Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Early Spring Stateside

Québec has been a mixed bag for me so far. I caught the majority of an unusually wet summer here in 2014 upon arrival, then missed the fall season. I endured the longest, coldest winter they've had in many years I hear, but spent 6 weeks in Mexico. Now I've had the opportunity to paddle a bit early spring stateside, but just as the melt is beginning here work is thrusting at me again and robbing me of my first spring here. I can't really complain, I could always change things if I really wanted to.

The last couple weeks I've spent exploring and kayaking West Virginia, Delaware Water Gap and Vermont/New Hampshire goodness, all new places to me with different kayaking from what I'm used to out west or even in Québec really. Beauty places that seem to cascade into runnable timeframes one after the other as you head north.

The big difference here in Québec compared to the Pacific Northwest/BC, if you want to kayak during the off season or start early...you need to travel, luckily I love driving and checking out new places so I don't mind.

It finally warmed up enough for me to want to get the camera out and I got some shots from the Northeast last weekend anyway.

TJ on yes no toaster as the french say

Alexandre boofing something

Seb on yes no toaster

A frozen but beauty Upper Pemi

Wintery flume gorge

The crew below toaster

Alexandre on Otter Creek Falls

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mexico Bound

This winter, after my return from a course with work in Ontario which unfortunately caused me to miss the autumn season in Quebec/The Northeast besides Moosefest I headed for a long drive down to Mexico solo to see what I could find.

First off, if you ever plan to drive to Mexico here are some quick pointers that will make things better:

- Know some Spanish, not many people there speak English away from hot tourist areas (I didn't know any to start and left with a working knowledge, helped by the fact it's somewhat similar to French). Either way bring a good translation phrase dictionary.

- Have a quality set of tires and a good spare you know how to install. Roads in Mexico, as fun as they are to drive with the style which is different from US/Canada are for the most part not built or maintained to the same quality. Expect potholes, unmarked speedbumps (topes) everywhere and a lack of signage. If you're on a decent road (quota) have some cash, it's gonna cost ya! A two lane road there is also typically used as 3-5 lanes, which works great actually. A left signal means to the driver behind you it's clear to pass you.

- Know what you'll need to do at the border in advance and hit it early with a full tank of gas. Drive straight through until you're 4 or so hours clear, this is where a majority of the bad crime you hear about in Mexico apparently happens though I personally didn't feel or see too much evidence of it even crossing at Brownsville/Mara moros. At the border you'll need to get your tourist card, vehicle registration, plus you can exchange cash for pesos at a good rate and get car insurance (though that I recommend lining up in advance). If you cross at other border crossings, this gets taken care of about 20 miles beyond the border after the free trade zone. Except to get stopped at a number of vehicle checkpoints (I had 7 or so on day 1 prior to arriving at Micos!).

- I recommend not having a flashy/new car, or at least dumb it down a bit. I found the ugliest set of rims I could for my newer Subaru XV Crosstrek, which despite being new, isn't very flashy. The reliability of a newer Subaru was good to have.

- Don't necessarily expect tropical hot sunny weather!! This was a huge wakeup call not just for me but most people I talked to there. In 3-4 weeks actually in Mexico it rained or at least was cloudy and cool all but 6 days, never more than 2 in a row. I was pretty stoked that I had my drysuit, and others that didn't wished they did.

Starting my drive in frigid Quebec City, it was great to head south with continually warming weather. I was set to sleep in my car and planning a first real stop in North Carolina at the Green Narrows, only to get there and find it not running during the day (check the release schedule!) and Linville Gorge being too low to run. Instead I camped at the only river running, the Nolichucky and luckily ran into a group of 3 which I joined for the run. It was a great long and scenic class III river where I ran into Andrew Morrissey from Hood River, Oregon who asked if I had an extra seat for Mexico, which I did! As a side note thanks to the crew at TAPZ at Appalachian State University for finding the Habs - Hurricanes NHL game and watching it with me, had a couple good nights there!

From there we b-lined it down to the Micos section of the Valles river where we camped.

The next day after an amazing Micos run we had the good fortune of running into a group of 9 from Durango, Colorado on the El Salto section after a quick wrong turn and some fun though harrowing offroading (this also happened on the drive back near the coast, google maps GPS is not always perfect down there, though generally it's quite good). This turned out to be a great occurence as now we had shuttle vehicles and a great new set of friends to hang out and camp with, we'd end up sticking with these dudes until there Mexico adventure came to a close, another big thanks to them for making us a part of their crew!

I should point out the people in Mexico are very kind and patient people. Typically excited to see outsiders (gringos), find out what you're upto and everyone says hi, even when you're driving! They will wait for you to figure you're way around broken spanish and have a zest for life and sociality unlike what we see in Canada and the US. Don't be afraid to get out while you're down there and see what life is like!

