Monday, July 8, 2013

FD2 Whitewater Kayaking Montana Days 6 & 7

Day 6: Today is the day, graduation day!! I was so excited to be back on the water and hit those rapids in my own kayak. But just to giver you a little heads up I started the morning out telling everyone that I was fully prepared to flip/swim while kayaking, so you can imagine what I set myself up for.

We needed to leave at 9am sharp, which in true FD fashion meant we left about 9:20am. We headed over to Great Northern Rafting...
This is their little coffee shop inside the train!
We got to do a little shopping before getting ready to head out. We rallied back to our vans and we were off. I have to say one my favorite things about getting to the different put in locations was the conversation that occurred in the van. Now make no mistake, it was by no means always appropriate but still a great way to get to pass the time and in most cases learn more than you ever expected about each other!

We arrived at our put in off the middle fork river and got ready to go. We celebrated graduation day with an impromptu dance party!

We had a brief run down of how the river usually works and what to look for when you're figuring out what route to take in the water. This was going on as our camp directors and volunteers ran shuttle so we could have transportation at the end. Then it was time to break up into our groups or pods as they called it. I decided I wanted to shake it up a little and change pods. I went with Sexy Love Beast (who will from here on out be referred to as Sexy LB because it's easier to type). He was pretty much in charge so I was confident that he knew what he was doing and that meant we would most likely be going first!

We all started to get into the water. Our group launched our kayaks from the shore. Meaning we got in them while still on the shore and basically used it as a slide for our kayaks into the water. Pedro was waiting at the bottom to stop us and probably make sure we didn't flip as well.

The best part about all this and not far from there was our first rapid. We needed to stay to left and then turn right. I started paddling following Sexy LB but I did something drastically wrong cause I ended up going right which put me right into a shallow rocky area where you bet I promptly got stuck. Luckily Cast Away (a guide who had just joined us for the day) came and pulled me out. Fantastic right, or so I thought until I got myself right into the middle of the rapid and flipped over. Luckily Cast Away was right there so I knew I could T-rescue. However I came up at an odd angle and then with the current the river going against my kayak by the time I got in the right position to right myself my skirt came off filling my kayak with water...I was swimming. I was the first swimmer of the day hurray for me! Sexy LB came over and got me to ferry me over to an eddy, cast away got my boat to me where I climbed onto the beach and emptied my kayak. I will inform you although I was the first to flip I was not the only one so I felt a little less incompetent. It felt off being back in the kayak after having been out it for two days I needed more time acclimate back to it.

We all continued on down the river but all the guides we sure to give us space. As we approached another eddy after going through a rapid I managed to flip again however Sexy LB was right next to me and I did a successful T rescue. In fact it was so successful that when I snapped back up I managed to flip myself on the other side. But I again did a successful T rescue. At this time I am not going to lie I was starting to get frustrated and doubt myself. We came to a rather large rapid that was actually on a turn. So in order to get where we needed to be we had to go into the eddy that was right before it so we could ferry out and be in the right direction. I was so nervous that while everyone else was practicing I just sat there watching I was too afraid I was going to flip again. But then I had no choice but to go because we had to get out of the eddy. I bet you will never guess what happened, well if you said I made it you would be wrong. I flipped and ended up wet exiting which involved emptying my kayak, blah, blah, blah. Once back in I was faced again with the same problem of needing to get out of that eddy and down the rapid in the right direction. I took a deep breath and went for it. This time I was successful and managed to get myself down the rapid and paddle down more of the river.
We all got to hang out in some really cool eddy's surrounded by huge rock walls and most had waterfalls. At least if we were sitting around for a few minutes it certainly was beautiful.

There was some confusion about if we were doing the graduation rapid before or after lunch. It had gotten late and we all really wanted to eat first but we were then informed that was not going to be an option. As we all prepared for the graduation rapid we were told that we would be running it entirely on our own. The guides would be in place as safety boaters but we needed to read the water and get ourselves through it. As if that wasn't making us nervous enough I also had had to pee for about 2 hours and just wanted out of my kayak.

As each person went we made up a cheer/song that went along with their name as they set out on their journey. I am currently drawing a blank as to what mine was. but it did help a lot. By the time it was my turn I really think the driving force behind it was just wanting to be able to pee. I must say I did very well. I had good control and was able to stay on course. I made it all the way through the rapid and over to our lunch spot. I was thrilled!! I of course basically jumped out of my kayak, peed in the water (yes I admit it) and cheered on all those coming behind me. It was great to see everyone conquering whatever fears they may be having and put all their newly acquired skills to use.

