Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Only Weekend: East and Main Beaver

The morning came too soon after a long night and sleep was coveted. I was in the company of folks with the same philosophy. By noon we had all gathered and an hour later kayak laden vehicles left Duluth behind, bound northward. Our destination was much a repeat of the day previous. The East Beaver river was a old stand-by and assured enjoyment.The levels and paddlers were much the same. We quickly sped for the three falls, and when the horizon line was reached we each went in succession without hesitation. I recall putting conscious attention to the first drop and it's technical nature. I went over the lip in a forward position and dug my paddle half way down. I heard the boof and was more than satisfied. I took no time to wait and went over the second falls. Another boof... my confidence was growing.

Japs on the Three Falls of the East Fork of the Beaver (Photo credit: Chad Thurow)

Four of us gathered for a second lap and hiked up the steep banks for another run. On the first falls I felt myself self plug mightily and was thrown onto my back deck. Underwater I regrouped and resurfaced upright. The second falls was much the same, and felt myself being sucked into the base of the falls. I ender myself to the right and found myself clear of its grasp. Whatever confidence I had built was diminished.

A congregation of us paddler below the Three Falls

I had agreed to go with Justin down the remainder of the Beaver River as it ran towards Lake Superior. The rest of the group had brought their boats ashore, meanwhile we paddled onward. In the distance lay a jagged cliff blocking the horizon. As it neared, the river opened widely before us as the east and west forks of the Beaver River came to a confluence. The river transitioned into class III and a ominous roar was heard over the river's oncoming horizon line. We got out of boats and marveled at the heinous drop. Giant and hungry holes confirmed it was a rapid I would likely never run, and if it was run it would be once in a lifetime experience. After portaging, our boats again met the water. Navigating through a short section of moderate whitewater, we again came to a horizon line. I sat in quiet reverence to the river's menacing beauty. I had never seen a drop of such magnitude in all of the Midwest. The river entire river poured narrowly through a cliff lined constriction over boulders the size of cars, sieved out under them, created powerful hydraulics, and cascaded in a final slide. I was unnerved at the possibility of running any portion of the drop. However Justin was ready to put in and run the final slide of the drop.

This portion of the drop bears the need of description. The entire river threads through the aforementioned boulders until it it transitions to a 35 yard wide voluminous slide that culminates in a 15 foot drop that violently collides with a van sized pyramid shaped boulder.

Staring down the aforementioned drop's horizon line

I stood on my perch overlooking the drop with a throw bag and camera in hand, meanwhile Justin put in and readied himself. Ferrying through a narrow slot he sped down the slide. Watching him nail his boof, I smiled as he shot airborne into the melee of exploding water. Avoiding the giant boulder he emerged smiling.

Justin on the Main Beaver River

I looked at the drop and knew it was within my range of abilities. Unlike many paddlers, time spent reviewing a drop increasing my chances of running it exponentially. Every paddler battles in their head with two forces. The internal protectionist focuses on every realistic point of danger and feeds doubt. In opposition, ambition sees optimistically points the direction of success. However for any paddle there comes a turning point having balanced your angels and demons and decisively turn to the chosen path. I eyed the possibilities and fought with the intimidation of the outward appearance of the drop. Justin clamored to shore to gave me needed encouragement walking me through the moves. I turned from the river and knew my path.

I set my boat into a micro eddy and nervously saddled up in my boat. Rounding the backside of a sheltering boulder I ferried up stream, caught the current, and and peeled through a narrow slot letting impulse take hold. Rocketing down the slide, I positioned myself to launch away from the disastrous boulder. Amidst a drop one achieves a zen-like meditative state. The world drops off and uninterrupted focus on the poetry of motion ensues. For a moment existence becomes liberatingly simple... survive! The world went white with aerated water as I felt my kayak take flight. I felt a soft impact as if landing on a cloud and the sky slowly came back into view. I emerged with a heart pumping adrenaline to fuel the welling enthusiasm. I was unable to contain the emotion and erupt in a primal and victorious vocalism.

Myself emerging from the chaos

The Beaver hadn't concluded it's raging yet, as we navigated the Class IV boulder field and over the last remaining drops. We exited our boats before the Beaver River turned angry as it guards the passage into Lake Superior with drops of a unwieldy magnitude.

Myself amongst the boulder gardens on the Main Beaver

I walked from the river content and thankful. It must be said that a paddling companion can make the difference in any day on the river. It not only in light of safety that we seldom paddle alone. The mental battle of paddling is not to be a solitary endeavor. Those that you paddle with are vital in one's growth as a paddler. A fellow paddler's encouragement and belief can make ever bit of difference when struggling to believe in oneself in the face of animosity. Justin had tipped the balance for me and allowed me to run a drop I otherwise would have turned from. I was grateful.

Myself on the Main Beaver

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