Avon Descent 2016

Avon Descent 2016

Day 1

Well the water in the river had been running since Easter and I must admit I can’t remember that happening before so it was great for all those paddlers who were taking advantage of it, which I hadn’t. It looked as if it was going to be a big year but a week before the event the level was slowly going down and it was risking of being lower than last year and I think it was just slightly. This year there appeared to be a lot more hype and publicity about the race before the event. The water level may have helped but I think the organisers tried hard to get publicity, which was excellent to see.

BAillie1Ballie Liddle last year’s female winner was one of this years faces of the 2016 Avon Descent

I hadn’t really taken advantage of the Avon River running so long, I only did one Valley Run in a Wavehopper and two Tea Tree runs in a Wavehopper and the Epic V7. The Epic V7 was such a great boat for the trees and I would have paddled it in the Avon if I wasn’t such a chicken about being cold. A kayak is much warmer. With all the paddling I had done on the Avon over the years I didn’t really need to get to know it, although it would have been an advantage for my balance and kayak control which does deteriorate with age. The scrutineering two weeks before the event seemed to go well, it’s then when you realise the race is so close. The Avon Descent is just not a race, it a gathering of paddlers who love paddling, and who love to chat about the race before and after. New friends are often made racing down the river. At registration on the Friday night some of the faster paddlers got a shock when they saw that they were towards the back of the field. Apparently the seeding grids weren’t the grids that the committee had decided on, someone on the AD committee had changed them which, if they wanted help in the future wasn’t a good idea.

Young Luke Dooley was just so happy to be there. It was his first Avon Descent and after turning 16, 3 weeks previously he was probably the youngest paddler on the course, but saying that he was more experienced than a lot of the field. Luke was an under 16 Australian Marathon Champion and although it was his first time in the Avon I didn’t expect to beat him, as he was just too quick. We milled around our boats and had those last minute chats with other paddlers and as soon as the power boats were off paddlers on the first five grids started to warm up and took centre stage. Not all the fast paddlers were on those five grids the ones that had been relegated to the back grids wouldn’t be very pleased, especially the ones who did the seeding races to get a good position.

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Hey old man do you need a lift to the river!!!

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Josh, Matthew and Brenden are way down the river and fighting it out before we get started. Photo Jane Dooley

I was on the 4th grid paddling next to Luke but knowing he would leave me behind straight away. Peter Liddle my main opponent in a DR kayak was in the 3rd grid and it seemed impossible for me to catch him as he was a quicker paddler. We were neck and neck at the Northam to Toodyay race, however that was a shorter 30 km race and the end was a lot closer. The Avon Descent race was so different it was much longer and tougher and the water level was lower. With only 8 paddlers on the grid it wasn’t so hectic at the first obstacle, the Northam Weir. Usually I have to fight 6 to 8 other paddlers on the weir at the same time but today I only had Peter Gigengack in a Wavehopper to contend with. I was up his bum but I wasn’t fast enough to get in front of him in the narrow channels although within 400 metres I got my chance, passed him and I didn’t see him again which I was pleased about.

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Luke leading grid 4 down the weir. Terry no-where to be seen!

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Come on Pete get out of the way. Hey Luke (green PRS) wait for me! Photo Jane Dooley

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The K2s approach the weir. Photo Jane Dooley

Last year I had paddlers I knew and trained with all around me but today I didn’t have the same people to chase so it was less exciting. However the advantage of only 8 paddlers to a grid was that we had a lot more room and there was less congestion than on other years with no-one blocking up the channels in front. I was a bit concerned about the K2s blundering through as they started 2 minutes behind but that was enough time to clear the weir before they passed. I could feel that I wasn’t travelling as fast as I should but it was hard to muster any more speed when I had no-one I really knew in my sights. Thomas Rogan passed me in his long composite ski. he started way behind me. Soon after Gary Clarke flew by on a long composite ski by telling me he had already broke one paddle not far from the start and Thomas had given him his spare as he didn’t carry one. Gary later broke Thomas’ paddle and had to wait half an hour for his support team to get another paddle to him. He also broke two paddles in the week leading up to the race so it was to be an expensive race for him. About a kilometre from Katrine Bridge Kiera Albertson started passing me. She had started about 5-6 minutes behind so I was pretty surprised as I was only a minute behind her in the Northam to Toodyay Race. I took the opportunity to get onto her wash and paddle under Katrine Bridge behind her. I soon came to life and it was what I needed to wake up. I managed to keep up for another kilometre before Michael Baker came by and she took the chance and got onto his wash for a short time and left me floundering to find the any enthusiasm.

