|This is how it feels|
So, I went out to the Alps for a couple of weeks. It's not only the first time I had a 'holiday' holiday (as opposed to a working-on-events holiday) in a good few years, it's the first time I'd been away for a prolonged bout of boating in even longer. We headed out for the first two weeks in June, which also meant that, because of event work over most weekends, it was the first time I'd been in a boat in a couple of months. Plus, I was paddling with a bunch of (as I've phrased it before) 'gung-ho kiddies' all a good ten years my junior. Yes, I'm the old man of the group. But hey, it didn't cost anything to put me on the car insurance, did it? Age has its advantages...
I'm not going to go into the usual minute detail of each day and river, those are down in my river log and I've already picked them apart to see what I can learn. But some bits really stick out, at least to me!
We'd talked as a group about what kind of stuff we were going to run, and the 'classics' were definitely on the register. A lot of grad 3/3+, though in comparison to the usual UK grade 3 that's a pretty meaningless number, few grade 3s in the UK have that much volume of water firing down them. The Lower Guil (Mont Dauphine Gorge) was a lovely cruising river, the Sunshine Run on the Durance was a great fun, if gentle, run with the sting in the tail - the Rabioux wave - that caught Tash out. I couldn't have been happier to make it through that one the right way up, knowing my roll was still a bit shaky.
nights on the Washburn were training for, it seems. After we'd paddled down the lower-volume rock-dodge, the confluence with the Durance and the extra volume coming down the Slalom course was a wake-up call in itself. Lots of work on active blades and paddling aggressively needed to keep the boat running forward and the nose down. The group order had just kind of worked itself out - Tom led, usually Will seconding, Tash and Simon in the middle, then Oli or I bringing up the rear. Everyone seemed happy with that arrangement, and it worked well.
I took Wednesday off - tired old bones, I'm afraid - on the Wednesday and drove shuttle while watching the others run the Upper Guil. I guess that was the day where the group dynamic became visible to me, as I watched it from high up on the gorge wall, looking down at what looked like it could be a tricky, sticky little drop and seeing the guys come down, inspect, set up safety, probe, then run down as an amazingly well organised group. I felt proud, though I'd done little to influence any of it. Maybe it's just the 'being old' thing, feeling happy when the little'uns do a good job. Who knows.
|Beard wins race.|
The second week we started by heading back to some of the runs we'd done already, things we'd enjoyed and, since the levels were coming up a fair bit with the warm weather. A second run of the Gyronde (just in case there was a tiny micro-eddy I'd happened to miss somewhere) was a cracker, including boofing the weir we'd had to portage on the first go. The second run of the Upper Guisane was my kind of 'Bingo!' moment, nailing the S-Bend just perfectly, hitting a nice flare/boof at the bottom. I'd been hesitant at the top - though the extra water meant less of a pinning problem and it looked a lot nicer - but following Tom into the steep lead-in ramp, getting the first two or three moves out of the way, and then the instinct kicks in and everything just flowed, down to that bottom move, time the stroke just right and we're through. The words don't really express the feelings, but take my word for it, it felt awesome.
The Wednesday was another 'revisit something with a shedload more water in it'. Back to the Briancon gorge. Hmmm. The mindgames started running again: It had pushed me first time round, what would it be like with more water? I was on the edge of control last time, is it too much now? It took some fighting, mentally, but I got on, promptly missed the first eddy (as I had done last time round) and thought "oh Christ, here we go again..." How wrong I was.
For me, the whole thing was a big confidence boost, a new appreciation of just how good and how pushy some grade 3/3+ paddling can be, and a real boost on both a practical and a psychological level. Hopefully I can keep working on things over the summer, whether that's at the Washburn, Teesside, Tryweryn or, if it ever rains, on some real river. I know there's still plenty to play with, and there's still my 3 aims to work towards. And come the Autumn, there'll be a new bunch of freshers to work with and plenty of paddling opportunities to look for. For now, it's all good...