Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Answer: Reggae... Initial thoughts on the Dagger Green Boat

After much soul searching, my answer was reggae.  I am referencing one of my blog posts from February 5th, 2014 in which I was trying to decide between getting a Dagger Green Boat or a Liquid Logic Stinger.  They are both creek boats built for racing, but I had equated the more slalom-like look of the Stinger to techno while the fatter ends of the Green Boat made me think of reggae. 

red Dagger Green Boat

So I pick up my shiny new red Green Boat (yes, it's a red Green Boat, it has a personality conflict) in Santa Fe on my way to ski Taos for a long weekend and an hour after I unwrapped the plastic I was making sure it floated on the Racecourse of the Rio Grande.  For the next three days it was getting snowed on atop my car up at the Taos Ski Valley.  I always wonder what all the other skiers think when they see a kayak way up at the mountain....  At any rate, since then I have gotten the outfitting dialed in and I've taken her down many runs of the Arkansas from Pine Creek and the Numbers to the Royal Gorge.

I know that this boat has been out there for some years now and there have been many excellent reviews written about it by paddlers with way more challenging river miles than I have been able to see it on yet.  Here are my thoughts all the same.  Maybe you will find something insightful.

First impressions... She is fast out of gate!  So much so that, being used to a regular creek boat, I kept overshooting my mark when making a cut across current.  One or two paddle strokes combined with the tracking provided by the extra length and you'll accelerate pretty much right where you are pointing.  However, I noticed that a sustained cruising top speed across calm water, while way faster than a regular creeker, is not quite as fast as I had expected.  One reason for this of course is that the design is more similar to a stretched creek boat as opposed to that of a sprinter.  Also, there is no drop skeg which would help with tracking.  Some people are into that for river-tripping.

Down river handling...  A good way to describe the real handling difference between the Green Boat and a regular creeker is that a shorter boat will run a drop, say "That was fun!  What next?" and then kind of be ready for whichever new direction you wanted to go.  The GB will fly through the drop, then wants to keep accelerating straight into the bank on the other side.  As the paddler, you must be ready for this.  But that's what I love about it, because once you expect it, you can compensate and use it to your advantage.  Similarly with boofing.  The GB, while pretty flat in the middle, has big well rockered ends and does a surprisingly good job of getting on top of and sailing over rocks.  It does this so well that the boof into eddy turn is really quite difficult as the boat seems inclined to land back out on the eddyline and continue down stream.

Speaking of eddy turns, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when I had to go back to the basics of the old school long-boat turn.  First off, know that there are edges, they are just kind of soft and high so you have to really heal the boat over to go searching for them.  Personally, I like soft edges on a creek boat as it makes for softer landings and a more stable ride when bumping over rocks.  That being said, the GB will really sail into an eddy and carry it's speed back up stream.  In tighter situations, being ready with a good backstroke to arrest that momentum and aid in the turn becomes a necessity.

Another tip to success with this long boat would be to really use pressure through your feet on the bulkhead for control.  While that's a good thing to remember all the time, the GB seems to be particularly more responsive when this is remembered.

Thoughts on fit and outfitting...  No, Dagger is not paying me to write this, but I love their system.  The 2014 outfitting is highly adjustable very secure.  It's a snap to move the seat forward or back and all the included foam shims for the bulkhead, hip pads, and under the seat make it so you can dial in the fit without ever shaving foam or breathing glue fumes.  I even like the ratcheted front seat riser to help snug up the legs.  Some people say that it's flimsy, but it's not made to be load-bearing, just as a support.  Plus, I find it is nice to be able to adjust that feature though out the day to help with leg cramping.  As for the fit, I'm 5''10, 140 lbs, 31" inseam and this boat fits like a glove; probably the most comfortable "out of the box" fit ever.  To that end though, I did move the seat forward a little bit along with the thigh braces, which are actually the one piece of the outfitting that I wasn't super impressed with.  While they are comfortable, the part of the brace that attaches to the kayak looks like it hasn't been updated in years.  I bet they could shave some weight there and make it easier to line up the little screw holes.

Often the actual shape of the kayak itself gets over looked when people think of fit.  The GB is narrow, but it's length gives it stability.  This also allows it to roll incredibly fast and easily.  And that narrowness plays into the fit as well; as with my Pyranha Shiva, the front deck is not as high and wide as many other modern creekers.  I find that not being as big and tall as most other kayakers out there I quite appreciate the comfort of the lower and narrower front deck.  If the cockpit is too large I know that I'll never get the fit just right.

In the end, the Green Boat is making me a better paddler and making me return to some of my river running basics.  She demands to be driven or she'll take you for a ride. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Escalante Creek (4/21-22/14) Trip Report

A reproduction of my journal entry from 4/21/14:

Monday, 21 April 2014 ~ 1845

I should have gone...

