Kickin’ ass on the wild side of the Gorge

Ross Creasy

Saturday just before noon…“Aloha, and welcome to the 5th annual
Wild side relay” said Race director JD Davies as he quietly met us on
the grass at Bob’s Beach .

A circle of paddlers gathered, handshakes and hugs all around. JD
reviewed the Wildside race course and safety rules with all involved,
encouraging fun but also asking us to look out for each other on the
river. Loose registration and the signing of waivers followed.

As the only Canadian paddler in the pack, I was worried I would also
be the only solo paddler! – my race partner Dave Stefenchuck had to
bial out unexpecectedly, so I was pleased to discover 7 other
paddlers doing it solo.

While “not recommended” according to JD, mostly to keep it within the
original format of the event, JD encouraged us to pair up. – Most
guys were up for the challenge as a training tool for their Molokai
crossing later this year. we promised to play together and look out
for huli’s

The wind was steady and the swells were rolling hard as we lined up
on the Stevenson dock. An air horn sounded and we were off!!!

I moved with the front group of paddlers, catching several swells
right off the start – clearly starting on the Oregon side of the line
helped. The pack stayed in line and close together for the first 10
minutes, then settled into a rhythm as paddlers picked lines and
linked swells together.

I quickly assessed that while this water was very good, some winter
training runs at Jericho’s “secret spot” had prepared me well.

These were 3-5 footers, not 12’ overhead – but very runable. The
sizzling of my foot well drains sounded like cooking bacon as
splashes of water quickly vented out the bottom of the canoe.

man, was I cookin! My carbon Kolea OC-1 was in its element. This was
the land of “ big wave floaty boats” Koleas, Hehemanus, Hurricanes
Makia’s Kakus and Vipers. we charged up river, to the sound of
whoops and yelps of happy paddlers.

This was a surfer’s race, so being smooth and selective with the
waves had its advantages. My mind went to my Todd Bradley video of
Molokai – keeping the nose from purling…there.. find the next one..
PUSH!! there it is, pop the ama… let it run.. tap tap tap. Lean, race
down the wave…

going too fast or being careless rewards you witn a face full of
water off the nose or a blast of Columbia water up the leg of your

For the first hour, I settled in with the front pack, and held off
several challengers by staying in the bigger water where the Makia’s
didn;t go.. During the second leg, I caught up with Dave from
Tricities in his brand new Hehemanu from John Martin. Dave’s smooth
stroke rate and the shape of the canoe had him finding waves where
others didn’t, but he had trouble linking the waves. I took the more
aggressive line in the centre of the river where the connections were
more obvious,(sometimes we all need this!) as I approached him on
the run; I let out a whoop and flew the ama past him! (Think I
freaked him out!)

We traded leads until the second checkpoint where we spotted several
of the leaders and agreed to chase them down together.

Then disaster…
A tug on my hydration system hose told me I was out of water! Not due
to drinking it all, but the hose had come undone. The only connection
I hadn’t double-checked! This meant that the next 11 miles were
without water.

I told Dave as I passed him again, and this seemed to let the wind
out of his sails, unbeknowst to me, Dave and his buddies had employed
the advice of a professional triathelete coach on thursday
evening..based on his advice, they Deviated from prerace meals.

Dave had radically increased his consumption of fluids and over 300
grams of carbs prior to the race, resulting in cramping and several
mid-river ahm…. “Deposits” were necessary (now you know why I
didn’t drink river water!)

Dehydration gnawed at me, I fought to get as far up river as I could
before something drastic happened. Then magically, 20 minutes of
washing machine crappy waves – just like off the bell can at Jericho

I know how to run this stuff..The gap decreased and I began to move
up on the nearest canoe.

Last checkpoint, the water began to go flat near Hood River– here’s
where a big wave boat has trouble. Combined with a thirsty paddler, I
faded, but because I took a more direct line to Hood River, was still
able to capitalize on some waves.

Hood River bridge to Bindgen, just a long grind as the waves
disappeared entirely. The suddenly the pilings were in sight! As I
swung between the pilings, two ospreys nesting nearby began screaming
and calling in unison, a cheer to my ears.

Unlike some of my fellow paddlers, the Kolea took on no water during
the race (sort of like the paddler!)

Mahalo to JD for the race, Fidel’s for the ono mexican grinds, Dave,
Robin, Kevin, Kristen, and all the Bend and Tricities paddlers for
the aloha.

Better to do it in a relay, but doable if you want to challenge

Speaking of challenges, did I tell you about the drive home?

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