2017 River kayaking journal from Norway

In 2017, I did a lot of whitewater paddling. I was on the water more than 150 days and took part in 15 races, winning some, learning from mistakes from others but each one exciting. I never try to get a record number of days on the water. It is natural consequence of making time every day for what I love, and living in a place surrounded by people that make it possible. I have lived in Trondheim on the coast in central Norway for the past 6 years. This journal contains the memories of kayaking in all the 4 seasons. I find it very stimulating as the different seasons advance, getting to experience kayaking in an always-changing environment without the need to travel far from home.

WINTER
For the first time I kayaked throughout the winter, learning which rivers that best win the fight against the ice. In January I practiced in the warm environment of the pool, I learned freestyle moves and played kayak polo. Going to pool practice is a big thing for me, because it makes me practice kayaking disciplines I am not good at surrounded by many people, and train without letting myself affect by others. My strength is that I am never afraid in rivers, my weakness is that I am afraid of people looking at me, judging me and excluding me, which is more a personal problem because most people don’t care for me at all, but the fear in my heart from other people presence is real even if it is irrational, just like any fear. In this respect playing kayak polo is especially good because in team sport key to success is not individual but you should respect the team even when people behave (often involuntarily) unfair, don’t understand you and make you feel badly lonely without even noticing, or thinking that you are weird. February is a quiet time and I kayak solo on the local Trondheim river Nidelva in the freezing night. On an ideal night you can see the northern lights though more realistically you will see the train cruising through the snow full lights blazing. When the snow falls, it is beautiful to look up in the sky. I also went to Stavanger in the South where the rivers don’t freeze. In March, the start of the paddling season I celebrated with a good friend on our superb local river Sona. The river was beautiful with the cataracts flowing free in otherwise ice-covered landscape. I styled lines like never before, it was shocking. Especially since I was paddling a new kayak for the first time, which had finally made it to Trondheim on a long road trip with friends. It was a yellow and black Zen M. The plan was to take things slow in order to get confident in such a new vessel, but somehow it felt right from the very first stroke. I am very glad to be part of the Jackson Kayak Family, I love the boat and team members and local dealers are really supportive, reactive and ready to find solutions if I need help. In march, the days grow longer and looking at the sun I remember feeling like I could paddle slalom canoe without drytop down the river, but in fact it is still winter. Naturally we decided it was a good idea to try stand-up paddle boarding for the first time, and we loaded up the car armed with neoprene pants and wool underwear. Excited, but slightly scared by the water I still managed to have a smashing time.

SPRING
In April I travel to France and after family time go kayaking with the local Cedric on classic alpine runs, I like so much Ubaye volume rapids. As days without nights approach I feel suddenly tired from a long winter practice and the coming community pressure for going always more. For first time I refuse to go when I don’t feel like it, I am secretly released and super proud. I have always been good at doing what I want but not at saying no. We take the trip on the coast to the infamous Nordelva from lake to sea. The great fear of unknown and the death of a Norwegian kayaker in this isolate canyon keeps everyone away from Norelva. Landscape is blind, impressive, scary, water high. I don’t feel confident for myself and our group, we end up on a long walk around death canyon. We do discover quality mini volume rapids framed in the canyon, and a mind blowing view as river give it all in the biggest rapid she can finishing in the sea. Exploration is always poetical in taking you humble to unforeseen challenges that you will have to face together and keep life-lasting memory. My best friend visits me and we go on a road trip across Norway to X2 festival and I won, the spirit and party is full of life. In May we explore Orkla, the eternally dry dammed river which happens to be dangerously Zambezingly flooding when we arrive and offers some exquisite last-eddy rope-escape prefigurating long walk in the Trondersk jungle. I make a short trip to France just to race the Outdoor Mix, travelling is exhausting, it is worth it. I like they organise 4 different races for kayakers: slalom, long race, sprint, boater cross. I am again with the incredibly supportive French team met last year in Sickline, especially Marlene, and meet the cool twins Lea and Claire. In June we go to our local monster Gaulfossen dangerously high, where water smash itself without eddies (only unescapable ones) in a one kilometre long canyon between reflecting mountain walls. It is like ocean waves trapped in river hydraulic furiously trying to make it out in superb chaos. Before and after this mythic long rapid, the river is many times larger, a salmon paradise that attract many fishermen. I am mesmerized to have improved so much but I miss the excitement of the fear when I first did it so high in the past, I had then the most scary moment of my entire life, going for the biggest line without anticipating how small I would feel in this massive water, and once first engaged in this place you can’t turn back, you have to aim down knowing it becomes only bigger. Spring makes me realize I am kayaking on a different level than before, I manage clean lines in all the big local rapids. It magnificently turns into summer opened by successful Extreme Sport Veko where I beneficiate from priceless company from the great French team again and the kayaking ladies of Trondheim Eveliina and Kamilla.