 

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The leading female Kiera Albertsen passes me before Katrine Bridge. Photo Jane Dooley

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The teams changeover at Katrine Bridge. Photo Nigel Emmett

Glen Avon Rapid was approaching and I could see about 6 paddlers ahead following each other to the right of the weir rapid. I headed for the centre and more direct route and was soon scaping over the jagged boulders towards the main rapid which I soon cleared and just avoided eddying out at the bottom where there was a low overhanging tree and big eddy. With that rapid behind me I had no more worries as I had decided that I was going to portage Extracts Weir. I knew that I would lose time there because most other paddlers especially the plastics would give it a go. I paddled down it at the Northam to Toodyay Race but the water level was lower and I didn’t think it was worth damaging my kayak or getting stuck on the way down.

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Brett Young at Glen Avon. Photo John O’Sullivan

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Brea Roadley in a team of two with Coran Longwood tackles Glen Avon Rapid. Photo John O’Sullivan

The long pool before the weir really dragged the life out of me, but portaging the weir soon woke me up. Approaching the weir Phil Edwards in a DR kayak passed. He, I think must have been one of the faster paddlers sent to the back. He paddled over to the right so I don’t know if he paddled the weir or not but I stood little chance beating him. I portaged on the left, picked up my kayak and run along the fenced portage lane to the far end. There were hardly any support teams along the bunting so it certainly looked as if most were paddling the weir. Then I heard over the loud speaker that Sam was paddling over the weir. I ran down to the water climbed into my kayak put my spraydeck on as Jenny came across to give me a banana. As she hurried across and peeled it all but the tip of the banana fell to the ground. I had no time to wait so I left with only a tiny piece of banana in my mouth. Just ahead was Sam and Phil. Sam had got ahead of Phil so he either had trouble coming down the weir or he portaged on the right side which is a shorter portage but a steeper bank.

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Steve Myers & John Hilton at Extracts Weir. Photo Jayden O’Brien

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Peter Pavlinovich. Photo Jayden O’Brien

I watched on as Phil and Sam fled ahead towards Toodyay which wasn’t that far. The crowd in Toodyay cheered me on as I passed by. Although I reached Toodyay where it seemed that everybody were having fun and team members were getting ready to overtake me somewhere down the river. Apart from the tiny piece of banana I hadn’t eaten anything since starting so after Toodyay Rapid I opened my tube of rice I had packed and sealed the night before and had in my pocket. Toodyay Rapid was pretty easy but the section to West Toodyay Bridge seemed to drag on although it was on this section that I caught up with Brett Young who started 1 minute ahead of me so that cheered me up. Then the double kayak of Steve Bolger and Jason Gardner caught us up and the race was on. We started trying to outshine each other but Jason and Steve had the extra speed and got ahead for a moment or two, hit the shallows got in our way and the fight was on again to get the lead.

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Jason Gardener & Steve Bolger powering by. Photo John Williams

At the West Toodyay Bridge, Brett went over to the right which has a deeper but windier channel but Steve and Jason went straight on taking a shorter but shallower section. I chased the double but I was concerned that Brett would be ahead when the river joined again, but he wasn’t, in fact he lost quite a bit of ground. We passed the teams change over point with cheers from the paddlers waiting. I was trying my hardest to get back in front but the boys kept me at bay. Brett eventually caught up so it was another 3 way tussle. We were getting closer to the Tea Tree section and I was praying that the double wouldn’t enter the trees before me as I knew they would just get in the way. As luck should have it the boys crossed a shallow section and bogged down to a standstill which gave me the opportunity to pass. I was ‘pleased as punch’ but I couldn’t dilly-dally once in front as I wanted to reach the trees before them. A few minutes later Grant Pepper and his two mates in a K3 sped by cheekily shouting out to me if I wanted to know the way, follow them!

