Friday, June 16, 2006

Fibark ducky races

When the folks at Fibark -- that's "First In Boating on the Arkansas" to you (it's the state's biggest river festival) -- asked The Gazette to send a representative for the annual media ducky race (a ducky is an inflatable kayak, not a yellow bath toy), they naturally chose me: the TV writer.

OK, so I've been known to kayak on the weekends. And, after seeing outdoor writer Dave Philipps' ducky prowess on the Green River two weeks ago (he flipped and swam the aptly named Disaster Falls -- see Friday's Out There section), I can see why he was out. So, I took a break from slaving away over a hot DVD player and trundled up to Salida yesterday.

My first stop was the Pine Creek rapid above Buena Vista, where the extreme boatercross race is held. Pine Creek is a narrow, fast Class V (very, very tough) rapid, with a nasty keeper hole at the bottom. Last year, several professional kayakers said they got the worst beat-downs of their lives in that hole. In a boatercross, kayakers launch in a mass start and bounce and bash each other on their way down the rapid, so you can imagine the carnage potential. Reportedly, this year's race wasn't as ugly as last year's, although there was still plenty of carnage (people getting stuck in the aforementioned hole and lots of flipping -- not literal carnage. Much.).

The media ducky race is just like that. Except no Class V killer hole and no pro boaters. And let me preface the results by saying: I was robbed. Totally.

Those conniving schemers from KHEN (the Salida public radio station) ganged up on me. I aced my first heat (by comparison, Salida Mountain Mail reporter Jason Starr swam and his boat and paddle were recovered only after a lengthy downstream chase). So the hens knew what they were up against.

In the finals, I fell behind early, but recovered and made the gate while the other paddlers were still struggling in the eddy. KHEN's Jim Swett, a former raft guide (everyone in Salida is a current or former raft guide), gave up on the gate and paddled downstream to wait for me. He grabbed onto my ducky for dear life while his KHEN compatriot Dave Bokel caught up and cruised to victory. I should note that holding is perfectly legal in duckycross. Sadly, whacking Jim's fingers with my paddle would not have been. The world is unfair.

And, even with a hen on my bow, I did manage to pull out a second-place finish. Colorado Springs, represent! Or something.
Andy Wineke

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