Avon Descent 2014 – Day 1
The competitors and support teams who stayed the night at Northam took in the carnival atmosphere but for me I was happy being at home and having a good nights sleep. It was my 24th Avon Descent and I’m pretty boring and not a party animal so I didn’t need to experience the great atmosphere as you do as a first timer.
The weather was amazing for paddlers and support teams as we arrived at Northam. Hot air balloons were again welcoming us to the town and even the mist was absent this year so there would be no delays. With the water level higher than the last two years it felt as if it was going to be a great weekend. It was just the hard paddling that might be the problem.
I was off in grid 7 with other WW kayaks and several plastics. Ascot kayak club member volunteers were ushering us to the line and trying to make sure everyone left on time and on the right grid. I noticed a fast WW paddler Phil Edwards, who had entered was missing. Phil definitely would have been the fastest paddler in our group so without him that opened up the race.
When our grid took off I wasn’t the fastest to reach the weir, young Kieran Simpson and several long plastics were there first, but Kieran who was just in front of me suddenly stopped and that gave me the chance I needed to grab a space on the weir with no one in front and unlike last year when I spun out, this year I went down the slippery slide perfectly.
Thankfully there was enough water to scrape through the small rapids under the railway bridge and dodge around a few boats which were spun out or stuck. I soon started passing slower boats and it wasn’t just one or two, I passed dozens fairly quickly so it meant that I was looking ahead for a way around them every time I came to a slower paddler. It was great to pass so many paddlers especially the ones I knew or were in the Saturday morning group.
John Carrol, number 637 is out of his boat, Danny Moreton on the white ski and Ron McKenzie on the red ski on the left corner stuck in the shallows, Ray Campbell on the right red ski is going backwards and a paddler on a Afinnity number 380 Chris McCole paddling perfectly. Photo JC
Most of the single boats were ahead except for 3 more grids and the short plastic class so I had plenty of paddlers to pass. Things were going quite well considering the mass of paddlers but a few kilometres downstream I noticed several paddlers capsized blocking the route. Paddlers were struggling to get around the blockage and some were falling off before they got there. It was a simple part of the river but some of the novices still had difficulties but without losing too much time I was able to get through and at the same time pass Wayne Manners who had bought a PRS from me only 3 weeks earlier.
As we hit the wider river young Kieran suddenly came from nowhere and passed me. He had a few ducks glued to his rear deck but I think he lost a couple along the way. To see him pass put the pressure on me to lift my game as young Kieran is a good slalom paddler so he would not only have the speed he would also good skills, but did he have the stamina to paddle for hours? As luck should have it I managed to pass Kieran and I didn’t see him again.
I continued passing other paddlers but then I had my first paddler pass me. I was pretty pleased that I had paddled several kilometres and I wasn’t too far from Katrine Bridge before that happened. Sometime later Derek Amy passed me paddling like a rocket behind a double ski. His mate Paul was even faster than him, which seeing Derek’s speed was hard to believe. Paul and Derek were part of our Saturday morning group about 3 years ago and since then they have both really taken their paddling to the next level. They finished off coming 13th and 14th in the long plastics which was really good as they are not young and the competition was fierce.
Another long ski passed, I gave chase hoping to get some lift but it didn’t leave much wash. Then I saw Bonnie McDougal. She had started 2 minutes ahead so I was pretty pleased to have caught up as she is a strong paddler. I kept well over to her right in this wide shallow section so I could sneak passed her. She was talking to a paddler in a Wavehopper beside her and when she suddenly saw me, she shouted ‘Terry’. Her face lit up like a thousand candles, she had a smile from ear to ear and immediately she went hell for leather to cut across my bow and keep in front. It was like she had her second wind, the life had come back to her, she was rejuvenated and determined to keep in front of me.
