Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Minus Rapids

Sometimes you wake up with a feeling that today is going to be a big day.

The Start of some very steep rapids

 Before I came to Zambia this year I knew that the thought of running the Minus Rapids would be on my mind and something I would be training up to do. The Minus rapids lay directly below Victoria Falls and are some of the biggest runnable rapids around. The window to run these rapids is during low water due to the fact that when the river is high the Falls produce to much spray and it is hard to see down in the minus rapids, and they are also huge at high water as well. I never say I will run a rapid until I actually get to the rapid, but I knew that those big boys would be waiting until the day felt right and the crew was there.

Diego giving Minus 2 a good look.

This past weekend was the start of the Zambezi river festival and I had the intent to enter the event and I paddled the first day of the festival with all the competitors. Then on day 2 of the festival, I came to work and longtime friend Diego Castro and Diego and Santiago Ibenez showed up at the Waterfront with the intent of running the Minus Rapids. Part of me wanted to be a part of the festival then there was also part of me that felt the calling to run the Minus Rapids. I told myself I would decide when I got to the river, and when I got to the top of the gorge I went out to the lookout to get a view of the Minus Rapids. With that first look I knew that it was the right day. I was with a strong team, had been paddling hard this last month and half and made the decision to go up-river with the boys.

Along with the South Americans, John and Cooper came along to help out with safety and to capture the adventures on camera. We put-in and paddled across number 1 and then carried our kayaks up to the top of rapid 1 then paddled to the bottom of the Minus rapids. The plan was to carry our boats up-river and have a scout of the rapids and from there make a decision. No matter how many times I look at these rapids, even after paddling hard for the last month and a half they are still massive. The top hole to Minus 2 looked huge and mean and the lead into the hole is a fine line as well. Then once you make it through Minus 2 you have a short distance before you are lining up the top hole of Minus 1 and aiming to stay away from the pour-over and make it down on the left side. Well these are all things that you plan on doing, but you never know until you are actually on the river.

After staring into the pit of maw on the top hole of Minus 2 for quiet some time, Santiago gave me
the thumbs up, he was ready to give it a go. I told him I was feeling it as well and we carried our boats up to the eddy above Minus 2. We got our final scout in from the rocks of the lead-in and made the plan to both run the rapid, Santiago going first then me following. A few practice rolls, a splash to the face, high five and "Buenas Lineas Compadre", Santi was off. I watched from the eddy as Cooper was high on the rock taking photos, and the Diego's a bit down stream with filming, with John all the way down in the bottom eddy waiting in his kayak.

Santiago at the lead-in to Minus 2
I was waiting till Cooper gave me the go ahead to run the rapid. Then  Cooper gave me the sign that Santiago had swam, then with-in 30 seconds or so he gave me the okay head tap that he was fine and made it to the eddy on the right and did not swim Minus 1. So now I got this feeling going on inside, of why did he swim? Is that hole to big to break through? Then Coop gives me the okay sign, but signals to eddy out right after the rapid. First thing I thought was, I need to get through this rapid before I think about catching a small eddy on the right before Minus 1. Then a quick prayer and I was ferry across the eddy and out into the current. The entrance seemed to go well and after making it over the first diagonal and avoiding the rock in the middle I pushed as hard as I could to hit the left side of the massive pour over, then Bammmm. Before I could picture that last stroke I was getting a beating of a lifetime. I knew that I did not break through the hole and was violently getting rag dolled in the hole. Never have I ever felt a force so strong, then just as I felt like I should give up I felt the rag dolling slow down and knew that I was out of the hole.
About to drop into a massive hole with a beating to come.
Not breaking through the hole!!!

When I rolled up I paddled as hard as I could and made the eddy to see Santiago's smiling face and also team Diego on the other side of the river. I checked in with Santiago and he was fine and after I caught my breathe I peeled out of the eddy with full force to ferry back across from river right to the center of the river to line up the top wave/hole of minus 1. Before I knew it, I blasted through the top hole and made my way down left and got flipped at the bottom of the rapid and then rolled up to finish the run and see that all the competitors of the Festival where in the eddy about to start the race. Chris and a few of the boys gave me a hug and where happy to see me. It was good to be at the bottom of those rapids and to have just experienced such a powerful force of nature and fought through it.

Dropping into Minus 1

After watching both of us have quiet the fight in that top hole both Diego's opted out of running Minus 2, but Diego Ibanez dropped in and ran Minus 1 and came out with a huge smile on his face. All of us then paddled down the river to number 6 and hike out from there. We all got our boof on in number five and finished the day with some cold mosi's back by the pool. It was great to be with such an awesome group and to have pushed each other in a positive way. Life is good in Africa:)
Thanks Cooper Freeman for some epic photos.
Life is Beautiful


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