This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Fitness. Do it.

This is one of the most underrated aspects of kayaking. Too many swims are caused by this, too many epics, too many long, emotionally draining days. 

The body and mind are more connected than people give credit. I have seen people swim and not be able to recover emotionally because their body doesn't recover. If your body recovers quickly, so will your mind. You will still feel strong, you will not feel drained. 
Many swims are preventable, especially ones caused by getting stuck in a hole. There are very few terminal holes, it just depends how long you are able to hold on. Watch this inspiring video of Erik Boomer showing what some fitness can do.

Wikipedia States(do I use wikipedia as a reference too often? ehh, oh well):

It[Exercise]... improves mental health, helps prevent depression, helps to promote or maintain positive self esteem, and can even augment an individual's sex appeal or body image, which is also found to be linked with higher levels of self esteem.

We will probably never be able to make exact connection between self esteem and kayaking ability, but we all know that it is a mental game. Rapids look harder when you are not confident, beat downs seem more serious, and the granite gorges become intimidating and inspire anxiety rather than concentration.

My recommendation is Crossfit.

Crossfit, in their own words:

"Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life, reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist."

Basically it is program that simultaneously improves power and cardio. It does not make you look like a typical meathead. You don't grow huge muscles like you would if you were power lifting, and you don't trim down like you would if you were training for a marathon, but you gain a tremendous balance of power and stamina. 

There is a link on the bottom of my website but there is a caveat. It is hard, really hard. I guess it is really only as hard as you make it, but even just doing the movements with no weight is a good workout. 

I can tell you that I have worked out for a long time and I do half the weight they recommend for the WOD(Workout Of the Day, found on the main Crossfit page). I also stop a lot when the workout are timed because you end of getting lightheaded. 

But the results show. Boofs feel powerful, hole rides are fun and you still feel in control, you don't have to eddy out that much, you can recover quickly, you are calmer, more confident, energetic. It is worth that 40-60 minutes in the gym on the days you don't paddle. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sensation Seeking: Do we need it?

Marvin Zuckerman is a professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware and studies sensation seeking. Apparently this guy put people in dark, quiet rooms, and water tanks to see what sensation deprivation leads to. His research shows that people need sensations to live sane lives. He also speaks of the genetic basis of sensation seeking. He believes that sensation seekers come in four varieties:

1. Outdoor sports and activities that involve speed and danger
2. Drugs, Travel, the arts, and an avante garde lifestyle
3. Swingers like daft parties, sexual variety, gambling
4. People who cannot tolerate predictable people or routine

Even as I read this list I am pulled more towards the first and last than the middle two.

"Sensation-seeking are more likely to engage in divergent thinking, they don't think in conventional ways, creativity is the ability to think in ways that people have not done before, it is novelty seeking in a way. " Zuckerman

You can check out his interviews here.

Sensation seekers have less fear arousal and the high sensation seekers are less likely to believe that something is risky.

He created the Sensation Seeking Scale which you can place yourself on here by taking a brief 19 question yes or no survey. Surprisingly I am barely made it up to average because I like to plan, which is not very sensation seeking, apparently. I am slightly offended, here I am thinking that I like sensations and now I find out I am average. Boring.

I am trying to cull good studies from his work but it is hard to find free scholarly articles that are poignantly relevant to the kayaking community. I will keep trying.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Forging Friendship

Nothing in this world is black and white.

As we grow older we realize that the either/or question is fallacious, it is a always a combination, or things lay on a spectrum. Things are more complicated than we think.

We will start with that assumption: Things are complicated.

I have made many friends over the years, but as time passes I call fewer and fewer times to hang out and more and more times to achieve a common goal; typically kayaking something difficult.

This is a dilemma.  You do things with friends, and that becomes entrenched in your relationship with them. When you hang out with them you do this thing, and if you are not doing this thing you are not hanging out with them. This dilemma I think is something people should be aware of because you don't just have friends in a vacuum. They are in a context. You may be saying "Seth, duh, you do things that you like with your friends, your blog is obviously too simplistic to be of any help to anyone". Hmm, thats true, condescending imaginary reader, but wait... Think of a friend that you only know through an activity.

For example: I have played Ultimate frisbee for several years at what I consider to be a high level. It was intense enough that most of the friends that I made during my time on the team were, you guessed it, people on the team. Now when I run into those people we have almost nothing in common except for ultimate, which I am not a part of at all anymore. It is crippling to these relationships because despite our time together I never really connected on a deeper level with these people. If I see one of them we get out a frisbee and toss it around for awhile out of habit, nothing more.