For a short time I managed to keep on her wash but she then started to paddle like a wild animal chasing down a feed, so she left me behind. I couldn’t believe where she found the strength from but when I saw her catch up with a white PRS I realised that she had seen her partner Craig who had started before her. Suddenly this wild tiger turned into a gazelle and slowed down a little. I eventually caught then both and when I started passing I put on my own burst of speed to get away from them. After 100 metres I looked back and saw that I had lost them. I was happy.
The triple of Simon Roll, Rob Roll, and Mark Hardie rolled on by flying like a torpedo, and several minutes later, to my surprise because they were so far back, came the triple of Matt Coutts, Cameron Slater and Ben Dallin. Soon after I saw them stopped beside the bank, I thought one was having a pee, which seemed strange so early into the race but apparently Cameron had food poisoning and he was chucking up so he decided not to go on letting Matt and Ben carry on without him.
The top doubles passed, I reached Katrine Bridge with cheers from the bridge and from paddlers at the teams changeover. It was all flat deep water to the Glen Avon rapid which I appreciated. I hit the lip of Glen Avon, got stuck momentarily on a bunch of rocks and braced as I slipped down the main rapid carefully avoiding capsized paddlers in the eddy at the bottom. It was a relief to have survived the only real rapid on day one without any boat damage.
The river now flowed faster and wound around a multiple of islands that created small fun rapids although the eddies and swirls did make steering a little difficult and more so when I tired, and I was getting tired. The long pool before Extracts Weir felt long and at the end of it I clambered out of the kayak up the bank and trotted along the portage track. Alaine was at the end ready to hand me a couple of chews and an energy bar. I quickly jumped back in thanked Alaine like I usually do and took off.
On the bend after leaving the weir I looked behind to see Steve Cashion catching me up. I must have caught him up and passed him at the weir. Bugger, he was back so I paddled on as fast as I could occasionally eating an energy bar that I was carrying on my spraydeck. Last year Steve paddled a team of two and on the last 2 kms of day 2 he passed me like I was standing still. I know he has been training hard this year so he was going to be a tough competitor to beat. He eventually passed.
The river started to speed up as the water curled and carved around bunches of small islands. There were now choices of channels which meant there were faster and slower routes and plenty of swirls and eddies to strain my arm muscles. It’s at times like these I wish I had a rudder. This was a terrific training area for novices as it was fun, quite testing but without the danger.
It was great to see the footbridge at Toodyay, it meant that there was less than two hours left and as I approached Toodyay Park and teams changeover a little further downstream I got cheers from the crowd. Lawrence Greed was entertaining the public over the loud speaker and informing them of the competitors taking part. I heard my name mentioned when I paddled under the bridge.
Before Toodyay rapids which were quite shallow but easy, more groups of people were picnicking, partying and cheering paddlers on.
Alaine was waiting at West Toodyay Bridge but like always I didn’t need to stop so I paddled downstream towards Wetherals Reserve and the teams changeover. There was still a line of paddlers in front of me and being only a few kilometres to the start of the T trees I could imagine the congestion coming up. I could see Steve Cashion well ahead and a few other paddlers that had been leap frogging me all day. John Vanmannan, who was in a team of four, raced by happy as Larry to have passed me. He was fresh and I was tiring so I let him go.
I soon entered the T trees and within 300 metres I had passed 3 paddlers who took a longer route. It was a good start but there were still several paddlers winding themselves through the trees in front of me who may cause a problem. I passed more paddlers when I had an opportunity to go a different way. They seemed to be following each other. I was pretty pleased that they were thinning out in front.
A fallen tree that had only more recently come down was suddenly in front of me. Justin Davis a K1 paddler had capsized trying to get through the gap so all movement stopped. Two girls on a double Fury tried to get over a section of tree which was partly above the water level but they got stuck. I waited and eventually Justin swam out of the way and I was able to get under the tree on the right.
