Dirt Biking 101

IMG_4866Hunter has been wanting to buy a dirt bike for a while. We decided that it might be a good idea to try one out before continuing to work so hard to save up. After lots of research done by Hunter he discovered Trail Tours, that were located just an hour away from Grandma’s house in Ontario. His 13th birthday present was now covered… a Mom and Hunter beginner dirt biking day!

 

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Trail Tours is located near Pontypool in Ontario and are right next to the Ganaraska Forest, which is over 11,000 acres in size and has over 100 km of multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles (there is an additional section in the centre of the forest set aside for passive use) Note to selves: they have a 60km IMBA Epic Mtn Bike trail that we should come back and check out. They have a huge inventory of Honda bikes, with something to fit everyone, and also provided all of the gear for the day.

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After getting ourselves suited up we headed off to the riders meeting to learn about general safety and program expectations. It rained ALOT the day before we went, which turned out to be fabulous for the sandy trails, and it also lead to a number of cancellations so Hunter and I were in a class of our own. We spent the first hour on a small loop right at the Trail Tours site learning the basics of dirt biking. I was amazed at how quickly we progressed through the skills and it was not nearly as difficult as I thought. Lots of mountain biking logic was transferrable and the whole gear shifting thing with your foot went super smoothly.

IMG_4856We still had an hour to spare before lunch so we headed off into the forest to learn more skills (going over logs, tight turns and emergency braking) and had our first taste of actual trail riding… which left us really excited for the afternoon!

IMG_4868You can bring your lunch or buy it onsite for $9.00. Lunch break is between 45 minutes to an hour depending on how busy things are for the staff as the half day transition also happens then and they have to manage gear returns and gearing up. Hunter was bouncing around and couldn’t wait to get going again… Our first stop in the forest was a fun pump track where we got to practice rollers and burms, going progressively faster as we got more comfortable.

IMG_4870The rest of the afternoon flew by. We rode wide track, narrow track, single track, up hills, down hills, sandy terrain and rocky terrain. Our highest point was this really neat look out where you could see the edge of Lake Ontario (beyond the windmills) and supposedly on clear days you can see New York state.

IMG_4875We finished up our ride by stopping at a spring that is in a protected area of the forest. The water was crystal clear and so refreshing, covered by huge canopy of trees and lots of mossy areas. A perfect way to end the day.

We had an amazing day. The staff at Trails Tour were great – very supportive, very informative and super friendly. Big thanks to Chad and Danielle for a wonderful first experience. I don’t think it will be our last. We definitely recommend Trail Tours – whether it be for beginners looking to learn to ride or for experienced riders to get some guiding on a great set of trails.

We’re hooked after a week on the Ottawa River!

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The universe was on our side back in June when I got asked to come out to do some work just outside of Ottawa and it was the exact same week as the L’il Shredders trial program at Wilderness Tours that Hunter had been invited to. Obviously it was meant to be!

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We spent a week living together in a rustic bunkhouse on site at Wilderness Tours. It wasn’t fancy but it had power to charge devices and was clean. Outhouse just down the way and showers at the main lodge a few minutes walk down the road.

Our first day didn’t get off to an auspicious start… we awoke to light rains which quickly turned into monsoon like showers that lasted off and on all morning.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.10.29 PMWe spent the weekend together on an Eric Jackson class which was a lot of fun. He is really knowledgeable, and finds ways to play and teach at the same time. Here are he and Hunter paddling boats full of water in the whirlpools on Butcher’s knife.

hunter nose in at ottawa river beachHunter also learned a new technique for getting out of his boat!

take out drinksThe prize at the end of the day of paddling is a nice sheltered bar at the take out that has beer and juice on tap – a great way to end the day!