What kind of friendship is this? It is completely contextual and somewhat meaningless outside of its context. Is that okay?

Well if all you and your friends have is an activity, then once that activity is gone, you lose your friends. This I think is at the heart of why it is hard to be injured, because you realize how contextual some of your relationships are, you realize that you don't call to chat, you don't call to see a movie, you call to achieve a common goal. I do say some. There are a number of people who I talk to despite the lack of kayaking, and that is awesome.

Going back to the premise of this post, things are complicated, I am not saying this is a bad thing. We can't go around expecting to make best friends out of everyone, nor is the friendship that we create out of kayaking or any other group sport moot. They are important, fulfilling, and real. There are many people that I call only to kayak but I am really excited about seeing them, and kayaking is our excuse to hang out.

Galen Licht points out something deeper. He believes that the chaos of whitewater gives us the rare opportunity to forge our relationships. It gives us the opportunity to move closer to others, to know them in a way we couldn't outside of whitewater. I believe that this is especially true for multiday trips where we have time to talk to one another, time to deconstruct the reality around us and see what others see. In fact you will get to know people faster in that contest than any other, and if you don't, I guess there just isn't that much to know.

I suppose it is just another aspect of paddling. There are so few that do it that you necessarily just find people, anyone, who will kayak with you. These people don't necessarily meet our needs and perhaps we don't meet theirs but we have the common goal of kayaking, so we manage to work it out and get out there. There will always be people that we connect with and others that we don't, and the river just makes it more pronounced. Galen is right, the greatest relationships come through the river. I know my paddler friends better than anyone, and paddling will always be a connection, whether we do it anymore or not.

One of the fabled friendships in California whitewater history is the trio of Chuck Stanley, Lars Holbek, and Richard Montgomery. They made it through some pretty tough situations, have you seen what they portaged together?! That shit was crazy, but seriously they ran some amazing stuff. If you go over to Richards house on the weekend odds are that Chuck is going to be over there making a mockery of something. I can take some solace in the fact that a few friendships forged on the river will last a lifetime. We will all be sitting around a barbeque 20 years from now laughing at all the stupid decisions we made because we thought that we were 'cool'.

Sometimes kayaking is about the friendship, and sometimes it is about the river. Hopefully we can go deeper into both, but that just isn't always in the cards. I am grateful for the moments where I feel like I am exploring other people as well as rivers and I am accepting of the times where it seems like it is just me and the river.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


My turn.

It is hard to say exactly what these moments of near death and injury mean in kayaking; whether they are supposed to shed light on something you did wrong or are just an inherent risk is something we may just never know. Some people never seem to be injured, while there are many who are no longer with us, due to both injury and death. There are a fair number of people who I have paddled with who will never step foot in a boat again, and though I have just a small dose of what that may feel like I see how deep the hole goes. Now when I think of friends who are removed from the paddling community, it saddens me deeply to know the pain they must have felt, the emptiness of no longer being able to do the thing they loved so much, and the power they had to move on. I send my deepest condolence to anyone who has been injured or killed kayaking.

It makes me question whether it is all worth it. While it is tragic to be taken from the river, the worse tragedy perhaps is to never have experienced it at all. I don't want to arrive at death with an intact body, because that meant I never used it, I never saw what there was to see, never felt what there is to feel. My friend has a saying: Those who feel it know it. Without having actually experienced it there is no real way to say what it would have been like. And that is what drives me. I will slowly widdle my body away until all that is left is cycling and yoga, and hey, those two things are pretty sweet. I will do whatever I can to keep my body as fresh and alive as possible in this moment, but I do not fool myself into believing that I can somehow stave off injury or death. Both are certainly inevitable.  All you can do is prevent and recover as effectively as possible to remain as fully able as possible.

I went to the physical therapist, Kory Felkner, and he was quite surprised that I had full range of motion and almost full strength. The next six weeks are critical, he said I could start kayaking easy stuff in 2 weeks, but I will probably give it 4 because of a 10 day commitment to a rafting trip on the MF Salmon.

Rehab Begins:
Getting ready for the first ride of the year.
And so here it begins
I have some workouts to do

And I am supposed to take Ibuprofen in the morning and night, do these exercises, then ice my shoulder for 10-15 minutes to reduce swelling. I am also taking Arnica. 

