Sixmile is on the rise, boats are thawing out of the snow banks, and the stoke is high. It is nearly time to get out there and start firing it up.
While there is plenty of time this year to unleash the honey badger, now is also a good time to review essencial skills. How are your first aid/cpr skills? Do you know how to set a dislocated shoulder? Need a refresher? Is your first aid kit complete? Do you even have a first aid kit? Did you put your rope away wet at the end of the season? Is it a moldy mess indistinguishable from your nasty booties? Do you still remember how to set up a z-drag? How are your swift water rescue skills? Need to take a class?
The crew is essencial. They fire you up, provide positive energy, make you laugh, and save your ass. I've heard some really scary stories. I've been involved in scary situations. Thankfully everything has worked out, mostly because of the skills of the people involved. While you wouldn't go out in avalanche terrain with out a shovel, probe, and beacon, you shouldn't head out on the river without at the VERY least a rope. It's not for you, its for your friends. How would you like to be in this situation without a rope, staring at your friend getting thrashed (or staring at your friends not able to do anything)?
Not having a rope should dictate mandatory drain plug beers (downing a beer through the drain hole on your boat). Not having a rope with you when you get out of your boat should dictate buying a round for the crew. Shit happens, and shit happens fast on the river. While it is awesome to tap into the river's power and work with it downstream, it is also an unrelenting force. In the end, the river does not let up or care. Be ready to act, and act quick.
I came across a few things this winter that are great to mull over while we are waiting to get back on the water. Jeff West has a great article on the Jackson Kayak Blog "The Subtleties of Safety" with a bunch of great points to think about before heading out.
On my way back from Chile, sitting in the Houston airport, Tyler shared these words of wisdom with me. We were reeling from just getting back in the states and trying to comprehend what we were wrapping up; all the sites we saw, what people were willing to throw down on, what we ran, and the portages that were nagging us. These words by Pat Keller put everything into perspective for me:
"Fellow huckers! Allow me a moment to speak to you on a crucial point of the code. The level of excitement out there is so proud to see, so proud. That being said, with this excitement we must stay within our own boundaries and our own skill level. Now hang on, I'm not sitting here and preaching that you shouldn't do dumb things. I know I often go there, and probably many of my actions are inspiring y'all in yours. Thats awesome. I learned much from watching Tao, Tommy, Clay, BJ, Andrew (even Travis Rice recently) and many other shredders. Watching them over and over. Thats great. Its a big part of how we learn. But know that it is plenty ok to take you're time, taking baby steps, to ensure that you've got that line - and that you'll stick it on the first try. Growing up, my dad would show me a cool new slot or boof rock and tell me to try it. Those around me wouldn't let me step it up until I was ready to take that step. And I thank them for that. My parents also got me into years of slalom training. Hard moves on easy whitewater. That is the path. If you dial in everything you can where the consequences are likely to be small and you WILL succeed in the harder stuff. If you think, "It'll be ok - I'll probably make it" - you set yourself up for a possible fail that could put your life (an especially those around you) in grave danger. See the line, the alternate plans, know it. Know them. If you KNOW, then set safety and go. If even just one aspect is troubling you, walk. No shame in saving it for another day. Again, I'm not suggesting that you don't get out there and push. PUSH ON! It is in our nature and it is the ultimate search. But stay safe, surround yourself with people that you are certain know whats up, and listen to your gut. We don't have to fire just because its there, just cause its running on this particular day. Thats the great thing about our rivers. They stay. They wait patiently for us to be ready. When we are, they give us the most delightful sensations ever. If we are not, they can be the most unkind, unforgiving realms we can possibly enter. We all must respect these realms and tread lightly in them. Practice practice practice and wait for an invitation to step it up. Don't try that big leap that is so tempting. Nail and dial all the little steps along the way. Rivers teach us patience. We have to wait for the right time to try and roll - or it won't work. The same goes for new hard runs, new hard rapids. Visualize and practice, practice and visualize. Also, bring you're rope. Have it in hand. Always. It is our sword, our sniper rifle. Set that cover fire and don't let you're fellow soldiers rush into a trap - even those that may be self induced. Stay safe out there, have fun and style those good lines. Share this around if you agree with these points. Lets get river respect back on top of our priorities. Cheers to all, see you in the next eddy."
Its going to be a good year! See you on the water.