I soon passed Lovers Lane and Jimperding Brook with Steve Cashion just in front of me. We reached the worst and most tricky and dangerous section of the t trees which if not done correctly could cause me to capsize and ruin my chances of doing well. Steve decided to portage but I decided to risk the ‘Devil’s Den’ hoping that I wouldn’t have a problem with the channel full of twists and turns and a current that tries to push you into the trees and capsize you. Luckily I didn’t have problems as there was no one was blocking my way. Once out of the trees I looked back and saw Steve still portaging and he still had a way to go. I chuckled and paddled off. Staying in the boat is always quicker but it is certainly more dangerous especially if other boats are blocking the way or have capsized.
The next section of t trees started with a small rapid. When I approached it, it looked bigger than it usual is and as I paddled down it I hit something hard and when I looked back I noticed a K1 was wrapped around a rock which had created the bigger rapid. A paddler was walking in the trees, I think his race would be over.
The trees got easier and it was great to get to the long pool about 2 kms before the end. Paddlers who should have known better took the wrong channel at the end of it and got in a tangle. I didn’t mind I passed a couple of them and caught up with the others. One of the paddlers who was pretty quick on the flat seemed to stop at every corner to check his route before going through the trees, which was quite annoying.
Coming out of the last section t trees I at last had my chance to pass when the two paddlers ahead went one way and I went the other way with a boat following me. We beat them through, which was great as it meant we had a good run to and down Leatherhead Rapids. No paddlers, no problem. After a sprint home to the finish line my day of paddling was over.
The pit was busy with paddlers coming in, some paddlers were doing repairs, others just wanting to get their gear off and rest.
We dropped the kayak in the long line of boats, checked it over for damage, turned it upside down and left it. Before changing I walked across the river downstream of the finish line to check out my route for the following morning. There was a log in the first part of the trees that could be a hazard so I needed to make sure I could get over it. It was just possible and when happy I had checked enough I waded back across the shallows to the parking area to change and have some sandwiches that Alaine had made.
The sun was still shining, it had been a beautiful day and every paddler seemed excited to have finished. Josh Kippin was leading with the South African Lance Kime second and Mathew Dean third.
Jenny Bateman was leading the ladies with Natasha Leaversuch second and Samantha Pilton third. Michael Baker was the first plastic and Sue Quick was 40 seconds faster than me in the wild water kayak. Bugger, I will have to pull my finger out tomorrow.
Pretty thick fog was coating the air as we arrived at Cobbler’s Pool for day two. On day two you have to be more prepared and ready to go as the first kayak leaves at 7.00am just as light starts to peer in the valley. I was off at 7.07am seven minutes after the leaders due to 6 paddlers starting on one grid every 30 seconds. I couldn’t believe they would send six off at a time, the congestion in the T trees was going to be horrendous. It’s usually pretty bad enough with 4 off on the same grid but 6? I wasn’t looking forward to. I couldn’t see the sense in it, but nothing surprises me anymore, there doesn’t seem to be as much concern for safety as there once was. Someone did mention that they were trying to get the paddlers out of the rapids before the first powerboats came through. Unfortunately there will always be slower paddlers in the valley so they either need to hold back the power boats, ensure that paddlers are fitter so they can get out of the valley or have an earlier cut off times for paddlers at Walyunga. Getting this right will always be difficult to achieve. I was Barkers Bridge, 25kms from Bells Rapid when the first power boat passed me. That meant I cleared Bells Rapid about 2 ½ hours or more before they arrived there.
I had arrived at the start in good time so I was ready to go and was soon in the line waiting for my grid which was grid 16. The volunteer marshals were working overtime trying to check the paddlers off and get them on the water and by the time my grid was called there was little time between getting on the water and the start. The 6 on the grid system every 30 seconds got paddlers away faster but it was hard to reach the start line on time. And being a kayaker you need a bit more time and bank space to balance your kayak and put the spray deck on.
I was however okay but my rival Sue Quick who was also paddling a WW kayak and was 40 seconds ahead of me on day 1, was a few seconds late getting to the line. For me that was to my advantage, for her it could cost her the race.
