Friday, January 26, 2007

Playing vs Creeking and the State of Flow.

When Creeking or Riverruning the purpose of mastering the moves required for any given rapid or drop is to further downstream progress, a means of travel. The drive to progress at creeking and riverrunning comes mostly from the desire to run new rivers. In general the steeper and more challenging the river the more beautiful and rewarding going there becomes. As skills expand so does the number of places that can be accessed and experienced though kayaking. This means of travel and the experiences it allows become the justification and motivation for training.

When playboating a trick is it’s own justification. The mastery of a specific Freestyle trick has little other specific purpose except to perform the trick itself. However, the mastery of the body and boat control needed to perform advanced Freestyle tricks is certainly beneficial to other realms of whitewater paddling. That is why dedicated Creekers and Riverrunners view freestyle as a way in which to train, when challenging downstream paddling opportunities are not available. Mastering Freestyle tricks just to do the trick itself is not their only motive.

Another large part of paddling, downriver and freestyle, is the celebration of the mastery of a skill with fellow paddlers. The props paddlers give each other upon landing a new trick or nailing a hard line come from a shared knowledge of the difficulty of whatever accomplishment has just been made. It is not for mere self-glorification that paddlers look to each other after a challenging situation has been completed. Weather at the bottom of a drop or after landing a huge trick, paddlers want to make sure our friends saw what just happened (and hopefully caught it on film) so they can share the experience with others who also hold it at a high a value.

The similarities between motives that drive creekers and playboaters are centered in the challenges involved. Not the unique and differing challenges of an individual trick or hard rapid, but the meeting of our skills with a comparable challenge. Challenging ourselves at a level in proportion to our skill level creates the rewarding experiences that drive us. Feelings of euphoria and accomplishment follow moments of absolute focus and clarity. In the midst of a challenge, at the height of testing our skills against the challenge, a whitewater paddler’s addiction is fed. While this experience of altered consciousness has undoubtedly been around for all of human history, it wasn’t until a few decades ago that it began to be studied by psychologist.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted thousands of interviews in the early 1970’s where people described a common experience derived from activities that matched their skill levels with similar levels of demanded performance in a verity of activities. Athletes, musicians, chess players, and surgeons all reported a similar state of altered consciousness while excelling in their field of expertise Subsequently, subjects reported a greater interest in these activities because of the resulting pleasure and focus experienced during the state of altered consciousness.

Csikszentmihalyi deemed this altered state "flow" and defined it as an "optimal state of experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy, or attention, is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunity for action." Flow "provides a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting a person into a new reality. It pushes a person to higher levels of performance, and leads to previously undreamed of states of consciousness. In this growth of self lies the key flow activities." "Potentially negative experiences can be transformed into flow by 1) setting clear goals to strive toward, 2) becoming immersed in the activity chosen, 3) paying attention to what is happening, and 4) learning to enjoy immediate experiences."

My non-scientific observations find the experience of Flow seems more elusive outside the outdoor community and most common among whitewater paddlers. These observations are linked to a factor that has not yet been studied (as far as I know) by psychologist, the connection between an activity’s interaction with the natural world and the ease at which participants achieve the state of Flow.

We go out in search of this perfect state of Flow. These moments of bliss light a fire within us to seek them again and again, whatever the cost. We abandon obligations to friends, family, and careers in favor of promising water levels. We try in vain to explain to others the amazing joy we have found, but outside the paddling community our explanations fall mostly on deaf ears. Like explaining colors to someone who has been blind since birth, they have no frame of reference or starting point at which we can begin to explain or elaborate.

Eventually most peoples bodies rebel against the abusive nature of the sport and abilities begin to decline. As moments of Flow become fewer and further apart the rest of life begins to creep back in. Finally paying attention to the jobs, family, and non-paddling friends that have been ignored during the quest. The ebbing of the drive to paddle allows joy to be found in other things again, pleasures more easily obtainable, but never quite as sweet. Lives fill in with the “others” that take the place of challenging paddling until the gorges experienced in youth are nothing more then memories.

The lucky ones stay in this driven state of madness for years, many years, but few do. The demanding nature of the sport is little competition for the demanding nature of society.


Monday, January 15, 2007

"Tight and Right" -low water LRC

As of this writing (1-16-07) Little River Canyon has been running every day this of this new year. Various levels on various days, but at runable levels none-the-less. The great thing about the canyon is that it is very different and different levels... not really better or worse, just different. This past weekend saw a Saturday level of around 0" and I was joined by Brandon and Ricky (aka Headband Man) Martin for a run down Suicide and Upper Two. Ricky and Brandon were first timers to the Suicide section and I was happy to get a chance to share this special run with them. It was a fun day and we were taking our time as we headed downstream, but not bothering with the camera until Pinball where Ricky took my camera down to the bottom. I hit the boof and ferry in the entrance as always, but for some reason as I neared the main drop I decided to catch the eddy. At low water almost no one catches the eddy, but for some reason I made the spit second decision to do so. I entered it low and for another split second it apeared I would make it, but instead I flipped as I floated out of it and into the main drop. Upsidedown and backwards I flushed down the drop, through the hole, and rolled up and pulled into the eddy.

