Better than staying home
 racing in my first Northwest Creeking Competition

5:09 AM,  two hours after I finally got to sleep, I feel like I've been run over by a truck.   I roll my tongue to the back of my mouth where half of my tooth is broken off.  Reaching across the bed in the dark where there used to be a girl, instead I knock a lonely beer bottle onto the floor.   This has not been a good week. 

'Get up Brian', I tell myself  'get out of bed,  you are going to the creeking competition  this year.'   I've been looking forward to the Creeking Competiton all year but right now lying in bed and feeling like crap sounds so much more appealing.  I force myself upright anyways.  After staring despondantly into a cup of coffee, I shove the Jefe into the pickup, and strap a skin-on-frame sea kayak on top,  the sun rises as I top the coast range and I wonder how I'm gonna race in my pitiful state.  At least I have a Jefe, a fat creekboat that requires little more from the paddler than pointing the boat downstream, which is about all I can do right now.  

Rolling up to the put in on the East Fork Lewis, it's freezing cold and pretty much everybody is shivering.   I pass Dave Hoffman on the way to the resgistration table and he asks me if I'm racing, to which I reply "I broke up with my girlfriend,  my heart feels like it's pumping ground up glass."  Too much information I'm sure, and he says "um, that is not good."  I wander over to the registration table where I have to choose from one of three classes to race in:  Pro, expert, and fun.   I can't imagine ever having fun again, so I reluctantly sign up as expert because there was no category for depressed boaters who haven't eaten or slept in days.  The air warms up slowly,  more people arrive, and Luke Spencer calls a meeting to start the event.   I've known Luke since he was the baby faced kid behind the counter at Next Adventure,  and while I've gone from class 3 boater with a bad shoulder, to class 4 boater with a slightly better shoulder,  Luke became a seriously talented creeker and enthusiastic emmissary for the sport.   I like Luke because he's always so mellow,  he never bragged about the stuff he was running the whole time I knew him.   It wasn't until I came across a trip report about the Salmon River Canyon on Jason Rackleys site and saw a picture of him and was like "Holy smokes, thats Luke!"   He gives us the beta on the race details,  none of which I actually pay attention to, and I leave the meeting thinking we are going past horseshoe falls.

I head up to sunset where people are firing up the falls and doing practice runs on the river.   I love the view from the top of sunset, all that white with the cave in the background gives killer contrast for really dramatic shots.

Tao running his smallest waterfall ever.

The eddy below sunset falls.  

I'm thinking about the left side line at sunset which I haven't run before.   Here Michelle is describing the line to take, or is she actually showing me her mad tight DJ'ing skills?

The first race launched at noon,  paddlers started timed one minute apart.   Moments before I launched, I looked at the guy next to me, and asked, "where is the take out?"   he says,  "below the swimming hole."  and I say, "you mean we aren't going to horseshoe?"  and he says, "you'll see it, there will be people."   If water didn't flow downstream, I'm sure I'd get lost.

I cranked out of the eddy, just trying to chill and stay on line.  This is not a picture of me.  

I had a nice middle-line over sunset, which isn't exactly hard considering that all you have to do is follow the water and it autoboofs into the right spot. 

...a nice soft landing.

Not really knowing the lines all that well, my strategy was to point the boat downstream, paddle hard, and boof anything that got in the way.   I was thinking about doing a run in my sea kayak until I went through skypilot and screaming left, at which point I realized that if I took my sea kayak through these drops I would probably pin and die, not to mention, I was boating pretty poorly.    Here David makes the move at screaming left.

Christine takes the meatier line on the right in her playboat.   I missed the move on the left and ended up taking this line backwards,  good to go!  (these 3 photos taken on a run two weeks earlier, Christine and David did race in the competition).

David rides the  dragons-back... 

...and eats the hole.   I did the same thing, flipped, and rolled up.   This hole gets worse on the left side, but it's pretty easy to get into the outflow.

One of the coolest places on the course, the gorge below dragons back.

Next up is Johns swimming hole, a retentive hole with a class 3 lead in.  Easy at this flow.  There is a cool boof sneak if you can drive off the the extreme right side of the drop.    The paddler here is Linda, photo taken two weeks earlier.  Hey why weren't you at the competition!

