Sunday, February 7, 2021

Sharing High Water Stories

Below is my response to an NRS prompt for high water stories . . . . ___________________________________________________

I love big water. The bigger, the better. 

But, as I found out in Spring 2019, big water and high water are two different things. 

Winter 2019 was one of those huge winters where I live in Lake Tahoe, California. We got 650 inches of snow - that's almost 55 feet! And though the endless powder days were amazing, I couldn't wait for spring so that I could get back to kayaking. I was 12 years old then and had already kayaked several big water rivers - the Grand Canyon, the Futaleufu, and the Ottawa. Not only were those rivers a blast, but big water seemed relatively safe, at least to me. 

So, when spring break came and our local river (the South Fork American River) was running high, my then-16 year old cousin Athan and I made plans to kayak. To our surprise, very few people were out boating there that spring - the local kayak schools were closed, as were the rafting companies. Unlike big water rivers, we learned that low water rivers that are high due to the melting snowpack have many more safety concerns. The rapids and features are different then they usually are, the river flows through trees and bushes causing strainers, logs or large objects sometimes float by, and the river becomes continuous whitewater without much flat water or many eddies. Because of this, we spent most of the spring on the Class II section, called C2G. Even then, my dad or another adult ran safety for us. We had fun, I guess, but most of the rapids were washed out.

Me, Athan, and my Dad - Lotus April 2019

By the time school got out for the summer, we'd been begging to run the upper Class III section, Chili Bar, for almost two months. And on one particular Saturday in June, my dad finally caved. Agreeing not only to let us go, but to let us go on our own. I don't remember exactly why my dad couldn't join us on the river that day, but it didn't matter because we knew we were ready. Not only had we run this stretch of river, albeit at lower water levels, a million times throughout our childhood, but that spring we had adjusted our mindset to the higher water levels. We were also both swiftwater rescue certified, we'd run harder rivers together, and I had boated big water without an adult before (at Keeners the previous summer).

That day the river had risen to 6,000+ cfs. To put that in perspective, the river is normally about 1,200-1,500 cfs, the cut off for commercial trips is 3,000 cfs, and much of that spring had been in the 4,000 cfs range. So it was high, higher than it had been, but not quite flood stage. My parents tell stories of running the South Fork together at 20,000+ cfs in the 1990s.  

My mom, however, was apprehensive about letting us go on our own. Not just because of the water levels. My parents also had a long discussion about how perhaps the most dangerous part was having a newly-licensed teenager driving the windy roads to put-in with a kid in the car. As a compromise, my dad drove us to put-in. When we got there, we could see that the water came up further onto the rocky shore then usual and the water had a green-brown color. Other than that, the river looked like the familiar river I grew up on. At least it did at put-in. 

Me and Athan at Chili Bar Put-in June 2019

We pushed off, without even waving bye to my dad, excited to finally paddle a "real" stretch of river. And to have the river to ourselves. 

Me and Athan on the South Fork American River June 2019

The first several miles were super fun. We didn't recognize the classic rapids like Meatgrinder, Race Horse Bend, or 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Threat, but we always knew where we were. And it was a blast to be crashing through the big, continuous wave trains that had magically appeared. The high water made the South Fork feel like we were back on one of those big water rivers that I love so much! 

Until we got to Trouble Maker, the usually Class IV rapid. Like the rapids before it, it looked completely different than usual. Unlike the rapids before it, it had not magically become an awesome wave train. This rapid had become a monster. Earlier in the day we had talked about possibly portaging it and at least scouting it. But, it came up on us fast. The eddy where boaters often scout or portage was gone. There was nowhere to stop and make a new plan. We had to run it, sight unseen. None of our usual lines were there. Athan ran first. I ran close behind him. I watched him go upside down. 

Before I knew it I was swimming. Trouble Maker at 6,000+ cfs. At 12 years old. Possibly, with no safety ahead of me.

