Friday, May 25, 2018

Golden Age Nostalgia

After reading Luc Mehl's guest blog at the Alpacka web site I indulged in some nostalgia from 2009-2010.

If you're reading this, then you really should go read Luc's post. I found it flattering and a bit of a vignette of what I, self-centeredly, consider the Golden Age of packrafting.

Golden in that it was a big leap forward. Golden in that Brad Meiklejohn urged us into Embick's  Class IV and V creeks. Golden in that real boaters Tim Johnson, Paul Schauer, and Thai Verzone led us down and plucked us out. Golden in that I started hitting whitewater centers beyond Alaska with the boat born in Alaska and now ready for the world: NZ, Grand Canyon, Australia's Franklin, Appalachians.

But the world was not ready. Haters were everywhere and even Alpacka wanted nothing to do with thigh straps.

"Why would a packrafter being going down a class 3/4 river like this, ever? Not only that, these guys are wearing drysuits because the water is cold - and I can't imagine a lightweight hiker wanting to bring one along on his trip. 
Seriously, I think you've missed the point of this video completely. It's about paddling in big groups that have sufficient resources to perform a rescue and using the skills that are taught in whitewater rescue classes properly. It's not about boat design.
I've kayaked big water for years and backpack/hike and the combination of packrafts and big water is a bozo no-no in my opinion. It seems like the packraft community is rediscovering everything the ww kayak community has known for years about the dangers of ww kayaking. Please stick to class 1 rivers and ponds for your own safety, and don't paddle in cold water without the proper thermal protection."

And a kayaker's response to thigh straps and packrafts in 2009. 

 ‘In a packraft, at least IMO, they seem like more than is necessary even at the upper end of whitewater. IMHO if you feel you need thigh straps you should probably think about improving your technique or further developing your skills. Weather it be reading the water better and seeing the clean lines and hitting them or simply spending more time in the raft, one needs to have skills. Given their design, there are just certain things that will be difficult no matter what you do. eg big holes on big water. These things are already about as idiot proof as it gets. Don't get me wrong, there are probably a hand full of people that could really push what is possible in a packraft with thigh straps, but for most it will simply be a substitute for skill and ultimately not help them in the long run. In fact I'd be willing to bet that most packrafters would not be able to roll a raft even if they were glued into the thing. It is certainly more difficult than a kayak by a long shot. Not to mention much harder on one's shoulders as well.’
But maybe like bad brush and cold water, some of us just felt that these nasty-grams were challenges to overcome and now that they are overcome, I find myself sitting back, older, and trying to just get out of the way.

  1. My Packrafting! book is out of print.
  2. Falcon Guidebooks sells a new book about packrafting.
  3. Thor and Sarah Tingey have transformed Alpacka with a boat for every kind of water and even a mountain bike boat.
  4. There are maybe even a dozen other packraft manufacturers.
  5. My testosterone has drained away leaving me somewhat flacid when it comes to whitewater.
  6. But it doesn't matter because there are plenty of bad-asses out there, 
    • including former kayakers and
    • hard-core packrafters-first who now use kayaks to improve their packrafting.
It's been great to watch and even greater to be part of it.

My own history with whitewater in packrafts can be covered in six videos. The first couple of videos are sort of accidental. But starting at the end of  2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 I posted on You Tube the greatest hits I'd been involved with each year. 

2008 was the year of whitewater discovery. 
2009 was the year of whitewater exploration.
2010 was the year of thigh straps that made us feel like real boaters.
2011 was the year of extended sterns that felt like cheating.

(January 2000) Taking a Sherpa Packraft down a stream in Pumalin Park, Chile before I'd actually got my butt in an Alpacka.

(January 2008)  Hermit to Havasu with Gordy and Cody Roman in the Grand Canyon. Up to say 2008, Cody Roman and I going down Ship Creek's canyon repeatedly and sniffing out some other runs elsewhere, was about it for whitewater. Then I started paddling with Brad.

(2008)  was the year I finally found someone other than Cody Roman who wanted to do Ship Creek more than once. The music was Radiohead's National Anthem, a song and band Roman introduced to me and the song captured the hectic feel of the early days of whitewater in packrafts. But YouTube stripped the now it's the canned version of what they offer.

(2009) By the Fall of  2009 the packrafting revolution was getting started with Brad, Thai, Luc, Gordy, Tony, Becky, JT and others hitting it hard in Southcentral AK. It was when Tim Johnson and Paul Schauer and Thai Verzone, Class V kayakers all, joined us.

These guys, as Mike Curiak recently wrote, made me feel as though they were "participating in an entirely different sport -- one filled with grace and control and poise, where by comparison I feel like I just bludgeon and hack my way through while trying to survive."

This one doesn't play on phones, I guess because nobody's made enough money yet off the half-century old Beatles classic, Revolution (although it plays on computers in the US). It's worth watching on a 'puter, by the way, with the sound track.

(2010) Ah yes, the struggle with Alpacka over thigh straps. We were the Devil:  dangerous, reckless, a real pain in the butt-boats of Alpacka, but in the end we were right. Maybe, just maybe, our devilish ways got the "Witchcraft" started, a black boat you might catch a glimpse of in this next video somewhere, and that is the ancestral boat of Alpacka's Lips and Gnarwall boats. Or maybe it was really the handful of "Media Feliz" paddlers down in CO that motivated the development. Still, I like to think it was us, the 20 or 30 people in Alaska packraft-paddling Six Mile and Little Su and Ship Creek and Bird that pushed whitewater boat development at Alpacka. But again, probably just my narcissism playing tricks on my ego!

(2011) With the new long stern boats of 2011 it was almost a new sport. It was like in the 1980s when sticky rubber (particularly the Fires) hit rock or when foot fangs and plastic boots hit ice, or when leashless tools hit both rock and ice, whenever that happened. We had the new longer stern boats that erased bandersnatching as a concept and instead launched us out of sticky holes, leaning forward into the modern boats we've known for years. It also ended my year-end video making recaps, as then Luc Mehl and Mike Curiak were there to pick up my stringy end of the tapestry and weave it with finer artistry.

And there we have it. Six footnotes to "Show up and Blow up: Alaska"!

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