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The “Keys” to a Perfect Day of Paddling

Once again, hello to all of you Virtusites, the best fans a team could ask for (We love you both). As some of you may know, Bob and I had plans of laying waste to all who dared stand against us at the Alpine Shop’s Meramec River Marathon canoe race this Sunday. Well, plans changed. The race was canceled due to high water. Why a canoe race can be canceled due to high water is anyone’s guess, but I digress…

Undaunted by Mama Nature’s attempt to ruin our Sunday, we made plans to do some “local” paddling. Bob, already in St. Louis for the Meramec Marathon, came back to Jefferson City. Since I already had the canoe loaded up onto my Cadillac Escalade (okay, it’s actually a minivan), we made arrangements to hit Cedar Creek.

Bob had previously scouted Cedar Creek in a pack raft (read how that went right here), so he already had a plan in place – sort of.  He knew where to put in and where we would take out. All I had to do was show up with the canoe, paddles and PFD’s (not to be confused with PDF’s).  He told me, and I quote, “All you’ll really need is a bottle of water and maybe an energy bar.”

So, we headed out on some nice gravel roads.  We dropped Bob’s truck off at the take-out, and as he climbed in my van I asked him if he had his keys.  He said he had them right in the cup holder of the van.  Perfect.  We had everything we needed and we were ready to go.  All we could hope for now was for the water to be high enough.

We got to the put-in at the end of Englewood Road, and there was no doubt about the water… There was plenty, and it was fast.  We met a chain-smoking biker couple sitting on the foot bridge over Cedar Creek.  When they realized we were planning on paddling the creek, they both whipped out their cell phones to record us.  Well, I normally hate to disappoint anyone, but we did not put on a show for them.  There were no mishaps… yet.

Putting in at Cedar Creek

Doesn't it look like we're at some Amazonian ruins... Sort of?

Only 100 yards or so down stream, we hit some faster moving water with a few riffles. It had been awhile since I’d paddled in a canoe, and I’ve only used a kayak paddle in a canoe one other time (in fact, I think I was holding the paddle incorrectly). So, I was a little apprehensive at first. Bob was kind of jittery as we hit the faster water too, but there were no major problems.

As soon as we made it through the riffle, we saw a cave up ahead. It’s a Missouri state law (section 1.130) that you have to stop and explore a cave when the opportunity presents itself – look it up.  So, we  pulled over for some “spelunking.” The cave was terrific – nice and cool, and it was actually fairly deep. We didn’t have any lights (since I “Only needed a bottle of water and an energy bar”), but I think we made it almost all of the way to the back of the cave.  Next time I’ll bring a light to explore more thoroughly.

Cave at Cedar Creek

Looking into the cave

Cedar Creek Cave - Rayden

Looking out of the cave... Bob or Rayden?

After killing 20 minutes or so at the cave, we were ready to once again embark on our journey.  We hit a few more fast sections of rapids with no problems, and we were getting much more comfortable in the canoe as a team.  The next couple of miles was peaceful and relaxing (other than the stupid horseflies) as we were treated to some beautiful scenery. If you look closely below, you’ll see a wake of vultures (yes, a group of vultures is called a wake… kind of like a pride of lions,  a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, a troop of baboons, a school of fish, a pod of dolphins, or a clutch of Virtusites… okay, I made that last one up) trying to cool off with their wings spread on top of a gorgeous, cliff-side house:

Wake of Vultures

Must be a nice view... Minus the vulture poop.

Here you can see what used to be a bridge.  I’m not sure what road used to run across here, but it clearly no longer exists:

Old Bridge at Cedar Creek

Our arms weren't long enough for these monkey bars

We came around the bend, and the glare was blinding with the sun directly in front of us.  Bob’s huge melon and hat blocked a good portion of the glare from my eyes, so I could pretty much see where to take us.  I knew that Bob was ready to have some fun, so I slowly guided us directly toward some of the rougher water.  I kept waiting for him to yell out a change of direction, but he simply couldn’t see where we were going.