Bomb greeted us on the beach with lunch and fully dressed in a graduation cap and gown. It was great!

After lunch we got back out to do what little was left of the river. The rapids were mild but still there. After my debacle with the eddy I think I got my kayak feet back because I did not flip anymore!

As we all got to the take out and climbed out of our kayaks it really was bitter sweet. This was the last time we would be on the river, in these kayaks, for tomorrow was time to go home. I guess similar to any graduation ceremony.

We headed back towards the cabins once all the vans were loaded. Our van was the lead so we decided to stop at the Glacier National Park sign for a group photo.
We really are a nice looking group. However we then wanted to play around and we rushed because we were running EXTREMELY late which Mama Mia and Ruby would not like cause we still needed to have dinner.

We got back to camp and a few of us once we were changed headed to the kitchen to help with dinner. Once most everything was done I went back to the cabin and grabbed my new FD shirt. I wanted everyone to sign it. Pedro offered his colored sharpies which was great because all I could find was a black one and that wouldn't make for a very fun shirt. Little did I know just how much free will they would take, but it turned out being great and I wouldn't change it for anything.
Even if it does now include a penis being drawn on it. Thank to my twin brother! (I'll explain to who ever would like to know) I love doing this because it is such a personalized memento and when I wear it it helps spread more FD awareness/love because people are constantly asking me about it. This should be an interesting one to talk about!!

Then we headed to campfire. It was fantastic, the nights topic of conversation was describe your week with FD only using three words. It started off more on the light hearted side. I believe at some point I might have referenced FD Rocks Hard which was returned with Shut Your Face from my twin. But then it got more serious and really did help us all reflect. Before we got to far into campfire we had a surprise for our volunteers and program directors. We got them little gifts and presented them. I think it took them all by surprise but they were really happy!

Pedro and Patch took out a box filled with candles. This is my favorite part of graduation campfire basically like a candle light ceremony where you remember all those who can no longer attend an FD camp and those who would just like to have thoughts and prayers sent out to. I honestly had so many people swimming through my head and I am sure they all got a little part of my candle but there was one in particular that really stuck with me all week and was who I was thinking of most my friend Mike Robinson. We actually got to walk down to the river and Bomb had made us a special little spot to float our candles. As we put our candles in the water I couldn't help but sing "Lean On Me" it seemed very appropriate, some even joined in. It was a beautiful moment and a beautiful sight.
We walked back up and all gathered around the campfire. Pedro and Patch had a surprise for us. I was expecting another Baci ceremony but they told us they were doing something different. It was a Khata ceremony which is when you present someone with a pure white scarf as a way to bring them good luck and fortune as well display that what you are offering comes from the purest of hearts. I got get mine from Pedro, and everything he said really did come from the heart. After everyone had received their scarves we decided to continue the love and talk to each other positively and share our new found connection and extended FD family. Then it was time to go check out our week in the form of slide show, how exciting!

Raz (our photographer) put together a fantastic slide show that included not only pictures but lots of video as well.  It was nice to see everything all summed up and relive most of it.

At each campfire we also give out awards, one for most entertaining or humorous, one with the most kayaking spirit and one that was a kayak star. I was so excited because I hadn't won yet and my good friend CoPilot chose me as a kayak star because she had a slightly difficult time on the river and I managed to convince her to get back into her kayak to finish when she was ready to get on the raft. It was a very touching award!

Then it was time to go to bed, oh did I mention at this point it was about 1am? I told you we were running late when we stopped to get our picture taken at the sign. Even after all that happened today there was still one more thing that I was SUPER EXCITED about!
Pedro and Patch let me sleep in the TEEPEE!! Earlier that day I asked Pedro what the chances of me being able to kick them out of the teepee was so I could stay in there that night. Honestly I was just kidding around I never expected him to say yes that I could sleep in there. But he did say yes! They cleaned out all their stuff and let us move in. At first it was Flip Flop, Buo and I but then Buo and I were talking too much keeping Flip Flop awake so she went back to the cabin. Sorry Flip Flop. I know it sounds dumb but it really was fun to sleep out there. Pedro even let me borrow his therma pad to sleep on because the "floor" of the teepee was all gravel. How often would I get the chance to sleep in a legit teepee? I am so thankful to Pedro and Patch for giving up their "home" to let me have the experience. Although Patch did say that he was setting the ground rule that the teepee was for the camp directors and no one else could sleep in there for the next week.

