Monday, August 27, 2012

Of Comrades and The Boof Kanal

I took to the familiar road from Billings, following highway 212 into the Southwest and driving in thoughtful silence. Ahead the Beartooth Mountains filled the horizon amongst the cloudless blue sky. In the high country, only faint remnants of snow were to be found; inhabiting only the shadowed gullies. The summer heat hung oppressively about the land, and dissolved any remaining snow pack. Thus the creeks lost their roaring song and gradually quieted.

As the water began to wane, we had taken to the dam released West Rosebud and basked in its supplemented flows. Every weekend crews from hours away congregated for what remained of the high quality runs in South-Central Montana. The West Rosebud became another friend in whose waters I routinely found an inextinguishable smile. On the river's shore I shared beers and laughter with new faces; united by the shared lust for whitewater.

Myself amongst the West Rosebud with Nate Winning, Aaron Mulkey, and Dave Benkley in close succession

But even then, the changing season could not be suppressed, and the heat persisted in dwindling even West Rosebud.  And so myself and Nate Winning scrambled to find some parcel of water to satisfy our insatiable hunger for the river. While flying about the country-side by way of air plane, Nate had spotted some whitewater amongst one of the numerous irrigation canals that wandered about the rolling countryside. Upon investigation a worthy endeavor was born.

I drove onward through the rolling hills of parched and golden grass rolling in the wind. I was aware of an aching stiffness in my knee, which sought to remind me of my swim two weeks earlier. But today would be clean and gleeful joy, as I sped for the "Boof Kanal". The newly christened irrigation ditch was so named in light of its (approximate) 13 artificially created pour-overs of 2-7 feet in height. It was a 7 minute run of silly fun, and with a 10 minute walk for lapping.

As pavement transitioned to the rumble of gravel amongst rolling rubber, ahead on the hillside crept the canal. Stepping from a truck parked along the banks came Nate with a welcoming expression. I was grateful for good company and waters to paddle.

I had discovered that the community of paddlers inhabiting this section of the Beartooths was rather scarce if not fractured. To my good fortune Nate Winning had same intentions as myself: to paddle every given moment so long as any water remained. And thus we had a steadfast paddling partnership.

In my experience, men have a way of becoming entangled in masculine posturing much to our own fault. Often this "machismo" distracts and degrades the experience of whitewater to an unsightly superficiality. I had the good fortune of learning to paddle in the Midwest where humility is an upheld virtue, and I was concerned if I could replicate this and find like minded paddlers in my new home.

The bond between paddlers is unlike that of any sport I have experienced. The dynamics of a group can make or break a run. Your safety is placed on the shoulders of those paddlers you go to the river with. But over the course of a season, with countless laps with the same paddling friends there develops a mutual understanding. Communication on the river is reduced to mere facial expression or glance as the details can be read from them. There is nothing to prove and the male competitive tendencies fade... your paddling comrades know you and your abilities. If you get beat down, there is no judgement for it. When one is successful there is no brooding jealousy, only a celebration.

And so from countless river laps, spread across 3 states.... I found the same the same shared understanding, philosophy, and trust in Montana as I had known in my Midwestern homeland.

Nate and I scurried to the banks of the Boof Kanal and found refuge from the mid-day sun's oppressive heat amongst the fertile waters. In the midst of a backdrop of the flowing golden grasslands, we could be seen taking flight over artificial water falls; laughing amongst our personal paradise of waters amongst a dry and thirsty landscape.......