Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wildlife and Whitewater: An Africa Honeymoon

Africa has been on my bucket list for a long time. The allure of an exotic destination abounding with wildlife was enough to start the dream, but once I learned about a wave called Nile Special and an island called the Hairy Lemon, I knew I had to go to Uganda.  And after hearing that an incoming dam on the White Nile was going to flood both the wave and the island, I knew I had to go soon.

So when Steve (my then fiancé, now husband) and I were talking about where we wanted to go on our honeymoon, I knew just the place. It wasn’t very hard to talk him into three weeks of warm weather, wildlife safaris and whitewater kayaking all wrapped into one epic vacation. We married in May, but because of our work schedules, we had to delay the honeymoon until December. It was worth the wait.

We started the trip off in Tanzania with four days of wildlife safaris in the Northern Serengeti. To say we were blown away by the experience would be an understatement. Within an hour of landing on the dirt strip that served as a runway, we were staying in the eyes of a beautiful mother leopard hunting for her cubs. Everyday was a new surprise and the perfect way to start off the adventure.

From there we flew up to Uganda and continued on our quest to see wildlife on a safari through the southwestern part of the country. This safari was all about primates, from chimpanzees to baboons to the grand finale: trekking to see mountain gorillas. We also got to witness the famous tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park and spend Christmas Eve on a boat viewing huge numbers of elephants, hippos and water buffalo. Ugandan wildlife did not disappoint.

As much as we loved the animals, we were both most excited for the last part of our trip – kayaking on the White Nile. The White Nile is no stranger to dams. The river has already been reduced in length due to the Bujugali Dam, otherwise known as the Silverback Dam, which was completed in 2011 and flooded many miles of exceptional whitewater. While many great rapids were lost, the river still currently retains plenty of awesome river miles and epic waves to keep most kayakers happy for weeks.

We were stoked to have Erin and Toby “MacSavage” (also freshly married and celebrating their honeymoon) with us for the kayaking part of our journey. We met up with them at Nile River Explorers, where we would base for the first couple of days of kayaking. We decided to hire Kayak the Nile, a local kayak instruction and guiding company, to help show us the ropes of the river, and try to teach a group of creek boaters how to playboat.

The first three days of kayaking were spent with Craig, our guide and freestyle kayaking extraordinaire. Craig showed us all that the White Nile had to offer. The river is generally very wide, and in many cases has 3-4 different channels to choose from. Having Craig along to say “this one’s good to go” or “that one’s called Hypoxia and it will swallow you whole” reminded us why we decided to hire a guide.  In addition to showing us down the river, Craig also coached us on playboating on the Nile’s most classic features including Super Hole and Nile Special. Results were mixed, but I am happy to report that I at least upgraded my standard one trick, the 360 spin, to a roundhouse. J

After saying goodbye to Craig, we posted up for the remainder of our trip on Hairy Lemon Island, the most magical place I’ve ever been. Hairy Lemon is located in the middle of the river, a 5 min paddle from the famous Nile Special wave, and is filled with monkeys, hammocks and cold beer (three of my favorite things). Our days involved eating the delicious home-made meals served by the island’s friendly staff, drinking hot coffee and cold beer, surfing on Nile Special or Club Wave, going upstream for a river run, lounging in hammocks, reading books or just enjoying time with friends. With no internet or phone service, life is simple there and I loved every minute of it.

The imminent Isimba damn, projected to be completed in May 2018, will flood a significant portion of the remaining rapids including Nile Special, Malalu, Kula Shaker and Hair of the Dog. And to add to the tragedy, it will also put Hairy Lemon Island under water. While there will still be some quality whitewater left after the dam is in place, the classics the river is known for will be gone. All this to say, if you have not yet been to the White Nile, 2017 is the year to go! If you are not a kayaker, local rafting company, Nile River Explorers, will take you down the river on a raft so you too can experience the wonders of the White Nile before its gone.

If you want to learn more about the dam, visit Kayak the Nile’s webpage dedicated to providing up to date information about the Isimba Dam Project.  Also, check out this video following a local Ugandan explaining what the river has meant to him (note: Since the publication of the video, it has been decided that the dam will be the highest of the possibilities, causing the most loss to the river).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My Favorite Season is Russell Fork Season

There are so many great things to love about Fall.... the cooling weather, the changing leaves, pumpkin flavored everything, but the absolute best thing about Fall? It means its Russell Fork Season!

Ever since my first trip to the Russell Fork back in 2005, it has held a very special place in my heart. In case you need some convincing on why you should check it out, here are a few of the reasons why I think it is one of the best places on the planet:

Enjoying a quiet moment on the Russell Fork
1) The kayaking is classic! While it may be short, the Russell Fork Gorge is packed full of some of the most fun rapids around. Tower, Maze, Triple Drop, El Horendo and Climax are the kinds of rapids kayakers dream about. And if you want to lengthen your day, you can warmup on the class 2-3 Bartlick section or easily get multiple laps on the gorge section. 

Emily Shanblatt boofs into Tower
2) The Lifestyling is epic! Because you can't put on the gorge until around noon due to the water release schedule, it means that the Russell Fork is the perfect place for late nights and relaxed mornings! There are multiple camping options, but my all time favorite is at the takeout. Its super convenient to swing by your tent in between laps, there are great camping spots, a covered pavilion to get out of the rain if necessary and theres even an awesome play wave right there. Couldn't have designed it any better myself.

Cooking dinner at the takeout #vanlife

Dave and Karl discussing the upcoming election at camp

3) Elkhorn City is one of the most kayaker friendly town out there! Located in rural Kentucky on the Virginia border, Elkhorn City has a population of barely a thousand people. I'm not sure if it just the excitement of having new faces around or what, but this place really makes a point to be supportive of and embrace the kayakers coming to town (which is quite the opposite in some other places). My favorite campspot at the takeout I mentioned? Thats actually a day use area that they allow us to overnight in during the season. Some days youll even pull up to the takeout and find warm chili and cornbread being served in the pavilion! And don't get me started on the moonshine...

