Live from the Grand Prix, stage 3 - Time Trial

The Whitewater Grand Prix is a 6 event series combining freestyle and creekboating aspects of kayaking. In 2014 it took place mostly in Quebec. In 2012 it was a race series in Chile, and Natalie competed. Check out all of Natalie's 2012 Grand Prix writeups, and here are links to the rest of the stages in the 2014 series:
Stage 1 - Big Trick Contest
Stage 2 - Boatercross

Stage 4 - Big Wave Freestyle
Stage 5 - Freestyle
Stage 6 - Giant Slalom

After the boatercross, we headed north to Shawinigan. As we were packing up, I was a little nervous because we didn't have a phone or really any way to check internet on the road, so I got the most precise directions available, straight from Pat.

"Pat, where exactly are we meeting?"

"Shawinigan."

"Like, at a park, or maybe at a Walmart?"

"Shawinigan."

"Just get there and everything will sort itself out?"

"Shawinigan, Leif. Shawinigan."

Based on this conversation, I figured Shawinigan was like a small Colorado town, nestled in a narrow valley, with a river through town with some obvious rapids on it. Funny story: Shawinigan is a city with a population of 50,000. There are like three rivers that join there. Natalie and I had a rough trip up there, getting separated from the rest of the little convoy we formed due to a quick police stop. Apparently, both our tail lights were non-functional on our trailer. We spent an hour or so lying under the trailer, messing with the wiring and replacing a bulb. We finally got back on the road and rolled into Shawinigan around 1:30 AM, which was a rough change from our established sleeping schedule. I was driving, and I was barely holding it together. I found a wide spot on the road into town and we set up our "RV" (actually just our car, not a "real" RV) right there.
Not happy campers - fixing the taillights at midnight.
When we woke up the next morning, we found that the road was a pretty major street leading into a big city. We spent some time looking for a Tim Horton's, got online, and couldn't find much of anything about anything. The majority of the other paddlers had partied in Montreal the previous night, and hadn't started motivating yet. We found directions to what we thought might be the run, and started exploring around in the woods outside town. Around lunch time, we decided that the reason we were having so much trouble finding the run was that it was behind a locked National Parks gate, and we decided to return to town for more internet and some food.

On the way back in, we took a slightly different route than we had in the morning, and caught a glimpse of what might have been some sick rapids, right there in town, just a few blocks from where we had camped. A quick pit stop at McDonalds (they have free wifi too) confirmed our suspicions. The rapids had been right there all along.

Ok, so, Shawinigan shennanigans completed, we finally connected with the rest of the group, and walked down to look at the course. It was terrifying. We're from Colorado, so we're used to mank. This was still a manky course. At the top was an artificial weir, which led immediately into a slidey drop that ended in a hole and kicked to the right. Below there, there was a short break before the main drop, which was a multi-stage slide to falls with a nasty looking right side and a bumpy ride down the left. This landed in a sizeable pool, which was followed by a minor slide to hole sort of rapid.

We scouted and whined about the course with a couple other paddlers that were standing around. Eventually Nick Troutman, Mat Dumolin, and Bren Orton came paddling up to try out a couple practice laps. Everyone was saying that the course would probably start in a micro-eddy just below the weir, but there was a line down the center of the weir that was good to go, where a narrow flake of rock interrupted the hole and allowed an easy slide past the dam. Mat and Bren floated right through, but when Nick came up to the lip, he was about two feet to the right of where he wanted to be, despite signals from Kalob Grady who was standing on an outcropping below the drop. He dropped basically sideways into a lowhead dam right above a slide right above another slide. Everyone on shore immediately switched into emergency mode. Nick took one stroke, felt how stuck he was, and immediately pulled his skirt and jumped downstream, using his boat as a platform. He swam like a freaking champ and broke free of the backtow from the dam right away, then busted hard right to get to shore before the slide. As he was doing his best freestyle stroke, everyone was scrambling to get a rope up to the top of the slide (safety had been set at the bottom of the slide). The rope got there just as Nick managed to completely self-rescue and stand up in the shallow water near the shore, completely unharmed. His boat ran the slide and got the bow busted in, but we managed to recover his paddle and sponge. I was of particular help, wading partway out into the eddy just above the main drop to use a stick to snag his sponge before in plunged into the abyss. Bystanders agreed that I was pretty much the hero of the day.
Heroic photos by John Rathwell.

So, needless to say, after that little show, Natalie and I were even less stoked on the racecourse. Bren and Mat scouted some more and waited for Dane Jackson to get his gear on and join them. They all ended up running the multi-stage slide to waterfall and making it look acceptable. On the slide to hole drop at the bottom, Bren managed to break his paddle and take a swim too, bringing the tally up to two swims, a broken boat, and a broken paddle, only halfway through the practice day.

We decided to paddle anyway. We geared up unenthusiastically, and by the time we got to the rapids, everyone else seemed to be down for the day. We walked the weir and associated slide, and put on just above the multi-stage thing, on river left. On closer examination, we decided that it wasn't all that bad. The main dangers were if you were to run the right half, which seemed to land on rocks. The left had a slide to hole to slide to hole to 15 foot waterfall. The real crux was the hole just above the 15 footer. It really felt like two halves; a tricky fast entry ending with that hole, then a nice boof. With just two of us around, we set safety at the hole above the boof, and Natalie went first.

