Kayak paddling, a whole new meaning

In preparation for the June 6 Great Castell Kayak Race it seemed like a good idea to float it once to get the lay of the land … so to speak. So Robert Henley, his son Jared, and I embarked with Jennifer along to shuttle us. She opted not to paddle and would hang out in the camper and read while we paddled.

Into the Llano River we went where U.S.  87 crossed the river and immediately we were struck by the beauty of the largely pristine landscape. The river is wide there and it had a nice flow so we were pumped! We had dutifully checked the river gauges, both the one right there at the highway river crossing which showed a stage of about 1.2 feet, and the one at Llano which showed about 1.4 feet. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife article on Texas Rivers “…when the river is on a 1 to 2 foot rise, excellent conditions exist for recreational usage.” So we were good to go!

It’s a beautiful river Llano River Scenerywith many wide spots, sometimes narrowing down to as little as 30 feet wide. But for the main part it is a shallow and wide river, heavily punctuated with rocks and boulders of granite and dolomite. Did I mention rocks and boulders? Oh yes, plenty of those.

There are several more photos on Flickr if you want to browse a bit more.

There are rapids. Some of these were Class II, mostly Class I — assuming I understand the classification scheme. There were several with sharp drops of 2-4 feet, always punctuated with rocks.

There was one nice little rapid where I was able to pull up and get a little video. We had just taken a little break

Break timeThe movie is a bit shaky, but you can get the idea. This was a fairly simple one in spite of the rocks. Did I mention the river has a lot of rocks?

You can view it on my Flickr page.

The bridge to Castell is 12 miles. The TPWD site mentioned above indicates recreational quality flow if 1-2 feet of flood stage exists. We were looking at a stage about in the middle of that bracket so were anticipating no problem. Boy were we ever wrong!

First of all, as has now become clear to be a trend with me, we did too much fishing at first. Every fishy spot drew us in like a black hole draws in light! This put us behind the time curve and eventually we needed to make up some time. I would correct the TPWD assessment. The river better be a a 2 foot stage before getting on it for real fun. We would up paddling, and paddling, and …. Oh, and did I mention rocks?  There were some nice rapids that we ran right through. A couple of them caused the bow of my Manta Ray 12 to dip in but it plowed right on. There were many that we could pick a line through and shoot right on. But there was a LOT of paddling. And rocks, did I mention rocks?

Most of the rapids just did not have a clean line through them. We all hung up frequently on a rock, sometimes just for a moment and could “hump” the boat over and go, some that required a bit of dragging off the rocks, and then there was …

… the dump!  I got sideways on a couple of rocks with a low gunnel upstream and the kayak totally flipped. That was my first capsize in the ‘yak in about 30-40 miles of paddling it so far. There I am, standing in the rushing stream, fully dunked to the chest. Boat is upside down now and all my tethered stuff is “flapping in the breeze”  uh, that would be in the water. Luckily, I have everything tethered. Two fishing rigs, paddle, GPS, tackle box, anchor, various ditty bags, the FRS radio, etc.

Did I mention the boat is now upside down in the rushing current? Luckily I had my genuine Cabela’s felt-sole boots on because the current was trying to knock me down and carry the boat away. OK, now it’s time to turn this sucker right side up, so, grabbing the gunnel I lift to flip it back and … ugh, no way. On the stern is my plastic milk crate full of (tethered) stuff and it makes for quite a drag and shift of weight. After several fruitless attempts to flip it I finally went to the stern, lifted it over my head, and just rotated the kayak with little more than the bow in the water. Never mind it weighs 62 pounds empty — which it was not.

I finally got underway, minus the sunscreen, Jennifer’s fancy water bottle she had loaned me, and my favorite hat.  I don’t know when or why it departed as I never noticed it gone until I was again “in the saddle” and underway again. Refreshed after my quick baptism, I paddled hard to catch up to Robert and Jared. Now cruising along with a steady stroke, and glad to be in calm water for a short bit, about 1/4 mile from the scene of the crime I spotted something floating in the water and was relieved to find Jennifer’s special water bottle happily bobbing along.

In conclusion (yes, finally) we were on the water exactly seven hours — lot’s of stopping to fish and my tump did not help the time. Of the 12 miles, we paddled 11.8 of it!  Only a few of the rapids allowed us to just steer through and let the current carry us. It was a long day but everyone stuck with it (hell, there’s no way out once you start!) and even Jared who quit having fun about two hours into the trip made a real hand.

But here’s the deal: this “race” is designed as a “survival style” event.  It’s a fund-raiser which, according to the organizers, is actively providing services for folks in our hill country who are undergoing chemo without insurance, family or financial support.  Paddling down the “survivor style race” might be considered a metaphor to the persons struggling with a much greater challenge. It also aligns with Livestrong attitude of survivorship and challenge and meets some otherwise unmet needs for survivors in our wonderful, rural Highland Lakes/Hill Country place.

The race is aligned with and benefits the Lance Armstrong Foundation “LIVESTRONG.” Some great info and photos from the 2008 event can be found here.

Here’s a great shot of the start last year — total of 110 paddlers:

Start of the 2008 Great Castell Kayak Race
Start of the 2008 Great Castell Kayak Race

Two weeks and the Caddo River in Arkansas!  Woo-hoo!