Our grid took off. Unlike last year when we had four paddlers and the other three let me go first so I could show them the way. This year the paddlers weren’t so obliging but I think I was the third paddler to enter the first set of T trees. Not far into the trees I noticed Sue had gone right and I took the left route. Within 75 metres or so I was in front of her which was great, I just had to keep there for the next 70 odd kilometres and I would beat her. This year Sue has been training hard and although she had passed me in the Northam to Toodyay race I managed to pass her on the portage and beat her, but the last two 10km Ascot races she has beaten me so I couldn’t be complacent. She beat me yesterday by 40 seconds, she started 30 seconds in front of me this morning so at this point we were level but I couldn’t let her pass and I had to beat her by 11 seconds to win. The pressure was on.
I came to a log that I knew I had to jump but there were two paddlers already stuck on it. We were less than 100 metres from the start and I had to hold back. It is usually a simple thing to jump a log but it seems the other two boats hadn’t gathered enough speed and were just sitting on it. When it was clear I powered on and cleared the log. Not too much further Helke and Tess in a double kayak were stationary on the right side of the channel. Tess had a bush branch across her chest and was unable to move forward or backwards. Luckily there was enough room to the left of them to get through. Apparently they got abused by one paddler for being stuck. They eventually had to get out of the kayak and drag it through the T trees.
Once clear of the first set of T trees we had an open section before we hit the second and thicker lot of trees. The nightmare of letting 6 paddlers go every 30 seconds continued. Paddlers were so close to each other they were clipping each other’s stern catapulting them across the channel. The route was soon blocked as a mass of paddlers were desperately trying to move forward making the blockage even worse. It was one big traffic jam. Of course some paddlers were capsized or swimming and inevitably their boats were strewn across the channel so no one could move and the paddlers from behind just kept coming.
It used to be like this back 10 to 15 years ago but more recently because the T tree channels have opened up and 4 paddlers went off on a grid it has been much better. Back in the 70s/80s I could run around this section and get back in the kayak before other kayaks came through the trees. I should have done it this year, but I didn’t, so like many others I was stuck in the trees fighting for survival.
As you can imagine being capsized in a kayak is much worse than being capsized on a ski. You just can’t just jump back into a kayak especially when the cockpit opening is so small as mine. Emptying out and getting back in would be a mammoth job, especially in such an environment like the trees where you can’t find places to sit your boat. So you could imagine why I was praying that I wouldn’t get knocked over, I would lose a hell of a lot of time.
Eventually I came out of the hellish trees to the open water before Posselts Ford. The mist was so heavy it was very hard to see where we were going. It was a bit like follow the leader. Posselts Ford rapid went well and I was even more impressed when there was no one stuck in front of me, apart from a paddler near the bank at Super Chute. What a bonus I thought. There were a few paddlers getting back on their skis downstream but they posed no problems so I followed a line of paddlers to the Goollies Rapid. The fog was so thick that even I didn’t recognise the Narrow Neck Rapid and whenever paddlers in front got more than 50 metres ahead I could only see a blanket of mist. We had soon passed two small rapids Rice Pud and Stodgy Porridge. I named these two rapids after camping out nearby and having rice pudding for super and Stodgy Porridge for breakfast. I have named all the rapids along the Avon Valley accept for about 10 which still have their original names. Usually the more scary the names the harder they are, although the originals names like Syds, Super Chute, Bells and Moondyne sound pretty tame but are at times quite scary.
At Razorback 2 most paddlers went to the right, I took the left route and came out in front of most. At Emus Rapid I was undecided what to do. I had planned paddling it if there were only a few paddlers in front of me but I counted 10. I only needed one of these ten to get broadside in the ‘Shredder’ and I could be in trouble. Ski paddlers probably don’t know what it is like being upside down in a kayak but it’s not nice. Usually when you are in a Wild Water race you are racing alone and only have the elements to contend with. In the Avon Descent it’s usually the other boats that are your worst enemy.