So that is where I am at now. I am cycling again today, up to Spanish Peak, a 25 mile ride that gains a few thousand feet. It is good to have something else that I love to fall back to. I will spend my time on the bike listening to music and a UC Berkeley class, Psych 107:Psychology of Buddhism. 

The view as I leave the house
Who knows exactly what this rehabilitation will mean. My whole life has been flipped upside down in the last few weeks and it seems like my body sometimes asks for a break in a really aggressive way. Now I have to listen. Now I will have much more time to contemplate my future, my past, and mostly this very present moment. I look forward to the challenge that lays before me, and hope I too have the strength to make it through a new person, perhaps a little wiser, perhaps a little stronger. So many people have gone through injuries like this and I pay homage to them as I too walk the journey back to health, realizing that my injury pales in comparison to what others have lost but needs my diligence and attention nonetheless.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The shadow of kayaking

These are the short, very vivid thoughts of someone in a very intense situation.

Shoulder Dislocation on Mill Creek:

My shoulder is out. It is over. My kayaker is gone. I can be a normal person. I am free of this. I can finally do something else. I will read. I will bike. I will be able to have a normal relationship with my family and friends. I will no longer have to live so selfishly, so dedicated to one thing. I want to cry. I am so happy I will be free. I want to move forward. Have this all be over, free of regret.

Swim on Rainbow Falls on the SF Tuolumne:
I am going to go left. That was a long day... take the easy line

Wait a second... Galen is going right. It must have looked better than I thought.

(Galen drops off the falls)

Oh shit I am too far left. Oh shit I am going to land on Galen. I hope this doesn't hurt.

Hmmmm... I can't really roll, too bubbly. My knee is out. One try.


(Roll... nope)

I can't breathe.

I guess thats going to have to be okay.

I'm outta here


Am I behind this Waterfall? When am I going to go deep? I am bobbing. I can feel myself bobbing. I must be moving


Oh I am deep. When can I start swimming up? Now? Fuck it I am swimming up now.

(Pops up)

Oh theres Galen. Where is my stuff?

(Swims to shore)

Injury on EB of the NF Feather: 

I think I go left, middle, then back left. Wow that is a huge wave.



Oh my god.

I think I just crushed my cheek bone. Oh my god.

Is my helmet on?

Fuck. Roll.



Oh my god. I am up. My helmet is gone. I just ran that whole rapid upside down with no fucking helmet on.

Blood is dripping all over me. How bad is it?

Jesse: "It isn't that bad"


15 stitches below eye. 5 above.

The Things They Carried

This is a continuation of the Mill Creek post
Our story left off with a horrible pin gone right, and a dislocated shoulder reduced. Two disasters avoided. Now what?

We needed to figure out what to do. We sent Galen and Clancy on a hiking reconnaissance mission.

Jared was assigned to take care of me while Galen and Clancy went to look for the trail. We barely had time to improvise a sling before they were back. They said the trail was a short distance away. I had markedly recovered by then and was able to paddle across. I also carried my own boat to camp.
That evening we hiked the boats, empty, another mile and slept with our stuff. We did not manage time well(It was really my fault) and we made it back just before dark. We only had brought two headlamps for the four of us. Oops.

We wake up in the morning and set to work. We had estimated that there was somewhere between 5-8 miles to the start of the run and 8-10 to the access point in the middle, so we were going back to the start.
Getting ready to go. Watershed bags apparently strap together nicely to make a makeshift backpack.
Jared all packed up.

We hiked. And hiked. 

Galen taking a break
And hiked.
Kokatat rescue vest backpacking system. A lifesaver.
We dragged.

And carried
Our way to the trailhead. It took us about 5 hours to hike out. Which is not too bad really, but we were happy to be done.

We had to walk another half mile to get cell service. We called Tristan and he was there to our rescue.

The things we carried, and how they were used:

Long underwear and shirt: sling and padding
Kokatat PFD: backpack and kayak dragging harness.
Spray skirt: counterbalance and shoulder pad.
Flip line: for everything. Boat moving, bag strapping, carabiners, strapping boats down, waist belt, gear ball, safety sling for reduced shoulder.
Water bottle: Melted snickers cooling device. Also for carrying water.
Paddle: Hobo Stick, carry your stuff on each side and balance it on your neck.

What went right?
Did not die
Recent WFR recert popped shoulder back in immediately
We had plenty of food
Three of us had been there before and knew that there was a trail along the north side of the creek for an easy exit.
We had some information about the run. Like where the major markers were, like the mandatory portage.
We hiked out with our stuff the first time
Brought a cell phone. Checked for service.

