The Paddling Life–Mayhem on the Front Range

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The Paddling Life

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been tied up, and, well, it is boating season.

You don’t normally associate book signings with boating, but the two came hand-in-hand this spring when I traveled to Denver for signings for my new book, Brothers on the Bashkaus. (Shameless plug: If you haven’t ordered it yet, do so at www.fulcrum-books.com.) The events quickly turned into a tour of four of the Front Range’s best whitewater parks, including a full-on raging Front Range Surf-athon.

It started after a presentation at the Boulder Bookstore when I rallied over to the Lyons park. The water was low, but it was my first time there, so the personal first descent status more than made up for it. So did the tour of Oscar’s Brewery afterward, which I made as part of Mountain Hardwear’s Media Retreat, showing up wet and ratty afterwards.

The real goods came the next morning when I rallied my friend, Edge, for a 6 a.m. dawn patrol start out of Boulder on my way back to Steamboat. Destination: Union Chutes on the South Platte, which was charging at a whopping 3,000 cfs, its highest level in over ten years. It had been that long since I had been there, but the directions were the same. Head south on Santa Fe Avenue and take a right at the porn shop. You have to love urban boating. From there, we pulled over after crossing the bridge, next to a junkyard on river right. But our eyes weren’t on old Datsuns. It was on a frothing monster of a river-wide hole guarding the entrance. It was an old low head dam, and though it had been modified, the hole was still very much a keeper. Water lapping halfway up a “Danger” sign on the adjacent fence (see photo) didn’t help our coffee-laden stomachs. Since it looked like a one-time wonder with no eddy access, the plan was obvious: Might as well drop into the meat.

With that I hit the far right side of the beast and went into survival mode. When I finally got spit out, to our chagrin we found that you could actually grovel along the cement wall on the far right and get back in the thing. So we did so, and were thoroughly wasted by the time we continued downstream to the park’s usual features. At one time I had to wheelie to shore in my Wave Sport Project from a popped skirt, getting squirrel-o-grammed the whole way. In all we hit 12 features, all world class at the high flow, and we were the only ones there.

A few days later it was down to Denver for a signing at the Tattered Cover. I got there with an hour to spare and the South Platte was still cranking. Next stop: Confluence Park. Luckily I had gotten some beta before arriving. While the main chute was relatively washed out (the top wave was good, with a surging eddy over the buried steps), a quarter mile downstream beneath a railroad bridge was a huge wave hole followed by a seven-foot glassy. We surfed out hearts out, spinning and blunting up top wave and then mambo-surfing the lower wave. We also held onto our braces longer than usual—as if we were playing above Class V—to avoid tipping over in the urban water (now we were downstream of the porn shop and industry along Santa Fe.) We surfed while watching halter-top-clad babes roller blade, bike and jog by, and I made it to my presentation without a moment to spare, with river hair still dripping wet—perfect for my presentation persona.

I spent the night at a friend’s and then, while driving by Golden on I-70 at 7 a.m., I veered over for an impromptu early morning session on the Clear Creek park. It wasn’t raging yet, but there wasn’t a soul in site. Forty-five minutes later I was heading home, with four parks under my belt and a couple of serious thrashings.

Special Sidebar
Five Front Range Parks
While they’re on their last legs now, plan to hit the following parks if you’re in the Front Range next season:

Clear Creek, Golden
Golden’s famous water is now used for more than just beer. A centerpiece and economic catalyst for the city, Golden’s Clear Creek Whitewater Park is located on 10th and Maple streets, just south of Lion’s Park. Hit one of 13 drops on the 800-foot-long man-made course, all of which was snow you skied during the winter at Loveland.

Arkansas River, Pueblo
Finished in 2005, the downtown Pueblo course on the Arkansas River was built by the Army Corps. of Engineers as a fish passage and to ease navigation around an outdated and dangerous 12-foot-high dam. By no coincidence, it’s also a great passage for paddlers, with eight natural boulder holes for messing about in boats.

South Platte/Confluence Park, Denver
Confluence Park in downtown Denver serves double duty as paddling playground and flood control. Originally built in 1974 and refurbished twenty years later, it now includes sidewalks, planters, flood-control and whitewater features. Plus, if you forget your nose plugs (which you’ll want for water-quality issues), you can head to REI right next store.

St. Vrain River, Lyons
The Lyons course was remodeled just last year, with plenty of rocks to choose from local quarries. Hit the newly improved Black Bear and October holes for a solid sousing, and swing by June 9 for the Lyons Outdoor Games, featuring events, competitions, the band Planet Bluegrass, and local suds from Dale’s Pale Ale.

Boulder Creek, Boulder
Long a haven for inner-tubers, Boulder Creek became Graceland for kayakers in 1990 with the building of a whitewater park at Eben G. Fine Park. Continue down toward the library and you’ll see park-designer Gary Lacy’s house on the right. Hit it May 26-28 and enjoy the Boulder Creek Festival between 9th and 14th streets, featuring 12 event areas and more than 500 vendors.

Behind the Scenes at the Paddling Life Invitational

Well, we did it again…a successful hosting of the second annual Paddling Life Invitational on our hometown Yampa River and Fish Creek (for complete results and recap, Click here.

Well, almost successful. While we were ecstatic with our perfect safety record in the creek race (except for a dog that jumped in the hole), I can’t say the same for my role in the freestyle event. While hanging a banner, I stepped on a metal fence post (note to self: don’t try to stomp on the arrow of a metal fence post while wearing river sandals), which quickly penetrated the undersisde of my foot. Result: while the event was still going on, a quick drive down main street with my foot elevated out the window for eight stitches in the emergency room. Banged up and bandaged, I returned to the event just in time to watch John Meyers and Stephen Wright battle it out in the finals.

From there it was on to the awards party, where standing up was even more difficult for me than it was for the non-injured revelers. Thankfully, a keg stand helped keep it elevated (though I doubt the doctor would condone such a practice). While the injury kept me from imbibing as much as I might have, at least it kept my memory of the evening clear, which is more than I can say for many of the party-goers. My favorite line (and I hope Lisa doesn’t read this)? A gal coming up to Jay Kincaid and saying, “What’s your name?”
“Why?” Jay responded innocently.
“Because I want to moan it all night.”

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