Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Adding up Four Months on the White Salmon River

Its time for a highlights edition blog post. Not only a good way to sum up 4 months of no updates, the highlights edition blog post also brings together events and activities in a math problem sort of way.

Add up fulfilling experiences and subtract out hardships. Let's see what comes out.

+ Move to BZ Corners, on the Banks of the White Salmon River

On the whole, moving back out to the Gorge tips the scales toward awesome.

The Wet Planet Family: Weeknight Truss Run
Jeff Clewell, Brian Lee, Tyler "Fastlane" Houck, Lance Reif, Trevor Sheehan, Ryan Copenhagen, Brendan Wells, Curt Joyce, Adam Elliott, and me, Susan Hollingsworth

Living on the peaceful, riverside property of Wet Planet (also known as North Camp), at the take-out for my favorite section of the White Salmon makes coats every day with the simple bliss of fresh air and ourdoor play.

Surrounding me, all nestled into their own plot of earth at the end of a trail, are 8 of my best friends. Each contributes something different to our community: Lori motivates pre-work activities, Tyler and Drew make sure Wet Planet is well represented on the Green Truss, Nicki and Brian keep the general pace of life mellow and happy, Giani cooks better than any restraunt in the Gorge, Jeff's music collection never needs to repeat, and Cat just does a little bit of everything.

- Move out of Portland

However, temporarily abandoning Portland was not easy.

Nick builds the best kayak rack I have ever seen, right in our backyard.

The nest I've assembled (with furniture and walls, not sticks and spit) over the past 6 months has become more of a home than anything I've had for the past 5 years. Bigger than a car, more permanent than a friend's couch, 6235 N. Atlantic is my home. I may not own it, but the guy who does may be the most easy-going and enjoyable landlord humanly possible.

Luckily, I can travel the 1.5 hrs west into the hipster mecca anytime I want. Best of both worlds.

+ Teaching Kayaking and Inspiring a Whitewater Lifestyle

Try a spending a week teaching a group of cancer survivors to kayak and tell me that whitewater doesn't change lives. Just seeing Tailz (everyone gets a nickname...I'm Swish) navigate the class II rapids on the Klickitat without the benefit of vision makes me grateful for the strength, positivity, and empowerment this thing called kayaking can provide. I hope I get to be a part of First Descents Kayak Camp forever.

Two week-long instruction on the Rogue with Sundance Kayak School...new favorite teaching river.

Another instructor's dream come true took me to the Rogue River to partner with Team Sundance for an 8 day, 13 person beginner course in late June. I helped the Crawford family to let go a little bit and tackle some incredible whitewater. In return, they made sure I laughed more.
First experience with Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the Rogue, or SUPing

The second Rogue trip of the summer, a 6 day, 6 person intermediate course, fed my intelectual brain with in-depth stroke clinics and advanced boil dynamics. Each day contributed another idea toward the week's theme of "The Meaning of Life from the Eyes of a Kayaker."

A typicaly multi-day rafting/kayaking scene: costumes, good food, tasty drinks.

Hopefully our guests were as swept away by the entire experience as I was.

- Wet Feet and Butt Every Day

Whitewater rafting on the White Salmon River with Wet Planet Whitewater

However, as instruction and guiding time increases, so does the potential for foot rot and swamp ass. Unpleasant, I know, but nevertheless a reality. Finding time to air-out has becoem as important as brushing my teeth.

+ Experiencing the Removal of Condit Dam in First Person and Writing with More Purpose

I am poised on what feels like a significant moment in history.

Standing with American Whitewater's Megan Hooker in front of Condit Dam

Condit Dam, a 125 ft hydrpower project on the White Salmon River, is about to be excavated from the canyon where it has sat, blocking the flow of the river for the past 100 years. And I've got front row seats to watch the whole thing happen.

Even better, I assigned myself the job of informing everyone I can about the big deal right in their backyards. Wet Planet handed me The Eddy Line, a blog for news in and around the river, a year ago when I came to the gorge. Throughout the winter, this outlet became my own little soapbox for preserving our rivers and our ability to recreate on them. I wrote about the purpose of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the breakthroughs in the saga of Condit Dam, and the best kayaking and rafting locations in the Northwest. Like candy.

A friend competes in the BZ Huckfest during this year's Riverfest

This led right into the orchestration of the White Salmon River Fest and Symposium. Kind of a big deal. This year, Heather (fellow instructor) and I picked up the task of running the whole event and went with it. Family responsibilities in Holland required Jaco, owner of Wet Planet and organizer of the event for the past 5 years, to leave the country for a few months. She was, thankfully able to help with vital contacts and ideas all the way from Europe.

