Snow kayak test run results in wild ride

Some things seem like the best ideas when you first come up with them.

Some require a little testing to make sure.

Clark W. Griswold attempting a new land speed record and Ironman’s daughter looking to use a vibranium shield as a sled come to mind in this case.

When Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry Director of Council Operations and Tourism John Papalia told me there was going to be snow kayaking at this year’s Winterfest, I thought that was a pretty great idea.

I asked him a few follow-up questions so I could write a sidebar on the new event to go along with my main Winterfest story.

When I passed that intention to my editors, they had a better idea.

Perhaps remembering that I’d gone scuba diving, flown in an airplane with one door (not on my side), and other, more questionable, activities to get good stories, they suggested I do a first-person story on this event.

That sounded good to me.

John had gone before and was looking for another chance.

We met at Chapman a little before 11 a.m. Tuesday.

We strapped on our helmets, put on our protective eyewear, collected our kayaks and paddles, and set off for the top of the sledding hill.

There was some fresher snow along the sides and a packed-down section in the middle.

I put my kayak squarely in the middle.

John got off to a little better start than I did, but I quickly caught up and was in the lead.

Then, I was hurtling down the hill in an unfamiliar, semi-enclosed, low-friction vehicle.

I’m not too ashamed to admit that I can be heard kinda shrieking on the WCCBI video – “Too fast! This is too fast!”

I zoomed past the photographers at the bottom of the hill and came to a stop much farther from the finish line than I had expected.

Of course, I had to go again.

Back at the top, Environmental Education Specialist Emily Hunt joined us for a second run.

John and Emily started above some fresher snow. I parked my kayak in the middle of the hill, convinced I would be able to control my kayak better – I was experienced, after all – and go even faster.

I let them get going before I started, knowing that I would catch up on the smoother surface.

The paddle was working, I could change my direction a little.

Then, as I was about to pass Emily, I noticed that her kayak was about 90-degrees to mine. I watched as I flew by.

Then, possibly because I stopped paying attention to my driving for those couple of moments, I was no longer headed straight down the hill.

I tried to steer myself back to the recommended path, but I could not.

I have not been able to review the video, but I remember saying (and witnesses remember hearing) “I’m gonna die now!”

The snow fence was coming right at me. Not head-on, I was still pointed somewhat downhill.

Before I hit it, I had time to think I might not enjoy it if the thing stopped me abruptly.

Not to worry, that little fence was not intended to stop a grown man flying down a hill in a kayak. When I opened my eyes, I was on the other side of it, having busted right through somehow. My paddle was gone, and I was still moving too fast.

There’s a small trail that runs between some trees along the side of the sledding hill. Probably a nice place to walk.

After crashing through a two-inch tree – I think I bashed it with a forearm in the hopes of slowing down and not hitting it with my head – my kayak turned more downhill. This was a mixed blessing. I wasn’t headed straight into the woods, but I was starting to go faster.

There was a big tree – 14 inches, maybe – right at the edge of the path and I was headed for it.

I decided I really did not want to hit that thing, so I stuck my left hand in the ground.

That helped, I turned enough to not hit the tree directly and maybe slowed down a little.

After that, I don’t remember much. The track indicates I crossed back over the trail and came to a stop somehow.

I remember laughing… a little bit (maybe a lot) of an insane cackle. I was alive.

People asked me if I was all right. I told them I thought so. It’s hard to tell when the adrenaline is rolling.

I was not enthusiastic about making another run.

And, I’m afraid I almost ruined all the fun for everybody.

But, the event is going on – with reasonable limits.

Further test runs that didn’t involve me established that a starting point not all the way at the top of the hill results in more controllable, yet still fun, speeds.

If snow kayak racing sounds like it’s for you, bring a kayak and paddle, a helmet, and protective eyewear, to the Chapman State Park sledding hill at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4.

There are adult races, youth races, and mixed races. Some people are already signed up.

I can’t imagine the races being more memorable that my test runs, so I won’t be taking part. I’ve already had my fun.


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