Lehigh River Upper Gorge Experience – Part ILehigh River Upper Gorge體驗 — 第一話

The upper gorge of the Lehigh River used to be a legend to me. Two years ago, after I entered the kayaking world, I kept hearing “I want to prepare you for the upper gorge” from Nick, my good friend and also my kayaking mentor. Before I set my boat on that section, I pictured it as an exciting but dangerous waterway, which had many wavy and dangerous spots and would sneakily tip my boat over.

So far, I’ve kayaked on the upper gorge five times. It is no longer a far beyond reach legend of adventure. However, I will still sincerely call it legendary, because I am fascinated by its ability to pass on something new to me every time I paddled – the upper gorge is like a patient and methodical school teacher who has enticed me to enjoy growing my strength and boating maneuvers with inspiring new elements which were always accompanied with excitement and challenges.

Part I: the Z rapid

Last summer, my first time on the upper gorge, no swim. I drifted down to where the water took me and fought with the flow to maintain my balance. The still fresh memory was the rapid called “Z.” At “Z,” the river bends like a z. If you do nothing, the current will pull you to the far left and let you bump into a huge rock. The common approach is to eddy out to the river left at the first half of the rapid, then ferry across close to the river right and turn around and keep paddling downstream.

The eddy line was extremely dynamic, and the water ran so fast that I couldn’t manage to cut in as high as I wanted to. When my boat was crossing the eddy line, I felt that my repository of balance was draining and the sense of fear was taking control. Cheerleaders were yelling, “Paddle, paddle!” I finally resumed normal breathing rhythm in the quiet eddy after I pushed with several hard forward strokes and leveled my boat out with hip shakings. It was not yet over. I was weak on fighting against the current to maintain my ferry, and was forced to perform an immature peel out. The end result? I realized that the huge rock was in fact very huge. I got so near it in such a short amount of time which was not enough for me to scream.

Eddy turn, peel out and ferry are the most basic and important river skills a boater needs to equip oneself with. When this river season started, I noticed that my eddy turns and peel outs were shaky and I wasn’t quite sure why. There are three elements we boaters need to implement to guarantee a safe pass through an eddy line: speed, angle and lean. Ideally you cut an eddy line with a 45-degree angle with enough speed while you lean your boat in a way that the current always hits the bottom of the boat. Once the current catches your boat, the river will do the rest of the work for you. It has been a common line on my river day since I started to kayak: “Ting Ting, let the river do the work.”

I used to have a hard time distinguishing the moment when the current engaged with my boat. How could other people look like naturals and why did their boats cross the line so smoothly? With many trials and errors, and with diagnoses from other experienced boaters, I concluded my two fatal mistakes: 1. I should have looked ahead to where I was heading to instead of narrowing my view just to the front of my boat. 2. My boat is a short boat, good for turning and bad for speed. I used to stop paddling and get ready to brace when I thought “now it’s time for the river to do the job.” It was usually too early to stop my actions. My boat is short so once I stopped paddling my boat soon got no speed. Therefore there was no momentum to carry enough portion of my boat over the eddy line to engage with the current. And an eddy line is so turbulent that one should never risk parking his boat on top of it.

The first mistake made it impossible for me to perform a lean, because my upper body couldn’t stay upright when I could only see the front end of my boat. And how could I ask my forward curling spine to bend sideways? Out of the three required elements, I lost two, so of course I couldn’t perform the moves.

Looking only at the front end of the boat sounds like a silly mistake, but just like other bad habits, it was hard to break. It is like the first time you put on a pair of skis, you can’t help but keep looking at the tips. You want to make sure the skis go to where you want them to be; however, the more attention you give them, the more uncooperative they become. But you have to look ahead, so that you can observe farther and wider, plan faster and react spontaneously. Stop being so dominative to your lower body, it will do its job if you let go.

As for correcting the second mistake, I maintained my speed by throwing in several additional forward strokes, and I therefore merrily degusted the taste of current’s turning force. I also stopped my preparation for a brace because it should be a reflex, a second nature. A brace happens naturally when it is time for its existence.

The last time I did the Z; it was zestful. I crossed the eddy line with ease, and Nick referred to it as “a powerful eddy turn.” I was proud. Kayaking, it is so much fun.