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Grant Pepper, Tim Sikma and Paul Burke in a K3. Photo John Williams

The tea trees were my favourite part of the race. It’s a section that wakes me up and also gives me an opportunity to rest as a slower pace is needed to thread yourself through the channels and canopy of trees. I know the way through but concentration is still extremely important especially if you are following others. The risk of following others down the wrong channel is quite high. Unlike other years there were less paddlers in the trees when I entered which is always a good sign but you only need one slower paddler to be in front to slow you down. The K3 was travelling well, Brett had caught up and I could see Danny Moreton ahead. A faster paddler from Queensland passed us on one of the pools but before passing me Brett told him to follow me. He didn’t and caught up with Danny who really didn’t know where he was going so the Queenslander followed him into an overgrown channel and I never saw him again until after I had finished that was. That meant Brett and I had a clearer run.

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Danny Moreton in a team of two with his son Luke who returned from competition in Europe 3 days before the Avon. Photo John Williams

We were making good time and eventually Brett passed me in a long pool, he stumbled soon after in the trees and I passed him again. He passed me again before reaching Jimperding Brook at Lovers Lane and where a little downstream one of the trickiest tea tree sections were. I was hoping to be in the lead as at the end of the narrow channel you have to claw over tree roots through a small gap. The K3 was portaging this section when we got there which was understandable. In high water there is a channel on the right where the K3 was portaging. Brett led through the narrow channel and for some reason decided to take the right route once we got inside the trees but hesitated and got caught broadside against some tree roots. I was quite pleased as it meant that I could negotiate the tricky channel first without a boat in front of me. I weaved my way around the obstacles taking it carefully and being attentive as I didn’t want to mess this one up. A group of spectators and photographers like vultures were standing at the bottom where the carnage would happen, I’m sure waiting for the unexpected to crash and bang. I was hoping that I wasn’t one. The current took me wide around the last corner as I knew it would but I managed to straighten up and hit the closest gap. The tree roots stopped me but after grabbing other tree roots with my left hand I was able to drag myself across the obstacles. I left the worst part of the trees happy, I knew now that there was going to be nothing ahead that could ruin my day.

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Happy to be out of the tricky tea tree section. Photo John O’Sullivan

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Michael Laloli taking a break. Photo John O’Sullivan

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Michael Edmondson & Nathaniel Edmondson having a little trouble. Photo John O’Sullivan

Brett chased me out of the tree section and passed me again and at the next section which started off with a rapid he spun out allowing me to get ahead again. Once around a few obstacles and down a narrow fairly swift channel and that was another tricky section done. I now was feeling good and so I lifted my pace keeping Brett at bay. We flew through a few more sections of trees, passed the level pole that indicated it was just under .8 and then soared at great speed along the last long pool. I was feeling great. Once out of the last set of trees before the finish I noticed Mark Lawson, who was also paddling a DR kayak just ahead at Leatherhead Rapid. We had caught him up which was pleasing but he did start behind us so he was still much faster. People on the left bank were shouting for him to take the left route. I saw him hesitate and then take it. They then shouted to me but I veered right and down the drop which was longer but safer route. It must have also been quicker as when the two channels joined Mark wasn’t to be seen. Once in the pool I dashed towards the line with as much power as I could muster and several seconds ahead of Brett. At Extracts Weir I was told I was 4-5 minutes behind Peter Liddle but at the finished of day one I was only 1 minute and 3 seconds so I had made up a few minutes on that last section which I was pretty pleased about.