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.13.55 PMSunday brought EJ’s “Big Water” indoctrination – meant to teach you that things that look scary because they are big are not necessarily so. What it really meant is that everyone had to throw themselves into Phil’s hole, the first rapid on the river. You can see a very small part of my boat with most of me under the water – it wasn’t a great washing machine ride and ended in a swim when my skirt was blown.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.15.46 PMHunter had an equally unsuccessful Phil’s experience. If you look hard you can just see a corner of his boat in the centre of the photo (yellow and black) and you can see a small dark item just downstream a few inches. That dark item is his helmet, which should be attached to his head but got pulled off. It was lost to the river gods that day…

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Luckily EJ was able to grab a helmet for him at Keeners and we carried down the river with Hunter a little shaken from his first big beatdown.

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We both survived the weekend only a little worse for wear and having learned a lot of new things! I then headed off to work for two days while Hunter joined Seth and Maddie in the L’il Rippers program.

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A new helmet was purchased after an unplanned detour to Ottawa on my way to work on Monday and Hunter managed to talk EJ into a sticker and Simon into cutting the sticker for him to get it looking cool.

The week went well for Hunter with lots of surfing and skill building delivered by Seth in sneaky ways. He managed to shake off his beatdown and was back to his usual self by Tuesday. When Big Water Thursday rolled around we both made it back into Phil’s fairly unscathed and EJ was right – it builds your confidence!

I went back into an EJ weeklong session on Weds and continued to have a lot of fun. I came down with a major sinus cold which definitely played havoc with my ability to clearly think, and that did correlate with a much lower confidence level most days. I now consider whitewater kayaking in the same category as “operating heavy machinery” in terms of the things you shouldn’t do while on cold medication…

lil shreddersOverall our week was fabulous. We met lots of new fun people, paddled in warm water and warm weather, learned new skills and Hunter came home with a new boat – a RockstarXS that was just released by Jackson in May. It was a great fit for him and really allowed him to have more boat control. Thanks to Jackson and the great folks at Wilderness Tours / Ottawa Kayak School for helping to make that happen.

hunter squirt boatingHe’s already been busy taking it out on flat water and doing mystery moves…

We definitely recommend Wilderness Tours for families and non-families equally. Lots of things to do on and off the water with a really friendly environment. For those that don’t kayak there are a wide assortment of rafting or inflatable kayaking options and a great school to take lessons from.

 

This adventure brought to you by Desperate for Whitewater in the Yukon…

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Our return to the Yukon has been a fairly abrupt transition. Hunter was out the door within an hour of arriving home to see friends leaving Tim and I a few days to unpack everything and spend a lot of time staring at each other and the “stuff” we were surrounded by. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we were coming off of five weeks of fabulous kayaking and the water wasn’t really running in the Yukon yet!

We spent the month of May practicing in the eddy’s and on the eddy lines of the very cold Yukon river. By early June we were all desperate enough that we organized a one day family trip to get out on some whitewater.

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The O’Donnell River is located just outside of Atlin, B.C., which is a 2.5 hour drive south from Whitehorse. It has a class 3 upper section and a class 2 lower section and is located near the end of a set of unmaintained placer mine roads and fairly remote which makes shuttling more interesting. Overall this adventure took 13 hours (door to door) and broke down as 5 hours of road driving, 3 hours on the water (2 laps of the upper section) and 5 hours of ATV shuttling.

 

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While the road is unmaintained and doable with a 4×4 truck we opted to use 2 ATV’s for the shuttle as this limits the risk of getting the truck stuck and having a very long walk to Atlin to get help…

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Tim jury rigged a very creative rack for one of the ATV’s (because he’s so great at that) and then Hunter and I drove the second ATV.

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As much as Hunter enjoyed the creeking style of the river, I think he enjoyed getting to be the ATV shuttle driver even more…

The put in is right beside an old Placer Mine, which makes for some pretty neat scenery.

DSCN3994 The first few kilometres of the upper section are class II with small riffles you can try to surf. It’s fairly windy and the water is glacier/mountain snow fed so is definitely northern cold.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.48.30 PMAs always, we had fun playing bumper boats on any little surf waves we could find…

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 12.00.55 AMOnce you hit the canyon section there are a lot of blind corners so we practiced eddy hopping to work our way around and through the features. Tim did a great job as trip leader explaining the nuances of the upcoming sections.

