Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Solo paddling on the Slave: a lesson on the value of friendship

It's getting toward fall up here on the Slave river, and this is usually the time when things slow down. Paddlers go home, the weather cools off a little, and the water starts to drop. Ironically, this is also when one of the sickest waves comes in: Rockem Sockem. I've come up to the Slave 8 different years (or is it 9?) and have not yet been able to really surf this wave.

Until sunday.

Rockem Sockem.  Photo by Bryon Dorr, Exploring Elements
On sunday, the levels dropped from just barely too high for Rockem Sockem straight to the low end of perfect, which is even more perfect than perfect. We went SUPpering at mountain for the first half of the day, then packed up all the cameras (not a lot of cameras - ALL the cameras) and rallied the crew to go surf. We took a couple rides at outrageous on the way down, since it was as good as I ever remember seeing it. When we got to Rockem Sockem, I was amazed at how good it was. It was even better than I had imagined. However, having wasted most of the day, we didn't get to the wave until about 8:00, so we only had a couple hours there. I was hooting and hollering, and having a blast. When it was time to leave, I had a bad case of LRS (last ride syndrome) and sort of blacked out and took like 10 more rides instead of 1 more, which probably annoyed the rest of the group.
Outrageous.  Photo by Bryon Dorr, Exploring Elements

When we got home that night, I logged on to facebook to find that a good friend of mine had died that very afternoon, back in colorado. I was very sad.

Monday morning, everyone was on different programs. Bryon and Sarah of Exploring Elements were wanting to do an easier run, John was working, Ben was slaloming, and Natalie was out of town. This left just me. I decided to go back to Cassette rapids solo, to do some thinking about life.

The Slave is a very big river, and there are not many paddlers here. I decided to play pretty conservatively, because if anything at all were to go wrong, from a dropped paddle to a dislocated shoulder, I would be more or less stranded alone in the wilderness on the wrong side of a mile-wide set of rapids. I didn't really expect anything bad to happen, but over the course of my various trips up here, I have seen plenty of minor incidents that would have totally incapacitated a solo paddler. In 2005 at that exact same Rockem Sockem channel at high water, Josh White broke his paddle. There were four of us on the water that day, and we had an amusing time towing him across the ferry at the bottom of the rapids. Alone, making that crossing without a paddle would have been a grueling affair.

I set up a tripod at Outrageous and had a nice little session, reviewing footage between rides to work on various tricks. The day was overcast, but without any real chill. When I was done, I headed down through Dave's Demise and then ran Rockem Sockem. The temptation to surf that awesome wave at Rockem Sockem was almost overpowering, but I figured I would be back. I hiked over a low island and left through the Land of a Thousand Holes, then biked the shuttle.

Throughout the day, I thought about friends. Had something gone wrong out there, it would have been pretty easy for it to turn into a very difficult situation. Having just one friend along could make a huge difference. Putting aside the safety concerns, there was also the stoke factor. For me, running rapids and surfing alone is an interesting experience, but nowhere near as fun as sharing those experiences with friends. My main motivation sources that day were the purely technical focus of working on a new trick, and the anticipation of sharing the video of the day with my friends later. Speaking of which, here is the video:

Super Sick Solo Slave Session from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

Friends matter, in so many ways.