Unbeknownst to us, my dad hadn't gone home after dropping us off at put-in. He had parked as close to the river as he could, though still high up on the hill, to keep an eye on us at Trouble Maker. And take video. I later watched the video to see what had happened; but in that moment my dad had dropped the phone and all there is is swearing. Also in that moment, my dad had texted the video to my mom. She was worried. In all their years of river-running together she'd never before heard anxiety in his voice. He's usually calm, even in the midst of chaos. 

Unbeknownst to my parents, however, we had stayed calm. I had immediately started self-rescuing. And to my relief, Athan had rolled up and was in his boat right next to me. Though we weren't visible from the road, we quickly got ourselves and my boat out of the pummeling whitewater and into an eddy. We were safe. But I had lost my paddle and we had many more miles to go. We decided that since there were no more named rapids, we would continue downstream, me using Athan's paddle and him hand paddling. 

By the time we got to take-out, my dad already knew we were OK, having caught several glimpses of us along the way. To our surprise, he even had my paddle! It too had safely made its way to the take-out eddy, though long ahead of us. 

Although we were fine and felt confident in our abilities, it took my parents a while to recover. It didn't help that over the following days, some of their friends (who are very experienced boaters) got themselves into even more serious trouble at Trouble Maker. So, we waited a few weeks for the water levels to come down before going back to Chili Bar on our own. And since then we've started carrying at least one spare, break-down paddle, between us.

Me with my 4-piece breakdown paddle - I use it for travel kayaking now too!

 PS: As always, thanks to my parents for the photos and videos (I do need to be better about turning on the go-pro) and to my mom for editing my blog posts. 

"GoPro turn on"

Thursday, November 26, 2020

On being grateful for what we have right here at home . . .

Melissa at Cali Collective asked me and the other Junior Ambassadors to think about our pandemic experiences and write about adversity that we have overcome. Below is an edited version of what I sent her last week (as always thanks to my mom for helping edit my posts). It seems appropriate to share on Thanksgiving - it's about making the best of what we have. ______________________________________________________________

Being a teenager during this pandemic has been full of challenges - from zoom-schooling, to being isolated from friends and relatives, to having everything cancelled. 

For me, the adversity started at the outset of the pandemic. On March 12 around 2:00 am, while I was in France with Team Canada’s NextGen slalom kayak training program, my cell phone started ringing and ringing and ringing. It was my mother: “Chloe, wake up. This is a global emergency. The US is instituting a European Travel Ban. You must come home immediately.” So, I packed up all my stuff in the dark, woke up my coach to drive me to the airport, and left without even getting to say good-bye to my teammates. Unfortunately, I have not been able to return to the program since, despite having both French and Canadian nationalities.

This has been hard for me - my whole life I have spent many months a year in France and in Canada, where my mother is from. To overcome feeling stuck and the disappointment of giving up all my usual camps and coaches (like Keener Camp with Steven Wright and Slalom Camp with Michal Staniszweski), I have just focused on enjoying where I live.

For the past 8 months, I have become closer friends with local teens who love kayaking as much as I do. Together we have been running nearby rivers like the Truckee, the South Fork, the Yuba, the Tuolumne, the North Fork American, the North Stan, the Pit, the Rogue, etc. And we have supported and paddled with newer kayakers who have joined the sudden kayaking explosion in California. Not only are we all having a lot of fun - the world feels almost normal when we are on the river together - I do think our kayaking is progressing just by paddling together. We also have had the benefit of occasional kayak coaching from amazing boaters like Brooke Hess and Sage Donnelly and raft coaching from Sue Norman. Trying out lots of different boats has also made it more fun when we're running the same rivers over and over again and it has, I think, improved our overall whitewater skills.

I hope to someday be able to travel again and rejoin the camps I love so much. But for now, I will continue to boat here through the winter and am already looking forward to what will hopefully be a high water spring season.

