Monthly Archives: March 2012

Whitewater Kayaking Costa Rica

Here is a video of me Whitewater kayaking in Costa Rica, There will be posts to follow that will break down these days and the turtle rescue/surfing we did in Playa Hermosa. Until then, I hope you enjoy my video:

To my readers:

A special thanks to all of my followers, ‘like”-ers, and commenters. I really appreciate everyones involvement with my stories. As you will know if you read my bio, I am aspiring to become a gear-tester. This month is the first month where I have had enough traffic to be considered by the website who I have been in contact with (one of their pre-requisites was being an established blogger). Thanks to everyone who has come back to read my posts multiple times and to those who have used the share buttons on the bottom of my posts or simply shared through word-of-mouth. I am grateful for any exposure you help me get.

As for my posts over the next week, they may be erratic and less frequent because I will be taking my girlfriend on a rock climbing trip in Tennessee and visiting her parents. Please continue to check in and I will do my best to keep to the every-other-day schedule that I have been keeping.

P.S. My video of the baby turtles is available to be viewed if you navigate to my YouTube channel (big button on the right bar of the website) and a reminder to sign up for the Clymb if you haven’t yet! They have great deals on all sorts of gear for anything remotely athletic (and whoever is the 1 millionth to sign up will win $1000 credit for themselves and $1000 for the person who invited them – why not at least sign up, you have nothing to lose!).


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I’ll be a kayaker yet – Costa Rica days 16 & 17

Each successive rapid allowed me to gain more stability and confidence in my kayak. I soon found myself flipped less often and when I did flip, I could right myself much quicker than before. I was also looking to learn extra skills on the sides so I could practice while in between each of the rapids. My desire was soon met as our guides taught each of us who were interested how to surf holes.

In our first attempts at surfing, we all buried the noses of our kayaks and flipped, but with each attempt, we were able to keep our kayaks from flipping just a little longer. During one of my failed attempts, the water was too deep for me to push off the bottom to right myself, but too rocky for me to get my paddle in place to roll. My helmet bounced off rock after rock and my paddle kept getting knocked out of position before I could roll. It was the only time I had to bail from my kayak since I learned to roll.

I clearly was not an experienced kayaker, but I still had potential—it was only the second day. After several more attempts, I could surf as long as I wanted before exiting a hole.

Felipe showing us tricks in his play-boat

Since we ran the same portion of river multiple times, we were driven back up river in the jeep after each run. While I carried my kayak from the road to the water, I had to pass guides from another company. Those guides called me Eric Jackson (aka Jackson Kayaks Eric Jackson) and said I look like him. I thought that was pretty cool, but mostly I just wanted to be able to paddle as well as him (although that can unfortunately never happen with as little as I get to kayak).

For the rest of the day we continued to practice our skills. On the last run of the day, we saw horses standing on the bank of the river. They were free-roaming and absolutely beautiful. We also saw a man who had just caught an iguana for his dinner. I hopped out of my kayak and asked him, in Spanish, if I could hold it for a picture. Once the picture had been taken, he stuffed the iguana in his backpack and walked into the woods (what an odd encounter).

When we came back to the river the next day, we split into two separate groups based on how each person was doing with the kayaking skills. I went in the more challenging group and practiced my surfing skills (and rolling ability) a lot more. By the end of the day, I was permitted to kayak when we moved to the Rio General for the next days of kayaking, not everyone would be allowed to because the rapids there were much larger and more dangerous. I gladly accepted the offer. One other guy from our group who was allowed to use a kayak chose to; the others opted to switch back to the more comfortable and stable duckies.

Once we were done kayaking for the day, everyone piled into a van and headed towards our last home stay near the Rio General. After a flat tire and our first taste of soda in weeks at a little bar on the side of the road, we arrived. There we saw Santiago’s children again and we met Felipe’s daughters as well. We stayed at their mother-in-laws house (they married two sisters) and got ready for they next day of kayaking on the Rio General.