Josh was sitting first in the men’s and Sam Pilton had managed to pass Kiera in the tea trees to beat her by seconds. I must admit when Kiera passed I didn’t think the other girls would catch her. This is the great thing about the Avon Descent there are so many variables and different sections on the course you never know until the end.

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Sam Pilton & Kiera Albertsen chatting at the finish of day one. Sam manged to pass Kiera and be 2 minutes 41 seconds faster. Photo Jane Dooley

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End of day one. Photo Jane Dooley

The volunteers helped lift my kayak out, I placed it in the line of boats and checked for damage before turning it over to keep the water out. It was ready for day 2. The rain started so Jenny and I hurried back to the car for me to get changed. With raincoats on we went back to the start to see who else had finished and then to the food van for some delicious chips. It was then time to head for home and have a nice hot relaxing bath.

 

Avon Descent Day 2.

Before retiring for the night I was keen to know what grid I would be on the next morning but I had to wait until late for it to appear on-line. One year they trialled 30 second intervals with 4 paddlers going off together and that was a total disaster as paddlers were hooked up in the tea trees and no-one made any headway, at least this year it was one minute intervals with 4 paddlers on a grid which was much more sensible. I always hate getting up early, 4.45am for the second day of the Avon Descent but it didn’t feel so bad this year despite not getting my normal hours of sleep. After all these years I finally might be getting used to it. Jenny and I arrived in plenty of time, the weather was quite warm, much warmer than most years. There was rain the previous afternoon and in the night but it held off to start the race so that was even better. Once at the kayak I didn’t have much to do other than wait for my grid to get called out. My four air bags, buoyancy foam, spare paddle and my repair kit were still in the kayak from the day before. I would have saved a few kilograms in weight if I didn’t carry it all, but it was best to be safe than sorry. As soon as you don’t carry things you will need them. Just ask Gary who broke two paddles on day one and wasn’t carrying a spare! Paddlers were very orderly getting into their boats when the grids were called out. Volunteers even held our kayaks until we were ready to get pushed off. It was like queuing up to an event no-one wanted to go to as there was no pushing and everyone was patient.

I was on the same grid as Brett Young, David Martin, and Graham McMahon. Other years I had always been close to David Martin and it seemed no different this year. We were called to the start, then our names were broadcast over the loudspeaker and given a boost by stating what we had done before by the starter Greg Kaeding and then off we went. The other guys in my grid let me lead as they knew I had a better chance in finding the way through the tea trees. Other years, when the water is lower I usually go for the left channel after paddling the first 50 metres because of a tree blockage that is usually on the right but this year there was enough water to clear the logs on the right. With a good run up I jumped the 3 logs that were just out of the water slowing me down only momentarily. When the channels joined we came out just behind Erica and the paddlers on her grid who had taken the left route. It meant that we had gained nearly a minute in a few hundred metres. We then had a channel of swift water with few hazards to negotiate before moving into the last section of tight tea trees. Once in the trees again the channel narrowed to one – two metres and I could see Mark Lawson out of his DR kayak and as Erica was about to pass him by a tree branch sticking out into the channel knocked her off her ski and into the water. I managed to jostle my way between them taking absolute care to wind myself around, under and through the tree branches to clear the section that was a real danger of capsizing me. It was a relief to come out in the open knowing all the serious tight tea trees were now behind, but when David passed me some time later he said that Brett didn’t have such luck.

The first rapid at ‘Posselts Ford’ was easy but ‘Super Chute’ a much trickier one was ahead. I have never ever capsized there but it is certainly one of the more complex rapids which starts by going down a narrow tea tree channel, and if not paddled perfectly the branches can easily grab on to you. Then the rapid has a big left hand turn where an eddy is waiting to spoil your line especially in boats without rudders. This is followed by a sharp right hand turn where a stopper and waves create the crux of the rapid. The worst part is when paddlers go too far to the left and get the nose of their boat wedged between a rock and the rocky shore. Many a boat has been wrecked here.

