My first born son, Dane, is only 15 years old. We headed way South last week, as far as the Guatemala border as I type this on the remaining battery power of my laptop while Dane sleeps next to me in our $3/night cabana in Chiapas. Also, Nick, 20 years old, and living with me and the family since he was 16, and only 6 days away from becoming my “son-in-law” is here. Clay Wright is here for his first time, as well as Trevor Clark. Alex, who hit the world at age 15 traveling and working as a raft guide on 5 continents (except North America and Antarctica) is our trusty guide with his 2000 Van, and Jose’ Manuel our driver is the 7th person in our group.
We flew into Mexico City and spent the night (from 1am-6am) at Rafa’s family’s house in the city. The next day was spent getting out of the city and to the Alseseca River in Veracruz, about 6 hours away in the mountains, at about 6,000 feet above sea level.
Dane has seen video and heard stories about this place for the past two years and so incredibly excited about being here. We got on the Roadside Section and took our time for our “warm-up” run. The weather is hot and dry at the moment, the stars are incredible, in this southern sky.
My father isn’t coming to the wedding as he has resigned to never coming to Mexico again, having a bad experience his last time in getting sick. With Hillary Clinton warning Americans not to come, and issuing a travel advisory, you get the feeling that all hell is breaking loose here. What we have experienced here so far is a warm, friendly atmosphere of wonderful people, that are helpful if you need help. We have had the most incredible food as well with “river shrimp” that are more like lobsters, great steak, huevos rancheros, etc. etc. yummy! American media fails to show America in relation to the rest of the world. Sad really. There are plenty of issues here, especially on the American border where the drugs that Americans buy are grown and traded. They blame us for the drug problem as we are the ones with a lust for it and the money to buy it…. Sorry- I digress.
Back to the meat of what is going on here. I just finished four days of running some of the best sections of the Alseseca River with Dane, Nick, Clay and I and Trevor on the first two days. What an experience. Revisiting a river that we opened up under the leadership of Ben Stookesberry only two years ago, and now becoming a destination for boaters looking to step up their creeking was a treat. The “Big Banana” Section named after the immense bananas we were eating above a 100+ foot waterfall we were looking for a way around on the first D. Dane was so at home it wasn’t even funny. On the warm-up run he couldn’t wait to get in his boat and run the “S-Turn” and “crack” rapids, which are intimidating. Styling each, taking few strokes, looking more than confident, and just having so much fun, I couldn’t imagine keeping him from this type of experience. When we hit the Big Banana section the only rapid he wanted to walk was the 40 footer that is in between canyons and road accessible. It has been run a dozen times, by Ben, Darin, Nick, myself, john Grace, Jason hale, and a handful of others. It just isn’t a confidence inspiring falls with a line killer lead in and an 8 foot landing zone that boils under the walls and has rocks on the right side. I ran it last time, and we all resigned to just walk it this time. Dane was fired up to do the 45 foot or higher “throw and go” where you throw your boat in and jump in after it in the narrow pool below. Meat Locker is another rapid that watching Dane run was so incredible of an experience for me I can’t even express. He ran it first on this trip, and nailed it. A total of 30-40 feet of drop in two stages separated by a single fast stroke on a 3 foot wide landing zone into a crazy explosion of water on the second drop makes this the highlight of the run in terms of “wow” rapids. On our second trip down this section (we did it in 6 hours on the first run, and 2:15 on the second run) we opened up a new line on Meat Locker we are calling “Slaughterhouse” on the right side of the island. Nick can’t wait to tell Rafa about it. Nick went first and styled it, followed by Dane who, on this run, really defined in my head what kind of new level of paddling genius and skill is being displayed by him (not putting him ahead of Nick, just talking about my kid…).
Dane entered a rapid that had a must make boof with a landing against a rock outcropping on the left into boily water. He entered the rapid calmly, stroking at a solid medium pace, eyes on his target, and made the boof on a single extended stroke landing perfectly and having his paddle out of the way of the rock, his body never wavering off of the balance point of his “Side Kick” which is less than 23” wide. The boils pushed him back to the right side of the landing zone, as expected, as he lined up the second drop 10 feet below, a hard right hand pushing curler with a hole across the bottom of it. He ducked the tree in the middle of that drop and taking very unrushed, confident strokes lifted his bow up and over the curler landing on right backstroke, but with enough speed to make it through the hole. Using the backstroke he made the crux move, which is to get the bow right and be able to drive the boat away from the left wall and the oncoming 15+ foot waterfall that lands in the short narrow pool. He, without taking a single rushed or “panic” stroke, paddled calmly against the right wall keeping his sidekick just about 1 foot to the right of the water dropping in from the waterfall, while knowing his was about to enter into the abyss of explosive water that makes up the lip of the 15 footer to finish the drop. He took a long last left boof stroke, early it seemed, from above as he wasn’t going over yet, but the last place his paddle would reach reasonably solid water and he hopped off of that drop boofing and disappearing as I hold a rope for him on the top drop, that he never needed. I was in awe. It was my hope that I would also have such a great line. I got in my boat after Clay got in position with his rope. My first boof was just where I wanted to be, but I ducked and rushed my stroke under the log, hitting my top blade on it, losing my right hand off of it and pulling the shaft straight into my nose. I caught myself with one hand, keeping my balance as I dropped into the second hole I was supposed to duck, like Dane did, but instead side surfing it, looking at the waterfall looming in front of me that drops straight into the micro-pool that if I don’t get around, will give me the melt-down beating at the lip of the second drop that will not be forgotten. I got out, made it around the falls and down the next drop with clay in disbelief. A bloody nose was all I got for that hiccup. This was how this trip has been so far for me. I am paddling well, but am amazed at what my kid is doing. It seems like it came from nowhere. Two years ago, I didn’t let him come here. Now, I am more confident that he’ll nail his lines than just about anyone in the world. Where does that come from?
Moving the subject along, we just made the 18 hour journey towards Cambodia. We just arrived at the Aqua Azul river, known for its travertine waterfalls and crystal clear, blue waters. If the photos of the waterfalls are any indicator, we are in for a treat. We have two more days of this type of paddling before we are due to arrive and meet the girls for the wedding.
Nick is very excited because this is the first time he knows the rivers, and Clay doesn’t! Nick has been a great trip leader, and remembers a lot. We were able to rally the Big Banana section on this last run without scouting anything other than the new line we did on Meat Locker.
I am obviously proud and amazed at what my son is doing in a boat, and how he is doing it. Excited like a kid should be, but also doing it with such a confidence and skill level that he is able to slow things down and really do it right. Wearing a full face helmet and shoulder pads, he is setting a good example for dad as well. He has sold me on the idea of beefing up my safety gear for these trips in the future. Good boy.
We’ll I am sweating like crazy in bed and Dane is asleep next to me, just a kid, with his dad, not truly knowing just how special he is, but just being a kid. I am off for a cold shower, and back to bed to try to sleep. No more writing until I can charge my laptop at the resort where Emily is getting married to Nick.
Meanwhile, the Stars in the Southern Sky are quite impressive tonight, as I am under a thatched roof, in the jungle, but will be back out from under the canopy in a moment to see them.