To be continued…

Lehigh River的upper gorge一度只是我夢中的傳奇。兩年前,當我開始泛獨木舟的時候,我的好友兼獨木舟導師常常對我說:「我要你好好練習這些、那些基本動作,才好去泛upper gorge那一部份的河段。」好幾次,我常想,那段河段該是怎麼怎麼地驚險刺激,有許多狂亂的激流,隨時隨地伺機將我的小船打翻。

截至目前為止,我已經駕著小船泛過那個河段五次了,upper gorge不再是可望不可及的傳奇。但是,形容它的時候,還是很難不使用傳奇這個字眼:每次泛舟其上,總是會有新的感覺、新的學習、新的收穫,真難想像為什麼同一河段可以這麼千變萬化;它又好像一個循循善誘的人生導師,每每使用啟發式的範例,伴隨著趣味且有挑戰性的泛舟體驗,導領我心甘情願的認真磨練操舟動作,增加自我的操舟能耐。


去年夏天,第一次泛upper gorge,驕傲地說:「沒有游泳。」那天駕著船,順流而下,被動式地讓河水操控著我的小船,身體反應著河水的效益,以取得一定的平衡。還歷歷在心的記憶是越過名叫「Z」的激流,在這裡,河道彎曲如同字母z。如果什麼都不做,河水猛地可以將小船拉扯到左岸,再將船摔在巨大的岩塊上,可夠人受的。渡過這激流的方式,一般是這樣的:首先,在激流的前半部,使用eddy turn將小船渡到河左岸的eddy,然後ferry到相當靠近河右岸,再轉個180度,順流而下。

那條eddy line相當的不穩定,同時,水流的速度相當快,我沒有能夠在最高點切進該eddy line,當我的小船穿越eddy line的途中,似乎感覺到體內的平衡指數已然降到最低,恐懼感則開始飆高。耳邊轟然傳來啦啦隊的元氣呼喊:「用力划槳,用力划!」在數個使盡力氣的前划槳動作(forward stroke),再加上幾個收束的臀部搖擺,以回復小船的平衡體位,終於我的呼吸頻率,可以在平靜的eddy區恢復正常。但是,故事沒有結束,當時虛弱的我在奔騰的波滔下,無力維持ferry的動作,以致於被迫做出一個早熟的peel out。眼睜睜地看著小船越來越接近上頭描述的岩塊,接近的速度是這麼快,快得連驚聲尖叫都無法準備。喔,而那岩塊真的就像別人形容的一般,是真的很大。

Eddy turn、peel out、ferry這三項操舟動作,是每一個泛獨木舟的人,都應該練習到精準百分百的基本動作。今年春夏交際,泛舟季節才開始的時候,注意到自己的eddy turn 和 peel out的動作都有些勉強,可以又說不出個所以然。成功的eddy turn和peel out倚賴三個要素:速度、切入角度、以及舟的傾斜角度。理想狀況是以足夠的速度,以和eddy line交45度角的方式切入,同時傾斜獨木舟,所以河水只能拍打獨木舟的船底。一旦水流抓到小船,河流就會幫你完成剩下的轉彎動作。自從我開始泛舟的那一天起,就無時無刻聽見這句至理名言:「婷婷,讓河流幫你工作。」

我的問題在於,我實在是感覺不出來,到底在哪一刻河水才算抓住了船?看著大家好像天生就會划獨木舟,每個動作都那麼平順,河水都這麼乖巧地幫著他們的忙,為什麼我偏偏就這麼手忙腳亂呢?在多少次的錯誤嘗試,以及他人的針砭之後,歸納出兩個致命的錯誤:一、當操船的時候,眼睛應該看向前方,也就是應該看著船將要使去的方向,而不是盯著船頭。二、我的船是真的很「小」,短的船方便轉彎或是旋轉,卻缺乏速度。以往我每在感覺到「喔,就是這個時間點了」的時候,就停止往前划槳的動作,取而代之為準備brace的動作。而通常我還是太早停止划槳了。我的船很短,只要一停止前划槳的動作,小船馬上就失去速度,如此一來,失去動力的小船卡在eddy line上,越過eddy line的小船體積還不足以讓河水抓住,同時eddy line上的水流通常是很紛亂的,沒有一個人應該冒這麼大的險,嘗試停泊其上的。

第一個錯誤讓身體難以操控小船,做出正確的傾斜角度。因為太過於注意船頭的緣故,上半身有些前傾,好像駝背一樣,所以在嘗試傾斜小船的時候,往往頭傾斜了,身體卻無法向側面傾斜。傾斜小船的要訣在於,需讓上半身和船平面成九十度角,身體才可以向側面彎曲,呈現一個字母C的弧度,帶動小船的傾斜。第二個錯誤當然是速度。也就是說,在三個要素之中,我已經失去兩項,在這樣的情形下,如果還可以做出完美的eddy turn和peel out的動作,未免也太夢幻了。



而最近一次泛過激流「Z」,輕而易舉的就穿過了eddy line。Nick高興地說,該穿越:「真是強而有力」。努力能有收穫,最是令人得意不過,而激流泛獨木舟也愈來愈有趣了。


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