4) The scenery is spectacular. Known as the "Grand Canyon of the South," the Breaks gorge is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. Whether you're paddling through it, or viewing it from an overlook, you'll be wowed by this beautiful place. And with Breaks Interstate Park right there, there are plenty of non-kayaking recreation options as well in case you need a break from the river or have non-kayakers along.

The view from the Tower Overlook in Breaks Interstate Park

Enjoying the park with my favorite youngsters while their parents go boofing

5) The season finishes up with a super fun grassroots race! The Lord of the Fork Race, named in memory of Jon Lord, a Russell Fork regular who passed away at Tower rapid, is by far my favorite kayak race out there. There is something about it being not too hard, but not too easy, and filled to the brim with quality rapids and many of my very favorite people all coming together that earns it that title. The timing works out so you can get a practice lap in the morning of the race, and theres plenty of time for either  another lap or good ole beer drinking afterwards. And the day is capped off with the Russell Fork Rendezvous, a kayaker party that raises money for American Whitewater. What more could you ask for.

My husband, Steven Augustine, racing through Climax

The scene at the finish line

Lady chargers! 
While my time at the race this year wasn't one of my best (I placed 5th with a time of 7:51), I still had a great time and am already looking forward to next year's Russell Fork season! See you there!

Check out full race results here: https://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=84838

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Women's Green River Takeover 2016!

Another Women's Green River Takeover is on the books and it was bigger and better than ever! We had a total of 78 women put on and paddle the Upper Green together, with 32 of those women continuing through the Narrows! Watch Daniel Brasuell's video above to catch a small glimpse of what the day was all about. The idea behind the event is simply to get as many women as possible out on the water together in an effort to connect all of the amazing lady paddlers in the area and increase camaraderie and support in the community. It's about meeting new friends, mentors and role models in the community. Its about smiling.

All 78 ladies and the shuttle bunnies ready to start the day! (Photo by Chad Blotner)

The day wouldn't be the same without the assistance of the world's finest shuttle bunnies! The help of these men should not be under-stated. They volunteer their time for the day to help out with shuttles, but in a bigger picture way, are there to show their overwhelming support of the women's kayaking community. These guys are awesome!

Just a small sampling of our amazing team of shuttle bunnies (Photo by Chad Blotner)

In addition to getting the women's kayaking community together, the Takeover is also about remembering and channeling the spirit of Shannon Christy, a friend and fellow lady kayaker who we lost to the river a few years ago. Shannon always had a big smile on her face, and made sure you knew that "you are beautiful." At the end of the Takeover, we do a big raffle with prizes donated from the event's numerous sponsors to raise money for the Shannon Christy Memorial Fund, a fund that supports organizations and grants that build confidence and empower women and girls in our communities. This year we raised $2800 for the fund which was over 3 times as much as we have in the past!

You are Beautiful!(Photo by Daniel Brasuell)
Jessica Volt winning a new Nomad at the raffle (Photo by Chad Blotner)

This day really wouldn't be possible with out the support of so many people and companies so I have to give them a shout out of thanks.

To Dagger Kayaks and Adventure Technology Paddles for being the main sponsors of this event and providing the support and encouragement to make it happen every year!

To the other sponsors (NRSSeals SprayskirtsAstralGirls at PlayH20 DreamsKate Furman JewelryPatagoniaNantahala Outdoor CenterEndless River AdventuresMountain KhakisFrench Broad OutfittersGreen River Adventures, Chad Blotner Photography, Daniel Brasuell/ A Wet State and the French Broad River Academy) for providing support in all kinds of ways from shuttle logistics to raffle prizes, you all rock!

And of course to our amazing shuttle bunny team (Andrew Holcombe, Pat Keller, Tim Bell, Brydhi Stark, Tyler Boeing, Ben Blake, Toby MacDermott, Corey Volt, Brad McMillian, Jason McClure, Snowy Robertson, Bill Clipper, Gabe Latini, Chris Gragtmans, Steve Augustine, Marian Alan and anyone else who I may have forgotten) for helping me make the day run smooth by driving the ladies around all day!

I've never felt I was very good at putting into words exactly what this day is all about and what it means to me so instead of boring you with more words, I'd like to share some of my favorite photos from the day to provide insight into just what it is truly all about. Enjoy!

Shuttle Bunny Gab Latini leads an impromptu stressing session (Photo by Chad Blotner)

Starting out on the Upper all together (Photo by Chad Blotner)

Our youngest participant, Maddie (age 9), styles the slide line at Bayless Boof (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)

Nothing like boofing into a pool of ladies cheering you on!  (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)

Love having the river filled to the brim with ladies!

Katie Dean with a big smile!

Finding some time to chat in the eddies

Anna Levesque helps some first timers scout their line at Pinball (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)

Some ladies catching a ride to the eddy 

No caption needed

Coming in hot through Zwicks  (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)

Party time at Zwicks! (Photo by Chad Blotner)

Nikki Malatin squirting it up (Photo by Chad Blotner)

So much fun blue angeling through Powerslide! (Photo by Chad Blotner)

Fist bumps through Rapid Transit! (Photo by Chad Blotner)

All the narrows ladies with Andrew Holcombe, who wore his bunny ears all day!  (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)

Maria Noakes and me running Groove Tube together (Photo by Chad Blotner)

Hammer Factor with a crowd!  (Photo by Daniel Brasuell)
Enjoying some social time after the paddle (Photo by Chad Blotner)