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Mark didn’t quite make it and his ski was not paddle-able after the next few moments. This rock claims a lot of boats. Photo Penfold Photography

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Luke ducking to miss a kayak. Photo Penfold Photography

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Trying to keep well away from the left side to avoid being drawn towards the dreaded rock. Photo Jane Dooley

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Erica who started a minute ahead was now chasing me. Photo Jane Dooley

I cleared the first tea tree section and as I came out of the trees a ski was capsized across the channel. I thought ‘oh no’ this is not going to be good. Luckily I was able to get around it but it made me go very wide on the left hand turn with the current dragging me over towards a few rocks in the middle of the river before the main drop. The crowd was too big for me to mess up so I took control and turned the corner into the rapid and paddled down the drop as if I knew what I was doing. The crowd cheered as I paddled away heading towards rapids with no spectators.

Approaching ‘Narrow Neck Rapid’ there was a drome flying above the rapid. I had to make sure I did it without capsizing as it wouldn’t be good to have it recorded on film. ‘Narrow Neck’ although classed as a small rapid is quite a big drop and can easily cause a capsize to the unwary. I always treat this one as a difficult one. After a few smaller rapids Dave Martin passed me and I followed him into ‘Razorback 2’. He took the right route and I took the left route and I beat him to where the two channels join up. I have been very close to Dave other years and it looked as if it was going to be another good race between us. There were no paddlers in front of me when I started my paddle down ‘Scorpion’s Tail’, the top rapid of Emu Falls which went quite well. At the Shredder I saw Pete Liddle paddling down but he was too far in ahead to interfere with my own line so in theory I should have an easy run.

I was lined up and ready for the first angled wave which has the tendency to push paddlers off course. Then I saw Pete being pushed around the wrong side of the big boulder but he made it around fine. I thought I had more control of my kayak and would easily paddle to the right side of the boulder but the current had other ideas and I had to perform the biggest hanging draw to avoid being splattered against the boulder. Phew that was close. I noticed John Sullivan taking photos so I shouted, I hope you didn’t get photos of that. He laughed and said, yes I did and they are good.

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Josh Kippin (winner) taking the right line down the ‘Washing Machine’ and even he had to use a technical stroke to ensure he got safely down. Many others capsized using this route. Photo John O’Sullivan

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Using a hanging draw to straighten me up. Photo Christopher Greed

The Washing Machine was next and at this water level it’s always hard to know which channel to take. After a quick glance the right route didn’t look as if it had enough water going down to be safe so I focussed on doing the ‘S’ route which can be tricky, but that was where most of the water was going. The current was creating a pillow of water against the big boulder between the two routes so I knew if I positioned my kayak at the right place it would help me around. I hit it okay and that’s what happened.

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Jason Gardner and Steve Bolger were faced with a ski in front of them so they didn’t quite get their bow in the right place so they torpedo straight over the big boulder. Photo Christopher Greed

I paddled away happy to have cleared Emus and saw Thomas and Gary portaging their long composite skis on the right. I think Dave might have portaged as well as I didn’t see him for a while, and then when he passed I never saw him again.

I approached ‘Bone Breaker’ with no one around me. It was one of the big rapids but the water was high enough to make it an easier rapid and allow me to take a straight path on the right side of the rapid and miss all the rocks. ‘Raging Thunder’ was next and although I often take the right line, today I took the left line to avoid a capsized double at the bottom on the right. At this point in time there were usually a bit of a crowd of paddlers around me but even when I paddled down ‘Accelerator Rapid’ the two paddlers that I could see were well ahead.