Me hitting a wave after I switched into the Jackson Villain Kayak


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After Months of Waiting, the Day Had Finally Arrived – Costa Rica day 15

At precisely 3:30 AM, the [insert favorite expletive] rooster snuck under my hammock and began to crow. If I were not a guest in a stranger’s home, I would have killed the darn thing. The early bird may get the worm, but the rooster who crows too early gets kicked—and that’s exactly what I intended to do. My plans, however, were foiled because while began to roll out of my hammock, the rooster ran away. Over the next three hours, that stupid cock continued to crow directly beneath me whenever I fell back asleep and promptly run off when my tolerance wore out.

Finally, the sun was up and breakfast was ready. I ate a hearty meal in preparation for my first day of whitewater kayaking. This was the activity I had waited the whole trip for and was the main reason I signed up in the first place. No amount of drowsiness or sore muscles was going to get in my way.

Following breakfast, everyone was taken to the front lawn where kayaks were laid in rows. Each person was to find and claim a kayak that fit his or her body. I got a blue Piranha, the model of which I cannot remember. Once everyone had grabbed a boat that fit, a lifejacket, helmet, drinking water, and any other gear needed for the day, we loaded the trailer and headed out.

I could hardly contain my excitement.

When we all were finally in the river, we had to go over the basic skills to ensure that everyone was on the same page. We started by practicing high and low braces, hip-snaps, ferrying, eddying-out, and T-rescues. T-rescues were very important because they allowed a kayaker the ability to right their kayak without being proficient at rolling. Without the T-rescue, we would have to pull off our spray-skirt, flood the kayak, swim it to shore, and drain it; with the T-rescue, we would grab the nose of a friends boat and simply flip ourselves back over.

Once everyone had become remotely comfortable with the skills and could accurately perform them a majority of the time, we moved on to the skill I had been most excited to learn, rolling.

Each student went one-on-one with an instructor to learn the roll, then paired up with a partner to practice. This allowed the instructors to help with form until the movement came naturally enough to perform before practicing with a partner to give a T-rescue if it became necessary. Everyone knew how much I was loving this stuff, and I think at least some of them enjoyed watching me get so excited because, like many other times on the trip, they offered me the right to go first. I gladly took it. I’m getting excited for you just reading it

One of the girls who was working with another instructor flipped before me, but once I got it, it wasn’t going away. I practiced and practiced until my success rate had gone from zero to about one-in-four, then half. By the end of the next day, I was rolling successfully with nearly every attempt.

The afternoon consisted of class I & II rapids—rapids I would not take seriously two days later. At the present, however, they were a challenge. My boat wanted to tip over any way it could, but I was solid and way more fun than the stable ducky I had previous controlled. I did not have any near-flips and soon began trying rapids backwards and sideways to increase the difficulty. If I could have seen my face, I bet it would have been like a child when his father surprises him with that one toy that he would have done anything to get. I could not have been happier.

During the entire afternoon portion of our paddle, only two kayaks flipped. Each of us had fun, but many stated that they preferred the duckies. I didn’t quite understand why anyone would want that, but I guess they probably didn’t quite understand why I was so gung-ho about every little thing either. To each their own.

When the day was over and we were back at the home stay, everyone was happy but tired. Our leader was not able to join us in the water during the afternoon due to his injury, so we relayed those events back to him and he shared about a wonderful walk he had enjoyed while we went down river. Everyone was tired and went to bed on time because the mornings come early in Costa Rica.


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“Everything is Bigger in Costa Rica” – Costa Rica day 14

When morning broke, we ate breakfast and had some quiet time. I laid in my hammock in the shade and watched the river flow past. We soon prepared the duckies that had been deflated the night before and we began our trip downriver. After a few rapids, we pulled our duckies off to the side of the river and climbed out.  It was time for us to learn how to scout rapids. The rapid we scouted was a class IV. Our guides made sure everyone knew they could portage around it if they did not feel comfortable with running the rapids. Before we learned to scout, I picked the line I hoped to run through the rapids. I was very happy when I learned that it was the best line to take through the rapids as well. I was the first of the students to run the rapids and I did it well. In excitement, I portaged my boat back to the top of the rapids twice so I could run the rapids three times. The first and last of my runs went quite well. The second run, however, got off to a rough start. My ducky hit a large rock under the surface of the water and flipped just before the main tongue. I quickly righted my ducky and jumped back in just as I hit the speed boost caused by the tongue. I paddled hard and repositioned by boat just in time to make it through the rapids well, but I was unhappy with having flipped. I knew I could do better.