We were merely a few feet away from a slew of holes and hydraulics before Bob yelled out, “Hole!!  Hole!! Big fucking hole!”  The bow of the canoe raised up and over the first wave and then came crashing down into the next one with a loud Thwack! Bob got douched with water as a wave crested over the front of the canoe. “Another one!!  Another one!! Big Fucking Hole!!”  The same thing happened, and Bob was once again baptized as the water nearly filled the canoe.  We hit a few more smaller holes and  took on a bit  more water before paddling out of the last stretch of the rapids.

We had taken on a lot of water, but it was a blast!  We were both laughing about it, but then we realized that we had another rough patch of water ahead.  So we got ready to make our way through the next run of rapids.  Now, paddling a canoe full of water is kind of like steering a kiddie car at the carvial – You can steer all you want, but the ride is gonna take you where it wants you to go.  When you add the weight of our fat asses to the additional water in the canoe, it was almost impossible to control the boat as we were sitting so low in the water.  We did as good as we could, but we took on some more water as we made our way through the rapids.  We soon wound up getting tipping a little as all of the water shifted to one side.  We both leaned the other way, and we saved it… almost.  Just as I thought we were about to pull out of it, another wave hit us and our canoe completely submerged.

So, we didn’t actually tip the canoe.  We just sunk it. Literally.  For the next 10 to 20 yards, we actually stayed in the submerged canoe as we made our way down the creek.  It must have looked hilarious to see the two of us “paddling” down the river with only our upper torsos showing.  We finally gave it up and hopped out of the boat.  Our Gatorade bottles were floating away from us, so Bob went after them as I took the canoe to the bank.  I definitely got the easier job since Bob had to hike back upstream for awhile after retrieving the two bottles.

Bob Hiking Upstream at Cedar Creek

Harder than it looks

Submerged Canoe

It's hard to paddle a canoe full of water

It was at this point that I killed my Gatorade and began to wonder if we were going to be finished before dark.  Bob and I joked that we should have brought a headlamp, you know… Just in case.  We unswamped the canoe, and we were soon on our way again.  After the previous mile of rougher water, we were much more relaxed in the canoe which was a good thing… especially since this is what was ahead of us:

haystack of water on Cedar Creek

The photo is disappointing. It was way scarier in the canoe.

I’m not sure if that is called a hole, a hydraulic, a standing wave or a haystack, but I’m positive that you can call it pure fun.  Photos never do justice to the stuff we see out there, and this thing was a lot scarier than it looks in the picture.  We actually heard it before we saw it.  We rounded the corner as it came into view, and at first we were going to go to the side of it.  Then Bob, with his newfound confidence said, “What the hell?  There’s only one of them, so let’s do it.”  Who could argue with that logic?

So, we headed straight for it.  It was awesome!  As we hit the haystack (yeah, that’s what I’m going to call it – a haystack)… Anyway, as we hit it the haystack, the bow of the canoe rose, and it looked like Bob was a good two feet above me.  Then, as we crested the wave, I was looking down on Bob from above.  I thought we were going to sink the boat as a huge wave hit Bob in the chest and filled the boat.  We managed to get over it and through the rest of the rapids without trouble (other than quite a bit of water in the canoe).  It was fantastic!  We learned our lesson from the last time, though, and we decided to pull over and empty the boat again before moving on.

We hiked back up the creek to get the photo above, hoping to capture how cool this thing was.  Then we realized that a photo wasn’t going to cut it, so we took a video of the creek to show the haystack.  Here it is:

As you can see, we didn’t think the video of the creek was good enough, so I thought I’d swim it to give you a better idea of the swiftness and power of the water.  After seeing that I didn’t die and hearing that I didn’t hit any rocks or anything at all, Bob decided to give it a go, too.  It was a lot of fun.

At this point it was getting kind of late.  I tried to call my wife (my phone stayed nice and dry in my aloksak bag), but I had no service.  Since we had not yet reached the bridge at highway Y, we were beginning to realize that maybe we really should have brought a light.  That would have taken forethought and planning, though – two things in which Bob and I are lacking.

We hopped back in the canoe and took off again with smiles on our faces. Not too far down the creek, we ran into an obstacle that even we, Team Virtus, decided not to paddle.  A tree was laying across the entire width of the creek, and the water was really moving.

