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2006 Kern River Wildwater Race

A perfect level for racing

by Ed Gordon

April 19, 2006 -- Kernsville, CA

Inspecting the roof rack, it was obvious that great care had gone into securing the load. The dissimilar and ill-fitting shapes of wildwater C-1, wildwater K-1, and slalom C-1 had been carefully mated, and each boat had been tightly strapped and lashed to the rack. The problem, of course, was that neither the boats nor the rack were on the car. Instead, they were in the sagebrush on the side of highway 395, flung there when the sustained 40 mile per hour cross-winds spilling off the east slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains proved too much for the plastic Yakima rack towers. It was humanly impossible to lift even a single boat onto the roof, let alone secure all three in the gale force winds. After one especially fierce gust lofted me into a barbed wire fence, I made the reluctant decision to abandon the boats until the winds died down. With a deep sigh, I tied the boats to a fence pole and drove away down the road towards Lone Pine.

But before the drama, there was the racing. The 42nd annual Kern River Festival wildwater race was held on a shortened version of the 2003 team trials course running from the KR 3 power plant through the Kernville park. The same wintery spring that had made training so challenging pumped the Kern up to 2,200 CFS on race day, providing a perfect level for racing. Although the 500 CFS diverted at Fairview Dam made the centerpiece Powerhouse Rapid too bony for competition, the two major rapids on the course, Big Daddy and Ewing’s, had sharp, pushy wave trains and inconveniently placed rocks and eddies that proved capable of causing spin outs, flips, and swims during training runs. The rest of the course consisted of continuous chop and smaller waves, with two long, flat pools testing the racers tolerance for suffering.

Work and family commitments prevented long time Kern River wildwater boosters Tom Moore and Katherine Edmonson from participating as racers. Their absence was compensated for by slalom olympians and proprietors of the soon-to-be open Kern River Brewing Company, Eric and Rebecca Giddens. Eric set the standard for the day with a blistering run of 11:11. Keeping the podium in the family, Rebecca followed as first K-1W and second place overall with a 12:00. Ed Gordon arrived at the finish as first (and only C-1) in third place overall in 12:35. Despite a stern hit that added even more “character” to one of the gaudiest Esox’s Dagger ever made, Charles Albright followed seconds behind in 12:39 as first masters K-1 and fourth place overall. Former 2003 world cup team member Marci Cary used the Kern races to mark her return to competition. Hobbled by limited training due to the long, cold Durango winter, and unused to a new wildwater boat, Marci toured the course in her slalom boat, finishing within a respectable percentage of the leaders. Behind the composite racers, a variety of competitors in Tupperware ranging from aging Perception Pirouettes to a Jackson Fun 2 pushed their way down the course. As they encountered the flats, they surely would have understood John Brennan’s admonition that “short, fat, and flat bottomed is no way to go through life.”

Hours after the rack collapse, Charles Albright was making his way home. His keen eyes spotted the familiar shapes of wildwater boats along the road. The initial, “I wonder whose boats those are?” was quickly followed by, “Hey, That’s MY boat!” as he spied his wildwater K-1 in the weeds. Demonstrating that age and skill will always prevail, Charles somehow managed to secure not only his boat, but also my two boats to the SIX boats already on his racks, and made his way 300 plus miles safely home through gusting winds, driving snow and icy roads.

Race Results...