Local community leaders speak about the removal of Condit Dam during the Symposium

The event was a success. Bringing people together along the White Salmon River makes me feel a greater connection to this place, as if I could even call it home.

- Kayaking Less and Living with Guns

With all this writing, guiding, and instructing, I'm actually kayaking less. Or rather, kayaking-for-fun less. Instructing is fun, writing about kayaking is great, but nothing can replace the deep satisfaction of hitting your own line.

The Subaru gets a new rear window (and will later be sold completely)

Kevin, probably the sweetest river guide alive, shot a beer can with the family bee-bee gun which then hit my rear window. Minor inconvenience to keep things in perspective.

What is the answer to the equation?

Considering the items subtracted are really only small annoyances and temporary adversities, this equation leaves me in the positive. A place I have no intention of leaving.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Gear Works, It Makes Me Smile

Looking down at your jacket, after paddling through miles and miles of rapids, and seeing small beads of water brings a smile across my face every time.

Gear drying after a run down the Urubamba, Peru

The quality of my specialized equipment and technical clothing directly corresponds with how many days I get to be outside. When my IR dry-top still repels water, even still beads up the slippery substance on the surface, you know you've made a good investment.

I'm also comforted by knowing my personal flotation device is going to work. My throw rope will deploy. My skirt will not implode. I don't waste time doubting these things. This makes a difference in the water I chose to take myself, and my equipment, down.

Copper Creek, Washington

It is also nice to see an industry begin to represent itself with a bit more creativity, a bit more personal branding.

My new Astral LE 4 jacket boasts design work by Megan Smith, a young designer who has spent the past 25 years completely entrenched in extreme sports culture. Its about time people like her are able to express their ideas and designs to the kayaking world. Maybe we will begin to see character, expression and rad designs on our formerly drab looking gear.

While the 10 years I've spent in the kayaking community may yet be a blink, the progression of the sport has been exciting to witness. Think I'll spend another 10 years here, maybe more.

Little Klickitat River, Washington

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In Portland, Biking is Contagious

As a Lole Blog contributor, I get share all the juicy activities and inspiring thoughts that an active and adventurous lifestyle affords.

While biking through Portland's unique neighborhoods and along the Willamette River downtown, the fresh air and crowded bike lanes inspired me to share the culture of biking with the Lole community.

Alberta Street in NE Portland, my neighborhood

Because in Portland if you don't embrace the pedal, you are just missing the main idea. Leaving the car keys at home can initially be harsh, like shedding the crutches. But once you learn to trust the efficiency, practicality and extra joy, you soon learn why the bikers are just happier people.

Take a look at the blog post for more: 5 Tips for Urban Exploration in Portland, OR

Monday, January 24, 2011

Self-Taught Continued Education and the Learning Bug

There are individuals who would enter a pool in no other way than to dive, head first and with conviction. Some with knowledge of depth and others with a keen intuition and trust in skill and judgement.

Either way, these individuals do not waste time. They do not care about temperature or slimy, aquatic life lurking below. Divers just go for it.

Swim team ended over 15 years ago and I still find myself diving into deep and unfamiliar waters. There is a certain lust in the unknown, in the possibilities and opportunities of increasing one's understanding of the world and connection to place.
Swimming in the unknown waters surrounding Galapagos Islands

The lust increases and a bug attacks me, forcing me to dive. This learning bug assaults me every so often, leaving me in fits of late-night research, over-consumption of coffee and high fevers of passion and excitement.

Most recently, it has been rivers.

Ok, you're right, its always been rivers.

It began with learning to descend them safely in a kayak, moving to gaining familiarity with flows and locations and ultimately sharing this process with other newbies. Separately, I explored ecosystems, habitats and environmental services as a scientist and environmental educator.

Now these passions meet. Or perhaps they have been good friends all along, finally awakening me to their intrinsic connection.

So now I dive again, into the turbulent waters of river conservation and advocacy.

I assign myself projects: digesting complicated documents loaded with obscure verbiage, filtering through countless blog rolls for real news headlines, recording notes and thoughts for no exact purpose other than proof of accomplishment.

This all might seem pointless to you. (Or to my family who wonders if I will ever get paid for this type of dedication.)

To that, I point out that dedication to knowledge acquisition is never pointless. Especially when combined with intention to use the information for positive change. In other words, I know this information will prove useful for me. As I learn more and swim deeper into these waters, I feel the weight and pressure grow, becoming more excited by the second. Rather than gasping for air and swimming to the surface, I'm growing gills.