Strainer at Cedar Creek

This is what you would call a strainer

We were tempted to try it, but we thought better of it.  We pulled over, and Bob carefully scouted it out.  We had made a good decision.  The two of us carefully walked the canoe up to the tree.  I climbed over and through the tree to the other side before Bob passed the canoe through to me.  Then we got cocky.  I climbed into the canoe as Bob held onto it.  We were now facing backwards as Bob tried to climb in.  He made it, but we shot straight back into another branch which turned us sideways.  The power of the water did the rest, and we tipped.

We unswamped again and headed back out.  It wasn’t too much longer before we reached the bridge at Hwy Y, so we knew we were going to make it before dark.  A couple more miles of slightly slower water lead us to our take-out at Burnett School Rd, and we still had an hour of daylight left.

Burnett School Rd Bridge at Cedar Creek

The Take-Out Bridge

It was a terrific paddle, and we had a lot of fun.  I still had no cell phone service, but we could drive back to civilization where I could then call my wife to let her know I was still alive. That is… if Bob actually had his keys.  Um… Yeah… His keys were still in my van which was only 15 miles away or so. Now do you get why the word “Keys” is in quotation marks in the title of this blog post?  See what I did there?

Bob looking for keys

Bob frantically, and futilely, looking for keys

After paddling a little over 11 miles in 90 degree heat and ridiculous humidity with only one Gatorade, you know, because that’s “all I’d need”, we now had to embark on a trek.

Perfect.  Just Perfect.

As we started walking, my phone quit working.  Seriously.  I’m not kidding.  It just stopped working and wouldn’t do anything.  I thought we were going to have to walk the whole way back to the van.  It was not looking good.  I took my phone apart several times with no luck.  After the 5th or 6th time, it miraculously started working again.  I still had no signal though, so we kept walking towards Hwy Y as the sun was starting to set.

Bob and Luke Hiking for Keys

Shouldn't I be the one that's mad?

After 45 minutes of walking, my phone alerted me of three voice mails… One from my brother (sorry I didn’t call you back, Casey) and the other two from my wife.  The first one from my beautiful, understanding wife was just to see if I was going to be home for dinner.  Uh… Nope.  The second one was to see if I was still alive. Yup… for now.  I called her to fill her in on what was going on.  She called us idiots (although I’m not sure why I got lumped into that category – well, maybe it’s because I’ve done stuff like this MANY times before).  Bob then called his girlfriend to sweet-talk her into coming to get us. It didn’t take any sweet-talking, though. In fact, it was almost as if Cara expected this call. We hiked all the way to Hwy Y as it got dark while getting feasted on by horseflies, and thankfully, we only had to wait a few minutes for Cara.

Looking back, I think Bob left his keys in my van on purpose.  It turned into a perfect training session for adventure racing.  We were tired, wet, out of food and water, and we had to hike on a gravel road with no end in sight, not knowing when we were going to be done.  Thanks for that Bob.  Thanks a lot.  In all seriousness, though, a big THANKS goes out to Cara for picking us up.  And another big THANKS goes out to my wife, Becca, for putting up with this Dynamic Duo time after time.  Baby, you’re the greatest.

It was a truly great day.  We had a lot of fun, and we got better in the canoe fo’ sho’.  I can’t wait to do it again… But next time I’ll hold on to the keys.  For anyone that knows me personally, you know it’s pretty bad when I’m the responsible one.

And eventually… Just maybe… there could be a Team Virtus Non-Race in the works.  And when that happens, your ass had better be there. That’s why we’re doing all this you know, to give you an awesome non-race. Not for our own entertainment.

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Thunder in the distance

Here at Team Virtus HQ, we’re counting down the moments until this year’s “The Thunder Rolls” Adventure Race. I can’t speak for  the other guys, but every time I even think about this race I get more excited than Boy George at a shoe sale. This thing is going to be life-changing.

A major part of being ready for an event like this is being comfortable using the required gear. As if biking, hiking, paddling, rock climbing, rappeling, orienteering and rock climbing weren’t complicated enough, The Thunder Rolls promoters have presented us with a new challenge:  The Pack raft.