SUMMER
In July I take four weeks holidays, and I really appreciate having freedom to focus only on kayaking without making constantly compromises between work and others social obligations. I can just enjoy being available and go kayaking each day and do nothing else, this is healthy. I actually perform way above the past on all races, and not only this but understand that I could do just a lot much better. I also got some spectacular reminder to stay humble. I run what can be biggest rapid of my life in Sjoa River Fest totally insane race, I mean I am not only grateful for them to be brave organisers, but also for allowing women to start as it is unfortunately not always the case. Only two kayakers dare to run it before race, everyone else contemplating it in all kind of feelings, mainly between horror and consternation, no one is indifferent to this rapid. I am mesmerized by it from the start, and when I realize I just want to go so much I carry my kayak up in ninja mode because I don’t want people to see me, I just want to do it. I don’t decide to run engaged rapid from a gambling of risk assessment, I clearly know I desire to go so much, I am secretly in joy and peace just from anticipation. If I feel that I can make it at this moment without committing other people, and if I know that I will regret it if I don’t go, then I go. I am not doing dangerous things because they are safe, or because they are dangerous, but because I am beyond words and reason too inspired to miss the chance, it is for free. I went fair on the race, I was the only girl but not the last on the course, which looked more doable after each of the few brave made it down in one piece. I was feeling just so good when I raced down to the finish touch banner. People were looking at me slightly chocked, this part was scarier than the rapid, I didn’t know what to say so I came up with “I am alive” because it was the easiest to be just a crazy little person, I felt disappoint not being able to express clearly and honestly what I think, but I tried to focus back on how happy I was of what I just did. Vefsna river from the north comes next with huge volume, one other stunning example of quality white water in Norway. In between festival, I kayak alone when tourists and locals are all gone. It feels good to have the freedom to plainly focus on the river without distractions. I go back to the glorious and preserved beautiful Sweden waterfall invited by its people. We look at Ristafallet, it is properly high water and impressive. I secretly want to do it but as no one is daring to go first, we simply admire it a bit more enjoying seeing each other again and then go home, here goes the saying “Don’t say Hop La before you jump”. In August Nico gives me priceless advices on basic good technic, as we organise a slalom training week end for the club in Trondheim. I will have to work on keeping my body straight like a string is pulling my head up, and engage core muscles and hips properly. As the excellent French slalom kayaker and mind blowingly positive person Lea moves to Trondheim we go train together following the plan Nico made for me for Sickline which includes training of speed, basic technic on flat water, speed changes technic with gates, race simulation on rapids, lactic, paddling home on a big yoga ball. On weekends I fly down all rapids on the Swedish pearl Gausta, 1001 rapids in 15 km you always think you can easily make in one day and barely manage after two truly adventurous days on the river. I am leading on a river I know well now after 4 descents that all keep special place in my memory. Each time I come back it is fascinating again, may it be too high or too low, in poor visibility of snowfall or blinding sun. This place is from a different planet, landscape is unreal, only mosquitos are. In September I organise for the club the regional slalom race in Trondheim that gather 15 participants, which for Norway is pretty good, Lea is far ahead of everyone, and the 1st man is behind 3 girls, Norway. On the non kayaking side of my life I am real busy at work and burn more energy than I gain, some good friend are visiting too, everything is good but it is too much. Another week end I go to Sjoa with the legendary annual club trip. I read some anatomy and sport training book, what I probably need to work on mostly is managing my time to save real free space for both mental and physical rest as the marathon lifestyle I am having right now is highly unsustainable, building up continuous state of exhaustion and unsatisfaction, and clearly carrying risk of depression which is a major unsolved public health issue I would rather avoid. But whatever ideal life should be, real life is time to go to the legendary extreme whitewater worldchamp, the Sickline.