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Overall it’s a beautiful wilderness area and it was a great day out on the water, even with it as long as it was. We managed to catch treats at one of the places in Atlin even though it had closed (the town shuts down at 7pm even on weekends so plan accordingly) and that fuelled us through the drive home.

IMG_4380It’s been a long time since we had a kid falling asleep in the back of the truck after a day out so it must of been quite a day!

 

2550 km and 29 hours – the LONG road home…

sunsetThe Yukon is a beautiful, majestic place to call home. It is home to  36,000 people and has a bountiful population of wildlife (bears, moose and caribou being the most popular). What it isn’t is close – to ANYTHING… This makes driving home an epic adventure in itself. Many people google the distance and do the usual math of the distance divided by their average speed (usually around 120 km/hr). This makes it look like a somewhat reasonable 2 day drive. To be clear – it’s not. When you travel north you need to account for forest fires, animal traffic, road construction and windy windy roads. Gas planning is also critical as there are long distances without any gas stations and many aren’t open late at night. We traditionally fuel up in Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake (if needed) and Watson Lake.

bass pro trucksOur week in Calgary/Kananaskis was an expensive one. We took advantage of being in a large city that has selection as well as discounted prices due to the depressed economy at the moment. The final tally was 3 Jackson Rockstar kayaks (2 of 2015 vintage and 1 2013), the usual splurge at Mountain Equipment Co-op and a 2015 F350 truck to provide the towing power that we really do need. We were late heading out on departure day as we had issues picking up the truck. This lead to us making a pit stop at the Bass Pro Shop just north of Calgary to take advantage of their large parking lot to switch up the towing situation.

caravanOur little caravan up the highway was comprised of Fordo (Green F250 with Camper), new shiny Ford F350 towing the trailer and our nephew from Saskatchewan in his ancient Toyota.

road to grande prairieThe Alberta leg took us north of Calgary towards Edmonton then north west to Grande Prairie. We had good roads and very little traffic, which made driving easy. We pushed sunlight and drove until an hour after dark to get to Dawson Creek (** note – think Northern sunshine – dark was from 9:30 – 10:30 pm). The timing of this wasn’t great as the road goes from a nice divided four lane highway to undivided two lane just west of Grande Prairie. I definitely recommend trying to do this whole stretch in the light for safety.

After a night boondocking at the Dawson Creek Walmart we grabbed a quick pit stop at the visitors centre to get our photos with the Mile 0 sign – a must do for anyone travelling this highway! The visitors centre is easy to find and right on highway 97 – just look for the large grain elevator.

We got really lucky with our travel timing as the road north from Fort St. John had been closed due to forest fires the day before and just opened up for pilot cars at 8am on our second day. We were up and out from Dawson Creek early to ensure that we could get through while this window was open. The fire activity was definitely easy to see. At one point we were stopped waiting for the pilot car and could watch the helicopters dumping fire retardant on a number of hot spots. When driving through the fire you could see where the fire had jumped across the road the day before.

Day two was great for wildlife sightings. By the end of the day we had seen every major animal (bear, moose, mountain sheep, bison, fox, and caribou).  Many of them were standing on the road or just beside the road which is a great reason to watch your speed as you drive north. Missing a sighting is disappointing. Hitting an animal will put a major dent in your schedule and your pocket book – especially if it happens in an area without cell service (there are many).

northern BC 1The drive through Northern BC takes you through some beautiful and changing geography. The region around Fort. St. John and Fort Nelson is best known for it’s oil and gas resources but it also has very rich farming and ranching land.

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The hills then start to show up and things start to get windier and more rugged. You also find a lot of lakes and great fishing!

northern bc 3North of Muncho Lake you end up in very steep, mountainous and rocky terrain set in between lake basins that are full of fishermen come summer time.

northern bc 2Then you settle into more traditional mountain like terrain with mixed trees and undulating roads.