What went wrong?
Bad scout? I scouted and it did not look the way that I thought. This is how kayakers die. On weird, class II-III mank, or freak wood, or cracks in rocks, or weird momentary shifts in current.
Only two headlamps for four people.
Poor time management on first night hike.

Mill Creek, Ishi Wilderness

I am disgruntled. The MF Feather, my favorite multi day trip was perfect the day before. It stood at 2700, a flow that fills everything in without dolling out punishment for mistakes. Then the rain came. The river swelled. It fucking ballooned. It doubled in 24 hours and kept going. Jared and I drove down to Chico to meet the rest of the crew. I lay in bed that night waiting for it to peak and then quickly plummet back down to runnable flows. At 11 the gauge stood at 5500. We didn't know anyone who had ever run it that high. I woke up at 6 am, hoping for a drop in water level. The gauge stood at 5200.

There is one choice remaining. Mill creek. Forty eight miles of what has been best described as "Not classic, but beautiful". Great. It feels like settling to go to the prom with the girl that has a "great personality".

Jared Licht, taking his share of the food
From Chico we drove a windy road for 90 minutes to put in. We made one stop. You ever seen five guys go pee on the side of the road simultaneously? I hope you do someday... perhaps if you follow our car.

Clancy's brother, Tristan, drove us to put in.  We made quick time and were on the water by 11.
Getting ready to launch

After a few hours of low gradient tree dodging and boulder bashing, we made it to the 'Mandatory Portage'. We made long work of it by overly debating what we should do.

"It doesn't look that bad"

"This portage would suck"

"No, it is easy. See"

"Oh yeah. Hmmm... Still don't really like portaging that much. What if you take the log out of that second drop, then it looks good"

And so we set off. Bash. Bash. Pin. Spin. Woo! One more classic Mill creek rapid done. Hoorah.

There were some good ones too.

Clancy styling the first half of the boof. 
Did I say there were good ones. I meant there was a good one.

And it was beautiful... The scenery of course. Not the rapids. 
We enjoyed some respite.
Coming around a blind corner I quickly hopped out of my boat to see what lay around the bend. I see a small rapid that looked just as good as the rest of the run. I small chute with a few boulders. I think to myself "There could be wood in there, but I can't see any. It will be fine".

As Jared floated by he yelled "Where do I go!?" "To the Left" I replied without much thought. He floated into the rapid. Suddenly he was pinned in the middle of the rapid. Galen was right behind him and stopped in an eddy. I was floating along and didn't see anywhere to stop so I grabbed onto a branch. I fought the branch and the current to stay in the same place. I soon found myself not caring so much about holding on so I let go. I thought a class II rapid lay below. I bashed into Galen, spun around and hit Jared. As I turn my nose downstream I see a piton rock and avoid it to the left. What I could not see was a tree that was wedged in between that rock and the shore. My hull hit the tree and immediately turned me facing upstream and pinned me against a rock with my chest. The water poured over the rock onto my face. I couldn't breathe. I reached for my skirt but the rock blocked my reach. I couldn't move. The water filled the orifaces of my face, down my nose, in my mouth.  The rock was crushing me. I felt paralyzed. My mind hurried to come up with more ideas, trying to get something to change.

For a moment I thought of Clancy, as he must have been watching me slowly run out of air and see that Jared was still pinned upstream. I felt pity for him. Having to watch his friends struggle. I thought of the guilt he would have if I died. That he was only feet away.

I reach down my skirt, it is partially off and I try to pull on it. Nothing. I push up on my knees to release myself. This paralysis is killing me. I lift my arms up to try to pull myself up and POP. My shoulder went out. But then everything releases and there was no more tension. I am swimming. There is a moment of calm.

The color leaked out of my face. I am blue. I feel cold, inhuman. But I am free. My shoulder. My shoulder. I kick some rocks and make it shore.

I laid down and he asked me to relax. He started pulling down on my arm and POP. Back in. The rubber bands in my shoulder feel like play doh.
My poor shoulder.

This was the end of our adventure on the river. For the rest of the story check out The Things They Carried. 

Beers to skulls ratio: 1 to 3. Easy shuttle. Long run. Beautiful. Crappy rapids. Worth doing again? Not for me, but obviously my experience is tainted, but I was thinking that I wouldn't come back before I almost died, so now it is really a no brainer.

Hitchability? horrible.