Monday, April 11, 2011

Thinking Northward: The Stewart and French Rivers

 The cross roads of the Great Stewart Boondoggle of 11'
Snow still clung about the forest floor shrinking from the fiery eye of the sun. In the northern reachs of the shore of Lake Superior many of the rivers still lay locked in ice. Meanwhile in Duluth, the season was building moment. While we all were content with waters that the Lester River had graced us with, a general hunger hung about the creeking crew, and fueled a lust to move Northward to other waters.

And so it came to pass, that large conglomerate crew ventured in the late morning to the Stewart river. Arriving to the put in we each wagered whether the river would be free of ice, some looking more doubtful than others. I remained optimistic. Knowing the Stewart like the back of my hand, I volunteered to take a the first crew down the river. Sliding into the river, within 200 yard downstream I encountered a large ice dam. Portaging around it the crew again paddled downstream only to run into another ice dam. I went a head of the crew and scouted the rest of the river, finding nearly a half mile of dammed ice. When I return with my report, I laughed at the sight 15 paddlers strewn about the woods and their anguish as we all hiked back.

Desperate to salvage what remained of the day of paddling we took to the French river in a mass exodus. Finding the river in a state of high water I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the drops in contrast to my recollections. However, 15 paddlers in direct succession made for a clustered mess, with multiple moments of choas. We all chuckled about it after finishing out the river... laughing at our own stupidity for not organizing separate groups.

The weekend had come to a close and most of the paddlers went back to their jobs. However, the small crew of us devoid of responsibility or with mid week days amassed. Taking a long morning and afternoon of rest myself, Chris Baer, and Nate Heydt were the only paddlers that could be mustered for late run on the Lester.  We arrived  finding the river swollen as it peaked at it's highest levels for the spring. We put on in excitement at burl that Lester high levels could throw at us. The waters displayed their fiest up turning our kayaks like toy boats on multiple occasions.

 Myself in the burl on "Almost Always"
When we arrived at Almost Always I was significantly appehensive given the levels... I had never run it this high. But I couldn't turn away from it. Chris fell over the lip ahead of me, as I put on.  An extreme focus on the line at hand was all that I knew and felt the whole world around melt away. Right on my line, I saw the lip of the 25 footer come quickly upon me as I place a slight left boof stroke and entered the land of verticality. Dropping into the falling waters and found myself buried in the white mixture of air and water, blinding my sight as my boat amorphously plunged downward half floating and half in flight. I readied for impact and felt my world move abruptly from vertical to horizontal.

From blindness I came to sight and found myself upright and smiling. The amount of nerves tight in my guts came to be released in primal bellow sure to be heard from miles away. I was elated in hitting my line just as my mind's eye had planned. As the sun set, I couldn't stop smiling all night and I was living on a cloud for the evening.

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