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Middletown Pool Sessions 2007

Photos by Dana Warner

Swiftwater training 2006

Photos by Chris DeGraf

Ottawa kayak trip 2005

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Learning to paddle in Canada! 2004

 Nineteen AMC whitewater kayakers set up camp in Beachburg, Ontario this July for a week of instruction at Canada's Ottawa Kayak School (OKS). The group included four teenage boys, eight men, and seven women. Organized by the Connecticut chapter, the group also included several paddlers from MA and NH. We brought our tents, our boats, and a sense of adventure to the safe, warm, BIG whitewater of the Ottawa River.

The Ottawa: Big water!
We’d all heard that the Ottawa River has huge waves, so we prepared ourselves to see big water. But not all of us expected to see wide water. Upon our arrival many of us admired the lakefront views of the kayak school and inquired into the whereabouts of the river. The instructors pointed to what we thought was the expansive lake!
During our first two days on the river, our instructors laughed at our bug-eyed expressions every time we saw a new rapid. No matter which kayaker you asked or which rapid you asked about, the answer to the question, “How was it?” always brought the same response, “It was big!” One trip member recalls her approach to McCoy’s, the first rapid, a solid Class III. “The very first day it sounded like Niagara Falls as we approached McCoy’s. Plus, we saw the huge sprays of water rising above the horizon as we got closer, and I thought, "What did I get myself into?"

  The Ottawa contains over 175 islands and two primary channels, the Main and the Middle. The Main has the biggest water, while the Middle is slightly smaller. However, during our visit the river was 20 feet over its usual height due to recent heavy rains. On the way to the campsite, the news report on the radio cautioned, “The Ottawa is unseasonably high. Please reschedule all recreational activity. The Ottawa is not safe for recreational  use.” Due to the excessive water levels, even the most advanced students were only allowed on the Middle Channel during our stay. While our usual home rivers run between several hundred and several thousand cubic feet per second (cfs), the Ottawa was flowing at 130,000 cfs during our first day.
 The beautiful, 4-mile run down the Middle Channel consists of Class I-V rapids, with names like McCoy's, Garvin's Chute, Little Trickle, Angel's Kiss, Upper and Lower No Name. The run includes waterfalls, sandy beaches, and very few rocks. The lack of rocks made this a safe playground for perfecting new skills and pushing our limits. In fact, our instructors explained that rapids which would be rated Class III in the US due to the height of the waves frequently garner a Class II in Canada because of the lack of rocks (and therefore lack of dangerous consequences). Beyond the dearth of rocks, the Ottawa differs from typical New England rivers in both its warmth and in the flatness of the surrounding land. But the most-repeated refrain after the first day on the river was definitely, “It was big!”

A typical day
 On the first morning the adult paddlers self-selected into four groups: beginners, novices (either Class II paddlers or those who had not yet bomb-proofed their combat roll), intermediate river runners, and playboaters. The teens divided into playboaters or beginners. We had a typical student to instructor ratio of 5:1. Within each group the instructors successfully and patiently handled a range of paddling abilities.
 Each day we took a shuttle to the put-in at 9:00. Mornings began with a disciplined warm-up session where we fine-tuned strokes we already possessed and added a few new strokes. By week’s end the playboater group’s warm-up included forward/backward strokes, forward/backward sweeps, C-stroke, S turn, offside C stroke, reverse compound, stern squirts, and double pumps/bobs. We worked each stroke to develop good habits, warm up our muscles, and prepare for more complex moves.
Two mornings included roll bomb-proofing sessions. By week’s end even previously inconsistent rollers had a combat roll that will easily weather the Class III+ rapids of Zoar Gap on one of our home rivers, the Deerfield. We learned to roll with our paddle in any position, and some learned to roll without a paddle at all. All boaters worked with bracing extensively.
 We stayed on the river until 4:00, and the instructors paced each day to avoid burnout or injuries. The highlight of the day for many of the boaters was our daily lunch break at Garvin’s Play Spot. Instructors prepared food on the large, semi-permanent grill OKS had set up in the area. We ate huddled around the campfire or sitting on rocks watching others take turns in the four standing waves at the play spot. We cheered as group members accomplished new feats or contributed to the carnage on the six-foot-high waves.
At the end of each day we dined together and compared notes. After-dinner activities were fairly low-key, although the options for more abounded. OKS shares its facilities with Wilderness Tours, a self-proclaimed “whitewater resort.” Free activities included paddleboats, swimming, and all sorts of ball sports. Mountain bikes and bungee jumping were available for a fee. Unfortunately the pool, hot tub, and most games were overrun by boisterous rafters or “Family Adventure Week” participants during our stay, so we opted for less energetic pursuits. Since campfires were prohibited, we spent our nights at the main lodge watching videos of kayaking instruction or of ourselves on the river, attending a safety clinic, playing lawn chess or dominoes, watching the Tour de France, or just hanging out.
Although the OKS offered cabins for rent, our group chose to camp for the week. We were given a large, grassy field away from the rowdy main lodge. Everyone tested the waterproof guarantees of our tents, as it managed to rain every day as soon as we emerged from the river.