Slalom Camp in Sault Brenaz, France

Me, Daniel and Isaac
A day off in France

My mother very relieved to pick me up at SFO
a few hours before the European travel ban went into effect

Me, Athan, Sage, and Tobin
North Fork American - Chamberlain Falls

Me, Cameron, Logan
North Fork American - Chamberlain Falls

Me and Laurel
California Women's U19 Raft Team
R2 Training in Chili Bar Hole

Me, Tobin, Quinn
After zoom-school teen laps
Truckee River

Me, Leo, Victor
Barking Dog / Camp Lotus

Me, Hannah, Maya
Cali Collective Junior Ambassadors

Lots of tween/teen firsts!
Wade, Ryder, Griffin
Joining them on their 1st Chili bar run

And a Squirt Boat Revival!

Me and Tobin in the Duo

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Go ahead, send your kids to class (kayak class, that is)

These days, it seems that more kids are getting into kayaking. At least it feels that way from how many people have suddenly been reaching out asking if my old boats are available to hand-down! And since kayaking is an inherently socially distant sport, it makes sense.

When I was learning to kayak, just a few years ago, there were no kids classes where I live. So, basically, you could only learn if your parents or their friends were kayakers (or at least river guides like mine). Fortunately, things are changing quickly and there is starting to be more opportunity locally, at least for teens and tweens.

Below is a teen's perspective on why kayak classes, camps, and clubs are so important - even for those kids whose parents could teach them themselves.

1. It's just fun!
I know you feel like you have been stuck with your kids day in and day out lately. But your nagging suspicion is correct - your kids feel like they've been stuck with you day in and day out too. So, give yourselves a break and have them do a low-risk outdoor activity with someone else for a change. It'll be so refreshing (literally), for everyone. Learning new kayak skills is fun, regardless of level, and it is even more fun with a group of kids. Also, joining a class is a great way to expand your circle of river friends and support local businesses.

2. Experienced teachers meet kids where they are
I think sometimes parents forget what it's like to learn something for the first time. "Just follow me", they'll say. Often wherever the parent is headed is too advanced and it ends in tears. Unfortunately, once someone has a scary kayaking experience, whether on Class I or on Class V, they won't want to try again. That's what happened with my little brother - he refuses to kayak now (though he rows a mini-cat instead, so it's all good, but you get the point). Don't unintentionally ruin kayaking for your kids. Many kids benefit from starting off slowly, slower than you might think is necessary, and repeating the foundational skills over and over and over again. Kayak teachers know this and follow a good progression. They also know how to make it fun.

3. Learning from skilled teachers makes it easier to progress faster
I have had many different coached kayaking experiences - roll sessions, freestyle clinics, slalom training, overnight camps, club road trips, etc. And in every one I have learned very different skills and have grown in very different ways. Each instructor, coach, or mentor has had their own unique background in whitewater and thus a different set of skills from which to learn. They have all had one thing in common, though: they are amazing teachers.

3. Proper technique minimizes injuries
I kayak a lot. Like all the time. And so will your kids once they're hooked. So it's important to learn proper technique. It not only maximizes progress but it minimizes injuries; especially repetitive use injuries. I just turned 14, so I'll be needing my shoulders for a long time. Many parents were self-taught kayakers and their technique may be out of date (sorry dad the C2C roll isn't really a thing anymore and paddling a playboat isn't actually playboating). It's best to learn proper technique at the outset.

4. Safety, safety, safety
Let's talk about safety. As you know, kids grow up fast and their kayaking may develop even faster. Before you know it, they will be boating without you. So, it's important that safety not just be the responsibility of adults. Kids should learn to self-rescue and to rescue each other. Swiftwater rescue classes taught by swiftwater professionals is key. My parents insist that I get certified at least every two years. I strongly recommend that other parents insist on the same. It's actually more fun than it sounds!

