Written by Aaron States
Edited by Aaron S. Johnson
Photography by Colin Caruth
It’s three in the morning, and I’m too excited to sleep. My dog gives a slight a huff as I crawl out of bed and turn on YouTube. May as well watch that roll video one more time since the only thing I’ve mastered is the wet exit and the window shade. It’s no use. I’ve memorized this roll video, and I still can’t figure it out. I need more pool practice. I need to sleep. I kill the TV and crawl back into bed. When I wake up, I’ll gulp some coffee and load my kayak and camping gear into my truck. It’s Poudre weekend!
Poudre weekend is an exciting time for Colorado Whitewater members. It’s an especially exciting weekend for all of the newbies because with our lack of experience, it’s a perfect opportunity to paddle with experienced CW members and instructors. We’ve put in our time at the pool, the lake, and training camp. Now we get to apply our skills on the river in some fast moving class-III rapids. We finally have the opportunity to go cruising down the river in our kayaks with our new friends! Fun is almost guaranteed; hopefully we’ll huck our skills up a bit too.
I pull up to the campground early Saturday morning. A few members made it in last night, as evidenced by the kayaks and tents scattered about. I find my site and quickly set it up so I can cook breakfast. My dog whines; he’s hungry too. After breakfast, we saddle up and head down to Picnic Rock. The parking lot is packed with CW members, and the vibe is already flowing as hugs and smiles are exchanged between, well, everybody. I get out of my truck and immediate get told, “Watch out!” I turn my head and look at where Aaron is pointing, and almost get run over. I laugh as I remind him, “Dude, point positive!” We hug and say hello, then we break into smaller groups based on skill levels with leads and sweeps. We shuffle our kayaks into vehicles and shuttle up to our put-in points. It’s game time!
Only the sweep and lead can roll consistently in my group, so we put in just below Mad Dog rapid in order to warm up by practicing getting in and out of eddies and some ferrying. Our warm-up run goes smoothly, and this time we shuttle to just above Mad Dog, and I get my first look at it. It doesn’t look mad; it looks charming, inviting even. There’s a little bit of a lateral to the rapid on river left under the tree, and a nice big green tongue leading to the peak followed by some choppy boogie water. I got this! We put in just above Mad Dog and go for it. I’m third in line, and I watch the first two paddlers successfully navigate the rapid. As I approach my line, I realize the current is pushing further left than I want. I’m racing down the left edge of the tongue as I approach the rapid, and it’s huge! There’s five feet of rabid canine about to bite down on me, and it does! I square up to the lateral, lean forward, dig my paddle, and charge up the wave. As my bow reaches to the horizon, the lateral element crashes over the top of my boat with enough force to smash my paddle into my helmet. I come over the top of the rapid; I’m leaning hard to the right, but I remember my training. I just keep paddling, and somehow I make it! We all made it, and we all slapped high fives with our paddles.
As we get back to the campground, it’s a hustle and bustle of wet gear being hung out to dry and tales of survival being shared over cold beer. Apparently not everyone made it through the rapids without incident. With this large of a group, there’s bound to be swimmers. Everyone swims. Today was the first day I didn’t swim. I’ll probably swim tomorrow! One strainer, near the take-out, snarled up two would-be paddlers-turned-swimmers. A scary scenario indeed, but both paddlers, with the quick responses of their leads and sweeps, were able to mitigate their situations and get safely to shore. If the strainer wasn’t enough excitement for Jane, it turns out she was welcomed home to her cabin by a rattlesnake! Fortunately no one got bit, thanks to the KOA caretakers who are pros at catching snakes.
Someone throws the ball for my dog to go fetch, which grabs my attention. I see Tim, standing two tents down, dripping wet. He’s got his kayak on his shoulder and a giant grin on his face. I start laughing because I already know. I saw the puddle-sized campground pool when I arrived. I ask, “How’s the pool?” “Friendly!” is his response. Apparently, his roll practice drew quite the crowd, and it morphed into a flat-water rodeo show for some non-paddling campers. Way to go, Tim!
My stomach grumbles; I’m hungry again. Heck, I’m starving! Everyone played hard today, and it’s time to eat. Be aware, we’re not your stereotypical river bums living off of ramen noodles. This is Colorado Whitewater, and we like to feast! It’s a potluck dinner, and the spread is incredible. BBQ ribs, gumbo, couscous, chili, and even apple pie! I’m the epitome of a dirty kayaker; all I brought was a fork, and I think I ate about half of Curt’s chili by myself! It doesn’t matter though. There’s plenty of food for everyone, and we’re a river family. After dinner, the night winds down, and I find myself sitting in a rather large group circle. We all take turns telling a quick story about our favorite event from today. It feels good to be a part of this tribe. It feels like I’ve found a home. I can’t wait to turn in and do it all again tomorrow. We’re Colorado Whitewater. Come for the paddling, stay for the people.