Archive for October, 2012
If you read my previous post on Operation Eskimo Roll then you know that myself and some unwitting colleagues of mine decided to take on a white water kayaking marathon in Ireland. The dangers of “living Social” should be my next story. In order to explain my thought process I figured I would give you some consulting:
So there we are. Five brave, or misguided, souls signed up for a perilous 28 kilometre kayaking race down the Liffey River in Ireland. In the weeks running up to the event the team began to get a bit nervous. I warned them against watching videos on You Tube since that would surely be of the worst moments in Liffey Descent history, but they did it anyhow.
You need to have a certain level of experience in order to get into the event which we convinced our instructor vouch for. I heard through the grape vine that he took a bit of slagging for signing us off when we had only had five 2 hour sessions of training. But don’t fear! We had a full 3 more weeks to get into shape! I heard Caleb once did 10 pushups during that time. I went on holiday to the Amalfi Coast where I got plenty of arm exercise lifting bottles of red wine and getting massages. So now that we were all SUPER fit it was nearly time to go.
In order to make it down in one piece we hired an experienced guide to bring us through. He also happened to work at an outfitter…. So we went out to the shop, iCanoe, to get gear fitted. We were fully expecting the same crap gear we had for the classes; torn wetsuits, scratchy cags, worn out helmets, flimsy spray decks, and buoyancy aids that were short on buoyancy. MUCH to our surprise when we showed up at the shop they fitted us out in all brand new gear! Everything except the actual kayaks was brand new. Needless to say this invigorated the team and suddenly all second thoughts evaporated like rain off a hot southern road. Suddenly everyone was confident and ready for the challenge.
Race day arrives, and shockingly, we’ve had 4 days of heavy rain but completely sunny on the day of the race. I should have mentioned before that during the training, every Tuesday evening, we had absolutely stunning weather and loads of water on the river. I don’t know why, but it was meant to be. WE would literally have Monday and Wednesday lashing rain, but Tuesday…..gorgeous. Same on race day. The heavy rain meant the river was even higher than normal for the event. The flow is controlled by the local utility from the damn. They typically release the water for the event to near flood stage. This year it was even higher, making for a very anxious fab 5.
We gather at the finish line at the Garda Boat house on the Liffey. The water is REALLY high, but the team is in good form. We jump in with the guides and the gear and head up about an hour up the highway to the entry point at Straffan. The gathering area is much like you would expect, a parking lot. Unfortunately there wasn’t any tailgating going on. Everyone was very serious. As we get close to the hour everyone begins moving towards the river entry point anxious to get in the water. We had been told that we would have to paddle UP RIVER for a distance which was very vague and varied depending on who we talked to. It started at 100 meters and by the time we were getting in it was closer to reality at about 700 meters. L With the river running at full flood, this was no simple task. Thank God we had all been training soooo hard for this and were in excellent shape. NOT. By the time we got to the starting point we were all questioning whether we could do it.
Now, like all good stories this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning was already proving a challenge having just paddled up river for ½ hour. Since there were various classes in the race, the really fast kayaks, K1s and K2s, went first, followed by the largest group, the GPs, which was our group. Our group consisted mostly of one man whitewater kayaks. The last group were the open canoes, or as they are called here, the Canadian Canoes. Did Canadians invent the open canoe? I thought it was the American Indians. Oh well. Now…. to say I know a few Canadians would be an understatement of great magnitude. So I will tell you; this bunch of rowdy, angry, mischievous, no good, run over you in a minute, flip each other over, with complete disregard for the rules type of people could not be farther from Canadian! They are the last group to leave the start because they are well known marauders and trouble makers. As we push past the starting line, we can hear them in the background getting chastised by the official for trying to start too soon. “928 your disqualified!”, “back paddle 946!”, “”Stop at the line CANADIANS!”, “This is being videotaped and you WILL be disqualified!”. With every yell over the bullhorn you could hear the barbarian hoard boo and hiss. It was quite unsettling to know they were going to come over the drops and pretty much run you over if you were in the way. The first weir, or drop is called Straffan Weir. It’s a long straight weir that runs the whole distance across the river with a trough along the left side for the more advanced. The drop itself is probably 10 feet on about an 80 degree angle. Because this is the first drop the racers tend to bunch up and there is complete carnage. Today was no different. As we were all novices, we decided to basically stick to the back of our group. By the time we got there the Canadians were overtaking us. The first weir was great! I got through safely, barely. I nearly flipped. I may also have forgotten to mention that none of us actually learned the Eskimo roll in our training…. Luckily there is plenty of river rescue at each drop along the race, there are 12. Two members of the 5 man team flipped on the first weir. Tjalf and Bob. The carnage on the other side of the weir was something to behold. Every form of kayak, and canoe strung along the shoreline in different stages of disaster. We waited for our team members there to get back in their kayaks so we could move down river and I heard Bob say he “actually felt refreshed and cooler after the swim”. Nice spin on that, swimmer! J Back on our way, we head into the long road to the middle.