Packrafts are inflatable “boats” designed to be used on-the-fly. They’re kept in your pack or strapped to your bike until a section of impassable water is reached. At that time, the boat is inflated and paddled to the other side. Once across, the boat is deflated and re-packed. It’s a great concept, as virtually noone wants to drag a kayak through the woods “just in case”.

Luke took the liberty of being the first to purchase a packraft. He bought the Sevylor Trail Boat, seen below.

The Trail Boat is fairly inexpensive, but many of the product reviews portray it as being inadequate in terms of toughness. Product testing is a big deal when most of your team is comprised of men over  200 pounds, so preparations were made and I was dispatched to evalaute the sea-worthiness of our new toy.

I couldn’t wait. I had been hearing tall tales of a fabled access point to a “certain” piece of swift water in Boone county. The spot was less than  20 minutes from my house, and when I hear stories like that I tend to think they’re bullsh*t.

When I finally found it I couldn’t believe my eyes:

Nice view of the water too.

Cool rocks along the way...

I loaded up my gear and started hiking. Since I was alone and had no way to stage a vehicle, I decided to hike upstream a few miles and then float back.  I found a deer trail and followed it through the woods. It was a good hike with  minimal thorns, and after a while I found this:

Wasn't expecting to find that!!

I think this is supposed to be called a “natural arch” since you can see all the way through it. The thing that impressed me the most was that I found no graffiti or garbage. Maybe it’s because the arch was positioned at the very top of  a vertical cliff?

Other side--hard to get a good shot. (4 tries)

Awesome stuff, and I found a few more rock formations similar to the first one. I saw a few eagles along the way and had a great time. Despite all this, I couldn’t wait any longer to get on the water, so I climbed down off the ridge and made my way toward the water.

That’s when the real learning began. The closer I got to the water, the thicker the vegetation got and the looser the ground became. It wasn’t exactly dangerous, but it was definitely a pain in the ass.  I guess when the water recedes, the soil is rich and promotes rapid growth of thorns and scrub-brush.

Nice opening after a bend--time to put in!!

Checklist:

  1. PFD –check
  2. Golite pack –check
  3. Wallet and camera in the drybagcheck
  4. Helmet –check
  5. Fresh cheekload of Redman –check
  6. Sense of adventure –CHECK!!

Next thing ya know I’m in the water and cruising downstram. I was using a single blade collapsible canoe paddle–don’t ever do that. Almost immediately I stowed the paddle and piloted the boat with my hands. What a great time! The water was moving fast, the scenery was awesome and it was all over before it started. It only made sense to do it again, right?

The second hike upriver, I went along the other side of the bank. I will never do that again. I went through some Stinging Nettles or something, and my legs hurt so bad I couldn’t believe it. Lesson learned, tromping through the brush wearing shorts is a fool’s game.

Hiking along, I came to one of the fingers that feeds into the creek. It was about 30 feet across with no sign of being crossable on foot.

Hmm, Good thing I’ve got a pack raft.

I put it in the water and made it across with no problems. After slashing my way through what seemed like an eternity of thorns and nettles, I decided this little hike needed to be overwith. The stinging in my legs was too much to ignore, so I made a bee-line for the water to float back…. That’s when I stumbled across this:

You gotta be shittin' me!!

WHAT THE (insert profanity here)?!?!? 

I’ve been tromping through razor wire for an hour right next to a manicured trail?? Man, I-was-pissed….but glad to find a trail. I followed  it until it ended and then bushwacked to the water. I made my way into another of the creek’s fingers and followed it to the actual creek. Along the way it got a bit…..brushy.

water was actually 3ft. deep. So cool!!

After that it was all smooth sailing. A great day in the woods and on the water, no “real” injuries and a very positive experience. I hadn’t truly tested the “Trail Boat” yet, but preliminary testing had shown this vessel to at least be entertaining. My second trip in the boat will be detailed later, and as a precursor to that experience I’ll just go ahead and say we are currently exploring other options for the Team Virtus packraft of choice.

 

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