We always spend night #2 of the drive at Liard Hot Springs. It is a reasonable break point and is such a wonderful treat after a long day of driving. Due to our size, we just overnight in the day use parking lot although there is a very nice campground on site as well. Be sure to still pay the camping fee if you overnight in the day use lot. The hot spring is natural and the source is right at the top of the springs, flowing into a rustic river. The lower down you go the cooler it is, with kids usually playing below the “waterfall” and hanging off the many logs that cross the river. We grab a morning soak as well before embarking on day three of the drive. This makes it a very reasonable 7 hours to Whitehorse – great to end on the shortest drive day.

yukon 1The highway between Liard Hot Springs and Watson Lake hopscotches between BC and the Yukon a few times and the views of the mountains change along with each of these bends, going from clear and present to distant and remote.

WL SignforestWatson Lake is a fun pitstop to stretch your legs and grab gas for the last 4 hours of the drive. Be sure to check out the sign post forest and try to find a post from your home city/state/province/country. If you are creative and plan ahead you can actually bring your own!

yukon snowThe mountains are now a regular part of the scenery and still snow covered in early May.

yukon rainAfter two and a half days of fabulous driving weather we ran into an hour of heavy rain coming out of Teslin. Luckily it eased up as we approached Whitehorse and we were greeted by sunshine and clear skies as we pulled in the lane way.

homeHome…a sight that has brought a lot of mixed emotions across the family. More on that later.

Like coming home again… back in Kananaskis

view up the kanOur last stop before heading north has been a week in Alberta on the Kananaskis River. We spent close to a month on this river over July and August last year culminating in the Alberta Provincials in September. By the end of the summer it felt like our “home river”, where you know it really well and are able to see progression with every run.

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We picked up 3 new play boats in Calgary (Jackson rock star’s all round) and were excited to test out the boats on a river we were comfortable with. We acted as the Canoe Meadows temporary camp hosts and traded labour for river access, which worked out well for everyone.

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Hunter was able to get some time on the river in his slalom boat with coaching, which was great to get the season kick-started.

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We were excited to test out the spin ability of the Rock Stars and were all thrilled! Lots of fun at both Thunder Bunny and Chubby’s.

A quick stop at Santa Claus on our way to Hunter’s favourite play spot…

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Surfer’s Wave was a super fun play spot, with us spending 20-30 minutes there each run.

The other big highlight was Tim nailing his loop pretty consistently at Chubby’s, even getting multiple loops on a wave ride.kananaskis walk
It’s been a pretty great week with amazing summer like weather (thank you mother nature!) and we are sad to be leaving… while also looking forward to our next visit.

Wenatchee River – Leavenworth, Washington

 

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The Wenatchee River is located in Washington state, between Leavenworth and Cashmere. Our friends from BC have been coming here for years so we thought it would be a great stop on our journey northwards. Lucky for us Chester decided to join us so we had a knowledgeable person to lead us down the river and around the area!

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The Wenatchee River is known for some of the best play boating in Washington State. Prime flows are between 8,000 – 12,000. We made the decision to come when the flows were sitting around 8,000 so were quite surprised to arrive on the 21st and have them well above 14,000!

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We paddled twice a day for 3 days and didn’t have the same flow for any run, which definitely made it more interesting. Unfortunately at flows this high most of the play features were washed out. The upside was that the wave trains were SUPER HUGE – around 10-12 feet, which certainly made cresting the wave exciting!

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Rodeo wave was one of two play features that was still in. It was pretty thrashy the first two days but once the levels dropped below 13,000 on day three it became fun and Tim had 3 play sessions in one day.

He described it as fast and bouncy and it was tough to get the smile off his face!

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The rest of our play time was spent at a wave called Turkey Shoot. Unfortunately it was a favourite of many and at times the eddy had up to 15+ people in it. We got lucky for a few of our sessions and were the only ones there for a period of time, which was fabulous!

The water was surging a fair bit as the water level was constantly changing. This meant you had some amazing rides and some not so amazing rides when the wave would just green out and disappear. Lots of fun to surf and spin, not really strong enough for much else.