The first part of the middle is called the “jungle”. Not that Ireland has anything that would vaguely resemble a jungle, but the river does go through a winding slow 6 miles. The trees and brush are overgrown and encroach on the river at some points leaving only room for one kayak at a time. While the river is running at very high levels, the meandering nature of this section makes this a gruelling 6 miles. No rapids, no weirs, just paddle paddle paddle. Once again I am really thankful at all the preparations and the strict training program. You do pass through some very scenic farmlands and rolling hills which would have been wonderful if my forearms and hands weren’t cramped. The only saving grace was that they were cramped into a fist so I could hold onto my paddle and keep going. Not ideal, but hey, I was still moving forward! As we finally came through the jungle we had another weir, can’t remember the name, but it was fairly mild with about a 6 foot drop at a 60 degree angle. It was still fun and a nice change. A bit further down river and we hit THE LAKE! As the Irish say “Jazis!”. No current, no wind, wide kayaks, and a lake that seemed to go on forever. In honesty, I think it was only just over a mile, but it felt like an eternity. At the other end of the lake we had to get out of our kayaks in order to carry them around the lexslip dam. I hadn’t flipped at this point yet, until I got right to the shore and tried to get out of my kayak. My legs were asleep. I rolled into the water, filled my kayak with muddy water and flopped about for a few seconds before regaining my exposure and pulling my kayak up the hill. Time for a quick energy bar and a banana and then haul the kayak about 100 meters down the lower side of the dam. The entry point was…. interesting. The flow is quite strong so you have to paddle as hard as possible to the opposite side of the river in order not to get pinned on one of the bridge columns. Makes for an interesting start to the next leg. From here we nearly got into areas that we had seen before in our “training”. There’s one that is a very steep drop at Lucan Weir that must be 12 feet high. At least it felt that way. You hit the bottom and it feels like you’re through just when it starts to pull you back. Time to cruise on down the road! We get a bit further down to Wren’s Next Weir which is tricky. There are 3 different paths down; the left which is a straight drop, the “V” which is the hardest section which is where the weir has a 90 degree angle in the middle of the river. The “V” is the center of the 90 degree angle. If you don’t end up dead center….. it gets ugly. So naturally, I took the easy route along the left side. The far right side I had attempted in training, but flipped every time so I decided against that one!
Nearing the end. There was a set of rapids and then another couple of small weirs before we get to the best one; drumroll, Palmerstown Weir. Another “V” but this one has a big standing wave at the bottom so when you push over the “V” you shoot face first into an overhead wave. It’s BRILLIANT! There’s a clip of this one on youtube since we had the guides film it. We all committed to taking the hardest path through the weir since it was near the end and we needed a bit of glory. Caleb went first and had a very exciting trip down with lots of thrashing and plashing and paddling. It all looked very professional. I believe Eoin went next. He always looked completely knackered because he was leaning back so far in his kayak. Rule of thumb is lean forward, but he made it without incident. I was third and punched through the wave with a loud yell. In the video it looks like I’m drinking a couple pints from the Liffey. Not the case! It was brilliant, and went off without a hitch. Bob was the next victim, and he made it look easy until right before hitting the wave where he really grimaces. Finally, Tjalf…… Tjalf had swam already once today, but we were expecting great things here. As he comes up to the edge of the drop, he almost stops completely and gets sucked over! If momentum is the key to survival then surely a lack of momentum would be the death of you. Luckily, he didn’t die. He did get dragged along the trough at the bottom of the weir until he got to the end where he dislocated his shoulder and was flipped out of his kayak. Not joking. Poor Tjalf had to be pulled out of the water and put in an ambulance to the nearest hospital in Blanchardstown. There was one more small weir and then the push to the end. We got to the finish line to find most of the people had already arrived and were drinking merrily. We had the unfortunate duty to tell Tjalf’s girlfriend, who had flown in for the event from the Netherlands, that she needed to get in a taxi to the hospital. L The good news is we all, well almost all, finished in enough time to be recorded! At just about 4 hours. Now, to be fair to ourselves, we did have some guys who flipped and waited for. That’s the kind of friends we are! No man left behind! Except Tjalf. But he went with the ambulance. So…. almost no man left behind! The party at the Garda boat house was on until 4 am, but as for us, we did the right things and went to the hospital to check on Tjalf. Maybe it was to get the gear back so we didn’t have to pay for it. Whatever the reason, we went to the hospital. After that we all headed back to my place for a great celebratory dinner put together by Claire! We had some other fans of the team show up and we had a great time revelling in all our glorious accomplishments, lamenting Tjalf, and getting pissed (that’s drunk in Irish). As you’ll find with most good stories in Ireland they either start out getting pissed or end up that way. A great time was had by all, and a great achievement to log in my file cabinet.