As I write this I am sitting on a BLM park table near the takeout for the Lower Gorge of Escalante Creek.  Sensing my opportunity finally at hand, I left not as early as I had hoped from Salida this morning and made the mad-dash west.  There is no gauge on this little creek, so the catching of it always has to be a mission.  The drive to here along the Gunnison is just gorgeous and this remote canyon is like a small slice of Utah and the Canyonlands.

'57 Chevy
So I get here by 1300 or so and the guy I knew would be here from the Buzz had already put on 45 prior, according to is friend who had run shuttle and was hanging around the takout.  So heck, I missed my possible run.  I explored around.  Took some photos and actually saw Josh and his two friends come through '57 Chevy.

It sure looked low, but it went.  Then later, after they all had changed, this other solo kayaker (Tyler) just appeared out of nowhere and walked up.  He had just taken out above the Lower Gorge and was contemplating running it... which he did eventually....

Tyler entering the Lower Gorge
I should have run it with him.  Instead, I opted to watch because at the time I felt the need to warm up on the Upper Section before just hopping in the mank of it; but then, of course I watch this fellow run down and I immediately regretted that decision.

That is certainly not a decision or feeling I enjoy and I do not want ever to live my life that way.

Now, after walking down to the water for a bit and taking some photos, I do feel a bit better about not boating at all.  I know it's good to listen to that cautious instinct, but I must remember to keep it in check!  Now I am even more psyched on having a solid run tomorrow.  And if Wednesday is even better, I can still stay the extra night...

~ end of entry ~

And the next day did indeed see a glorious run.  In the end there were four of us and we managed to get a fairly early start.  As it turns out, the fellow who showed up Tuesday morning and I had actually run Browns Canyon of the Arkansas many many year earlier.  He was a bit older and I and certainly put my memory to shame!

Looking into the Lower Gorge with Esca Falls
I wish it ran more often because Escalante Creek is really one of my favorite runs ever.  It has a pool drop character as the larger rapids are distinct, but between them is a lot of Class III & IV fun.  On this day we guess that the flow was about 300 or 400 cfs or so... That's kind of on the low side of medium, but I have no qualms with getting friendly with rocks.  Unless you're running with someone who knows the creek, my advice would be to scout every drop you can not see.  It isn't that the lines are particularly difficult, but many drops consist of picking the correct kayak wide slot and having the correct angle when you leave the lip.  If not, you're staring at a very steep piton situation.

On this day we did not run the main Escalante waterfall.  It is broken jumble of a falls and would need a bit more water to feel at all clean.  That is personal preference.  It was run that day by another group, but the line was very manky and could have gone very wrong.

The Lower Gorge consists of the Teacups, '57 Chevy, Escalante Falls, S Turn, and Magnetic Wall.  The Teacups and S Turn are pretty straight forward.  '57 Chevy is fun as you drive up and over the pillow above a rock fin that makes the drop and in doing so get surprisingly close to the wall.  Then lastly is Magnetic Wall.  It is basically a drop leading into a boil on river right that you charge into and then manage to not get pushed hard against the left well immediately thereafter.  Super fun stuff.

In the end, the only run I got in was this one on Tuesday.  There was weather coming in that evening and temps were dropping.  So was the creek.

Thanks to everyone who became a part of this adventure.  I can't wait to try and get back next weekend!
The author in the Lower Gorge.  Thanks to Brian Bank for this great photo!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Techno or Reggae?

It is amazing how distracting life can be.

I haven't written anything here since last summer!  Here it is in the mountains of Colorado.  It has been snowing like like mad just lately and more is on it's way.  Last I heard the drainage area for the Upper Arkansas River is at something like 114% snow pack.  I have been skiing the last two days on some great snow and will back up there tomorrow too... and yet all I can think about is kayaking.

I am obsessing over gear and boats.  Should I get a new Astral Green Jacket, or roll on with the one I have for another season?  How about a new boat?  Right now I'm on the fence about if I will get a Liquid Logic Stinger or a Dagger Green Boat.  They are both built for creek racing, but do I get one that's more techie, and faster... or do I go with a boat that's still a racer, but more of a go-anywhere racer?  Techno or Reggae?

Another problem I struggle with is fit.  I am not large: 145 with all my gear, skinny, 32" inseam.  I have noticed that Liquid Logic kayaks that are appropriate for my overall size and weight are way too roomy in the knees with too high sidewalls.  I have also heard that as it compares to the Remix 79 (the large one), the Stinger's cockpit area is a bit taller, but much more narrow.  So it remains to be seen if that means I will be swimming in it or not. 

Any readers with experience here who want to chime in are welcome!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In the Field Plastic Welding

"So what we're going to do is, we're going to take some sticks.... and light them on fire."