5. Taking it to the next level instills good decision making
And so here's the tricky part. Especially for parents who get the progressing slowly, making it fun, and keeping it safe parts right. It's knowing when you're actually holding us back. It's allowing us to progress further and faster than you think we can or should. It's about allowing us to progress perhaps beyond you, beyond your comfort level. If you know my mom, you know that she struggles with this. In the right program with the right coaches, though, we learn to make decisions about what we are and aren't ready for, for ourselves. That's the thing about being immersed with peers in an environment that is led by amazing coaches. Although we certainly egg each other on, and we do go big and sometimes bigger, we respect where each of us is in our own skill development. We learn to make deliberate, calculated risk decisions - yes, even in the midst of friends cheering and GoPros running. Decisions that are right for us as individuals, for the group, and for the situation we find ourselves in in that moment. These skills, this level of self-awareness and self-confidence, transcends kayaking.

I know that some of you are in fact world-class kayakers who have the skills, time, and desire to teach your own kids. Your kids are very lucky. But even then, I can assure you that your kids would still benefit from going to a kayak class (or camp or club).

So, with that, I want to give a shout out to the kayak programs, instructors, coaches, mentors, and parents who create these opportunities. Thank you for sharing your passion with the next generation, with me. Although we may not always show it, know that we appreciate it. Especially now. 

And PS: thanks to my editor (that's my mom) for helping me get my thoughts across clearly in these longer blog posts. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Woohoo, topo duo!

There is some benefit to being stuck at home all summer. Friends are stuck too. And our local river can be as fun and as challenging as we choose to make it. So, after running Chili Bar for the umpteenth time, Tobin and I borrowed the neighbor's topo duo and ran it tandem. Our moms would have preferred that we try it on an easier stretch first. But, having come up with a communication technique based on tapping (otherwise we naturally roll on opposite sides) and gotten our roll on our first try in the pond, we knew that we were river ready.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Can't believe it's really done . . .

Wow, I am really done with Middle School. It's strange to be finished with school all of a sudden.

Our socially distanced graduation included zoom speeches and a drive-in. Afterward, we had a few families stop by for champagne in our driveway and some girls stayed for a hammock sleepover in the back yard.

Here are some photos and videos from the graduation . . .
Me and Alex in Squaw at Drive-in Graduation
My graduation speech
Graduation Camp Out
Graduation Bouquet

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Interesting Times - Kayaking during a Pandemic

Spring 2020 was supposed to be all about traveling: March in France at a slalom camp, May in Ottawa / Montreal for Canadian Team Trials, early June in Oregon for US Rafting Nationals. And then back to California just in time to graduate from Middle School (8th grade).

But, midway through training camp in France, the pandemic was announced and borders were closing. Although I am French (and Canadian), my parents insisted that I immediately come back to the US. It was a bummer to have to leave so suddenly - I didn't even get to say bye to my teammates.

Slalom at Sault Brenaz
When I got home, I did get to have one last epic powder ski day (we live at the base of Squaw Valley Ski Resort) before everything was shut down for quarantine. For the first month or so of quarantine it continued to snow and my brother and I mostly just did school work, played with our dog, baked, snowshoed, and cross country skied.

It just kept snowing . . . 
But eventually, the weather improved and I have been kayaking. We have been following the guidelines of keeping it local, low key, and socially distant. So, with a small group of local teens, I've been really getting to know my local rivers (the Truckee River and the American River), taking advantage of every feature and doing laps on the bigger rapids.

Hospital Bar on the American River
Gorilla Falls on the Truckee River
North Fork with Sage, Tobin and Athan
North Fork with Cameron and Logan
I've also spent some time at the Reno Whitewater Park.

Wave 2
Wave 2
Wave 2
And I've slowly returned to the Slalom Course at the Nugget and Training with the Junior Women's Raft Team. 
Me and Laurel training as part of the Junior Women's Rafting Team
It's also been nice to just relax at our Tiny House and do evening river laps with my little brother.

Chilling at the Tiny House
Me and Alex on the American River for sibling laps
I'm not quite sure what the summer will have in store. I usually spend the first half of the summer with grandparents in France and the second half of the summer at Keeners on the Ottawa. But, with borders still closed, I may just have to continue playing on my local rivers :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

2019: A Kayaking Retrospective

2019 was another amazing year of kayaking.

