I never have any pictures of whitewater kayaking, given the fragility of my phone camera in water. So just imagine….it’s a low-cloud-chill-8-degree-morning at Pukaki, the glacial blue lake near Mt Cook. I’ve just driven through the cloud, as it’s spilling in thick slow motion over the mountains near Burke’s pass, and a few rain drops were spitting. Below the dam that holds the massive glacier lake back to make hydropower it’s spilling at 45 cmecs, a scheduled release for the whitewater clubs. But because of the somber news around Covid19 and the country’s alert status, there’s almost no one there.
I’m feeling a bit nervous as I look at the group–they’re all better paddlers than me, and I don’t know this river. But I’ve been wanting to paddle it for ages, and, after all, the reason I’ve stuck with white water kayaking is to practice persisting with something I find scary.
“The first rapid is the most major one,” my friend had warned me. “The line is between the two big rocks, moving river left.” I watched the other paddlers disappear one by one over the brink, their helmets bobbing as the waves bounced them about. My turn….and I slipped between the rocks without a hitch, it was all completely fine. “Is that it?” I queried, eddying out and pointing back. “Then I think I can paddle this river.”
An hour into the paddle one of the old timers, a cheerful ex army guy nicknamed Sarg, began firing rapid instructions at me. “Use a left hand low brace, convert to a bow sweep, then….enter the eddy high, rail left….. reach over and brace into the green water….” His instruction was so rapid and detailed, it took all my concentration to follow. But he used to coach the NZ slalom kayak team, if I could solidify the torrent of instruction with a bit of conscious practice, I knew it would be worthwhile.
Sure enough, I was rewarded with Delight of the Day: the quick swooshing turn out of the rushing water and into a tight eddy, the sensation of getting the timing just right.
The next day was Sunday, and it was the most picturesquely beautiful weather one could imagine–low 20s, sunny, almost no wind….very rare for Christchurch. We went as a family to Taylor’s Mistake, a lovely little beach past Sumner on the Banks Peninsula. It was Isaiah’s last day in NZ before he had to run the gauntlet of the virus-laden air ports back to Trump’s America.
And that stellar weekend was savored none too soon. Monday NZ abruptly launched into “level 3 alert” for the Covid19 pandemic, with the jump to level 4 planned for Weds night. No more ice cream trucks, restaurants, or stores beyond food and pharmacy. No more school for the kids for at least the next 4 weeks, and no play dates with friends. We’re in lock down. Though I expect if a certain mother loses her cool and strangles a certain beastly 9 year old boy, the police will still turn up.