I was lucky to have an opportunity to paddle at the US National Whitewater Center in October. Meetings had me in Charlotte for a few days so I took a later flight home and spent the day at the center. The plan was to have a lesson at 11am and another at 3pm. Each was to last 90 minutes.
After grabbing a rental car I arrived at the center early enough to do some exploring. The trouble was that it was a bit cool and raining and I hadn't brought a rain jacket or poncho -- business travel you know.
There was a 5k and a 12k happening at the facility that morning so I watched them a bit, checked out their store, and explored just a bit. The center is a playground with climbing walls, bike trails, ropes courses, zip lines, and of course paddling.
As I explored I found a bunch of homemade boats. Later I learned that they were having a race down the competition channel. Due to the rain I left my phone in the car, but I wished I would have taken photos of the boats. Standing out were a boat that looked like a log flume ride, one that looked like the car from the Flintstones, one made out of blue coolers (didn't last long), and one made of over 16,000 corks. The guy had been gathering them for about a year. Restaurants from 12 states had donated.
I was getting chilly by the time it came time for my lesson. After meeting my instructor Dwight we geared up (splash top) and hit the upper pond. My goal for the day was to work on my roll because I had lost it over the summer. I was also wanting to work on ferrying and running a bit of water.
After working on hipsnaps and set ups my upper half was wet and I was starting to shiver. The plan was to get out and get the blood flowing, but I busted it on a slick rock getting out of the kayak and was now wet head to toe.
What finally started to warm me up was working our way down the wilderness channel. We practiced grabbing eddys, ferrying, peeling out, and eddy hopping to go upstream. A bit of a drop lay before us in the next section. The plan was to go through it and eddy out at the bottom end. I got sideways in the wave, leaned upstream, and went over. No luck on the roll (bad setup) and I was swimming. I hit the eddy, climbed on shore and watched Dwight as he guided the empty boat through the bigger water and the tail end of the run.
I re-entered the boat in the nearly calm water at the end and we paddled across the lower pond and onto the conveyor taking us to the upper pond. That was the end of the first lesson. I was tired, wet, and hungry.
They are used to wet people there so having lunch soaking wet wasn't an issue. Just wish their restaurant had been a bit warmer. After lunch I went to the car to grab some fleece. The hand dryers in the restrooms were most helpful.
Between lessons I grabbed some junk in the store, walked a lot, watched the homemade boats get torn up, and finally grabbed a poncho from a vendor. I was surprised by the number of folks out to watch the homemade boats in the rain. The rain had gotten more steady during the early afternoon.
For the 3pm lesson I grabbed a Farmer John to improve the warmth. It made all the difference.
After lots of roll practice again (still having set up issues) we hit the wilderness channel again. This time I made it through the wave that threw me and eddied out. The water downstream from this point was bigger than I wanted so I portaged around. That's what will really warm you up.
I thought I was going to portage to the bottom end, but Dwight had me enter earlier where I had to slide down the concrete bank to enter the water. The seal slide was fun, but it took me a few tries to get my weight shifted enough forward to break over and slide. Effort = warmth on a cool, rainy day.
Once at the bottom we hit the conveyor for another trip through. The third time through the wilderness channel I was gaining confidence in getting on the edge.
I was successful on the drop again (gotta keep the boat straight), but missed the eddy this time. Dwight yelled to me that there was no turning back and into the bigger water I went.
He was behind me yelling instructions as I went through the biggest water I've ever done in a kayak. And I made it through.
My heart was pounding at the end...not chilly anymore. At that point I had no more energy. After a lecture from Dwight on the importance of never missing an eddy I was done for the day.
It was a great day. I learned a lot and gained some confidence. Just having set up issues on the roll. I hope to return again and perhaps take a swiftwater rescue class.