Saturday, June 28, 2008

River tales

It’s Saturday and we have been moved to TA14/CP30 – the last checkpoint on the course! We might be here for a while or we might get moved to Storm Castle. But while we’re here (currently waiting for Nike), the front of the course is quiet, we have web access again, and I’ll try to get some blogging done for previous days. Let’s start with Tuesday on the river:

John and I were stationed on the river board section, just above House Rock (a huge boulder with very fast water/big waves and a hydraulic behind it). I was responsible for flagging teams down to talk with them about their options, while John and another river crew person named Caroline were just downstream with throwbags in case anyone missed my eddy and needed help getting to shore.

About 4 river minutes above us, Dawn was stationed at the medical checkpoint. She relayed team numbers and let us know when to be watching for racers in the water. That was really helpful.

When the teams eddied out next to me, the initial conversation was whether they were going to run House Rock or walk around. Josh the River Dude recommended that everyone portage, but did not require it at first.

Team Merrell floated up first, with TeamPeakAdventure.com right behind them. Robyn from Merrell said she was freaking out and very unhappy. Based on that, Merrell jumped out to portage around and get back in below House Rock. The Canadians looked at each other and said, "well, let's do the same thing." Nike showed up a few minutes later, asked what the other teams had done, and then said "sounds good to us too." That was apparently enough impetus for Josh to call on the radio and proclaim that ALL teams were now going to portage. Works for me! One less big potential problem to worry about. This also freed up Gary (who was anchored to a guardrail with a throw bag at the Rock in case he needed to toss some help into the hydraulic). Gary was moved to the duckie take-out and is later seen running along the bank in a Werewolves video (see below).

A couple more teams got out at my location to walk around, then MOAT showed up - yay! Dave looked at me with wide eyes and said "B...I...G..." He was referring to the section between me and Dawn - big waves, some rocks, pretty scary stuff. Leslie was really excited about the whole thing (that is just sick). Bad news was that Shaun banged his thigh up pretty good on a rock and was limping. We really hope he will be OK. I heard he was able to walk from the takeout across the bridge to TA4, at least.

Now some teams were deciding to walk the entire 4 miles down to the take-out. This turned into a cluster-schmuck, because the trail they were told to use had a wash-out in the middle. John and I can't figure out how a team with wet/dry suits, PFD's, and BOARDS couldn't manage to across a short section of quiet water, but that's what happened. One team returned to the medical check, getting another team to turn around with them. A couple teams apparently caught a ride to the take-out, while one team returned to us and we didn't know what to do with them. Josh the River Dude was more focused on several other safety-related issues, so this team waited quite a while for a ruling on what to do.

In fact, this team would have been happy to get back on the water, except they had become separated from one of their boards. We watched it float tantalizingly close to us, and John even tossed a throw bag at it, but it seemed to accept its House Rock fate. We radioed downstream to let our buddies know not to look for any swimmers that were supposed to be with that board.

Caroline had a busy day with her throwbag, helping several racers who couldn't get to river left in time to eddy out next to me. One throw helped a racer with his teammate hanging on to him after she lost her board. John didn't have to deploy and no one got swept down House Rock, so that system seemed to work well.

Meanwhile, Dawn had to help a few people out of the water herself, including one guy who missed the eddies along her shore and sailed around the corner. A woman on shore came toward Dawn yelling, "That's my husband!" as Dawn ran after him and tried to give directions to another take-out spot. Eventually he did make it out of the water not too far down.

Besides that, Dawn said that most people showed up at the medical check happy and delighted. The upper portion of the boarding was mostly about bopping through waves, and even the big wave series had easier water along the side. Most problems happened in the 4 minutes from her to me - teams ran into rocks and at least one hydraulic that Josh hadn't found in his scouting runs. Many teams had 1 or 2 people who were really not liking life, especially if they had gotten some mouthfuls of water.

Below House Rock was another mile of big waves, then the river got relatively calmer. However, our group at the take-out had their own problems. The eddies at the take-out were apparently pretty difficult to hit. The first two teams tried, Ian threw a throw bag and caught two of them, while the rest scrambled for shore downstream, and Robyn found an eddy below the bridge. After the first 3 teams were fished out, the takeout crew set up a better system and found a calmer eddy further upstream. It was initially rather full of shrubbery, but by the time John and I returned at the end of the day it looked like someone had come through with a weed-wacker, it was so beat down from fin-footed racers running as fast as they could from the river.

Stories from the take-out crew: Folks either loved the riverboarding (the minority) or hated it. Several people had ashen faces and glazed looks. A couple said it was the hardest thing they have ever done. One thanked a teammate for saving his life. One volunteer asked a racer if he was OK, then had to stand back to avoid getting puked on.

Just upstream from my position, Suzan Falvey from team 44 Xtreme Couture got stuck in a hydraulic for several moments. When she finally made it out, she was very scared and upset (understandably so!). She was crying when she arrived at my portage location, and I just about cried with her. Then out of nowhere she said, “Did my helmet cam get that on video?” – oh my gosh, I can’t believe she had a Go Pro camera running during all that! You can see the end portion of the video in the PQ news site (they must be saving the best part for TV).

Right as that team pulled up, we got a call on the radio that “The River is CLOSED” – I was so happy to be able to tell Suzan that she didn’t have to get back in the water.

We had been hearing calls for river rescues and assistance, and the frequency was building. When I heard something about a pinned boat and urgent calls to get a local guide company involved, I knew something was up. On one hand, it was a relief to get everyone off the water and prevent anything worse from happening. On the other hand, a pinned boat could be a life-threatening problem. When our radios went silent, we knew the rescue folks had switched channels. When we heard nothing for over an hour, we all got pretty worried about what might be going on.

Finally we found out that the team was OK, Josh had used his riverboard to bring a couple guys back across the river, and the duckie-on-a-strainer was the only casualty. Phew. It was only the next day that we found out it was team WEREWOLVES who almost got into deep trouble and managed to save themselves by crawling up onto the strainer and onto an island. If you haven’t yet seen their crew’s video of the “Josh rescue” on the PQ site, you really should check it out.


We spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out what to do with teams that were hanging out on the side of the road and finally reuniting them with their crews at TA4 so they could start another trekking section. What a day! Our reward was being able to eat and sleep at home. As a volunteer, dark zones rock. We were pretty sure we were getting spoiled for the first couple days and the rest of the race wouldn’t be so comfortable.

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