I think I'll be swimming down here for a while.

Condit Dam, murky waters of Northwestern Lake surging over 185 ft. dammed dam.

Interpreted, synthesized and reformatted for the ease of others' understanding:

Currently attacking:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Filling the cup, at 6 am

The rain spit at my face at 5:30 am this morning. I could hear my bike wheels draw up the water and hit my fender, as my movement broke the stillness of such an early hour.

A glowing flower from Costa Rica. If a flower can glow...I can too.

Whether part of a resolution wave or just simple interest, I have enrolled in a week-long yoga intensive that gets me out of bed long before the sun. In fact, it returns me to my house before the sun's alarm clock even goes off. Almost as if my transformed mind and body gently rub the sun's back and draw him into consciousness for the day.

"Good morning sweet sun. The day has begun, you should get out of bed and bring light to all the people who have already awoken and encourage those who have not to lift up and out of their slumber. I've already gotten the wheels turning, all you have to do is rise now."

The biking element is my personal icing on the cake of breaking into a tough daily routine.

Thus, each morning this week I will suit-up in my rain gear (rapidly aging here in Portland) and pedal my way to North Portland Yoga at a silly early morning hour.

Of course, the pay-off makes all of these petty difficulties cower.

The studio's warmth first draws you in like a fresh apply pie on grandma's window sill. Then every participant welcomes you with a smile, that you naturally return. You settle into your own body and wipe away everything that could possibly put you in even the slightest bad mood. Gone.

Just you and your breath and your body and the insightful and calming words of Sweethome Teacup, my teacher.
Balance: always seeking.
Ivan Steifel in a stern squirt on the Gauley River, WV

Now, I begin my Tuesday with a cup so full, it seems that the whole day will float by without impediment. Or perhaps, I will simply deal with impediments in a different way.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Staying Accountable for Resolutions

This time of renewal flashes into our lives every January.

Couch potatoes spotted purchasing yoga mats. Recycle bins more packed than the garbage. Junkies putting down the crack. Wait, I don't know what junkies do.

It's all a package deal with the strike of midnight on New Years. We are given the opportunity for change, for improving our circumstances and making life better. Despite actually possessing this ability every day of the year, something about the rolling over of a new year makes these commitments somewhat more solid.

Breaking out of old habits, like clipping the fence to jump into moving traffic.

At least until we fall back into a lazy, distant relationship with all those commitments which would have significantly made life better had we just kept with them. My estimation is February 3rdish.

But not this year, right? (It is, afterall, still only January 10th).

So how do we make ourselves accountable when the freshness of the New Year blows away and the recirculated air of our routine reemerges?

I believe we must first develop a connection, a link between each of our committments.

Just as one, oval chain link will not suffice, an entire chain becomes one unit, strong and unified.

  • A better diet and more exercise? Ride your bike to the local farmer's market.
  • More exercise and keeping in touch with old friends? Write a letter for every hour of exercise you do.
  • Keeping in touch with old friends and using less energy? Use regular mail instead of email.
If our resolutions depend on each other for a stronger presence, each will become easier to manifest. I see each individual goal as getting easier, the more we focus on the others. Often the first change is the most difficult to adapt, with each successive growing easier and easier. Like cookies during the holidays, each easier to consume than the last.

I think this chain idea will help me integrate more of these positive elements into my daily (post February 3rd) routine.

Don't go to the left.

Additionally, I must also give myself time. I think of it as a little present on my desk, that just pops into existence mid-work day. Under that lavishly gold sequenced bow, two whole hours to keeping my resolutions going.

I sometimes accept with the smile of a teenage boy holding his Aunt Phyllis' banana hammock birthday present. Really, I don't want this gift. Not right now at least.

Of course, to avoid family feuds over inappropriate gifts, I use the present. And, just like that boy, I learn to love it.

Just give the banana hammock a try.

Therefore, each week I will accept the gift of time to the practice of all of my new goals, at least once. Hopefully each week, this will become so second nature that the air of resolution will surround me all year long.

Ahh, the bliss of pre-February 3rd.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joining the Wild and Scenic River System: What does that even mean?

Wild & Scenic Waterfall: Big Brother on the White Salmon River, WA

I said it to my kayak instruction students and rafting clients countless times this summer.

"Oh yea, the White Salmon is a Wild & Scenic River" (confidently nodding as if it was so obvious what this means that I wouldn't even bother elaborating).

Just a few of Oregon and Washington's Wild & Scenic Rivers

When it comes down to it though, I have no idea what this means exactly.

