The beatdown.  Photo Alan Panebaker. 

A clean line in a different drop on the B section.  Photo Alan Panebaker. 
After a miserable spring in New England due to nonexistent winter precipitation, kayaking season is finally beginning in Quebec.  The first rally of the year was a three day weekend at the Neilson River near Saint Raymond.  Last minute planning Saturday morning delayed us and we did not cross the border until 10 a.m.  Arriving at the takeout in a bleak mix of snow and rain, we found a high river (50 cms on the online gage and 6 on the river gage).   After driving 10 miles of beater dirt roads in the midst of mud season we finally put on at 2:30.  We made short work of the A section of the river, blasting through numerous class IV and V rapids that were just easy enough to run with minimal scouting.  I had never run the Neilson, and I was delighted to find an absolute classic.  It's not quite a creek but not quite a river, rather the perfect hybrid of steep and big.  And it's only 300 miles from my house (a short drive by Quebec standards). 

The B section is not as continuous, but the rapids are generally a step up from the upper.  We made our way downstream, scouting the large horizon lines more frequently. 

The last big drop is known as the Double Drop or Pothole Drop.  At the level we had it is a nearly vertical 5 foot tongue into a boily hole that immediately flows of another 8 foot sloping ledge into a monster hole. 

At first glance, I expected to portage the beast, but on closer inspection I saw a good line.  I knew swimming was a distinct possibility, but the rapid ended in flat but fast moving current. 

Without waiting for my boys to set up I hopped in my boat and peeled out into the swift flow moving to the lip.  Five or six fast and strong strokes delivered a big boof onto the boil.  I stalled and was backendered immediately.  "It's okay" I thought "I might land in the hole".  A fraction of a second later and WHAM I was hit in the head with a baseball bat.  A thunderous "chunk" reverberated inside my skull and a white hot light flashed behind my eyes.  Stunned, I felt my boat floating downstream.  A second later I rolled up and limply paddled into the safety of an eddy. 

As I waited for the crew I was light headed and woozy.  They looked worried "Are you all right, man?  You don't look good."  Apparently my eyes were glassy and dilated.  They gave me a few minutes to regroup and we decided the best thing to do was paddle out.  I took a deep breath and  managed to ride out the last few class IVs.   We got to the
takeout in fading light.  I took my helmet off and saw the crack.  I had a golf ball sized hematoma above my left ear.

Driving back home the next day with a nasty headache that would
persist for a week, I kept replaying the events.  I try to learn from
my beatings.  In this case I would have done only one thing
differently: waited for the team to set safety.  My impatience greatly increased the danger factor of the rapid.  I should have had a guy in a boat, ready to assist when things went awry.  We don't always know what lurks under the surface.

The second lesson was one I already knew from a previous whack to the head: WRSI helmets are the safest on the market.  If I had been using a lesser helmet I am certain I would have been knocked unconscious, unable to self rescue.

This little guy, Ryland, is particularly grateful to WRSI.  Thanks for saving Daddy's noggin.  He needs the few braincells he has left after 22 years of paddling.  

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