Monday, February 16, 2009

Athletics- Upper Moon Gorge of the Mekong by Jason Cohen

The group relaxing between rapids.  Photo by LJ Groth.

Under a delicately suspended wooden bridge, 18 kayakers balance on a steep rocky bank in an equally delicate manner.  Welcome to the put in for the Upper Moon Gorge of the Mekong River.  Surrounding the put in are acres of terraced farmland pushing high up the gorge walls.  In the distance these kayakers can see the Mei Li Snow Mountain Range, which makes them seem miniscule in comparison.  Pushing off the banks, World Class Kayak Academy is on a mission to enjoy this mighty river. 

Quinn Connell and Erik Johnson double teaming the first rapid.  Photo by LJ Groth.

The Moon Gorge of the Mekong River is located in Xidong, Yunnan Province.  World Class is staying in a beautiful wood-crafted guesthouse 45 minutes away from the river’s put in.  However, the take out  is only 10 minutes away.  The students (and some teachers) have been waking up in time for head coach Jesse Shimrock’s brutal but rewarding strength workouts.  Occasionally yoga is lead by assistant coach Susan Hollingsworth or World Class veteran Kristi Murrin.  Yoga is a great way to start off the day, stretching sore muscles and leaving the students relaxed before another epic day of school and kayaking.  In order to fit kayaking into a day with limited sunlight and to still include school, World Class has class until lunch, going kayaking, returning and finishing class before a 7 o’clock dinner.

The Mekong River is commonly known as the large Vietnamese river that was so prominent in the Vietnam War.  This is the same river.  Others may know the river from many dam projects that will be constructed on it in the future.  For the time being, the amazing whitewater is not affected.  Directly after the put in is the largest rapid on the river.  Some of the group has been charging down this rapid, coming out with smiles on their faces.  Others portage it and receive a just amount of excitement from watching others.  After moving through some wave trains comes the next rapid, a super long one that dispenses crashing wave after crashing wave.  Directly after the aforementioned rapid is another similar one, although not as long.  It does have a large hole in the middle, which many people have been playing in. 

Ben Hurd throwin' down above S-turn.  Photo by LJ Groth.

Around the next bend comes, yes you guessed it, another rapid.  This one is different though.  So different, it’s not even possible to run.  World Class gets out of their boats and walks past this rapid, keeping their feet dry.  This rapid possesses a hole of massive proportions that no kayaker in their right mind would want to go into (except Ivan).  Staring at this rapid for a moment makes boaters feel a surge of respect for the many CFS the Mekong constantly rushes through itself.  There is one major rapid left, and it goes by the name of S-Turn.  No, not the famous S-Turn of the Alseseca River in Mexico; this one has way more power and volume.  S-Turn has a great play-hole at the beginning, which many people have been taking full advantage of for looping practice.  After that there are two possible lines.  One is to go straight down the center, charging through two diagonal holes.  This line has been very popular.  The other line is to ferry hard over to river right.  This move will take the kayaker to a large green tongue, which shoots out to the pool of flatwater below.  Either line is challenging, exciting, and most importantly, fun. 

Some smaller rapids follow, but soon enough World Class is at the take out.  It isn’t very often that river runners are able to take out in a pine forest leading up to a Buddhist monastery.  Bus and truck waiting, World Class scurries back to their guesthouse to finish off a day of school.  Mission successful, World Class! Another river to add to the old quiver.

Ivan Stiefel charging.  Photo by LJ Groth.