Saturday, March 20, 2010

Class V

Moving on to others' reflections on boating: i found this essay on-line about what Class V is in whitewater by a guy -- Doug Ammons -- who's been around Class V for decades:

"I've seen people get a lot of different things from the river and from class five. It's all in what you bring to it. If you go looking for challenge or for mystery, you'll find them. Treat it like a snowboard in a halfpipe and that's what it will be. If it's for bragging rights, getting scared, looking for a rush, being cool, enjoying beauty, celebrating friendships - it can give these too. I guess I feel that it's such an incredible gift it should be used well. I think most people who stick around know how much it can be, whether or not they put it into words. It's the greatest balance of fun, seriousness, and truth I've ever found.

There are some other lessons too. Most class five from 30 years ago is class four now, or even less. We've upped the ante a lot as we kept looking for the edge. Disregarding all the grays about ratings, really, the way we use the term "class five" it just means whatever the edge of runnability is at a given time. Each time we do another harder river, nip off another portage, find a steeper run, go for a higher water level, that's water under the bridge. Pretty quickly, we look for something higher, bigger, faster, or weirder. We change, and the class five changes. We never stop exploring, both it and ourselves. So to me class five is also a word for a special kind of learning. It says, "push hard, but remember - what you do in the next few seconds may mean everything." Class five is a rapid, a physical place with a beginning, a set of moves, and an end. But it is also all the things that the physical place touches inside you, all the ripples of meaning it has for you, and those are things which go on as long as you live.

Class five is about your limits. It is about what you can control, and what you can come to with a steady, clear mind. Those limits change within you, even on a single run. They change with equipment and experience. They change from person to person, and year to year. Some of the guys in my generation may already be getting too old and stiff to keep pushing the edge of class five. They've been there, done that, and now they have families and other concerns. But even for those who continue, there's always a new set of people who will try to take it past anything we ever thought possible. And when the new guys push as far as they can, the next generation after them will already be hungry for more. After you're around for a while, you realize you've received a baton from the past, and at some point you'll end up passing it to others and stepping out of the way. I think though, over time everybody who steps up to the plate probably asks the same questions, because the river has the power to say certain things.

And take my word for it, there's always some pretty wild stuff going on. There are guys out there looking for the real shit. You just don't hear about a lot of it because it stays where it matters most - between a few close friends and the river.

Whenever you enter the game, whatever door you come through, that's what you accept as your base. If you've got the desire to find answers, the river will have the questions. So I always keep in mind that no matter how hard we push, there is no end and there are no final limits. The river will always have more.

Doug Ammons
--with thanks to the rivers I know, and my friends."

I like this -- it makes Class V a relative measure.

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