Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mid-Summer Creeking: St. Louis Rendezvous

Creeking this Spring was my last hold on freedom. But as the season ended the dam broke open and responsibility had its way with me. As a result, I found myself in a window-less room for 3 weeks, captive to the stress and strain of studying for Boards for medical school. Those days were excruciatingly meaningless and it was a definite low point for me as sparred with pointless hoop jumping that is a physicians journey. After my test had passed, I eagerly began my medical rotations consisting of 60 hr weeks and sporadic night and weekend call. Despite this, I fought back and found time to make it to the St. Louis River for a late July release.

"Airtime" and the Left Slot just above Jay Cooke's swinging bridge

I hopped back on the river with the company of Joel and Ryan for a mid summer's creeking experience. It was therapeutic to get back on the water and catch some adrenaline. Feeling rusty I laughed at my apprehension after easily passing through the Octopus. I felt great as I dropped through the gnashings of the St. Louis through Jay Cooke while spectators on looked from the swinging bridge. We moved ahead towards Finn Falls and I prepared for my first run of the class IV/V section toward Oldenburg Pt. Scouting Finn Falls we all wondered whether the auto-boof was a possibility... Joel decided to be the probe! We watched with relief as he successfully launched airborne over top the threatening hydraulic that is Finn Falls. We each successively launched Finn and landed with huge grins. Below Finn, I played follow-the-leader as I blindly ran the thundering section of constricted drops of big water littered with shards of rock unique to the St Louis. After plowing through the final hole and rolling up from my tangle with the wall, I let my grip on my paddle ease as we paddled into an eddy, exited our boats, and carried up to the shuttle.

Finn Falls

Myself and Ryan went back upriver for a second lap on the river. On approaching the roar of the Octopus, I decided to take on my first run of the Class V beak of the Octopus. Having watched both Joel and Ryan earlier make the drop look easy, I figured it was time I give it a go. Plunging down it's first gnashing, I found myself too far to the left and was pushed into the seam of water. Half way down I was flipped. With little effort I rolled up while descending. However, when my internal gyroscope alerted me to to being upright, I was acutely aware that I was still submarined under water while in my boat. In the disorienting craziness, I felt myself being pulled into an underwater bow stall by the water's churnings. I let my paddle blades catch current hoping to be pulled out. I unexpected popped up, upright in the corner eddy with crazy water on two sides and rock walls on the other two sides. Rather than electing to paddle back into the craziness, I dismounted from my boat and carried over the rocks putting in the pool below. It was by no means a stylish run of the "Beak", but I came through without swimming or getting trashed. We paddled onwards through Jay Cooke and launched over Finn Falls. Having launched with excessive speed, I found that I had landed near the opposing wall in the pool below Finn. The current flipped me against the wall. I struggled with my roll and made 4 attempts before finally rolling upright with the knowledge of class IV/V whitewater ahead (not a place fore swimming). Clearing the water from my eye's briefly, I forged ahead feeling gripped and rushed. With shaken concentration, I found myself broached on a rock and cycled backwards above a significant class IV/V drop. After having an "Oh, shit" moment in my head, I quickly accepted unchangeable fate. I ended up running the drop successfully backward pounding through the last hole. Getting off the river, I wasn't happy with my run and it's rough goings, but I was satisfied with my ability to recover from nasty circumstances without a swim or significant trashing.

Two days later I joined Joel, Cliff, and Tony for one last run of the Lower St. Louis before the dam's release was stifled. I was feeling good. Every stroke felt controlled, every line and correction was according to my will and not the river's. We flew through Airtime and under the Swinging bridge at Jay Cooke. We each launched gleefully over Finn Falls each there own style. With the memory of my last run below Finn, I paddled onward with confident and powerful strokes. Missing my broaching rock, I powered into the drop with so much speed, I reportedly looked to have skipped right over the hole. We got off the river giddy with adrenaline and excitement. I drove home with a some soulful contentment, feeling that I some ownership of my life and freedom.