Julie’s Intro to Creeking week in Italy

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Whilst everyone differs in their interpretation of a coach kayak paddling holiday we all go on these trips to perhaps paddle a new venue, up our paddling skills and paddle with like minded paddlers. Its also not just about the paddling its a holiday too. Having paddled with Gene17kayaking last year in Italy on the 1st year they had programmed in an introduction to steep creeking aimed at paddlers like me, a grade 3ish paddler ! I enjoyed it so much it was an amazing adventure I wanted to revisit and up my paddling skills.

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Day 1 …Saturday afternoon we were met at the airport and taken to the campsite. Colin and Brian from Canada were to be paddling with John and I for the week. They were not only our paddling buddies but our drinking buddies too :-). The reception we received from Alberto and his staff at the campsite was like we had arrived back home, such a friendly bunch. Accommodation is in a superb chalet room, they are ensuite and there is a fab restaurant on site for when Gene17 are not cooking for us, they do however pay for all meals except the last night when we all chip in and pay for them as a thank you. We had culinary delights all week regardless of who cooked. We had a brief on what we could be doing during the week which of course was reviewed on a day to day basis dependent on how much liquid sunshine fell out of the sky and what our skills were like, and mostly how our bodies were coping after several days paddling.

Without boring the readers of this blog too much we paddled the lower Sesia, and Semenza Sun-Fri. The first part of the day was roll practice half an hour, I do so struggle with this! I have always hated going upside down deliberately, its seems illogical to my brain to be anything but upright in my trusty kayak. I have been practicing on our return in fact all summer, it’s got better but there is still room for improvement… I remain optimistic.

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I am not the most confident paddler when I get on what I regard as “The Big Boys Rivers”, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be paddling these amazing rivers particularly at my age..to the youngsters it must be like paddling with a saga paddler (yes the over 50s)…. I have never had high expectations and at no time have I thought I look cool, in fact I sometimes compare myself on features as Bambi on ice with a lot of hip flicking, the paddle in the air with my eyes closed not a good look at all :-), but at the end of the day I just want to paddle as safely as possible. Throughout the week I had my fair share of swims, I did a couple of rolls in anger, I don’t pretend I had an easy paddle. When any kayaker of any ability swims it shouldn’t be sneered at, it happens to us all !! After lots of new skills and revamping old skills we were ready for Fridays trip.

Friday we headed out to the Egua the rain Gods had been good to us all week with only one thunderstorm to keep the rivers topped up to a perfect level. The first drop I didn’t do last year, it makes me nervous just thinking about it, it’s a 6m ish drop and you need to follow advice carefully. Simon and Jakub always gave good instructions on every rapid, drop etc throughout the whole week. I was quite happy watching everyone paddling this drop and Simon said he would drop my boat down to the auto boof section if I didn’t want to run it.

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With the boys in the pool below and with some gentle persuasion Simon lowered me in my boat just above the drop..he did this to everyone in the group because the lead into it is messy and full of boulders. Simon’s last word before releasing me was “Ready” now let me tell you how can anyone ever be ready to launch over a 6 metre drop, it’s over so quickly. The only way to describe your feelings are your heart feels as though its going to jump out of your chest, you can almost hear it beating away. On the descent going through your mind is was that a left or right paddle stroke as you go over the lip? It’s a mixture of exhilaration and relief when it pans out OK. The descent is over in seconds, a bit like being flushed down a toilet…. I knew it wasn’t terribly elegant, I started out with good intentions then went over the edge, didn’t boo, pencilled it totally, submerged popped my spraydeck, emerging upright and only taking on about a pint of water… Phew I did it and no UKIs (Unexplained kayak injuries). It probably took the next ten minutes for my heart beat to get back to normal. The next few meters we portaged. Then we got back in the kayaks and paddled through some harder boulder garden sections, I know on this section which was quite daunting for me I was talking all the way through it to myself telling myself… Julie you can do this just concentrate ! Which is actually the norm when I am paddling a new harder section. The last harder boulder garden above the auto boof we scouted, John was the only one in the group to do it. Simon and Jakub set up safety everywhere they thought was needed, but he paddled it well.

Then it was down to the auto boof section a drop of about 3m-ish, I very much enjoyed this section last year and was more than happy to do it again except for the fact that on approach there were two adders struggling in the swirl of the left hand side eddy. That was one place I did not want to end up in and I wasn’t alone in my thoughts here. Even Jakub kept his distance, me thinks he dosen’t like poisonous snakes either? Lucky for us we had a Steve Irwin type alias Simon Westgarth hooking them out with a branch, hmmm where did they go then? Still we did this drop a couple of times then had lunch and did it again. Guess what happened after lunch? More adders in the same eddy, so Simon got them out again with a flick of his paddle.

Saturday Sorba Slides day, it was our last boating day, I did this once last year, it’s a very intimidating drop of about 20 metres, broken down into three sections. Its not easy but it is easier than it looks if thats makes sense, those that have paddled this drop will know exactly what I mean! Simon and Jakub positioned themselves in just the right spots here. The first attempt was ok, but I was shaking, I was happy to do it the once. Everyone else in the group were happy to rerun this section, but not me! I remember saying to Simon, “Do you mind if I don’t paddle it again”, his reply was “I prefer it if you did do it again”..when the big boss asks how can one refuse, I thought well, best do it again.

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The first two sections I was really pleased with but I was all alone in the cave above the last section for what seemed an eternity (about a minute) and with no one to point to the exact spot to go over the edge I found talking and singing to myself really helped. I also at this point of the trip felt tremendous pressure to get this right as everyone was waiting in the pool at the bottom, I guess it’s the fear of messing up in front of everyone, that combined with, what paddle stroke do I need and can I get the timing right to get that paddle stroke in!! I did the last section, stayed upright for the second day of the week. That for me was my lightbulb moment.

I learnt so much in the week, I was challenged but coped and at no time did I feel like I was at boot camp like I have experienced with other providers. In this environment and with what I regard as Top Notch providers it is well worth the money. I was suitable tired at the end of the week but felt I had put some demons to bed. With Simon and Jakub’s coaching techniques I felt safe at all times and its comforting to know they are with you every paddling stroke on the river, and boy we were lucky to have both Simon (MD) and his right hand man for the week. They got me to try different ways of paddling to adapt and enhance my existing skills. I am under no illusion, I am never going to reach their standard of paddling, being in the saga stage of paddling, I have only been paddling for eight years, I have however achieved much more than I ever thought would be possible. I still feel that I haven’t yet reached the peak in my paddling, there is still so much to learn and whilst my body can cope I am willing to try. Having said that this intro to steep creeking course is probably at the top of my game. I have 110% confidence in Gene17kayaking, their safety and coaching. I know they would not encourage me to paddle something which I am not capable of doing. I was extremely impressed with Simon and Jakub, as I was last year with Jake Holland, Chris Eastabrook, Debs Pinniger and Liam Kirkham who was the Gene17 intern at the time.

Julie Elworthy joined us in Italy on our Intro to Creeking Trip this past June. Next year’s trips are already online: see Intro to Creeking for up coming dates in 2017 with Gene17Kayaking.