Off days and checking boxes

Structured or planned days off are a breeding ground for unproductive sloth and idleness. The point of rest days is to rest, but with a purpose. Merely sitting around runs a high risk of providing only physical respite, as well as allowing opportunities which might be otherwise hard to come by slip away.

Not everyone has my nearly clinical impulse to well spend any waking moment, but those that do might find this useful.

Main Flathead at 35,000 cfs; Mphoto.

When actively practicing for a particular goal, I keep a comprehensive mental list of objectives. Not just physical training, but mental and technical as well.  For the Wilderness Classic this July everyone will be at least crossing, and possibly floating parts of, both the Copper and Chitina Rivers.  These are huge glacial rivers in equally massive valleys, and are sure to feature complex currents, big flows (100,000+ cfs) and emphatic upstream winds.  Last year taught me that this is a problematic combination in a packraft.  While the boats footprint in the water is shallow, it is also large for its size as well as sticky in the water.  Ferrying a packraft in a low volume creek is one thing, doing so in a bulky river flowing 10+ mph is more difficult, as the boat doesn’t pick up or maintain speed very well.  Upstream winds, and the remarkable extent to which a packraft works as a sail, complicates this further.  The optimal ferry angle can place the boat broadside to the wind, which if strong enough will disrupt paddling, push the boat in an undesired direction, and even require body english to ensure stability.  Even if this sort of paddling will make up 1% of the Classic course, I prefer to prepare for it as best I am able.

So I took the opportunity yesterday afternoon, on an otherwise designated rest day, to paddle 15 miles of the Flathead.  It had gone down feet from the near-flood level seen on Friday, and the absence of whole trees frequently moving downstream was comforting.  I wore my drysuit for the sake of caution, but the level ended up being pretty mellow except for the wind, which I got plenty of practice fighting.  When dealing with a strong headwind having a paddle that goes to a 60 degree feather is highly recommended.  All told I spent a few hours getting in some technical practice and light exercise, including a 3 mile walk home where I quickly realized that the new, beefed up pad in my race pack provided too much structure.  So add gear sussing and the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the river in another of its moods to an afternoon well spent.

I’m becoming increasing enamored with floating big, calm rivers, at least when they’re fast enough to not highlight the packrafts slow hull speed.  I’m equally at a loss for how to describe the spaced out yet focused state of mind such floating usually brings about.  Dirt and Dogs did a good job talking about it.  I find myself exactly focused on the water surface within a twenty foot radius, but unable to recall many details even minutes later.  I pay close attention to the course of the flow, avoiding sweepers and cultivating correct bow angle through eddy lines, and at the same time focus on looking up at everything at once and nothing in particular.  When I took out this afternoon, searching for a flood slicked patch of grassy bank gentle enough to climb up, the end of momentum represented by foot on land seemed jarring, causing the sensations that filled my head with emptiness to rattle harshly.  Enhancing it all was the act of rolling all my gear into a pack and walking back into town on bike paths and sidewalks.  Having the tools for such enjoyment be so readily hidden highlights the rarefied state of river head.

I’ve never been one for lists.  I thought briefly about trying to hike all, or at least the rest of, the trails in Glacier this year, but thought better of it within a few hours.  It’s a neat guiding tool, but I prefer to not labor under the burden of those sorts of obligations.  Running every mile of the forks of the Flathead, on the other hand, is a more compelling project, in no small part because I’ve already done most of them.  On the North Fork all I have left in the 1/2 mile between the Camas Bridge and Big Creek, plus all the Canadian Flathead.  On the Middle Fork I have the stretch above Schaeffer, the stretch between Essex and Coal Creek, and Lincoln Creek to McDonald Creek.  On the South Fork I have Meadow Creek gorge, the final six miles to the reservoir, and from the dam to the confluence.  On the main I have everything but the Middle-North confluence to Kokanee Bend, and the final 15 miles of oxbows to Flathead Lake.  I’m not counting Hungry Horse Lake, and might need to disqualify the southernmost stretch to Flathead, or at least borrow a canoe.  Even at flood I doubt the flow is enough for a packraft.  So that’s one project for this year, to be addressed soon when high water makes the slow stretches more expedient.

A poster on BPL was asking about career choices which would allow for more frequent backpacking.  The answer is of course not so much in what career but in where you do it, and in the compromises you’re willing to live with long term.  M’s sister, the for-now New Yorker, only highlighted the many reasons we live where we do.

5 responses to “Off days and checking boxes”

  1. It’s surprising how much wind is caught and held by a pack on the bow. An easy way to trim the load is to strap a 10L drybag worth to the floor beneath your knees. Helps twofold in that position, and the strap plate glued there costs ~20 minutes of time and less than 10 bucks.

    Even more worthwhile is to consider a 10″ tube boat–substantial decrease in wind effect, as well as pack effect.

    Now if only someone would follow through and send you one to try…

  2. ;)

    I’d not considered the interplay between wind and pack, mainly cause I’ve dealt with truly debilitating wind so rarely. Absent the current on Sunday, I would have struggled to make any forward progress.

    Looking at the photo, it is remarkable how much surface area the rockered front must provide. Though I think I’d favor the better rough water performance of big tubes, in the overall scheme.

    1. 10″ tubes and bow upturn are not mutually exclusive. You just end up 2″ lower as the wind sees the boat. Couple 10″ tubes and bow upturn with the big butts of modern boats, the only good reason to have a 12″ tube boat is for heavy, heavy loads (think fat bike +2 weeks of food) or whitewater.

      And there are compelling reasons to use a 10″er in whitewater. or so I hear–wouldn’t have the first clue based on personal experience.

      1. I really like, or at least think I like, the stability and dryness of big tubes for whitewater, especially in wilderness without a dry suits. Then again, my only frame of reference is an old Sherpa.

  3. Location, location, location.

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