I awake to find a message from an old paddling pal enquiring whether I might be keen on going for a wee paddle down a rather big river. I immediately Googled images and videos and concluded that this was simply ridiculous. I have no big-water experience, I'm about to spend six-months game-deving, the last thing I would want to do would be blow my savings on a suicide trip down some massive rapids in near-frozen water for two weeks!
I said yes.
Am I really able to paddle the Colorado River?? Well this has been plaguing me for a week now. Others' photos are terrifying. There are rapids, literally the size of houses. I'm out of shape, out of practise. I mean, I've been working a full time job, had a wedding, bought a house, and released a game, so I've had no time for exercise. So physically, can I do this right now? Not a chance. Does the thought of that terrify me in to getting up early to go running most days? You betchya!
I'm going down with seasoned experts who have done this before. Plus I'd rather not keep 14 days worth of food and clothing in my kayak anyway. Having expert river runner's advice on how to handle the river is going to be invaluable for this noob journey down over 230 miles of treacherous waters. For my level of paddling anyway.
I guess I should expand on where I sit skill-wise. I like white water, but I'm a solid grade three. I still swim. I've spent over a decade paddling all sorts of water, yet I've only ever hit a hard grade III (or an easy grade IV if you wanna make it sound cooler). Big water is a concept I have no familiarity with. Okay, that might be a lie. I did run safety for The George race back in the Hutt one year. This was relocated to the Akatarua river due to extreme flooding, and I decided to run safety to help out any stragglers. Normally it takes me about 3/4 an hour to reach the best play-wave in the river, which is normally a pitiful wave at best. On this day I think it took all of about 10 seconds to reach. Or so it felt. Early on I started to get motion sick as wave trains resulted in giant peaks and troughs; fellow paddlers would be hidden from view as they were plunged in to the depths of another rounded wave. I wasn't feeling comfortable. We were flying down a normally placid river. Where there were usually rapids there were none, where there was normally shore, there were giant rolling swirling turbulent messes.
High on one rolling wave I spotted a blank space. Reading the river, I read, big hole. I paddled to river right. Nope, can't escape, that's a terrible line. Let's try left. Okay, not going so well, then I see it. The big gaping hole. I'm not going to make it out. I go from plummeting down the river at breakneck speeds to hitting a wall of water face-on. My boat stops, and I momentarily hang in an adrenalin fuelled panic. The back catches and I'm straight under.
I should have attempted a roll, but I just didn't have the experience in big water to know what was going on. I freaked right out, pulled the deck, and spent about three minutes swimming down raging waters.
Interestingly, I managed to haul myself out literally 10 meters before everything turned in to a gorge. The prospect of spending a night at the river was fairly near.
The terrified swim had been agony. I was filled with adrenalin which was no longer needed, so then my body flipped over to shock-mode. I just lay on the shore panting for a while, feeling quite literally sick to my stomach.
I learned a valuable lesson that day; always always always install airbags; the guy who saved my boat never forgave me for being too cheap on this front. As it turns out this investment is not necessarily for you, but more for the poor sod who has to pick you up and get you back on your feet. It would almost make more sense to buy airbags and then put them in your pal's boats, to save yourself potential hassle!
From memory that river normally flows at 6m^3/s, it's paddleable at 18m^3/s, and on this occasion it was 180m^3/s.
So, am I familiar with big-water? Well no, but when I finally hit it I'll know I did worse in less.
[Edit]: It's not a guided nor catered trip, as I had originally written.