The past weekend I was a participant in the annual Arkansas Canoe Club's Recreational School: Essentials of River Kayaking. One might think after having spent so much time on so many rivers that the time spent here was wasted, but that was decidedly not the case. The program is sponsored by an all volunteer club of people who are so dedicated to spending time on the river that virtually no stone was left unturned when it came to instruction.
I thought I would get a jump on the action by inflating my kayak well before it was needed. I have gotten pretty good at pumping it up, it doesn't leave me exhausted anymore...so I can see that in two short months my strength is getting better and better.
Actually the rec school was split into two segments: those with kayaks and those with canoes. The instructional part was something we all listened to. Here they were showing how one could put airbags into the bow and stern of the canoe so if it turns over, it will not take on as much water as it would otherwise. I never knew that!
They discussed various styles of kayaks and the purposes for each...clearly anyone who truly enjoys kayaking will find that they have three or four kayaks in short order, different styles for lakes, rivers, white water and ocean kayaking.
It was not the boring drill type of instruction, but rather informational presentation with healthy dashes of humor and wit. The program started Friday evening at the Riverview Resort on the Spring River in Northeast Arkansas. Presentations included such things as things to wear for your protection from nasty weather and being tossed from your kayak
How to grab a lifeline that is thrown to you after you have been thrown from your kayak. This is obviously, NOT the way to grab the line...unless you are thinking of strangling yourself. See, it is this stuff that you need to know about well in advance of ever actually needing the information!
Saturday, we spent time on a quiet creek tributary learning how to bow paddle, back paddle, sweep paddle, draw. forward, rudder and brace paddle strokes. Then in was on to the river!
The Spring River is peppered with ledge drop-offs, lots of them, so after a particularly challenging one we gathered on a gravel bar to watch/help the next group coming down the river. I was pretty glad that my inflatable handled as well as it did without the rudder-fin that helps so much in lake water.
No, we did not actually have to save anyone...here we were just practicing what we learned on Friday night. Toss the rope, have the person grab it (correctly) and bring them in to shore...it is good to do this once or twice in a non-emergency situation so you know how to respond when every second counts.
Sunday we got all our kayaks to the put in just in time for a serious cloudburst! So we waited it out. Twenty minutes later we were on our way for more adventure.
Here is a helmet and paddle...waiting out the storm. Helmets are very good things to have on rivers where there are lots of rocks, boulders and the possibility of being sloshed out and into rushing water with lots of rock and ledge opportunities.
Here we had just finished a rather challenging ledge followed by a couple of "S" curves with an island in the middle that had to be avoided. Lots of cross-currents and opportunity to overturn. Actually, only one person was washed out of the kayak in a non threatening current.
Here is another ledge drop-off that was no problem at all if you hit the right (very small) spot; if the current brought you a little further left or right...well then you got to practice a little.
All in all it was a very fun filled learning experience. The volunteers were very experienced, patient and there when you needed them. The group was split into manageable groups with lots of instructors, safetys and a sweep. No one was ever more than a moment away from help if it was needed. Even though I have spent a bit of time on the water, I learned a lot and will take a few areas of safety consideration and get equipment to prevent serious injury on fast moving rivers that I don't currently have.
Here is a shot of only our group at the take out point, smiles all around!