Attending an Independent Study school at the base of Squaw Valley has been an awesome experience, especially for middle school. I spent 6th, 7th and now 8th grade excelling at school, skiing what has seemed like endless powder days, and traveling to kayak. I have loved Creekside Charter School and will miss the freedom when I go to high school next year.

The Futaleufu
Last school year, in 7th Grade, I kicked off 2019 with an amazing trip to the Futaleufu. Our friends at BioBio Expeditions have a beautiful camp, with delicious food and some of the best kayakers in the world. My favorite parts of the trip were kayaking Bridge to Bridge and the Wild Mile and rafting Inferno Canyon. As usual, my dad got some odd responses from folks who thought maybe I shouldn't be out kayaking or rafting those sections at 12 years old. Fortunately for me, Nouria and Ben did not hesitate to show me the lines. And once I did it safely, then other kids started realizing that they could do it too. I think their parents finally got excited about it after they saw that we actually had the skills to do this.

Bridge to Bridge with Nouria 
Love the Futaleufu

This trip was everything I love about kayaking. I love big water. I love to travel. I love to meet new people. I love to experience different cultures.  Here is a video from the trip to the Futaleufu Video.

San Marcos
When I returned from the Futaleufu, I joined Waterwerks Kayak Club for a trip to San Macros. This group of teenage boys and their Coach drove all the way from Calgary to Texas and picked me up in Denver on the way. That's how much they love kayaking and how badly they are seeking warmth in the heart of winter. Although I was, as usual, the youngest and the only girl, we had a lot of fun kayaking together and playing at the Whitewater Park.

San Marcos, Texas

Another Spring, Another Year of High Water South Fork American River and the Truckee
Spring 20019 was huge in California. We had a big winter, so the rivers were very high. Now, I love high water. Like I really love it. So, we had a blast. Spring Break was spent at the Tiny House with various kayak friends visiting. I got to kayak with Carson Lindsay, which was cool. He's not only a great kayaker but he's also very safety conscious. And as we got increasingly comfortable with these new high water levels, my parents finally allowed my cousin and me to do "kid only" laps. He's not really a kid anymore (he was 16 years old at the time and now old enough to drive shuttle, which my parents seem to think is awesome!). I did have one incident I'd rather not repeat, which was swimming Trouble Maker on the South Fork American River at 6,000 CFS. Athan and I used our swiftwater rescue skills and worked together to contain the situation and stay safe.

Big Water - just me and Athan!

Big Water South Fork Spring 2019

Boating with local boater, Carson Lindsay!
Yet another Swiftwater Rescue Class

As Spring turned into Summer, more teens started showing up and we all started doing teen laps together. Not sure who felt freer, us or our parents :)

Teen Laps on the Truckee

I decided to have my 13th Birthday at the Tiny House and invited my non-boater friends to come on the river. To prepare I went back to my whitewater roots and spent a week with my parents teaching me how to paddle guide a raft again. I had learned at Junior Guides camp back when I was 8 years old, but since then I have mostly kayaked, inflatable kayaked, paddle boarded, or rowed. It was a blast for everyone.

Birthday at the Tiny House

Ok, so I was a bit jet-lagged - just got back from France!

Another Summer, Another Keener Camp
I LOVE KEENER CAMP! This was my 2nd year and it was even more awesome than my first year. My cabinmates were the best. And so were the coaches. This year I had a crazy surf at Right Side Phils and am proud to have won the Red Ribbon for my beatdown. Dane was coaching that day and made a video which shows how fun Keeners is. My beatdown is in the video and my parents got a lot of concerned feedback on social media about their parenting because of this video and the footage which Steve-O posted. People don't seem to understand that we build up to doing things like this - last year I only did left side Phils and spent all of Session 3 this year preparing to finally do this! Here's a link to the video - I'm the last few minutes, after the music and editing stops. Best Day of the Week

Another year, another Session 3 at Keeners!