Another interesting rapid came a little later in the afternoon. It was a long class III with many rocks. It turned into quite an adventure. Greg, one of the guys in my group, flipped at the very beginning of the rapids. Another guy in our group, Eric, rescued Greg, but by the time Greg was in the boat, it had wrapped on a rock and was flipping over. I saw two swimmers in the water and went for a rescue. I got Greg in my boat, but Eric was out of reach. In attempt to get both of them in my boat, I had spun sideways. A rock caught my boat and over we went. I quickly righted the raft and we climbed back in. By the time I was back in my seat with my paddle ready, another rock was closing in fast. With some strong strokes and a good reading of the river, I managed to avoid it. Greg enjoyed his free ride as he was without a paddle. After crossing the river and eddying-out, I dropped Greg off on shore. One of the guides had pulled his raft onto the banks just a little ways back upstream after it flipped. I turned around and headed to the pool below the rapids. Once everyone reached the pool, we slowly drifted downstream, enjoying the slower pace and time to play around in the water. When Greg made it down to where the rest of us were, he told a hilarious rendition of the events he had just been part of.  We all shared a laugh, especially at the fact that he was in three different boats in one rapid. Everyone enjoyed the story while we jumped off our duckies and swam in the pool before the next rapid. The end of the day came and we pulled our boats off the river and secured them to a trailer behind the electric-green jeep that our guide’s brother-in-law had come in to pick us up. We piled the entire group, with all the gear and guides onto the jeep and trailer to drive to a home stay for the night. We drove slowly down dirt roads and eventually made it to the house. The family who greeted us was very friendly and had a wonderful house. They even had a television (which was always on and played one Costa Rican soap opera after another).  The porch had a hammock and several huge spiders with magnificent colors. I could not get my camera to focus well on the spider; I guess that’s what you get for trying to be a photographer without an adjustable-focus lens. We found massive bugs to throw in the gigantic web and watched as the spider hungrily devoured its dinner. Everything is bigger in Costa Rica. Those who were not helping to prepare dinner sat around and talked or washed their clothes. There was a long line for the shower, but when my turn was finally called, I was ecstatic. I took my bathing suit off for the first time in over two days and changed into clean[ish] clothes. I slept outside in my hammock and looked forward to learning to whitewater kayak in the morning


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“You won’t drown on my watch” – Costa Rica day 13

Swift water rescue training was a classroom like none-other. We sat on the beach for our lectures and swam rocky whitewater rapids for lab. Oh, if only my other classes could be like that! Though we had a tropical paradise for our classroom, the subject matter was very serious and all were attentive.

We learned the differences between low-risk rescues that used paddles, ropes, arms or even boats to reach victims, and high-risk rescues that required a rescuer to get in the water with a victim or a helicopter from above. Low risk rescues are common, but high-risk rescues do occasionally happen if a person gets very stuck or the water is too powerful around them. We were also taught about the power and relentlessness of rivers and the fact that though they are very powerful, they are also very predictable. For instance, water will interact with rocks of certain shapes in the same way every time. An undercut rock will have water “stack” in front of it then suddenly disappear, water flowing over a rock will cause a ‘hole’ that can suck you in, and water flowing around a rock will cause an eddy that can be a life-saver. These are some of the predictable characterizes of a river.

In time, we all were able to read and understand the movements of water much better than when the class had begun. The last thing we have to learn before entering the water was throwing throw-bags to swimmers. We learned how to get two good throws from a bag in less than 20 seconds!

When the time came for us to begin working in the rapids, we began by learning how to make a “shallow water crossing” through rapids. This is a technique used both for crossing rivers and for getting into place to rescue someone in need. Two methods were taught to us. The first method required us to lean up-river on a stick that we used as a third-leg. This technique worked quite well and I found myself moving through the water very quickly. The second technique I found awkward. Three people would line up around one another and rotate through the rapids. This technique required coordination from all parties and did not work well in our group.