I had never had any trouble at Pinball before, never even a flip in the hole, but I can say that even upsidedown and backwards the run was suprisingly soft. After my line no one was eager to run it so we headed on down river. Shannon met us at the Upper Two put in and the 4 of us headed on down river enjoying the 65 degree weather and clear water of the canyon.
Here are a few of the lines at Screaming Right...

Here is the Roadblock boof...

And the always fun Humpty Dumpty...

Sunday brought even warmer weather. 70 degress and sun while Joey and I made a run of Suicide and Upper Two at -2". We didn't stop at all and were home by 2pm. We had good lines all day and I redeamed myself with a flawless line at Pinball. I guess they can't all go well or it just wouldn't be paddling.
Until next time...

What every weekend should be...

During late summer when Alabama is a dry dustbowl and all my time and money is spent driving long distances to paddle I often question this area I now call home. However, when the rains come, the northeast Alabama region is alive with wonderful whitewater and a thriving whitewater community. The weekend of January 6-8, 2007 was just such a time.

Saturay Little River Canyon was running +4". Dustin, Spence, John, and I decided to make a full length run from just below the falls to Canyon Mouth Park about 11 miles downstream. The weater was warm, the water was a fun medium level and our spirits were high.

Sunday morning brought rain and when John and I arrived at the canyon we decided to drive to Johnnies creek on the off chance it had enough water. Arriving we found the level -5" and obviously rising. We drove up to Chairlift looking for JC and other boaters, but finding none we set our shuttle and returned to put on at -4.5". The water continued to rise on our second lap and during our third lap we were paddling through extremely heavy rain. Returning for our forth lap we found the water just under 0" on the gauge, a nice medium level. It was getting close to dark and we were flying down the creek with no problems until we reached "The Ditch". John ran first and I gave him a few seconds and followed. When I reached the bottom John was climbing out on the rocks, he had blown his shoulder. With about 5 minutes of usable light left he decided to try to paddle out in hopes of getting to the river before it got completly dark. In an ironman preformance and in quite a lot of pain John ran the remaing rapids to the river without issue. We arrived at Canyon Mouth Park in complete darkness and parted ways heading for home.

With the great rain sunday, Joey and I made plans to take off work Monday to head back to Johnnies. It was a little over 0" when we arrived and held well all day (only -1" by dark) while we did 4 laps.

For the last 2 laps we hooked up with Sam, Gavin, and Charlie and on our final lap it was decided that the perfect ending to the day would be some park and huck action at LRC falls. LRC was running at about 14" and Gavin, Charlie, myself, Sam, then Roy all flew off the left line and into the pool below. While my camera refused to work all weekend because of condensation, it some how worked for the few seconds during my run of the falls. When I returned home I had to let it dry out for 24 hours before I could even turn it on to retreive these images.

When I last ran the falls I had boofed super flat onto the shelf and taken a pretty good hit, so this time around I decided to try for closer to a 45 degree angle. It went well and both the shelf and the bottom were softer than expected.

LRC is a special place, I don't think I could ever grow tired of its amazing secenery and whitewater. Ever water level brings out a different character of the rapids and ever season shows a different bueaty of the canyon. So when you see the rains gathering over AL, come on down!

Until next time...


Happy Holidays to Southeast Paddlers

As the end of 2006 drew near the holiday season brought the blessings of rain to much of the southeast. I was based in VA (visiting my folks) for most of the holiday season, but I managed to boat or go on scouting/wood removal missions almost every day for two and a half weeks. During that time I paddled, Watuaga, WFFB, the Green Lite, Upper/Lower Big Creek, LRC, ran laps on Wilson Creek, and spent 2 days playboating on the James River in VA.

Needless to say I was putting in alot of time on the road, including 4 trips to NC for paddling. One day Joey, John and I decided to check out the West Fork of the French Broad near Brevard NC. It was running at a minimal flow (-6"), but since none of us had ever run it we went anyway. Below are some still pics from the great slides on this run.

The third and final slide was much larger than photos can show. It was a blast, even at low water. John and Joey ran first and Joey hopped out at the bottom and pulled out the camera to catch my run.

The WFFB is a cool and very photogenic run, I look forward to returning to it with more water.
Until next time...