A month ago I was in Idaho at the Payette River preparing for the biggest race I had ever been a part of. When I first heard about the North Fork Championship I was super excited. I had competed in a giant slalom race on the Little White Salmon in 2008 and ever since I'd been looking forward to seeing more class 5 slalom races. When I sent in my application I didn't think I'd actually be selected so when I was I started to get really excited and also a little scared. It was an intimidating line up to be included in and the mystique surrounding the North Fork and Jacob's Ladder made it sound terrifying to race down. That was in April and luckily I'd already been hitting the gym, working on my cardio and trying my best to put a little muscle on my upper body. I'd spent the winter in front of a computer instead of in a boat but spring had arrived and I was keen. After a couple months of paddling I was feeling as ready as I could be for the race.
We arrived in Banks late in the evening from the LW race in Washington. Our first stop was to check out Jake's and after a quick scout I was feeling pretty fired up. The next morning we ran a couple of Lower Five laps and the river was feeling much bigger than it had from the bank, Jake's was going to have to wait another day. Day two and Chris McTaggart and I were determined to get on it. After a long scout and Bryce Shaw and Peter Thompson on safety duty we were ready. Chris went first and I followed closely. We both hit the eddy left at Rodeo Hole, then went for the rest of it. After regrouping below Taffy Puller and finishing off Golf Course we where stoked to have made it down but scared to race it. It was big and rowdy and would easily rival largest big water rapid I've ever run. We ran Golf Course a second time then paddled into town. The next day we went back and just ran Jake's three times. The first was another slow run but felt more in control, my second lap I had a great run and was able to put all the moves together, the third run was good but with a couple of mistakes. After just three runs I'd had enough and called it for the day. With just four practice laps under my belt I took Friday off and rested.
Race day was intimidating, both the rapid and the hundreds of people lining the banks. This was the first time I'd seen so many spectators at an extreme race, clearly I've never been to the Green. With bib number 9 in a reverse start order I was near the end of the pack and was able to watch the first racers. I'd been debating which line I wanted to run but after watching how difficult it looked to hit all the gates I decided to take the most conservative line and just go for a clean run, make all the gates and avoid any major mistakes. It still gets my heart beating just thinking about sitting at the top of the ramp looking down on the course and getting ready to go.
This was my thought process during my race run: My first time down the ramp. Make sure my paddle doesn't get stuck in a crack. Boof of the end. Get left quick for rodeo hole. Didn't spin into the eddy, good. Stay left charging downstream at Rock Drop, Just a tiny bit of left angle. Hold a left stroke to drive deep in the eddy. Two quick strokes around the gate. Pause for half a second then charge as hard as possible. Make the next gate, good the hard move is out of the way. Center through Taffy Puller. Then the conservative line right around the Witches Tit. Breathe in between waves,. Right of Ocean Wave charging left. Punch diagonals and holes. Spot landmark. Once past it charge left into the eddy. Spin down and charge for the tongue. Good run so far, don't f!@* it up! Stay in the green water. Don't miss the last gate. Race is over! Scramble to catch an eddy. At the bottom I was so excited, I'd had a nearly perfect run and was confident it would put me in the top ten.
After a strong first run I decided to go for the faster race line on my next. I was trying to go left of witches tit but I was too far left in Taffy Puller and was pushed all the way right. Didn't make it. I then hit a couple diagonals wrong in Golf Course and was thrown off line through a bunch of small holes. Fine but slow. I still managed to finish off the race and hit all the gates but I knew my first run was the faster of the two. I was planning on paddling to town after the race but with all the stress I just wanted to get off the river and drink a beer.
At the awards I was ecstatic that my run was good enough for third in a field with so many good boaters and big names. I also couldn't believe how close the top seven times were, on such a tough course with so many variables I thought the field would be a little more spread out. I can't wait for next year, even just to go paddle the North Fork again, but at the same time I'm nervous about sliding in off the ramp and challenging Jake's a few more times. To keep up with the event and see some pictures and videos check out the NFC Facebook page.
Also check out this edit by Skip Armstrong.