DSCN3529The best part about the Turkey Shoot wave was that it was big enough to surf and spin in our big boats as well as play boats! I was pretty excited to back surf in my Zen…

The town of Leavenworth is in the Washington State side of the Okanagan Valley and is surrounded by orchards and vineyards. The area has a history in the gold rush and as a timber town until the 1960’s when they redesigned themselves to take advantage of their location and they developed the region around the concept of a Bavarian town. It is now a top tourist destination in the Pacific North West with numerous festivals to attract people year round. We were pretty impressed with the kayaking, biking and climbing opportunities but that seems to come well behind the Bavarian charm and christmas tree ornament shops for most of the visitors.

tumwater scopingWe took the time to check out Peshastin Creek and the Tumwater Canyon while we were here. Peshastin looks like a fun little run when the water is high enough – no room for eddies so just get in, stay centre and stay upright! Tumwater Canyon was a definite NO for all of us – road scouting showed some doable lines and some really munchy holes that did not look fun. We’ll stick to watching others run it via youtube…

It was definitely a fun visit and a place we would come back to. We stayed at the KOA in Leavenworth which had good amenities and was an easy place to put in for a long river cruise day.

Kelly’s Whitewater Park – a hidden gem

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Kelly’s Whitewater Park is located in Cascade, Idaho (about 2 hours north of Boise) and is absolutely a hidden gem for paddling families. Cascade is a quiet small town tucked into a river valley and surrounded by mountains. With a population of just under 1000 people the economy was historically driven by the Boise Cascade Sawmill, which closed in 2001. The Whitewater park was built in 2010 as one piece of a multi-faceted economic development program.

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The whitewater park is located on the North Fork of the Payette River, just below the Cascade dam. There are 3 main features and 2 smaller features which provide something for everyone to play, learn and grow on. There is a great rock island in the middle that makes for easy access to all of the features below the top BIG one.

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Our visit definitely counts as early season. The water actually “turned on” 4 days before we got here, jumping from winter constant flows of 200 cfs up to 1200 cfs. It seems that summer peak averages are around 1800 – 2000 cfs. Although there was still snow in the mountaints, our two days in late April had bright sunny skies and temperatures in the low 20’s Celcius (mid 70’s F), and to our surprise, the water wasn’t ice-cream headache cold.

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We wandered around our first morning and looked at all of the features. The boys decided that they were going to start at the top to check things out. Hunter was excited to try “the big hole”, which really reflects the growth we’ve seen in his paddling just over the last 3 weeks. He and Tim spent time talking through the green wave, the white burly hole and strategies for paddling both.

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Tim had some fun playing in the meat of the hole and Hunter played around with entering on the wave and jet ferrying across into the foam pile of the hole to get comfortable with things.

 

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After playing around at middle wave for a while (see below for more details) Hunter and Tim headed back up to the big hole where Hunter ended up with his first scary experience of being stuck in a hole and being worked. The good news is that he was upside right the entire time and did eventually find a way off the ride, after a scream to the eddy for help.

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After some deep breathing and eddy coaching from Dad on strategies to extricate oneself from a hole, he was right back out there putting his learning into practice. Definitely another progression step from last fall, both physical and mental, which is so neat to watch.

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Our favourite wave was middle wave – a medium sized wave that stretches across the entire main channel. It fit all three of us at once which resulted in hours and hours of bumper boat surfing and spinning over our two days! Nothing but non-stop giggles and banter…

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The best part about bumper boat surfing is that it develops a higher level of comfort on the wave and in the water in general. You learn to manage your boat while many forces are playing havoc with the environment around you – way beyond just the wave itself. On top of that it’s fun so doesn’t feel like learning and skill development!

In addition to the Whitewater park, the area has a 5 mile walking/biking trail, 18 hole frisbee golf course, beach volleyball court, bocce ball courts and tonnes of green grassy areas for kids to run around.