As I paddled down ‘Scorpion’s Tail’ I was still thinking what I should do. To portage or not. Both ways were a gamble, the risk a collision paddling down the Shredder or be safe and portage! With Sue somewhere close behind the chances of me portaging and coming out at the end before her was slim, if she paddled it and got a clear run. It is usually much quicker to paddle than portage. But did I want to risk it!
So as I hit the big eddy after ‘Scorpion’s Tail’ and saw a long line of paddlers in front I chucked a right turn and paddled over to the bank and got out. It was time to run.
There were four other paddlers there doing the same and I think they were all plastic skis. They would have to drag where with my 12kg kayak I carried but with the boulders, trees and pools of water I couldn’t gallop as fast as I would have liked. When I reached the portage put-in Chris Butler was not far behind bumping his PRS over all the rocks. Danny Moreton, who started a grid behind me was already there, but he had paddled it and apparently his rudder cable had broken. He must have fixed it as he finished the race but not before me!!
More fun on the Shredder. When the channel is blocked with capsizing boats there is not a lot of room to get around them. Photo John O’Sullivan
I struggled to get away from the bank due to submerged rocks I got back on track knowing that I had lost time but I was injury and boat damage free. There was a lot of carnage at ‘Emu Falls’ so I wasn’t feeling too bad with my decision but afterwards, when you haven’t paddled it you often get a sense of guilt.
From here on there was no more stopping so I soon slipped down the ‘Ford Cruncher’ with about 4 other boats around me and away we went with few real big rapids to worry us until we reached ‘Bonebreaker’ and ‘Raging Thunder’. It wasn’t long before Dave Blunt in a short plastic Finn Kayak was beside me. Shit he was doing so well in his 4.25m kayak. It was only 25cms shorter than mine but it was plastic. He said he hadn’t used it for ten years but decided to bring it out, do a bit of training and give it a go. He must have been a strong paddler in his hey day as he was beating Peter Liddle in a Wavehopper (Peter did break his paddle at Emus and another at Syds) and keeping up with many of the long plastics and me. ‘Bonebreaker’ was turbulent but turned out being pretty easy. ‘Raging Thunder’ a 100 metres away had one paddler hitting a rock and spearing off to the left and into troubled waters. I knew this rapid really well but I went a little far too right and scraped over rocks at the top but slipped down okay. I knew Dave was behind me as I could hear him scrape over the same rock.
After a couple more medium sized rapids we reached the ‘Accelerator ‘ which is long and can be paddled fast, although it is tricky and mistakes can be made, fortunately however it posed no problems. We entered the T trees before ‘Moondyne’. Two boats entered the different channels and I went where I usually go. For some reason a branch swiped my paddle from my grasp and I ended up over on my side hanging onto my vertical paddle that was firmly anchored to the bottom. I didn’t really want to capsize so I was hoping that I could flick my kayak back upright. For a moment or two I prayed to the gods for help. Then the gods answered my pray and brought Dave to the rescue. He had been following my line down the valley since near Emus so he was tight behind me at the time. As he came through he offered his bow, I grabbed it and pulled myself upright. Phew, that was close and we were off again.
The tricky, twisty ‘Moondyne Rapid’ was just ahead and it was full concentration especially at the last part as the current always tries to drive you straight over the ledge. I have been lucky, I always seem to steer myself down the main chute, which I did today, but not without the stern of our kayaks hitting a rock on the drop. Many paddlers lose control here and get swept over the ledge which is not the best thing to happen. Others try to avoid it altogether by taking the ‘Chicken Chute’ but that would have been too low and rocky today to do it clean.
The centre passage at ‘Easy Street’ used to be very tight and dangerous so groups of paddlers took the right route as it was shallower, longer but safer, but now the centre route is more open, although it still can be a problem if someone goes broadside as the water in the channel is quite swift. Our line of 3 paddlers had no problem but a little further a ski was stuck so I took the long way round and Dave who was behind overtook me.
