Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Whitewater Clinic - 2

The banner marked the club's campground location, and the
whitewater playboat that is being raffled.
I just finishing getting all my paddling gear washed, dried, folded, and repacked, so I guess that marks the conclusion of another canoeing trip. It was a 722.2 mile round-trip to the clinic, held over three days by the Ozark Mountain Paddlers at Turner Bend, Arkansas, on the Mulberry River. I had had one previous bit of instruction on moving water paddling in Pennsylvania, but it lasted only about three hours. While it gave me an introduction into what I was in for, I really count this as my first real training in whitewater paddling. Actually, I now think of this more as a swimming clinic, which I know immediately brings a knowing smile to all those experienced in this form of masochism. I hope experienced paddlers will bear with me as I explain some of the points involved, as there are a number of people who visit the blog that haven’t had the chance yet to enjoy this experience. And, it will give the experienced paddlers a chance to correct me if I don’t get everything quite right, and I hope they will.

First, an explanation of what got me into this kind of training is in order. Most know I’m a flat-water or quiet-water paddler, and that’s what I enjoy most. However, on many bodies of water, every flat-water section of a river, or pool, as they call it, is followed by some type of rapid or drop as the river progresses from mountains to sea.  So two obvious things present themselves. One, if I’m wanting to run a river, unless I’m very selective in the waters I paddle, it’s inevitable that I’m going to face rapids or other forms of fast moving water somewhere along the line. Being too nervous about fast-moving water would deny me access to a lot of beautiful rivers. Two, being a firm believer in doing things safely, I believe it pays to learn from those who already have the experience on how to finish a river without being drowned or injured, or having damaged one’s boat, or lost much of one’s camping gear and provisions. While many have told me that running rapids is addictive, I haven’t reached that point yet, and consider this training more under the heading of acquiring a survival skill.

A view down the Mulberry River, yet another looming rapids,
and the scenic Ozark Mountains in the background.
Trying to do anything with or on water is hard in Western Oklahoma. I had tried for a year to find a provider of whitewater training that wasn’t over a thousand miles away, and without success. A couple river trips were coming up that I was interested in, so I decided to shotgun the internet to find some training. I emailed every ACA (American Canoeing Assoc.) instructor in Oklahoma and got not a single response. So I decided to shotgun every paddling club on a state-by-state basis, starting with Arkansas. Within just a few hours, I received a phone call from Ed McClung, of Ozark Mountain Paddlers. He said, “This will be short notice, but I believe we have just what you’re looking for. We are running a whitewater training clinic on the Mulberry River, but it’s next weekend. Are you interested?” When I said ‘definitely’, even though the registration deadline for the classes had passed, he got me registered and assured me I could pay for the course upon arrival. He also arranged for a boat for me to use. I was set to go.

When I awoke Friday morning (Mar. 29), the fog was too thick to see across the yard. That was not a promising way to start a long trip, but I hoped it would lift later in the morning. I started out at 45 mph, sometimes less. By the time I reached Watonga (32 miles away), the fog started lifting and disappeared in another 20 minutes. It was a 6 ½ hour trip to Ozark, AR, and it rained much of the way from Oklahoma City on. I had reserved a room in the Ozark Motel on the chance that Jean might like to go along. As soon as I had checked in and got my stuff in the room, I headed for Turner Bend to scope things out, meet Ed McClung, and get checked in and pay for the course. I walked about at Turner Bend for awhile and shot a few pictures. While I got a few shots to share, the weather was going to be too gray and wet for most photography over the weekend.


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