Since we had such a great time in Paris last Feb with Annie and Jack, we decided to go for an even longer trip this past fall midterm break. Knowing we were headed into a long, wet and dreary winter in Dublin, we opted for some last sun: Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are part of Spain, but are geographically much closer to the African continent, lying just west of Morocco and Western Sahara. We opted to stay at a Starwood property, since we could pay for our rooms through a combo of points and cash. It also looked to be a good setup, with a spa for the adults, lots of pools, and a kids club that would really appeal to the ages 4-10.
It’s about a four hour flight from Dublin, but with no connections to make, it is quite easy. We got there in time for lunch by the pool. The weather was iffy, with several days being a complete washout with downpours. But we were saved by the kids club and the spa. Plus, I think Annie and I have limited expectations. Relax, don’t cook, don’t clean, get a few massages, a few drinks, and some fun time with our kids. That’s exactly what it was. Another bonus was that there were lots of other families there and by the end, our kids had made lots of vacation friends. This wouldn’t be the best place to hang out as a couple (at least not during school breaks) but with kids, it was brilliant. It ticked all the boxes for this particular trip: great kids club that included activities in the evenings, spa, great buffets, and a gorgeous setting. Many of the other families (mostly British) were very grumpy about the weather. For some reason, it just didn’t bother Annie and I. Yes, it would have been great if the sun had come out more, but I don’t think it would have made the trip any more enjoyable for us. Just our tans!
Portugal October 2012 – The Algarve
Since moving to Ireland, I had heard a lot of about the beaches and holidaying in the Algarve area of Portugal. To be honest, I had never heard of it and Portugal in general didn’t interest me much. I had been to Lisbon, Fatima, and Coimbra all briefly in my 20’s while living in Madrid. It struck me as a downmarket Spain: dirtier, poorer and less interesting. I am glad to say that my impression of the beach areas of the Algarve are somewhat different. First off, there ARE lots of similarities to Spain. Sharing the Iberian Penisula makes this inevitable. But Portugal is a distinct country with its own language, food, and culture. I found the people to be equally as warm as the Spanish and just as welcoming. I could even get around with just my Spanish, although I attempted to speak as much Portuguese as I could muster.
The beaches themselves were quite beautiful, with reddish-orange cliffs dropping into the blue green sea. It was still warm enough to swim, although the water could be described as bracing by this time in October. I would say that many parts of the Algarve are too touristy and developed for my taste, much like the Costa del Sol area in Spain. When all the signs are in English and most people in the town are British/Irish retirees, it can dampen the feel that you are in a foreign country. I don’t feel the need to have a “full Irish” whenever I leave home to travel. But then again, I’m not Irish. Maybe I would’ve been thrilled if they had American style breakfasts everywhere. The prices were certainly rock bottom. I don’t think we paid more than €25/pp for any dinner including wine and we were frequenting the nicer places in town. That being said, the little town we were in did also cater the retirees on a budget. I would be interested to go back to the beaches in Portugal, but pick somewhere a little off the beaten tourist track. I would also like to go in the summer, maybe not August as the height of holiday craziness. But a May or June visit would be lovely. I am glad for the chance to see it and to re-open my mind about Portugal. I think I was only cheating myself.