We shot ‘Side Winder’, which used to have a T tree smack in middle but now has gone and is much easier to paddle. The ‘Wall’ was next but it offered little resistance so we were soon paddling the pool before Stronghills Farm (Harts Thicket) and the teams changeover point. For the next 3-4 kms the rapids were easy but it was ‘Deadly Mistake’ that was the worst rapid on this part. It is not as big as Syds, but due to several boulders ¾ way down partially blocking the way it is a tricky rapid and many a boat has been destroyed here and paddlers have been injured.
I approached it so carefully that I allowed my bow to get sucked into an eddy which spun me around and sat me aloft a set of rocks. I should have known better but with tiredness and the fact I didn’t want to capsize here I wasn’t paddling as aggressively as I should have been and I let the water take charge. Now I was balancing on these rocks and on the verge of capsizing. Then I saw Bryan Lee paddling down who was in a team of four. His eyes lit up and I’m sure he had a smile of surprise when he saw me in this predicament. I couldn’t believe it either, but survival was the game and I managed to wriggle the kayak free, reverse a little, turn and go down without touching another rock. You can imagine I was pretty pleased especially when I saw several paddlers wading in the water at the bottom around the rocks and T trees. They apparently hadn’t been so lucky. I could see a boat wrapped around a rock. I assumed, because there were a few paddlers there were more than one boat wrapped. I found out later one of the boats was Spencer and Steve’s double kayak. This rapid was trouble, that is why I called it ‘Deadly Mistake’.
Clearing ‘Deadly Mistake’ was a relief as I knew I should have no problems with all the rapids ahead. It’s not that they weren’t hard it was the fact that the passages, if you kept to them were much clearer and defined. And knowing them also helped.
I caught up with Chris Watson, only because he was on the bank emptying out. A little later he stormed passed but I caught up when I saw him emptying his ski again. Chris should have been up at the front as he is a fast paddler but apparently he had a big hole in his ski and he wasn’t carrying any bitumen tape so he couldn’t repair it.
Meanwhile the faster boats were well ahead.
Dave was sponging out at the bottom of ‘Deadly Mistake’ so I passed him again and he followed me. We now had a 2km pool before we reached the small rapid called the ‘Tea Strainer’. When I first wrote my Avon Descent guide book this rapid was chock-a-block with t trees and was quite difficult, but now most of those trees have gone and it is an easy rapid. In fact many of the T trees have gone from a lot of the rapids in the valley so now the T tree rapids are more open and less hazardless. I think it’s the climate or maybe disease or something natural because many of the trees that have disappeared are not on the track of paddlers or powerboats.
Another kilometre further we hit the ‘Black Hole’ which can be quite easy if you know where to go, if you don’t the hole could catch you out. I used to tell my students that if they got in the ‘Black Hole’ they would never see light again until they came out several kilometres downstream. Of course only the most gullible believed me and there were one or two but a few made-up stories made the trip more interesting. Today the ‘Black Hole’ was no trouble or was the next rapid the ‘Spinning Moon’. Back 20 years ago I saved someone’s life here after they got pinned against a rock. Every time I paddle it, it brings back those memories, it’s something you don’t forget.
With something to think about we took off towards ‘Heart Stopper’ which can be tricky with quite big holes and hidden boulders but the water level made the path much easier than last year when it was low. Dave was still tight behind when I paddled ‘Scared Rabbit’, ‘Lookout Rapid’, ‘The Passage’ and the ‘Fortress’ but then came ‘Championships Rapid’ which always looks a little frightening but again I have never had trouble here. Unless I want an exciting bumpy ride I always paddle down the left side just missing the two big boulders that can make life a misery if you hit them. Small eddies and T tree branches on the left can catch out the best of paddlers if not in full concentration. That’s why most novices will take the centre route which is not as technical, looks easier but has an exciting rough rocky exit.