Day 7: I didn't actually get much sleep because most people had to get up early to leave to head back to Spokane International Airport. I luckily got to sleep for another hour and a half after they left. It was just Bobo and I that were leaving from Kalispell airport. My flight was at 10:32am so we left about 8:45am to get there in time. It was nice to have sometime with just Patch, Pedro and Bobo before leaving. It was a shorter ride but still enough time to learn a little more about all of them. When we arrived Patch said his goodbyes at the van, Pedro came into the airport with us. He gave us both a hug at the door so in his words "he wouldn't cry".

Bobo and I checked in for our flights. Apon doing so I learned that they were looking for a volunteer to give up their seat on my flight because it was over sold. They would get me a flight through Delta that would have less stops and get me home 2 hours yes please. Oh yea and I would have gotten a $400 voucher for a future flight. I decided to do this and was waiting for them to give me my new boarding pass. The new flight wasn't leaving until 2:30pm so Bobo and I had already decided that we were going to call Pedro and Patch back to ask if we could go with them to breakfast cause that is where they were heading after they dropped us off. However at the last minute someone didn't show up so I had to get on my plane. That began my long journey home which involved a 4 hour layover in Chicago and finally landing at Logan at 12:33am.

Once again I sit here reliving every moment of the FD experience. I spent my entire first day back at work wanting nothing more than to be with everyone in Kalispell, kayaking down the river! There are absolutely no words to describe what the FD camp experience is like. The only thing I can do is say thank you! Thank you Mama Mia and Ruby for being the most Amazing Camp moms we could ask for, always greeting us as our own mothers would have and taking such good care of us. Thank you to Bomb for being a fantastic camp dad, sticking with us on the river carrying our lunch, snacks and water in the raft and of course offering a place a refuge when some of us were just done with kayaking for the day. Your stories and wonderful personality were something we all needed!

Thanks to The Dude who not only took care of all our bumps, bruises and injuries but also helped guide us on the river and was an extra safety boater. You definitely kept us going in more ways than one. Thank you to Raz for climbing rock walls to get some good shots of us, for always being one step ahead for some rapid footage. And for also guiding us along the river when needed too.

Braveheart where to begin, thank you for dealing with all my over exhaustedness in Washington, getting us food and entertainment. For making that long drive even after you had a long travel day as well. Then once there for general good nature, your lovely giggle, your fantastic rap style and of course for filling in and helping out where ever you were needed. You were a great fill in camp mom we stayed well hydrated and did not get sunburned!

Thank you to all our guides from Great Northern Rafting, Sexy LB, Korps, Fish, Maybe and Cast Away, without you we definitely would not have made it through all those rapids. I learned a ton and it was all thanks in part to you all. You listened to what we needed and adjusted accordingly!

A real special thanks goes out to Patch and Pedro our fearless leaders.

Patch you always made me feel comfortable, you helped us all learn what we needed to know, you always were there for us when we needed a safety boater both in the water and out. Thanks for sharing your humor and most importantly sleeping outside so I could sleep in the Teepee, that was really cool! It was fantastic to learn about you! Please know that it really does take a special person to run an FD camp and you are definitely one of those people!

Oh Pedro where do I even begin, for the moment I met you; well once I had gotten some sleep; I knew there was just something about you. Thank you so much for your open personality and for not trying to be someone you're not. If there is one thing I appreciate is when people are who are and don't try to censure themselves. You seemed to always forget to filter which is why you ended up yelling at me to shut my face the first time. But I knew it was meant in a good way and of course continued throughout the week. You make one hell of a twin brother! Thanks so much for saving me on the river, for giving up the teepee so I could experience it and for just plain making the whole FD camp exactly what it should be! In your words we are all new friends forever!

I would also like to thank Brad for starting First Descents. It's funny at camp we were talking about if you had any idea what you were creating when you started FD? If you had any idea just where it would and the amazing impact it would have on so many people? There are no words to say how grateful I am to you for this phenomenal experience and well family that I have now. Forever apart of FD!

And last but certainly not least thanks to all my fellow participants, Bandcamp, Bobo, Bro Puppy, Bruce, Buo, CoPilot, Dak, DotCom, Flip Flop, Journey, Pasta, Road Rash and Tiger. You all made this week an experience I will never forget. We all had our ups and downs but you all supported not only me but each other and helped keep us motivated to get back in the kayak and do it again! We had one hell of a week, now it's time to remember that FD magic and carry it with us!

Now for those of you who have read this and agree with me about how fantastic First Descents please donate to my fundraising page! I am doing an Olympic Triathlon to as my challenge to raise money to send other young adult cancer survivors on an adventure of their new lifetime. Help me reach my goal but clicking here and donating!

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