And that we did, though not in exactly the way I had initially conceived.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Just recently, the Spice and I were on a 5 day Salt river trip in Arizona when, on day one, I hit a not very large rock in not very fast current which punched a fist sized hole through the hull just where my heels rest. I've seen plenty of straight line cracks, but this is a full half moon shape that literally flaps open.  If a kayak could be said to have a serious avulsion, this would be it.

"I have some terrible news..."
Fortunately, the only other person on the trip, my better half (let me tell you, a great way to spend 5 days on the water) was rowing a 14 foot gear boat, so my broken kayak and I had a ride... But, it was day one and I still had yet to run the big fun rapids that lasted for the next two days!
Elisha going to town!

Cue the flaming sticks!  Going off some vague notion that to me had always been some kind of kayaker's urban legend, we set about to patch my boat at camp.  To forage for plastic bits, Elisha and I cut strips off of the inside of the cockpit rim.  She proved much more adept at this task than I... personally, I think Elisha (an admitted lifetime rafter) found some joy in hacking away at a plastic boat... but I digress.

About an hour later we had a small pile of plastic cork-screws and a few larger candlesticks.  To our amazement, the plastic sticks could be lit on fire and drip like ptex.  After applying a good layer to both the inside and outside, I let the thing cool and went back to enjoying my beer and the multitudes of brilliant starts over our heads.
A plastic candle

Fantastically, the patched boat did not sink right away the next day.  I was thrilled to be able to paddle my own boat down my first time in the Salt River canyon!

However, even though I was being a gentle with her as I could, the inevitable little rock bounces and stresses on the plastic from just negotiating wave trains eventually began to reopen the wound.  By lunch, I was slowly sinking again.  Fortunately, we were taking 4 nights to go 50 miles and so could stop relatively early for the next camp.

At Camp Two, this process was repeated.  The next day saw the same results, but with more whitewater, I began sinking quite a bit earlier in the day.  For days 4 and 5, I was happy to take the oars for a while and spend more time on the raft with my best friend, and my camera.

All and all, this made for a rather fun project at camp and only added to the wonderful experience that was the Salt River of 2013.  I did learn some things though:  next time, I would try harder to heat the area around the crack so the area would be more pliable and could form a more integrated weld.

So yes, it can be done!  I'm sure that if this crack had been a normal little straight-line crack, this patch would have been much more effective.  But hey... she got me through.

In the Springtime of our Stress

Spring time is a stressful time in the mountains of Colorado.

We wait all winter, just skiing to pass the time, then we wait a bit more for the waters to start flowing.  Then everything runs... several all at once.

I have spent hours upon hours studying gauges and books, stressing myself out.  Obsessing over every cfs fluctuation, imagining rivulets of melting snow flowing together, getting held up behind some fallen wood until rushing forth once again.  I feel I'm almost willing it to flow to where we can float in the new waters.

Then there is the coordinating.  Calling, texting, messaging via any of half a dozen social media sites.  Waiting to hear back.  Trying to rally a crew that's scattered over many hundreds of miles of Colorado.  What to paddle?  When? Who with?  Who has what kind of a car for a shuttle?  Do I need to have the dogs looked after while I go camp for a weekend, or can they come with me?

We all know it won't last for long once it starts.  Even sooner, at least for me, work will start up in earnest once the commercial rafting starts up on the Ark and I won't have the luxury of taking off any three of the best days.

Yesterday I was hiking low water laps on the Pine Creek rapid, now today it's snowing.

Spring is stressful in the mountains Colorado....

Monday, April 1, 2013

More Thoughts on Paddle Wrap

Never happy with most factory specks, I am forever playing with additions and small modifications to my kayaking gear.  My latest obsession has been paddle grips and wraps.

Last year I wrote about my experiment using bike handlebar wrap on my AT2 paddle.  Since then I have been very happy with how that has performed; it has proven to be more robust than I had first expected and it hasn't gotten slicker or degraded with oils from my hands.  The complaints that I have with it is that it's the more expensive option (though only at about $15) and that I ended up adding too much bulk to the grip.  There are some slimmer handlebar tapes that I found out there, but they are much more of an open weave (a lot like medical tape) and so would absorb and retain water.  At any rate, this wrap is still on my AT2 and going strong and I plan on leaving it on until it needs to be replaced.