‘Moondyne Rapid’ can be tricky so instead of paddling down the main drop where there was more chance of being scuttled over a fairly high rock ledge, I decided to take the ‘Chicken Chute’. I thought it would be a little rocky, which it was, but as long as I kept my kayak straight and thread between the boulders I was okay. And I didn’t even get a splash of water on me. At ‘Easy Street’ / ‘Devil’s Den’, which is a Tea Tree Rapid with 3 channels, the centre one now being the best, two paddlers were 50 or so metres ahead of me. I saw the first paddler who was a team paddler and who recently passed me hesitate and take the first channel, which is the ‘Devil’s Den’. Not a good choice I thought, but then the other paddler followed. I was very interested in how they would go as I hadn’t paddled that route for 38 years and back then I’m sure the devil waited for paddlers to enter the route which was chocked with trees, and had a fairly fast current. I took the centre channel taking it careful not to mess up myself. As the two channels joined the first paddler came out just in front of me. It was great to see the expression on the paddlers’ faces when they saw I had caught up again. By the time we cleared this section I was in front but it didn’t take them long to pass me again on the flat.

They sped off and I watched them paddle down ‘Side Winder’. I could see they didn’t really know the way as they went too far left at the top of the drop but they survived. The ‘Wall Rapid’ was next followed by a pool that led to the teams changeover point at Hart’s Farm (Strong Hill’s). The cheers were flowing again when I passed. The once feared ‘Harts Thicket Rapid’ which was next is so much easier than it used to be. Once upon-a-time many boats were wrecked here. New paddlers have no idea how more difficult some of the rapids used to be.

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Josh and Brenden Rice at Stronghills. Photo Zac Ashby

At ‘Spaghetti Junction’ I caught up with one of the team paddlers. I couldn’t believe how slow he was going and holding me up when there was nothing in his way. This rapid used to be a lot more congested with trees, but the trees have disappeared in more recent times. There were only a few smaller rapids on the next section but it was here that Brett Young and a couple other paddlers caught up. Closing up to one of the most under-estimated tricky rapids on the river ‘Deadly Mistake’ I had paddlers want to follow me down. I wasn’t that confident myself of doing it perfect as ‘Deadly Mistake’ can be extremely difficult especially in lower water levels. Luckily the water level allowed for an easier passage and no one had problems.

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Brett Young caught up yet again. Photo Zac Ashby

A long 2.1km pool followed and it was here that I had my pre-packed rice pudding. I took a bite then paddled, took another bite and paddled again and so on until it was all gone. I was hoping it would keep my energy levels up further down river. The pool comes to an end at a small tea tree rapid called ‘Tea Strainer’ which lost its bite when the trees started disappearing some years ago. Another 900 metre pool and then I approached ‘The Black Hole’ which is very straight forward but has a decent stopper at the bottom and it can be a wild ride if you don’t know how to miss it. It was here I caught up with Doug Hodson who was in a team. My aim was to pass Doug which I did and as we approached ‘Heart Stopper’ Doug said, I will follow you. We managed to get down safely but Brett hadn’t been so fortunate as he was swimming a hundred metres downstream. I asked him if he needed help but he said he was okay which I was happy about as Peter Liddle was not that far ahead of me and I wanted to catch him. Brett though was going to have a hard time swimming his kayak to a suitable place along the bank. If he had been paddling a ski he would have just jumped back on.

The ‘Lookout Rapid’ was ahead and there was no one around except for a lone figure at the bottom of the rapid who had a camera in hand. As I got closer I noticed the figure being John Di Nucci. The last section of the rapid above where John was standing is the hardest. This is where the rapid drops steeply creating big waves, a big hole and where you have to avoid a couple of big boulders that are just hidden by the water.

I have done this rapid a hundred times before so I was confident, but as I was about to slide between the big hole and big boulder I must had hit a turbulent wave as the next thing I knew I was being upside down. It wasn’t a good feeling being upside down with the water churning and frothing around me. I went for a roll and soon realised my high buoyancy DR kayak was leaning on one side and the opposite side to where I had my paddle so I couldn’t reach the surface of water. Oh shit my roll was not going to work, I thought. It didn’t, so now it was either bail out or try again. If I was to go for another roll I had to keep my cool but that wasn’t such a problem as I was fully under the cold bubbling, swirling water. A surf ski paddler would have fallen off, righted their ski and jumped back on and be away. I was hanging upside down with the blood running to my head, wondering when it might get hit by a rock and trying to pluck up enough courage to attempt another roll. The fast current had now swept me several metres passing rocks, waves and underwater turbulence.

