Saturday, January 26, 2013
Edit: Some great pics from Mike's point of view, here. Including some nice shots of me almost flipping in The Pre-Falls.
Not that there's anything wrong with ice and snow and temperatures that have hovered between -12F and 20F for weeks… But when I was invited to rendezvous with a small band of friends for a few days of fun in warmer southern climes, I jumped at the chance.
Two of us drove away from the frozen valley we call home and headed toward Alpacka, the company that makes the highly functional little rafts we've come to love. They run a compact little operation set in the countryside of Southwestern Colorado. Work there is done by an interesting and astute group of people and attended to by a small pack of happy dogs. Too many top secret things going on for them to allow photos. But if you have any interest in playing in the water, keep an eye on them. Their boats are already amazing, but there are some really interesting things in the pipeline.
We drove onward. South, through frozen towns, past snowy mountains, toward empty horizons. Then dropped off the cold plateau into warmer elevations. Two co-conspirators joined us at our campfire in the juniper trees and cactus while stars swirled over tents and other campfabrications.
The chilly (but not snowy…) morning warmed quickly as we packed camp, rigged boats and ran a surprisingly long shuttle. In-The-Water-By-10 turned into In-The-Water-Near-Noon. Close enough, we hoped, but we made sure we had headlamps along, in case we ran out of daylight before reaching the take out.
The milky green water was cold. The air was warm. The banks were lined with bare trees and golden reeds. Birds flitted and tweeted. Canyon cliffs were reflected in slick water as we paddled downriver. A beautiful day to be out of the snowy homeland and tucked into capable little boats in the sunshine. Even Scott, who is based further south yet and was not escaping any snow, couldn't help but grin, enjoying his second packraft trip ever.
Punctuating the idyllic stretches of calm water were even more idyllic stretches of whitewater. A small river. A low flow. Lots of fun riffles and chutes. Lots of rocks to maneuver around. And a few rapids that required scouting and forethought and some careful paddling. And which -- for me, anyway --payed off in a sense of thrill.
My biggest thrill was a rapid with a three-foot high waterfall. I'd never paddled off a three-foot drop before. But Mike hit the line and dropped it so smoothly and easily that I began to believe that I could. Butt in boat, paddle in hand and heart in throat, I slipped into the river above the rapid. Dodged the proper rocks and hit the proper tongues on the approach. Pulled two hard paddle strokes for "speed" and aimed for the horizon line, not at all sure how it would go.
Mike on the Falls
The Over The Falls part went fine. The Hitting The Pool At The Bottom part didn't go quite as fine. I hit the water at an angle, which threw the nose of my boat off to the right which tipped me to the left. I narrowly managed to brace and keep from flipping. But something else -- maybe the weight of the falls hitting the back corner of my raft -- immediately tipped me hard the other way. Again, I managed to catch myself before flipping. And then I was stable again, grinning, heading toward the eddy.
Right behind me, Alan had missed his line on the approach. Instead of diving off the little falls, he came flushing down a rocky slot. Same three-foot drop. But the wilder water threw him over sideways. He stabbed with his paddle to stay upright, but couldn't and flipped and swam. Then clambered through the foam and rocks while I gathered his raft. I'd enjoyed my own thrill, but Alan had replaced most of his blood with adrenaline and couldn't help but whoop and hoot when he reached the shore.
Despite the chance of even more adrenaline, we all skipped the next rapid, a five-foot drop into rocks and foam. Another day, said Mike. Me, I'm not so sure.
Three more fun rapids and lots of scenic flatwater as the sunlight went golden and slipped over the high horizon. We were still smiling brightly when we reached the take out in the evening gloom. A short hike took us to the end of the rough road where one car had been left. We bounced back to the other cars, then drove off into the night toward the next camp and the next event. Still barely believing that we'd had a day of gloveless whitewater paddling in January.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Warning: Do not attempt to adjust your screen. The blue in this photo may have been enhanced to make it appear colder and more miserable outside.
I seem to have become obsessed with the temperature outside. I check the internet for weather sites and weather maps and temperature history graphs and temperature predictions. Ooo! Look how cold it is, I think. Or, Look how cold it could get!
Or I check the temperatures in southern Arizona, trying to remember what it's like to ride in a t-shirt and shorts. Consoling myself with thoughts that Spring is just around the corner - like in two months - ugh!
However, recent scientific studies (that I've done myself) suggest that there is a complex formula at work amid all this obsession. Something like this:
([T] - T)/TP x WF+YT = R ~ T + MB = OK
[T] is temperature inside (duh) minus T for temperature outside divided by (TP) Temperature in Phoenix times (WF) Warm Food plus (YT) YouTube = Resistance (with a capital R).
However: T (outside) plus Mountain Biking (MB) is (Ta Da!) Okay (OK).
To explain again (because that may not have cleared it up):
From inside it may seem really cold outside, but if I can manage to get up and go outside to mountain bike (while properly dressed) it's almost always fine.
Please check my math. And good luck with your own studies.
Oh, and thanks to Mike for assisting with experiments and for helping to overcome R.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Our valley, like much of the region, has been stuck in a cold snap. It would be easy to blame this on something like, oh, winter. But that kind of thinking doesn't warm us up on sub-zero mornings or on days that may or may not reach the 20sF.
One fine day we decided to try to break out of the cold. First step, get up out of the valley where cold winter air settles. Then, find a south-facing cliff and slope which would be warmed by the sun.
Bingo. Previous sunny days had already cleared the slope of most snow. And the the air heating and rising upward made it warmer toward the top. We could take off our gloves and de-layer to light sweaters. Dogs could romp without frosty feet. The warm face of the cliff even tempted us into a nap in the sunshine.
Over the top of the ridge it turned back into winter in the shadows and breeze. But on the warm face, we were able to enjoy a little "summer" vacation until the day began to fade and we headed home, down into the cold valley to our warm home.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
When the cold, dark beast of winter lurks outside the door, spewing frosted steam into the icy air, pawing the squealing snow with frigid hooves, waiting to impale flesh on frozen horns, it is easy to sit back in that comfy chair, take another sip of hot tea and stare out the window. But though it's not always easy, it's almost always rewarding to bundle up and step outside, grab winter by those frozen horns and wrestle it around a little bit.
Our valley got enough snow that we skied the local park and used Trina's house and sunny patio as our ski chalet. Local trails are still bikeable -- in a snowy, slippery kind of way. And the local flat-topped mountain has provided for more skiing and some phat-tired snow biking.
Our little dogs --even in their stylish jackets-- lose heat pretty quickly when it's super cold. But when conditions are right, they romp like maniacs in the snow, having more fun than humanly possible, and adding to the human fun, too.
We present this photographic evidence of winter fun. And hope that you're getting out there, too!