Electrical tape looks nice.
In the meantime, I just got myself a shiny new paddle!  I had entirely too much free time over the winter to day dream about paddles and ended up wanting something longer for creeking and river running than the 188 I have been using for years.  So... I jumped with both feet (hands?) into a Werner Sho-Gun, straight shaft, 197.  I have used it only a couple of times, so I'll write a review of my feelings on transitioning from years with a bent shaft to the longer straight shaft after I take it down a few more runs.  Even still, with it all new, I felt like experimenting with some kind of grip wrap. 
Electrical tape wrap

The hard, cold carbon just didn't feel right in my hands.  First I tried using just electrical tape.  While I thought that looked really nice and clean, and it did give me a little bit of added texture,  it just didn't give me as much of a substantive change as I was looking for.  It was still hard and cold and not particularly "grippy."

Tennis racket wrap
Pondering on sports tape, I finally landed on tennis racket tape.  I found this to actually be pretty neat stuff.  It's not as bulky or squishy as the bike handlebar wrap, and it is actually tackier than I had expected to find.  I would say the texture has that "sticky rubber" feel.  It's not sticky on the inside, but when you wrap it tight and overlap the tape it kind of sticks to itself.  The only end I had to tape down was the tale end as I could overlap the start.  I used standard duct tape and wasn't really able to get it to lay flat from the tape to the shaft, but that's not a huge issue.  My only worry is that it isn't cut as long as I had hoped and so it didn't span very much distance on the paddle shaft... about the length of t a tennis racket handle... go figure.

One advantage to this option is that it will be easy to take off if I change my mind and it only cost about $4 after tax for a packet of three.

Happy experimenting!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sweet Protection Rocker HC Helmet

It had been a few years in the coming, but I finally acquired for myself a new helmet.  This is the twofold problem that I have: that CKS is my local kayak shop and that I work one door down the street.

So I caught them on a day when they were holding an end of summer sale, and thought what the hell, I'll go all in and came out with a new Sweet Rocker HC.  While I don't have any other Sweet helmet experience to compare it to I haven't been disappointed.

Sweet Rocker HC
Two main impressions on this item: it's massive and it's quite possibly the most comfortable out-of-box helmet I've ever tried on my head.  The bulk comes from the fact that this helmet is constructed around a hard compressed foam body not unlike a bike helmet, then layered with a full coverage Kevlar shell, and then that is covered by a durable hard plastic shell coating.  From all that' I've read, this is generally considered to be one of the most protective pieces of head gear on the market, but it's not small.  My perspective is probably a bit skewed being as the helmet I had been wearing for about five years was just a Kevlar shell with a little bit of foam padding on the inside, so quite the change.  The coverage over the brow, temples, and occiput is all cut quite low too, adding to the fact that there is just a lot of very useful material on your head.  I also keep attached the removable sun vizor which definitely increases the relative size of what is attached to your head.  It's pretty smart though in that it's easy to adjust up or down so as not to interfere too much with your view.  It has taken me a while to get used to it so I stopped banging it with my forearm when going for a bow draw.

As for a word on fit... as I mentioned this one was very comfortable straight out of the box.  That being said, I still had to get creative with some foam pads to get it perfect.  I don't think any helmet will ever be a perfect fit without some customization.  Sweet was quite generous with the handily cut peel and stick foam pads.  All I had to do was meticulously test the position of each one to build out a pattern and it was a done deal.  Now it feels uniformly snug and I can bend over to touch my toes without it strapped on my head and it actually stays in place.

The sizing, though, was initially the most curious thing...  When trying them on in the store, the Medium was way too small.  Mostly it was too narrow.  Then the Large is almost too large for me.  I have it fitting very well, but still I had to use most of the foam that came with it and generally have to keep the adjustment system that goes across the back cranked down nearly as tight as it will go... not all the way, but almost.  The one system of the helmet that I find overly complex is the chin strap.  It's a double slider type of system that is very secure, but next to impossible to adjust while it's being worn.

Another nice feature is that with all the extra coverage, this helmet is actually quite warm.  It even came with insulated ear guards that can be snapped into place.  I haven't needed them yet, but I expect I will be breaking them out now that winter boating is upon us.

This helmet comes in a Full Face version as well.  I seriously considered getting it like this, but I couldn't reconcile myself with having the extra bulk around my face all the time just for the relatively few situations when I think it's actually warranted.  That being said, on one of my first runs out with my shiny new head gear, I was yards a away from another paddler when she did a most impressive face grind on a rock at the end of Trashcan in Bailey.  Thankfully, she DID have the full face version of this helmet and definitely saved her chin and a few teeth.

The Rocker HC is not the cheapest helmet on the market to be sure, but I don't think the protection of my head is where I want to cut any corners.  This helmet is large and in charge and is probably not for everyone.  Honestly, if you are sticking to Class III (for example), I think this particular helmet would be overkill and you would find it hot and bulky... But for steeper water, I really wouldn't want to be wearing anything else.

Just for grins, here's a shot of me looking like a total goof... but there's the helmet.

And yeah, I still keep it in the nifty carrying bag that it came in...