Below Johns, paddlers grind into the finish line.  This guy has the right idea, smiling the whole way!

The finish line was basically two guys with stopwatches yelling "touch the rock!"  to everyone who passed by.  Apparantly I wasn't the only one who was in outer space at the meeting.

This girl (name?)  actually knew to touch the rock, proving that girls are smarter than guys.

...and as soon as she hit the rock she peeled out to surf the hole across the river!  I thought that was awesome, total stoke.   She sidesurfed and did a few spins and then peeled out.  What I didn't notice until I was editing the photos, is that she DOESN'T HAVE A SPRAYSKIRT ON!?   Wow, playboating must have really advanced since I was doing blasts in my dagger crossfire,  they don't even need skirts anymore!

Tao blasts into the finish line with energy to spare.   I thought to myself, man, where can I get that kind of energy, and then it hit me,  I need a Red Bull!

I looked over and saw Christie just standing there with a paddle, smiling.   I'd smile too if I ripped as hard as she does!

I wandered up the stairs to the road where I found this rescue in progress!   A guy on a bike had hit a patch of gravel on a corner and the bike slid out from under him and over the very steep embankment.   Not only was the guy totally unhurt, and the bike unhurt, but he also had a rescue crew of dozens of paddlers to help pull the bike out.  Incredible luck!

A cherry Ducati with only a few scratches considering what happened.

It still starts and our bikers ride off into the sunset.  Things you don't expect at the creeking competition.

I spent my time waiting for the shuttle doing a survey of the most hammered paddles.   I thought Rob's paddle here was the clear winner...

Until I found this blade.   Twenty years old, and re-glassed twice.   Wow, that is something to be proud of.

Back at sunset it was time for the Raft Carnage, my favorite part!   It's always so much fun to watch as these brave souls huck themselves over drops.  These guys nailed the middle line on sunset, which is tricky in a raft.

After a cheer they cranked hard,  these guys were serious.

  Looking back after a solid line over the left side.  I'm picturing the guy on the right saying to the guy on the left,
"Oh yeah, we ran that shit!".

This team wasn't so lucky.

Both guys flushed out and got the raft upright quickly.  Things were looking OK until one guy yelled "shit!" as he realized that his paddle was still stuck, getting recirculated in the hole.

It finally flushed into the cave and they climbed into rescue it.   It seems like every time I get stoked to run the left side at sunset I see someone, or in this case something,  get stuck there,  that paddle was in the hole for a while! 

A womens team braces for impact.

  Making it happen with girl power!   They're braver than I am.

Rafters head downstream.

I wish I could have followed them down to the other drops.

I took this photo at screaming left a few weeks earlier.   These guys raced in the competition also.

Next up was the long boat competition.   Christie styles sunset on a practice lap.

I used to have one of these, but back then they were dark blue and called Dancers.

Tao once again.   I have no particular attachment to photos of Tao, but I did notice a weird phenomenon when I was editing.  Most of the photos of Tao were sharp, which is statistically pretty unusual considering I get about one sharp shot in twenty shooting whitewater with a point-and-shoot.

Luke cranks toward the lip at sunset.  Use the force Luke!

After that we had a few random people hucking sunset, waiting for the next race.   A paddler goes deep in the guard hole on the left line,  this hole can really slow down paddlers, causing them to get worked at the base of the drop.

Speaking of that...   I'm going to give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume he took this line on purpose.  Predictably, he ended up in the hole in the middle but snapped off a roll and cranked out of there before getting pulled into the curtain.   Excellent entertainment value. 

The last event I witnessed was the synchronized chugging event!   Sadly, I had to get back to the coast so I was unable to stay and participate in extended heats of this event in the evening, which actually might have done me some good.   My first Northwest Creeking Competition was a great experience and for brief moments,  I was slightly less than miserable.   Was it better than having a girlfriend and a whole set of teeth?   Probably not, but it was a heck of a lot better than staying home and feeling sorry for myself.   Thanks to Jim and Luke and everyone who set safety and worked so hard to make this event happen.   Next year I swear I'll run it in a sea kayak, you can hold me to that!   Oh, and if anyone wants to make a donation to help pay for the root canal I desperately need but have no money to pay for,  you can paypal any amount, to     Seriously,  any amount,  or maybe mail me some painkillers.   Hey, I had to try!

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