Red Ribbon Award

Dane also took us "rafting" - if that's what you call repeatedly flipping on purpose. I felt really lucky be one of the four Keeners who got do this.

Rafting with Dane Jackson

I was having so much fun that this year I decided at the last minute to stay for Competition Week instead of going home to start school. Comp week was the best week ever. Even my parents say it's everything they love about kayaking  - a tight night community of river loving people of various ages and abilities all going out together and learning from each other. I also loved that it was just a few of us in camp and it felt like we were home.

"1st Day of School" - On the Ottawa instead!
Fall Back on the South Fork American River
I love Fall in Coloma. It's warm but not scorching hot like it can be. And the river is perfect and quite - summers on the river in Coloma can get crazy busy with rafts everywhere. River and non-river friends visit. This year we had a River Festival in Coloma. I raced the adult race in my kayak and then raced the kid race in an inflatable. I took a non-river friend along. And we won! We even beat Sue Norman - my coach and former national champion. She was proud of us, I know, but she can be (quietly) competitive so I could tell she had tried her best to beat us.

Coloma Community Celebration!
Love Fall at our Tiny House Pond

My little brother is a surprisingly excellent whitewater rower and has tiny, kid-sized cat that he takes his friends on. Though it's a bit too small for me, I got to row it when his classmates came to our Tiny House for a field trip and wanted to do the more challenging stretches of the river.

Rowing the South Fork in the Mini-Cat!

You'd think their parents would be concerned about it, but they seemed to trust me since just a few days before the field trip our local newspaper published an article about me and whitewater. Here's the link to the article. Newspaper Article

I also went back to the Moke races this year and won. Unfortunately, I was not able to go Feather Fest this year due to a family emergency.

Downriver and Slalom Races
Canoe Kayak Canada
For the fall, my dad had considered taking me on a Love It Live It trip to kayak the Zambezi. But in the end, my dad decided he wasn't up for it since he hasn't been spending much time in his kayak over the past several years (he mostly rafts to be able to take my mom, brother, dog, friends, gear, etc down the river). So instead we decided to postpone until Fall 2020 when I'm a little older (I will have turned 14 by then) and we can go on a BioBio trip. That way he can row or paddle guide while I kayak.

So, suddenly I had "free time" in the fall for other adventures. The timing was perfect, as we learned about the Canoe Kayak Canada NextGen slalom training program. My mother is Canadian, which is why it makes sense. And my parents think gate training - whether it be for skiing or kayaking - is a great way to learn skills that carry over to other versions of the sport. I think it's fun to practice and to race.

Canoe Kayak Canada - NextGen Training with Michal

I went to camps and races in Ottawa, Valleyfield, and Chilliwack. The coaching was really amazing, as were the athletes. Many of them are on the Canadian National Team and some are training for the Tokyo Olympics. Though it's a bit hard when everyone knows each other so well from their local clubs (Canada has these great local and provincial clubs) and when most of the athletes are at such an elite level, I enjoyed my time training with them and made some good progress.

Ontario Provincial Championships

Tamihi - training in Chilliwack, BC

Also, I just love kayak traveling. Especially on my own. It's a hassle at airports and getting on planes with a kayak (especially a big one) and being a minor, but I like the process and I do get a lot of school work done.

I love Amex Airport Lounges! 
Kayak travel

Winter Holidays
As winter came, so did the holidays, And although winters living in Squaw Valley are all about skiing, holiday gifting brings back the kayak-theme. I got a new, bigger Rockstar 4.0 and a Foamie Friend! Foamie Friends are very popular in California :)

Another Christmas, Another Rockstar!

Foamie Friends

And so, that was 2019. Another epic kayak year.

2020 is off to a great start too! I joined the California Junior Women's Raft Team and we hope to be selected to be the US Team at Team Trials in June. I'm also headed to France to kayak for a month which will be amazing.