AUTUMN
In October I discover the Nirvana on the Sickline race which is exciting on high water. We reach it on a glorious road trip with Lea, driving and singing her Kangoo, making time fly on the 48 hours travel. We will live with our French spontaneous and loyal self constituted team gathering people coming from different horizons driven by the same love of kayaking and the desire of becoming better together. I like the new boat Nirvana, it reacts fair and goes fast, it has a rocker which brings it to the top with cool ascent speed onto wave and out of drops. It is one of this moment when I feel so well just before it will switch and the desire turns into deep wish of nothing. It is abnormally warm in Ötz, fire-colour leaves are flying in the warm wind in the very deep blue background of the sky. A German friend comes to visit. This year my kayaking skills evolves dramatically. I have always been good at finding balance out of my comfort zone, and I now have some challenges in integrating new skills into my wild reckless strength towards a winning run. I am less impressed by river than a year ago, I am missing inspiration, out of rhythm, and not finding the right momentum to be back in the flow. I spend way too much energy to adapt in a group when I need time alone. But I didn’t come here to suffer and complain, and I learn a lot not only on how I should accept and wisely managed my emotional sensitivity but also on pure kayaking technic from excellent feedback from Fab on the race course. I am so impressed how he can look us all and tell each of us precise advice in a way you understand him. It is first time someone coaches me, it is tough to be told what to do, but it gives good material to work on. Sickline exist for 10 years and does bring together all the best kayakers with more than 100 men and less than 30 women. It is especially great looking back on 1st editions that women are not anymore represented by Miss Tyrol in bikini in the jacuzzi but competing. As a girl you are normally supported by men, and told that you clearly have a chance because women are weak and you are OK, but actually the sport has improved so much that it is not enough anymore, you actually need to be good to win, and this makes it really exciting. Back to Norway I obtain a one year leave from work starting from summer 2018. I am impressed by my manager to make the risk to believe in his employee not only as elements bringing profit by obeying, but also to see them as person and support their development. I don’t think you should motivate people but respect their own motivation, speak and put them together in a sane way. Then I go again to Sweden, as I find company in the person of Bjorn to the waterfall. Swedish community feels like a small and authentic group of crazy adventurous people, the genuine spirit of kayaking kept alive. When I first runned Ristafallet in 2012, people said it is 8 meters and now tend to agree it is 14. I didn’t quite realise how serious was the entrance then. This drop literally gives me vertigo, I feel so small and the horizon line is so terrifyingly appealing. I clearly remember when I was in the last eddy before going. I was mesmerized and excited, I had in my mind the persons I love, and I was so immensely grateful to be exactly where I was. Then I started toward this invisible line, got lost on the entrance rapid looking so different from the top than from the bottom, made up a mini death traverse on the edge of the drop to go back where I wanted to be and demonstrating accidentally than boof was OK, landing is real soft. This time it isn’t unknown anymore, but it doesn’t look like a normal thing to do ever, those crazy Swedish people with frank smiles and gigantic rivers, seriously. I look at the drop and can see where I would go. It is simple, give it all to make it to the entrance alive, and then fly, not fall. It works out like a miracle. On the way back home we stop for Sona and end the season where it started before entering back Nidelva winter padling on the grade 3 rapids that always work, and let’s face the paradox this is because of dams. Comes the time of sunny winter days full of light, then acceleration into colder darkness where rains turns into ice, and when you start to give up comes northern lights. I love this time of the year when autumn meets winter, it is calm after storm, there is plenty of time for nothing, everyone is too busy being depressed about this depressing time of the year, complaining or escaping Norway for a while. I can finally rest, I even start to fix my problem of thorax muscles gained on a sleeping-one-month-without-mattress-expedition injury and having poor boof technic from summer 2016. The vivid cold is back, it is time for warm relaxing home, or go wild into extremely cold kayaking. In November I surf the great local Sluppen wave the last night before work in the river for erosion protection of the bridge destroys it forever. This is truly sad. Rivers and people exist and die, there is not much to do about it but keep spending energy to what you love before it disappear. I am kayaking different than before, I see more things and gain in body posture and being clear in my head but I clearly lack practice. I paddled dramatically little after the pre-Sickline burn out, when you reach the edge forcing it one more day makes you need 10 more times recovery to compensate. I went freediving as a change, I finally see result of breathing and diverse exercise as I can reach deeper than 15 m easily while I was just meeting a wall the 6 first months shallower than 10. In December I start yoga and work on not overloading myself. Dedicating time to working with my colleagues without getting stressed and receiving my family for Christmas leaves no time for kayaking in a sane schedule, and I made a the personal record of smallest paddling activity this year with only 2 days this month, having lived 29 days without kayaking and not getting depressed by seeing positive things in people around me is actually a big achievement from my perspective. I think it is good to work on doing 1 thing at a time and not running after time always. In 2017 I paid attention on how people by having the simplicity to say good things they notice around them makes life brighter and motivates each other without obligations, this inspired me a lot to speak and act not from rage but love. I want to free myself basically from all fear society puts in us, or can’t help us to walk away from. People live and die in puzzling way. I don’t think risk is disrespect and shame. Motivated by inspiration bigger than us that can be hard to explain, risk is the realisation of living the way we believe is right.

Video of the year 2017 showing Norway through the 4 seasons in 6 min.

As a bonus a video of freediving, there is hope it is possible to relax under water without oxygen. 

Pictures by Martin Olson and Tom Arne Brandvold

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