It was on to ‘Redback Run’ a nice long rapid with swirls, eddies and two drops. I must have been feeling tired as I didn’t paddle the two small drops as clean as I usually do. Look lively Terry I told myself, ‘Syd’s Rapid’ was just ahead. I had full concentration as I paddled the top end of ‘Syd’s’. I didn’t feel if I was doing it with too much style but the main thing was to get down and not make a fool of myself. Rescue crews were positioned at the entry to the ‘Waterfall’ making sure no one paddled into it. It’s nothing like Niagara Falls or King George Falls in the Kimberley and many have paddled Syd’s Waterfall, (some unintentionally) and had no trouble, but it wouldn’t be my choice on a race day.
There were better crowds watching the main drop of ‘Syd’s’ and waiting for those moments of excitement, when a paddler messing up and capsizes or blocks the channel for others to run into. I was trying not to be one so I was taking care. It wasn’t the time to think that I was in a short wild water race and go down as fast as I could. It was really about surviving the rapid and get a cheer from the crowd because I made it down rather than because I capsized. I cleared ‘Syd’s’ with a few cheers from the spectators bidding me farewell.
Dave was still in touch and as we approached Dual Carriageway I could see Chris Clarke going down the left side. I thought to myself Chris must know a quicker way through but I didn’t follow. Another ski followed though but Dave and I took the main channel and came out at the end with Chris and the other ski lost in the trees. His secret way wasn’t so good after all.
There were many paddlers behind me and they were paddling the rapids I had already done. Sue Quick wasn’t that far behind nor were the Liddle Team, Baillee and Jane.
I was now feeling pretty confident that I was going to finish my 24th Avon. Sue was nowhere to be seen and there was only 6kms to go before clearing the rapids. Paddling through Walyunga was easy and at ‘Terminator Two’ I paddled the left route as I had two boats in front taking the right side and I didn’t want them to get in my way. It wasn’t long before paddling through the T tree thicket just before Bells footbridge which was brimming over with spectators.
In all the years (since 1978) I have paddled Bells there were only two times that I have capsized, once when I paddled a C1 in flood, not recommended, it’s a bit more difficult with half a paddle and another time when I was paddling an old C2 with a top British paddler,(or so he said). The closed in canoe cracked up after hitting a rock and we sank. He wanted to go one side I wanted to go the other side. For some reason it didn’t work. This was during the time that you weren’t able to drive to Bells and so, if you had problems at Bells you had to walk out to the Upper Swan Bridge.
Neil Long was on the bridge commentating. As soon as he saw me he said here comes the first wild water kayak and started talking about my achievements and the fact that I taught him and his brother Darryl to paddle. (It didn’t take long for them to be better than me though). So after such a big wrap and now knowing that Sue was somewhere behind I just couldn’t capsize. As I entered the rapid I had my race face on which is not really that pretty, no laughter, just a face of concentration and not very attractive. People were shouting my name but I tried not to let the distractions from the bank disrupt my concentration. I was determined not to mess up with so many people looking on.
No problems at Bell’s Drop. Photo Keely Robinson
Steve Cashion who I had seen several times along the valley took the main drop just ahead of me. Unfortunately for him he went straight on and had to do a 360, instead of doing the right turn so I was again in front of him. I had a smile behind my race face when that happened. Although I was racing to be the first Wild Water kayak over the line, anybody who I knew, especially the ones with similar speed, even if they were on a different class of boat, were my competitors, especially the Saturday morning crew. I can do the Avon Descent more socially, or in a team when I get old, until then I love to race anyone young or old around my speed level.
I cleared Bells Rapid and at Bolland’s Elbow I gave out my own loud cheer as I knew I would get home from there. Apart from a few T trees there was nothing that could stop me, although 30kms of flatwater wasn’t going to be easy.