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Overall this was a fabulous stop and we are so happy that the spring run-off worked in our favour this year. A summer time visit here, with all it’s amenities and warm temps (water and air) would be so much fun. Lot’s of RV parks within 2km and we boon docked right in the gravel parking lot at the play park. Restaurants, grocery stores, and the movie theatre are all within walking distance. If you haven’t checked out Kelly’s before then you definitely have to put it on your road trip list!

 

Truckee Whitewater Park – Reno, Nevada

hunter peter tim reno launchThe Truckee Whitewater Park is located in downtown Reno, Nevada. We have been trying to paddle here for three years so were excited to hear last week that the water was flowing (compared to our last visit where only the ducks were playing…).

reno slalom course FordoAs the park is located downtown and has other amenities (tennis, basketball, walking etc.) we learned that we needed to get there well before lunch in order to get a parking spot, or two, or three to fit into!

hunter side surf warmupThere are two channels in the park. The channel closest to the parking area has a slalom course and makes for a great warmup lap – fun little surf features and a good set of gates to practice precision moves on.

hunter wave 5At the bottom of the confluence of the two channels is wave 5 – the largest wave of the five features. Can be sticky or flushy or great depending on the water levels…

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Wave 3 is also referred to as the competition wave – it is a slight hole but also has a green tongue section for front surfing. It was a great place to build confidence and experiment with old and new tricks.

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Peter Holcombe showing that old guys can still throw loops!

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Nathan O’Connor getting some AIR!

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Cameron O’Connor showing the younger boys how it’s done

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Abby Holcombe rocking her front surf

We were lucky to venture to Reno with our new friends the Holcombe’s (a full time travelling family) and then to meet the O’Connor clan as well.

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Hunter was able to borrow a small Rockstar from the O’Connor boys and LOVED it…which is great as we have a new to us Rockstar sitting in Calgary waiting to be picked up. With his new friends cheering him on he pushed his comfort zone and tried his first loop!

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Paddling with other kids has been great for Hunter – pushing his comfort zone while having fun and goofing around! He’s stoked for paddling this year, which is exciting for us…

California spring paddling rocks!

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We have been playing in Coloma, California on the South Fork of the American River for twelve days and have been so impressed with the area and people! We came up for California Canoe & Kayak’s opening day event and had so much fun that we stayed for another full week…

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We have a great camp site at Camp Lotus, which is located right on the river and a great take out point for the upper run, as well as put in site for the middle run and the barking dog play wave. There are 10 full RV sites with power and water and if you get site #7 across from the office you can get wifi at your site!

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California Canoe and Kayak’s opening day event is a fund raiser for American Whitewater and made up of a number of paddling workshops + BBQ/beer and a movie. Hunter and I did the Chili Bar River Running Clinic, with friend Bryon Dorr, and Tim did the play boating clinic. It was a great day for all of us – pushing boundaries and learning new things. Such a great day that we made it back for beer and dinner but ran out of steam and headed back to the campground before the big movie night…

DSCN3190The first week of our stay had above seasonal weather – big bluebird skies, green lush hillsides and temps in the 70’s-80’s (20-25c). The hills and riversides were covered with purple lupin and yellow poppies.

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Overall we paddled 9 days with 4 Chili Bar runs, 2 Coloma to Greenwood runs, 1 Gorge run and 2 play sessions at Barking Dog.

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The spring run off has lead to really wacky water levels. The river is dam controlled and they have “recreational releases” 6 days a week from 9am-12pm where there is guaranteed to be a minimum of 1200-1500 cfs. The levels didn’t get that low once during our stay. I have yet to figure out what causes the ups and downs of the releases – it has definitely made for some interesting river days and no run of the same section has been the same experience.