About halfway through Natalie's first run, we were suddenly really glad nobody was around, because a can-opener flake in the entry slide kicked her into the air and spun her out. She dropped backwards into the hole above the boof, rolled, and ran the man boof backwards. It would have been very embarrassing to have people see that one.
Whew. Nobody will ever know.

After watching Natalie's run, I planned out my entry very carefully, got in my boat, and did just about the exact same thing. We had a good chuckle about it, and got up the gumption to give it a few more goes. As we kept working on it, a few other paddlers made their way onto the course, so that we weren't alone anymore. The common problem seemed to be getting kicked by the can opener and either spinning out or losing speed right above the hole above the boof. After just a couple laps, Natalie got it figured out and gave me a few pointers. The main trick for me was to point the right direction, regardless of where on the slide I was. I was pointing too far left, in hopes of moving to the left. This meant that the can opener flake was hitting the side of my boat and causing all kinds of problems. Instead, if I just pointed straight downstream, and hit the flake dead on, I had a much better time skipping right over it.

After finally making peace with that little flake, we took one run down the bottom slide below the boof. It was a diagonal left to right move, and the hole at the bottom of the slide didn't really stop us much.

The decision was made to start the race in the exact spot we had started: in the eddy river left just above the beginning of the main drop. Having people run the slide above the main drop (even leaving out the weir) just placed too much pressure on the athletes. Running that top slide would set you up to be pushed right, but the main slide needed to be run left. It would be terrible in a race to have to decide how close to cut it on a ferry with consequences that severe. I'm sure we all could have made it, but racing it was not feasible.
Mariann at the main boof.

On race day, we got there early and I spent a lot of time warming up more properly, going all the way to sprint speed in the warmup. I was feeling good. The format was best two times out of three laps, which was a good balance of consistency and luck. On my first lap, I did ok but not great up top, skipping just right of the dreaded flake, but losing speed with a chest shot in the hole above the boof, and exiting a little far left of where I wanted to be from that move. In the final slide to hole, I flipped in the bottom hole. I was really out of breath from the sprint to get to that rapid, and rolling was really hard, but I held it together and managed to finish.

Evan was actually way off line in this photo. Annoyingly, I'm pretty sure he beat me anyway with his other runs.
For my second lap, I again was not that great on the top half, but got even worse on the bottom rapid. I planned my left to right move again, but was somehow just a little farther right than planned, and I hit a new flake during that slide, which killed my speed and kicked me offline to the right. I sort of half-slid, half-surfed down a diagonal wave which kicked me to the far right of the slide, which was a lot slower.


Galen pulls past Seb, who set safety for a nasty pocket on river right.

Some people had worse luck with the can opener flake, which is almost visible up there.

Capo shoots Kalob.

Bren shows how it's done on the main boof.

For my final lap, I tried to relax a little, because I had two relatively solid finishes. If I wanted to do well, it was already too late, so the pressure was off. (I told myself that, because if I wanted to not do badly, I had only one chance left.) On the slide, I went straight over the top of the can opener flake, and managed to keep a little speed through the hole above the boof. On my boof, I got just about to the right spot, which was far enough right that I landed in the current going straight into the next drop. As my vision cleared from the boof, I knew that this lap was going well. On the final drop, I stayed away from the trouble flake that had kicked me to the right, but this meant that I was a little too far left. I had a nice clean line down the left, keeping my bow dry, but it landed me deep in the left eddy, which was super slow. I sprinted out as fast as I could, but my final run was basically toast.

My runs were definitely not the fastest, but I did manage to finish all three with no major mishaps. There was plenty of carnage. During lap two of the girls, there was a string of bad lines. The most exciting was when Sandra Hyslop had her paddle snagged on a rock in the upper part of the first slide. She slid a few more feet with no paddle, then flipped just before the hole before the 15 foot boof. She surfed upsidedown for a few seconds before pulling. I was standing right there, setting safety. We tossed her a rope while she was still upsidesdown, hoping she would be able to grab it as soon as she surfaced. Unfortunately, she popped up right as she was going off the 15 footer, with no chance to get the rope or stop herself. She dropped the main drop out of her boat and went super deep when she landed. There was a big scramble to get ready to try to rope her out of the hole at the base of the main boof, but when she resurfaced from that dunking, she was well clear and managed to self-rescue to an eddy on the left. Luckily, her only injuries were a couple minor bruises to her legs. There were plenty of other crashes, but none quite so notable as a swim over a waterfall.
Sandra's infamous swim.

The aftermath.

The general mood of the athletes was a little improved at the time trial. Many people felt like they didn't paddle as well as they could have, which was easy since minor mistakes really make a big difference in a course this short (the winning times were well under a minute for a clean lap). However, there were absolutely no controversies. Personally, I was bummed because my slower times put me near the bottom of the pack, which brought my overall standings way down. I had harbored a secret hope of surprising everyone and ending up well overall, but I felt a little crushed, like my finish here had made that impossible. However, we still had two freestyle comps left, which could be my chance to move back up.

After the race, we got much more detailed directions, went to an auto parts store to fully replace our tail lights, and headed north again to Lac St. Jean for the next events.

Comments

  1. These pictures are amazing! I found some more on this website: http://www.nauticexpo.com/boat-manufacturer/white-water-kayak-477.html

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