By now the paddlers had really thinned out and my paddle down to Upper Swan Bridge was pretty lonely. I don’t usually stop along the way but I had decided to change to my Epic paddle at the bridge as it was lighter and had a smoother entry than my white water paddle. I hadn’t eaten since leaving Cobbler’s so Alaine handed me some rice pudding which I gobbled two spoon fulls, and a jam sandwich and a tiny snickers bar that I ate along the way. And apart from my breakfast that was all I ate until the end.
Once clear of the Upper Swan T Trees it was all flat water which was pleasing as I could concentrate on paddling normal instead of having to sweep and lean to negotiate bends and rocks which was really tiring.
There was still a little flow in the river but the most pleasing thing a little later downstream was when Nick Turley started to pass me and I had enough speed to wash ride him. Dave who had got in front of me at Walyunga was now behind me. I think we both were as happy as Larry having Nick help us along but when Nick stopped at the Barrett Street footbridge (Maali Bridge) to meet up with his support team we were a little sad. Nick did very well in last years Avon but this year I could beat him.
We were toddling along and after another few kilometres Dave stopped for refreshments and I was suddenly alone again but after a while Steve Cashion came by looking pretty strong so I followed him but then he apologised for stopping at Middle Swan Bridge. Bugger, I was on my own again and a little later Nick came back but within a kilometre he stopped again so I was on my own yet again.
I pushed on quite happy that Sue hadn’t yet passed me although one or two faster team paddlers flew by. Around Bakers Bridge where the first power boat passed, Roland Bodt who had not only passed me several times on day one, he must have passed me a dozen times today. Now he was trying to pass again with Brendan Groggins beside him. I latched onto Brendan who gave a good wash in his PRS, but he looked tired, so I didn’t know if he would keep up the pace. Nearing Fishmarket Reserve we started passing another team paddler who was tired and slow. Unfortunately he revived as we passed and he started wash hang me and kept wandering into my space. I was concerned that he may capsize me. Can you imagine how bad it would be to survive the valley but get capsized on the flat. Thankfully he eventually fell back and I could relax and keep chasing chase Brendan.
By Sandy Beach Roland was tired out, he was on my wash and he thanked me and Brendan for dragging him along but it wasn’t me he should be thanking, it was Brendan up front. As we passed Ascot Kayak Club and the party of picnickers I was pretty happy as Sue hadn’t caught up and if I could beat her to the line by 10 seconds I would win.
At Tonkin Highway Roland suddenly had life in him and he passed us and started pulling away. He was too fast to chase so we let him go. The spark had returned in him and he was determined to get home first. We could now see the finish line and what a picture. I was just over a kilometre in finishing my 24th Avon Descent and with Sue nowhere to be seen, although I couldn’t see much behind, I was destined to be the first WW kayak home. Back in 1979 and 1980 I was 2nd and 3rd in the WW kayak and back then they were the fastest kayak. Today the K1s, Skis and long plastics are faster.
With 300 metres to go I pulled along side Brendan and raced him in. All the pain had left my body and it was just like finishing a 10km paddle yet we had paddled 74 kms that day. We crossed the finish line together and I thanked him for the ride. It was all over.
My trusty support crew Alaine was there to carry my boat back to the car, I changed, had a little food and then watched other paddlers come in. The prize giving was pretty bad as it only recognised the winners in 5 classes. They had all the time in the world to extend it to 1st, 2nd and 3rd and a few more classes but they chose to get it open with quickly as possible. I think the event needs a bit of an organisational shakeup. There are so many small things that need addressing to make the event that little bit more safer and special.
I was first in my class, I had beaten Sue by 2 minutes and my time was good enough to be placed 10th in the K1 class. My time was also good enough to be 27th place in the long plastic class and overall, counting the single craft, including K1s, composite Skis and long and short plastics across the line I came 45th so I didn’t think that was too bad for a 63 year old. To top it off I beat a lot of paddlers I knew and all except one paddler from the Saturday morning CDU crew, so I was happy.