The next day on the drive down Andy was hit by a bus but not horribly injured, watch for traffic in Mexico! Though he did lose his iPhone and a shoe.. we proceeded to do another Micos where Russell unfortunately broke his back on the tallest normally run 25ish foot waterfall after landing upright in the greenwater, felt so bad for him, fortunately being the guy he is he still managed to get the most out of the rest of the trip, what a trooper! Luck was not with us at the time unfortunately. The next day after setting super long shuttle and camping at the put in we fired up the Santa Maria, 26 km of amazing scenery, blue water and seivy goodness that ends at 350 foot Tamul falls where the Galianos pours in from the left! We ended up camping at the takeout, sleeping outside by the fire for a cold, clear night.

The Santa Maria I'll point out was the highlight of my Mexico trip. It was a long day with lots of flatwater, but so scenic and with some memorable rapids in the last half for sure as well as a few bigger ones that looked like a pain to portage, but were all portageable. I've read some bad reviews on this, so maybe it's love it or hate it, but I loved it. Unfortunately that's also where my camera started to have humidity issues...

After that we left the Sierra Madre's for Tlapacoyan in Veracruz State thinking with dropping levels the other runs up north might be too low. After a night at Alamo we arrived for a sunny afternoon lap on the Roadside Alsesseca before checking in at Aventurec for the remainder of the trip. Aventurec is great. You can base out of there with very little and have a really good go kayaking and living for a reasonable price in the Tlapacoyan zone, they do good shuttles and throw an awesome shindig for the Alsesseca Race which we got to be down there for. We got on lots of the good sections with our weeks in that area including Big Banana, Lower Jahlacingo, San Pedro, a flooded middle and lower Filo-bobos and probably a few others I'm forgetting.

After the Durango crew left I met up with my British Columbia friends who'd arrived and also ran into many old and new friends from all over while I was there including Anthony and James from England/Wales. 6 of us ended up renting a van and driver to head down to the Rio Oro and Jalcomulco areas for 5 days which ended up being a great decision! We unfortunately got blasted by a huge storm at the Oro stopping us from getting on most of the run and turning the ocean into a maelstrom of massive swells while enjoying huge downpours of rain stuck inside, it was good we had great friends to chill with and keep each other company despite the weather...there are always Cervecas! I should say the low point of the trip was coming back to Aventurec after so much stormy weather to find my car seats full of mold which was a bit frustrating, though in fairness this happened even in southwest BC if I left my vehicle for a time in the winter.

Jalcomulco was definitely a highlight of the trip. We got on the Barranca Grande and Puente Pescados sections of the Antigua river there (over 33 km of whitewater!) as well as the Actopan, most of it was class III, though just above Pente Pescados was a great section of class IV at the end of the Barranca Grande and the scenery was next to none, second only to what we'd seen in the north and the Big Banana section of the Alsesseca.

I sold my boat just prior to the race but stuck around for the festivities before Andy and I drove back up to the US. After one last Mexican meal at the border I definitely missed the great food we had down there after crossing over and oddly got sick for the first time after crossing into Texas (maybe my body adjusting to the US food again haha). This took away my desire to stick around and boat in the southeast some more so I headed home for a good week of chilling out before going to work and being outside in -35 for a few days haha...

Huge shout out to Andy for keeping me company and contributing to funding the trip, the Durango crew for the great times and all my old and new friends from the Pacific Northwest, BC, Germany, Mexico and all over really! It was a great time down there, and I'm sure I'll be back again...didn't get around to Agua Azul and Chiapas so I have more to explore! Huge shout out to Aventurec as well for making everything easy in the most packed zone as well, highly recommend checking it out!
Putting in on Barranca Grande of the Antigua

Puente Pescados...the Jalcomulco rafting scene looked to be alive and well around here!

John Baker on the biggest drop of the Santa Maria

Tamul Falls signifying the end of our run on Santa Maria, at much lower water levels you can keep going...

Tamul Falls from the top after ascending the ladders which aren't so bad...in the background you can see the river continue under it's new name (which I forget). The falls actually have carved out a giant 'scoop' from the other side of the river where water is deposited in large amounts of spray and then continuously is flown up into the air when it falls...this creates a humidity cloud that can be see from a ways away.

Durango crew on the last rapid of the Micos section of the Valles, picturesque slide from a nice tourist destination...for tourists from Mexico City

Andy on the first drop of the Micos...unless you run the 'autoboofish' 60 footer seen above.

Andy dropping the 25ish footer right line of the biggest normal ledge on the micos. The left lands on rock, the right on green water without much volume going over at these levels.

Andy on the first falls of the El Salto section of the Valles.

Andy on a later El Salto falls.

Myself dropping the same falls pictured above. Photo by Andrew Morissey

The old BC crew after a good round at San Pedro with a healthy flow! Photo by Alicia Harding

Gettin' my paddle huck on at San Pedro, a nice 40-50 footer. Photo by Alicia Harding