I had another attempt at rolling back up and by a stroke of luck I had been swept closer to the shallows and although my roll was messy my paddle caught the rocks and it gave me enough leverage to get me back up, just. You can’t believe how happy I was. To see the sky again and not to have to get out of the kayak was the best. John was watching on and Peter Liddle was near the shore putting his spraydeck on. He must have capsized, so I was even happier as now I was in front of him.

The soaking was a reminder that in an instant your life can seemingly flash in front of you, but on the positive side the cold water revitalised me and I felt alive again. Hopefully I will be a lot more attentive running the following sets of rapids.

‘Championship Rapid’ didn’t pose a problem but I did take care not to mess up as I steered the kayak down the left side trying to avoid the rocks and drops on the right. A Terry cheer from someone on the bank and I was away heading for ‘Redback Run’ and ‘Syds Rapid’ where all the action would be. It’s always beneficial to do ‘Syds’ the right way up as there are usually a lot of people and photographers watching on. My strategy for Syds was to tread carefully, no heroics’ just concentrate on getting down upright as it would be a bumpy bone crunching swim if out of the boat and I would hate to be battered and bruised at my age. Syds is another rapid that I have never capsized at but I know I’m not infallible, so I took care.

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Double kayak winners Matt Coutts and Ben Dallin having a little trouble at Syds Rapid. Photo Jayden O’Brien

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Down the right way up always feels good. Photo Jayden O’Brien

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Not so lucky. Chris Donnelly and Graeme Marsden watch their double at Syds break in half. Photo Jayden O’Brien

Leaving the cheers and the difficulty of ‘Syds Rapid’ I was feeling pretty confident that I was going to reach the flatwater without mishap and I knew if I could do that I was sure that I could finish another Avon Descent. I glanced behind and saw Peter Liddle paddling down Syds so I knew it was time to get a move on but 2 kilometres later before ‘Walyunga Rapids’ Peter passed me. I was pretty surprised and happy when he paddled down the ‘Walyunga Chute’ and headed over the big eddy to the right hand bank to his support crew. What a gift, I thought. I’m back in front again but I needed to stay there. Peter was a faster paddler so I expected to see him again unless he had trouble at ‘Bells’.

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Female winner Sam Pilton on her way towards the flat water. Photo Christopher Greed

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Baillie Liddle was just in front of me at Bells Rapid. Photo Christopher Greed

I approached ‘Bells Rapid’ with Dave Boldy on the microphone singing my praises. After paddling down the drop and not doing it as well as I usually do I really didn’t deserve so much praise but I was told later compared with most other paddlers I did it pretty well. Next was ‘Devil’s Slide’ which is the most tricky drop on ‘Bells Rapid’ and many paddlers mess up here, but I was very happy how I did it. I named the rapid ‘Devil’s Slide’ because it was such a difficult rapid to negotiate properly. You virtually do slide down between rock ledges but it’s not as straight forward as that, an eddy and varying water speed before the drop ruin the perfect line and if your line isn’t perfect your chances of being driven sideways and across the rocks is very real and the likelihood of having a ‘devil of a time’ after that, is common. I could still hear Dave talking about me. A quick dash down ‘Side Swipe’, ‘Dogs Breakfast’ and ‘Bolland’s Elbow’ and I was safe from all the rapids and nothing now could stop me from finishing as I was free with just a 33km flatwater slog a few tea tree in the way.

