Wildwater Win!

Every year at Denali park, Alaskan paddlers congregate for a weekend of joviality and competition on the rapids of the Nenana river at the Wildwater Festival. There's always a down-river race: a 3-4 mile sprint downstream through class 3 rapids. After the race and re-running shuttle, everyone trades their longest, skinniest racing boat with their shortest, fattest play boat for the rodeo. We find a feature or two that are near a bridge, and have a show-off contest for best tricks. By then we're all whipped and ready for a barbecue where twice-told tales from the good old days get better each year, and new accounts of heroism and drama join the collective history of Alaskan paddling epics.

The Schauer family has a long history competing in the annual Nenana wildwater races. My Dad's been placing with the top guys for several decades now. One year he tried taking his sea-kayak on the gnarly Whitewater race, and almost won it. Paul has been winning for a few years now. He even holds the course record from the year we did the race at floodstage. Paul is an incredibly skilled kayaker, and as a full time skier athlete he was totally unstoppable. I've usually done pretty well for myself. One year I even won the slalom/obstacle course.

This year though, Paul decided to let me have the advantage in the main event down-river race. Our mom used to kayak way back when a standard-sized boat was 12-13 feet long (i.e. fast). Now she rows the raft, or her new inflatable kayak because she cleverly prefers the relaxation of a more stable craft. Luckily though, we never sold her ancient fiberglass kayak. It comes out to play just once a year now, and it's been the winning boat for at least 4 years running.

I used to have Paul take it because he is the more skilled, fitter paddler, and therefore more likely to win. I'd take something a little more durable, but maybe not quite as streamlined, and place in the top five. This year though, since Paul has ratcheted back on the ski racing, he let me give it a try. I was a bit nervous about it being so fragile and hard to control, but super excited to go fast!

The race was excellent. I fit in the kayak just fine, it controlled pretty well, and it totally zipped through the waves. My competition though, was definitely not going to let me have it so easily. Jeff Shelton, a Healy local, works as a raft guide on this very stretch of water, rowing piles of tourists down it 3 times a day. Suffice to say he's fit and knows where the current is. He had his own fast boat, and the two of us dueled the whole way down arms and lungs burning. Near the end it looked like he'd gotten me. He had picked a better line in the last rapid, and I was struggling to catch him on the flats into the finish. I was sure he had me, but then with just a hundred meters to the end, his boat bogged down in a slower patch of water, and I just passed him at the finish line! Paul and my Dad came in soon after, 4th and 6th I believe.

Now that Paul and I have each had our victories in Mom's yellow boat, we'll have a rock-paper-scissors (or my new favorite: ninja-yeti-cowboy) to decide who gets it each year.

Here's a video of the Rodeo finals at Rockslide. I'm in the yellow boat with the blue helmet. Paul is orange boat with orange helmet. Thanks to my dad for putting this together. If it doesn't show up below, here's the Youtube link

Here's the Newsminer Article

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