The next step in our training was one of my favorites. We learned to swim rapids safely in case we found ourselves outside of a raft or if we needed to swim to someone to help them. We had already practiced keeping our feet up while going down stream and when to use a defensive position (lying on ones back) and an aggressive position (freestyle swimming on ones stomach), but we had not yet tried them in the fast-moving bumpy rapids. Our assignment was to ‘eddy-hop’ down the rapids until we reached the pool at the bottom. I gladly went first.

I jumped into the main current of the river and guided myself toward the side of a large boulder, around which the water flowed. Just as I was passing the boulder, I rolled twice to my left and began swimming very aggressively in the ferry-stroke we had practiced the day prior. Suddenly there was no current pulling me and I found myself comfortably within the confines of the eddy formed by the large boulder. I was safe. I climbed on the boulder and sat down to watch my friends in their first attempts. Some made it; others rode the rest of the rapids and swam ashore in the pool below.

Those of us who had made it into the first eddy lined up and prepared to swim to the next eddy downstream.This technique was important for us to understand as it allowed us to perform self-rescue in larger rapids where guides may not be able to reach us right away and dangerous obstacles could likely be downstream.

To further our skills, the instructors rigged a ‘dummy’ strainer for us to practice swimming over. Strainers are very lethal river obstacles that with proper approach and technique can be much less deadly. In addition, we learned how to rescue from boats and also how to use a combination of people on the shore and in boats in order to remove large groups of swimmers from the water at one time.

When everyone had become comfortable with the skills we were learning, it was time for another lecture. This time, however, the material was very familiar to me. We were learning anchor systems used in rescue. My prior climbing experience and training through the AMGAhad taught me nearly every rope/anchor system used in water rescue. I even taught the instructor a new trick (putting a clove-hitch on a carabiner in order to keep the knot in a self-equalizing anchor out of the way).

One of the most deadly snakes in Costa Rica, the Fer de Lance, came into our campsite. We killed it because it was too dangerous to have around us.

When all the lessons were done, I spoke with our instructor about his experiences and knowledge in hopes that I would glean a little extra. During our conversation, I received a wonderful compliment when he told me that I had a natural river sense and have a future in the business if I decide to go in that direction. I was delighted to hear that. Although my grades in school are good, they require significant amounts of work; in the wilderness, however, I have found that I excel with ease. Everything feels natural to me and I love it!

We had free time in our campsite after our training but before dinner. I strung up my hammock between two trees and enjoyed the beautiful view. I had planned to sleep in it, but the discovery of one of Costa Rica’s deadliest snakes in our campsite caused our leaders to make the wise decision of disallowing anyone to sleep outside of tents. A group the week before had two anteaters crash into a tent while fighting and that was enough excitement in this campsite for a while.It was good that out guides allowed us to take risks when appropriate but they always weighed the costs. They were fun-loving men who were a joy to be around, but they knew when to be serious and showed their wisdom when it was appropriate. Autentico Adventures has the best guides I have ever met; they got to know each of us on an individual level and cared about making the experience the best they could for everyone involved.


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“I hope that wasn’t poisonous” – Costa Rica day 12

Our leader had passed all of the assessments through the night and proved to be in fine condition in the morning. Everyone was relieved when they awoke to find out that he had not regressed in the night. We re-dressed his head because the bandages had been pulled off in his sleep and the gash had re-opened, but it was not bleeding too severely. The situation was turning out as good as could be hoped for.

We ate breakfast, and after emptying the weight from our leaders pack, we began hiking the few miles we had left before we would reach a road. Our leader was doing well. He was able hike as his normal pace without any difficulty. We planned to get him to a doctor when we got to the road just to make sure he was completely fine, but we were confident we had done a good job with the tools we had.

When we arrived at the road, we had to cross a footbridge over the Savegre River. The river was wide and the bridge was long. We were not allowed to have more than four people on the bridge at a time to prevent it from collapsing. As I walked across, the bridge bounced and swayed unlike any bridge I had been on in the United States.