Personal Bests
 Instructors provided constant supervision in a laid-back manner. They taught precise technique and offered constructive criticism, but they knew how to let students have fun and learn some things on their own, from one another, and from the rapids. Each group member realized new levels of confidence and skill, and everyone recounted a unique personal achievement.
One paddler’s high for the week came when she “finally got on the wave” at lunchtime. “Then it turned me backwards and I did a 180 (without trying) -- a second later it flipped me and I did my first combat roll in the rapids below the wave. That was a big thrill.”
For many, our personal bests were also our scariest moments. Performing two loops in the hole at the top of Lower No Name was both the most nerve-wracking moment and proudest achievement for one playboater.
 An extremely nervous beginner remains most proud of using a new stroke to do an eddy turn. “It took me a while to commit to the gliding draw in moving water, but when the instructor finally coached me through it, I was amazed at how the river slowed down and I maintained control. After that I got a bit more confident and even paddled a rapid all by myself.”
Running one of the largest rapids, known as Garvin’s Chute, was a thrill for a playboater and long-time paddler – as well as an accomplishment nobody else achieved that week. He recounts, “It was the first time I ran a Class IV+/V rapid. It was fast, and it was a challenge running it blind... I guess my biggest achievement was putting myself in those huge holes, playing in the waves, and being able to do 360's -- and being comfortable in doing so.”
 A new playboater echoes those sentiments and says the intense week was just the trick to take her to a new skill level. “As a river runner, I used to avoid holes, especially ones with names like Vampire Eater. As the week progressed, my approach changed from, ‘If you can’t circumvent it, punch it,’ to ‘If you can’t circumvent it, surf it.’ For the gentler holes, nothing beats the feeling of the Mystery Move.”
 We all learned a tremendous amount in five days. One woman who had never been in whitewater successfully navigated a Class II+ river run (upright!). Several of us bomb-proofed our combat rolls, and all of us returned home with a new definition of big water.
We also returned home with new friends and paddling buddies. As Dennis Wigg, the trip organizer, expounds, “My greatest thrill was seeing others in the group meet their individual challenges and grow through the experience. I liked having 19 people go up together and get to know each person a little better. The group in itself helped to make the trip a worthwhile experience.”



Zoar Gap Mania 7/10/04 

Steve Forster

Bob Forster

Felicia Piel



Mark Schappert

Bulls Bridge 4/19/03 

Mark Schappert at Staircase

Mark Schappert at Staircase

Mark Schappert at Staircase

Peter Engle at Staircase

Staircase Rapid

Dave Baily at Staircase

Dave Baily at Staircase

Sam Fluckinger at Staircase

Sam Fluckinger at Staircase

Ali Holmes at staircase

John Pilla at the Flume

Sam Fluckinger at the Flume

dave Baily at the Flume

Ali Holmes at the Flume

Sam Fluckinger at the Flume

Jim Kilkenny at the Flume




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