Obviously it means that some type of imaginary conservation blanket covers the twisting river through canyons and farmland. Perhaps it prevented the construction any sort of obstruction, like a dam, along the free-flowing river. It might even mean that the river met some higher standard of water quality.

Still, too many questions remained for me to be able to truthfully make this statement to my guests.
  • Is the whole river protected?
  • What does 'wild' and 'scenic' actually mean?
  • What about the Condit Dam downstream?
  • Is some agency/organization/group actually managing this river?
  • Why is this river so special?
So I found out.

In the article Part I: Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in Oregon and Washington, I explain the answers to all these juicy questions.

If you have ever enjoyed the flowing water of a "Wild & Scenic River" I suggest you check it out. Educate yourself on the rivers you love and maybe one day you will be the one to stop their destruction.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Changing a River Forever: Removal of the Condit Dam in my backyard

I follow the river. Not only when pushing off from shore and moving with the current, but also from home. I watch gauges and learn about tributaries. I listen for reports of new wood and alteration of rapids over the seasons.

My new home in the Columbia Gorge, from Portland to Hood River to White Salmon, brings the opportunity to learn and connect with a new set of rivers.

When I heard the plan to tear down a 200 ft dam from my new favorite river, my attention sharpened.

[Check out the article Condit Dam Removal: White Salmon soon to be freed that I wrote to learn more about what is going on with the decomission process and how boaters will be effected]

I learned that the days of the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River were numbered, soon discovering how long this process has actually taken.

Steps toward decommissioning began 14 years ago! Hoops and hurdles stood in the way as PacifiCorp, Skamania and Klickitat counties, local community associations, energy and environmental departments and many more all petitioned for their interests. Settlements were made, certifications gained and now only one last order from the Federal Energy Regulation Comission must be made before the final date is set.

And here I stand, showing up for the very last moments of the ordeal.

While I have not been a witness of the process in the past, you better believe I will be around for what happens next.

The White Salmon River valley is about to change drastically. We will witness a new riparian environment slowly rebuild. Fading through degrees of succession as plants and animals reemerge into their natural habitat. Fish will travel farther upstream now, changing the dynamic of upstream sections of river as well.

And of course, the contours of the river bed that have hidden under the lake for nearly 100 years will once again feel the flow of the river.

Makes me wonder what other projects exist throughout my region working toward similar goals and how I might be able to be a part of it all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Goal: 30+ Mile Wildwood Trail

New city, new home, now I need a new goal. A goal that feels as foreign as living in a city does for a mountain girl.

Blissfully cramp-free running on a trail in Forest Park after work today, I decided to give more purpose to each footstep. I'm not one for tallying up the miles in my running shoes. In fact, running longer distances has always seemed silly to me, as the sport falls into my cross-training regime. I run when convenience allows, when my kayak needs rest or when my schedule puts me near a trailhead.

Setting off to loop some trails in Forest Park, just before inspiration for new goal

But its time for running to get more credit. Bending around a lush patch of ferns, bouncing over tree roots, pulling in every breath to energize my body: nothing beats that moment.

Thus the 30-mile, One-Month Wildwood Trail Challenge. Self-induced, naturally.

Forget a "marathon." I don't even want to hear that word. Crashing footsteps send imaginary shock waves through my leg joints at the mention of the word. No, my running credit will be gained from the successful completion of one, simple trail. North to south, without stopping. Thats it. Just one trail.

Now you might be confused at this point. How can I run enough miles through the woods to take on such a challenge while living in a major metropolitan city? Well, Portland is not like most large cities. Within a train or bus ride from every point in the city, I can reach the 5,000+ acres of juicy wilderness called Forest Park.

Thus it is settled. My kayaks might find a little more rest for the next month. My knitting project might last all winter. My friends might shake their heads.

For geeky analysis of each workout (both wet and dry) check this out (keyword: smhollings). My new Garmin Forerunner allows me to track mileage, elevation, heart rate, laps, course and more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Whitewater Meets Adventure Racing: BADDLUN

If you thought Class V was hard, think again. The bar has been raised.

First, try fully exhausting yourself by biking through grueling terrain, up steep and narrow trails or over mountains on back country roads.

Next, change your shoes and run through the woods like a Yankee in Deliverance for miles and miles.

Now paddle your Class V river as hard as your remaining muscle power can take you.

This is the BADDLUN, and it is going to change the face of Extreme Adventure Racing.

I know I have a new goal for 2011: Gauley, Russell Fork, Green...