A few weeks back, we had the incredible opportunity to run our first ever multi-day creek clinic. This one day class has been incredibly successful in years past but this year, we wanted to boost the experience. Offering this as a two day class instead of a single day of instruction allowed students not only to be introduced to creeking and creeking fundamentals but to then have the chance to apply these skills in an unknown environment on day two. Needless to say, we had a fantastic weekend, and so did our participants.
Below, a reflection on the weekend experience from one of our students, Nell.
Why did I sign up for a 2-day creeking clinic with H20 Dreams? Well the first thing that you should know about me is that I am absolutely obsessed with kayaking. I bought a boat almost one year ago and haven’t spent a free weekend at home since. There is nothing like the excitement of taking on a rapid or the feel of the water gliding under a boat. But the second thing you should know about me is that I’m terrified of kayaking. I still am quite nervous every time I get on the river, even if it’s the Cartecay or the Nantahala. I have a very solid foundation of skills but it is the mental game that prevents me from taking things up a notch, even when I know I’m ready. For example, I have an extremely reliable, bi-directional roll, yet I still avoid almost anything on the river that might flip me upside-down. So I signed up for this creeking clinic to give me the foundation to confidently run harder rivers. I can’t give my mental head-game any excuse to hold me back, right?
This clinic challenged me, but not in the way that I expected. I was most worried about my individual paddling skills (hitting difficult lines, punching holes, boofing), but what was most challenging was the teamwork, decision making, and leadership that is involved in getting a group down a new river with almost zero beta.
… this experience gave me the opportunity to lead when I usually follow, think critically about each new rapid, and find my own style of running a river.
Chris, Sam, and Lydia put us through a well-constructed curriculum on day 1 to prepare us for the challenge we would face on day 2. On this first day we discussed goals, fears, and gear before putting on for section IX of the French Broad. We spent a few hours of warm up working on the fundamentals, rolling in shallow water, boofing, and group management. Chris and Sam allowed us to learn by trial and error in this safe environment. They started by only telling us to get ourselves down the next rapid (Chris: “We’ll see you at the bottom!”). The result was predictable for beginning creekers: boats bunched up into groups, lack of clear communication, minimal eddy catching, and general chaos at the end. Through critique of our performance after each rapid, we slowly began working as an efficient team. We split off into smaller groups, spaced ourselves out, employed river signals, and broke down each rapid with eddies and lateral moves.
Despite the record-breaking summer rainfall we had finally arrived at every kayaker’s worst nightmare: nothing was running. Thus the location for Day 2 was shrouded in mystery until that morning – we were headed to Wilson Creek. It would most definitely be an ELF run (Extremely Low Flow), but we soon discovered that low water doesn’t mean no water! We divided into groups of 4 and started downstream as Sam, Chris, and Lydia faded into the background. They watched us closely but gave us no information about what was over that next horizon line. Thus our group slowly got into the rhythm of looking at the next rapid, formulating a plan, setting safety, running the rapid one at a time, communicating with mostly paddle signals, and moving on to the next drop to do it all over again. We were in and out of our boats all day to scout rapids, hold rope, stand on rocks near likely pin/broach spots, and portage one rapid that looked slightly too manky and was just upstream of a 10 foot drop.
As a beginner, I had never had the chance to truly find my own way down a completely new river. Between other boaters and the internet, I usually know what’s around each bend. And because of my thorough internet scouting, I often find myself knowing the names of the rapids better than my guide on new runs! But this experience gave me the opportunity to lead when I usually follow, think critically about each new rapid, and find my own style of running a river. I left this clinic with a new level of confidence, and I cannot wait to put my new skills to the test.