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Top of Bell’s Drop. Photo Christopher Greed

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I was being chased by Peter Liddle so I had a Liddle in front of me and one behind. Photo Christopher Greed

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Chris Watson & Rob Jarrett chasing us. Photo Christopher Greed

Peter was no-where to be seen after following me down ‘Bells’ but apparently he stopped to empty his kayak. Soon after though Brett caught up again and passed me. He was just too fast for me to keep up with him on the flat but I still had to try and keep him in my sights. At Upper Swan Bridge Jenny was waiting to pass me my lightweight Epic paddle and give me a banana. Within a few seconds I was off again taking on the last lot of obstacles, the Upper Swan tea trees. They are less congested than the Toodyay tea trees but when you are tired anything could happen so I tried not to let my guard down. Approaching Amiens Crescent the gods were with me as I saw Brett had stopped to gather some food. I passed him again and that gave me more reason to push on hard and try to prevent him passing again. Once clear of the last tea trees it was open water all the way. The current was still pushing me on for the first 10 kms at least but then the pace slowed. Paddlers were spread with very few team paddlers passing, but the ones that did hurried by. I was feeling pretty good up to Middle Swan Bridge but then I started to tire and the wind started to pick up. It was no fun paddling alone but I couldn’t give up. Around Marshal Park the first power boats came by, it’s also around here where Brett caught me again. Another power boat flew by just before the corner of Lilac Hill Reserve. A guy ahead in a K1 suddenly fell in after the wash from the power boat hit him. He had quite a swim to the shore which he wouldn’t have been expecting on this section. The wind was just terrible and I felt as if I was getting nowhere. Then Jane Liddle, who was in a team came flying by. I sat on her wash for a short time but there was no way I could hang on for very long which surprised me because I was as fast as her when I was fresh. When team paddlers pass you realise that doing the entire race really takes it out of you.

Team paddlers should be classified differently than solo paddlers in the yearly results. It’s a bit unfair to be classed under the same banner. A person in a team of four can get the same recognition as a solo paddler in the yearly results and a team paddler may only do 15-20kms a day. So when Jane left me languishing and feeling sorry for myself in the strong winds it was hard to keep my spirit up. Then I saw Brett jump onto Jane’s wash and that nearly broke my heart as I knew I would now never catch him. Luckily he didn’t last long. The wind increased as I paddled under West Swan Bridge and if I went much slower I would have gone backwards. An Avon Descent festival was happening at Fishmarket Reserve, Guildford so I tried to lift my head up and look less tired as I passed. Just after Point Reserve Peter Liddle caught me up and sat on my wash so it encouraged me to push harder. I expected him to pass within minutes but he didn’t. He was still behind when we reached the section between Sandy Beach and Ascot where the wind was so strong we were both hardly moving. Another Avon Descent festival was happening at Garvey Park and cheers from the bank encouraged Peter to pass me. I was hoping he would stay on my wash because the longer he was wash-hanging me the stronger my chance of beating him so when he decided to cut loose my worst nightmare started to happen. I knew I just had to stay on his wash for me to beat him. Day one Pete beat me by 1 minute and 3 seconds but I left 2 minutes behind him today so I couldn’t let him be more than 50 seconds ahead of me at the finish line. My arms were now killing me and every time Pete surged to get rid of me I was really at my limit, but every time I felt like giving up and letting him go I felt the urge to paddle faster as I really did want to beat him. It wasn’t until we reached the red spit post a few hundred metres before the finish that I knew I would beat him even if he managed to take off. When I reached the pergola I relaxed and Pete crossed the line about 3 boat lengths ahead which I was very happy with because it meant I beat him overall by 49 seconds.

The race was over for another year and I was quite thankful that at an age of 65 I still had fire in my belly and the energy and skill to mix it with lots of other paddlers much faster than me on the flat. I didn’t beat Luke but I didn’t expect to either, he is just too fast.

This year Dave Martin beat me by 19 minutes so it seems he is getting faster or I am getting slower. Brett beat me by 1 minute 34 seconds, Baillie Liddle beat me by 6 minutes 15 seconds so she had improved from last year as I beat her by 11 minutes. Luke beat me by 15 minutes so he will be happy and he had to keep stopping to empty out. Sam Pilton the first female beat me by 29 minutes. She was 10 minutes ahead on day 1.

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Luke and I at the end. Photo Jane Dooley

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Accepting 2nd DR place. Photo Jane Dooley