A good roll. That’s what you need to be a whitewater kayaker.
If you can’t ‘combat’ roll your kayak upright after flipping in the raging river (and you most definitely will flip), there is little chance for long-term kayaking fun. You will forever fear flipping rather than savor the karma of kayaking. No roll means expertise in ‘wet exiting’ and flailing for shore. Provided you survive the river’s tendency to smash you into boulders, pulling the kayak out of the river to drain multiple times a day is no picnic.
Learn to roll. If you learn nothing else, learn that.
So began a week-long course designed to train beginners in the art of kayaking.
After you’re geared up (kayak, paddle, life jacket, spraydeck and a helmet) and learn a few basic strokes, you begin your quest for the perfect roll. Everyday, over and over you try. You perfect one aspect only to unlearn another. You get three things right, only to miss the next one. Again and again it goes. Sometimes you make it, but mostly you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
But let’s digress.
The day before I ever thought of rolling, I flew into the Arcata/Eureka Airport (Northern California) and met my friend who had suggested sometime in the distant past that we take a kayaking class. Of course. Eureka welcomed us with a frigid and foggy 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Somehow, I had pictured heat and sunshine. I hadn’t even packed a jacket.
The weekly class can take up to 14 guests. We met two others at the airport and hopped into the waiting SUV for our 2-1/2 hour drive to Forks of Salmon, where the owners, instructors and cooks of the Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School awaited.
The trip went by quickly, and along the way we gained 50 degrees in temperature. This was more like it. As we wound down the driveway towards the lodge, one of nature’s best tableaus greeted us.
The school is next to the Salmon River, surrounded by a forest and blackberry vines. There is a lodge with a common room and a few guest rooms; five or so cabins spotted throughout the grounds; a garage for storing the kayaks, for a workshop and for the merchandise store; other garages and sheds for this and that; a private ‘cottage’ overlooking the river; and two small lakes for practicing in your kayak.
The owners, Peter and Kristy Sturges, greeted us, introduced the staff (more about the instructors and cooks later) and showed us to our new homes for the upcoming week. My abode, the Manzanita Cabin, was a short walk from the main lodge. Later I would meet my roommate as he arrived after a drive from Seattle.
After you’ve settled in to your cabin, the frogs are the first thing you notice. Croaking. Incessantly. The first thing you do is attack the blackberry bushes nearby. The second thing you do is to see how many frogs you can scare back into the ponds.
After dinner and a good night’s rest, we woke up Sunday morning fresh and ready for kayaking.
To be continued…
(Note: This is Part 1 of a series of posts.)
* These photos courtesy of Peter Sturges
# These photos courtesy of Maura Shea.