Yesterday I went kayaking on a river for the very first time. I was scared out of my mind in the beginning. Mostly nervous about being cold (we had thrown together my gear from about four different people) and hitting my head on a rock or getting pinned up against a rock because I had no clue what I was doing.
Two other people went with Steve and I – Matt, with class V experience and Alex, with a year and a half, maybe class III experience. We went north of Sacramento to the South Fork of the American River and did the C to G run. We entered at mile 6 and took out around mile 12.2, roughly 6.2 miles.
Right where we got in the river we hung out a little so the guys could introduce me to some things. First they taught me how to “catch an eddy” and then how to get out of one or “peel out”. I did so-so with that, and was still very nervous. Then I was feeling pretty warm, the perfect time to try a roll. So after much, much hesitation I gave it a try and made it. And as it turned out, being cold wasn’t much of a problem. The gear and boat were warm even though the water was very chilly (around 60 degrees).
On about the second rapid (I think) I ended up catching the edge of the boat and flipping over. I tried to roll up twice and didn’t make it so I had to bail out and swim. The guys said I would have made it if I hadn’t brought my head up too soon. The water was FREEZING!!! I was afraid I was going to lose the little booty-socks I was wearing (they were too big), so I grabbed onto Matt’s boat and he pulled me ashore while Steve and Alex grabbed my boat.
That took so much energy and really freaked me out. I was ready to give up right then and there (the entry point wasn’t too far back). But I sucked it up, didn’t say anything and kept going after a short rest.
We continued on slowly. My strokes were very weak at first and got stronger throughout the day as everyone pounded “paddle” and “be aggressive” into my head. At some point Matt said that leaning forward helped, so as soon as I consciously started doing that my strokes got much stronger.
Matt lead, showing me the way through the easy spots. Following him made me a lot less nervous. He also gave me a lot of great instruction along the way, which was extremely helpful. If it had been Steve in that role I probably would have been more frustrated and less likely to listen (you know how it is with someone you’re very close to).
We stopped for lunch and a break about half way through. After lunch I did a lot better and was really starting to get a feel for the water, paddle and boat. Apparently I did really well following Matt, making the boat go where I wanted it to. Steve said that a lot of newbies end up spinning around, especially on rapids, which I didn’t do once. I think I let the boat spin me twice, but it was on calm water where I didn’t care.
I didn’t have any more spills the rest of the way, but I did have a few scares that I was able to stabilize. I definitely enjoyed the second half of the river more than the first, and the guys said those were the hard rapids! I’ll try it again, now that the initial fear is over.