn, we were able to drive all the vehicles to the take-out. The first rapid, Hangover Helper, really worked our fledgling crew over. Most of them swam at least once; some of them appeared to be there for swimming lessons as much as paddling! To their credit they worked very hard and really pushed themselves. If I had one word to describe this crew is would be "determined". That first rapid's current and eddies are very tricky for new paddlers. Yet, they kept going back for more.

We proceeded downstream through Carbis Bend and Upper Railroad without incident and quite a bit of surfing. Then along comes Lower Railroad which served up more entertainment. Some found out what a seam is the hard way (they were warned at the top). Others discovered what exactly a hole is and how quickly it can flip you when you jump in there.

Then came Pinball and everyone really enjoyed the maze of eddies, waves, and small holes. There were a few upsets, but already you could begin seeing improvement in their paddling. Attitudes were positive through the whole thing. The evening before we had discussed the pros and cons of learning to roll too soon, and I really emphasized that swimming is very much a part of paddling and learning. The next day Kristy and Paul would help reinforce that idea.

We arrived at the Gap and I explained to all that the Class 2 Clinic ended above the Gap. We walked up to take a look at it and noticed the water was dropping fast. There was probably only 400-500 cfs in there. A couple of the novices went with the other instructors. I stayed behind with the others and set safety with a rope. I was really looking forward to a little practice but everyone made it through upright.

Exhausted from a long day we headed back to camp. A few people went into town for food while the rest stayed at camp to cook. Once we gathered back together, the excitement of the day spilled forth over the campfire.

Sunday morning the other instructors, Jim, Kristy, and Paul, headed to the Dryway for a quick run. I took the class down to Dragon's Tooth to watch. This provided a great lesson to learn! The river was mostly empty when we got there, and I was able to warn them the river was going to rise several feet. Sure enough, once the bubble arrived it took less than a minute or two for the river to pulse to full strength. Besides learning about rising rivers, they got to watch rocks form eddies, the eddies become holes, and some of the holes become waves.

Our Dryway heroes arrived and scouted from the opposite shore. After a lot of whooping and hollering back and forth off they went. This was Kristy's first Dryway attempt and I have to say she styled it. She did swim at the bottom of Dragon's Tooth and washed into the top of Labyrinth. Her would be savior, Paul, also cooled off with a short swim in Labyrinth. She was reunited with her boat and cleaned the rest of Labyrinth.

Off to Fife Brook we went again. This time, Hangover Helper had met its match! There was an immediate improvement noticeable in the way the class was paddling. Not that there weren't a couple swims, but they proved they belonged there. We didn't stay long and blasted through the rest of the rapids with hopes of making it to Pinball with lots of time to play. Unfortunately, Zoar Outdoor was running a river rescue class blocking a good 2/3 of the river in the top portion of Pinball. It was a good chance to revisit river signals as one of the Zoar instructors was signaling people to go right.

I wasn't feeling well Sunday, but by the time we got to the rapid above the Gap I started feeling better. While I would say Shane is a playboating superstar to be, Alex is going to be a creeking maniac. Alex was boofing rocks in that last rapid left and right, one time completely clearing the water. Intentional? Maybe not but he made it look that way!

So here comes the Gap and everyone decides to ante up and go for it. While bouncing down through the Gap was the highlight of their day, I think they probably overlooked the most important thing they did over the weekend. They caught the eddy right above the Gap. No one missed it! Then they all peeled out without incident. Those two things alone is a testament to how far they have come.

Jim looked graceful as ever. Kristy popped off a couple rolls on her way down. Alex, Shane, and John all repeated their runs from the day before. Paul set a great line for Debbie and Brian to follow. Debbie went off line slightly, making it all the way to the bottom hole and went deep before swimming. Having half as much experience as her classmates and considering this her first time through the Gap, it was an amazing accomplishment. Brian, who just a few months ago thought paddlers must be nuts, made it through with some fancy bracing. Me? Well, I was running sweep and was a little too entertained by the happenings downstream. I completely missed my line and hit the first hole at an odd angle. Nailed my very first Class 3 combat roll though!

"What is your motivation for doing this?" I had all the answer I needed back at the take-out. The grinning ear to ear, the laughs, the commotion, and the stares from other people wondering what the fuss was all about makes it so worth while. There is definitely something lost as we gain experience and move on to bigger and greater things. Helping new paddlers get into the sport has a very addictive quality to it and renews the experience. If you haven't tried it I highly recommend it. I hope down the line a few of these graduates from our clinics will come out to volunteer to pay it forward.

I would really enjoy receiving any feedback anyone has. I recently achieved ACA Instructor Certification and one doesn't do strive for it if they can't handle criticism. So let me have it! While we all had a great time we should strive to make it better next time. I already know we need more canoes out there! Allan was alone paddling OC-1. It would have been much more enjoyable for him if he had company.

I would really like to thank Jim, Paul, and Kristy for coming out to help with the trip. Our success can largely be credited to you. It is great for new paddlers to see different styles and get different opinions. I would like to thank Dawn for all her efforts with shuttling logistics. Last but not least, I would like to thank the participants for making it such an enjoyable weekend. Your enthusiasm made it that much better for us instructors.

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