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Barking Dog play wave is only good from 900-2000 cfs so we kept careful watch of the gauge for those windows. We were shut out most days… To get there from Camp Lotus it is a quick left down the river – about 6 paddle strokes. Getting back when you are done is another story… At lower flows it seems that you can walk up an island that is river right of the play wave. At these higher flows the island is inaccessible so we walked up the river on the far right side until we reached the top of the island and then walked a little more to some rocks where we could get back in our boats and attain up to the campground. You need to be sure to leave some energy for this last slog…

We had some fun (kinda sorta) one day when we were paddling down the C2G section after a Chili Bar run and I looked down in the water next to me to find a snake! Yes… I screamed – no surprise there. The boys figured I had dropped the camera or something. After regrouping I realized I should at least take a picture to show them. The snake seemed to be following me in the current so as both the snake and I caught up with Tim and Hunter I pointed him out. It’s a given that Tim picked him up to check him out and Hunter was equally fascinated. We let him hang out on Tim’s boat for a while to warm up and then ferried him over to shore to some nice sunny grass.

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The Chili Bar run was our favourite out of the 3 river sections around Coloma. We paddled it 4 times at various levels, ranging from a low of 1800 to a high of 4200. While it was big water it wasn’t overly pushy and has a nice gradient so none of the rapids are super steep and creek like. There were a few play waves that were guaranteed to get Tim smiling and lots of inconsequential holes and rocks for Hunter to boof.

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Our last three days of paddling were with the Holcombe family and some great local folks. It was fun to have another family to paddle with and even better to do it on a river where Hunter and Abby were pretty well free to goof around and paddle their own lines without much concern for us parents. They are both becoming really strong paddlers and we are definitely looking forward to catching some more river time with them over the next few weeks.

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Coloma, and the South Fork of the American River, are an unexpected GEM and we definitely recommend a stop here for any paddlers. Our sense is that it is a zoo in the summer time so spring would probably be best – higher flows and less people.

Folsom Prison Blues

folsom gate familyFolsom State Prison is located in Represa, California – which interestingly doesn’t really show up on the map. The prison is it’s own town with it’s own postal code, located in what was once a large green space in the middle of nowhere, but is now the town of Folsom.

IMG_3867Folsom State Prison opened in 1880 and is the second oldest prison in California, after San Quentin. It was one of America’s first maximum security prisons but now holds mostly medium security folk.

The main gate to the prison property is just after you come through an older residential section of Folsom. Once you drive through the gate you are surrounded by lush green fields and lots of woodlands – totally not what I expected for a prison grounds. There are actually 3 prisons now on site – the original Folsom State Prison, Folsom State Prison 2 (now called Sacramento State Prison) and a Women’s facility. Total capacity of all of them put together is about 7000 inmates.

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We weren’t quite sure what to think when we pulled into the parking lot right below the prison wall and then walked towards the gates and read the “visitors” sign.

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We came to check out the Folsom Prison Museum, which looked like a non-traditional learning experience for our law enforcement focused kid. Although small in stature and foot print the museum was jam packed with interesting displays and facts.

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In the middle of the prison land, in between the two prisons, sits a small town with residential streets and houses. For a long period of time prison staff were required to live on site. Many still do but more to take advantage of lower cost rents. The school bus even comes and goes each day for the local kids. This felt as weird as the deer that we saw in the fields from the parking lot – the scenes just didn’t seem to fit with a maximum security prison!

Folsom Prison was originally designed to hold inmates serving long sentences, habitual criminals and incorrigibles, which led to them getting a reputation for having a violent and bloody beginning.

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Interesting factoid – a new hanging rope was used for every hanging as they need to take into consideration the individuals height and weight to minimize swing, slack and ensure a quick death.

The variety of things that prisoners were able to turn into weapons is really impressive while also leaving you incredibly curious as to where they get pieces of metal in their day to day lives. There also seems to be an art to the smuggling of things into prison up your butt – ouch!

Folsom has a number of industries under the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) program, which includes administration, a Braille enterprise, a license plate factory where the inmates have been making 100% of the State of California license plates since before the 1930s, maintenance, metal fabrication, a printing plant, and a sign shop.

My question is where does an inmate get 250,000 toothpicks from??? Talk about impressive!

Johnny Cash made FSP widely known to the outside world through his song “Folsom Prison Blues” (1956), which narrated a fictional account of an outlaw’s incarceration, and the two live concerts he performed at FSP.

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Overall it was a pretty cool place to visit and we learned a lot of interesting tidbits…