Some random cows were walking down the road and decided to say hello

We reached the vacant backcountry road across the bridge. There were no vehicles. We were instructed to wait and our guides for the next portion of the trip would be arriving soon. Only a minute our two later, a jeep appeared with our guides in it. One of them happened to be a former paramedic and was able to check our leader and clear him to stay in the field with us. Our leader was very relieved. The former paramedic also looked at our SOAP notes and treatment and said that we had done a fantastic job with our patient. Everyone was very happy to hear that, and it was the first time our skills had truly been tested in such a setting.

We unpacked our backpacks in order to change into our swim trunks and re-pack our gear into dry-bags for kayaking. As we unpacked, a fellow member of my group began yelling and swearing as he jumped away from his pack. I rushed over and peered in to see what had caused all the ruckus. It was a tarantula-sized spider that had crawled into his pack while we had been hiking.

The beginning of the swelling

Santiago told me the spider was not poisonous and it was ‘relatively’ safe to hold. I put the spider on my hat for a picture. After the first picture was taken, one of the girls had the genius idea of poking the spider to try and make it move onto the brim of my hat for a better photo. Instead of calmly walking onto my brim as she had hoped, the spider turned and ran down my back and bit me.

I shook the spider off and quickly exposed by back. Although the spider was not dangerously poisonous, the bite caused swelling and localized pain that lasted for several hours. A headache also set-in for about an hour but then dissipated. I learned a lesson, call it quits after you get one good photo with a dangerous animal. Maybe that was the wrong lesson, but its what I took away from the experience.

Soon we put on life vests and hopped in the river to practice our river swimming techniques in order to prepare for the next week of whitewater kayaking. The majority of the first day was spend learning the basics of swimming rapids and paddling techniques. We began by ferrying, a technique of swimming at a 45 degree angle upriver to make it across the river without being swept far downstream. After a few extremely tiring laps through the main current of the river, we stepped back on shore. There we practiced throwing throw-bags for rescue. Throw-bags are small bags of buoyant cord that can be thrown and the cord unravels in the air. The purpose it to hold one end of the rope and throw the other end to someone who has fallen out of their raft and it floating down a rapids. It was a skill I had a natural affinity for, and that made me very happy. Lastly, we practiced swimming in real whitewater and took turns jumping into the rapids and swimming to an eddie.

We ate lunch before climbing into duckies (inflatable 1-2 person kayaks) and practicing basic skills. I had canoed quite a bit in my past and picked up these kayaking skills naturally (if only my schoolwork was like that…) so I played around with my boat to get a feel for how it moved in the water.

Once out guides were confident in everyone’s basic skills, we headed down river. We only went through class I & II rapids on that first day, but it was enough to make the others quite excited (I rather enjoyed the scenery while I waited for bigger waves which would come in future days). Some members of the group did manage to wrap their boats on rocks and flip in the small rapids, but most made it through with ease.

When we reached camp, we set up tents on the beach. The night was uncomfortably warm but it didn’t matter—we were livin’ the life in Costa Rica (Pura Vida!). We


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A Friday the 13th Near-tragedy in the Backcountry of Costa Rica – Costa Rica day 11

The rooster began crowing at 4:45 AM and we awoke to the warm mountain breeze. Everyone ate a large breakfast, said our thanks to the family whose house we had stayed in for the past few nights and hit the trail before 7:00AM. Everything seemed like just another day of adventure in Costa Rica.

We quickly came to a river with a rickety cart suspended over it. Jokes about Friday the 13th quickly popped up in the group. We piled into the cart in pairs to cross the river. The cart bounced and swayed while we were in it, but eventually made its way across the river and was pulled back to pick up its next load.

After hiking a couple miles down the trail, we came across the final home stay for the backpacking portion of our trip. It was a big open house built to hold large groups of people.

A surprise was waiting for us upon our arrival. We were going to go zip-lining high above the river. Everyone was excited and it looked safe so we grabbed harnesses and helmets and rushed over to the area where we would zip-line. A few people at a time hiked around to the top of the line while the rest sat in the shade at the end of it right by the house. The zip line was about 100 feet from the ground and a few hundred feet long. It spanned an entire bend in the river.

After everyone had zipped safely down the line and ousted our second opportunity for a Friday-the-13th tragedy in the backcountry, we went back to the house for lunch. The temperature had risen to 88 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and was much hotter in the sun. Our lunch was accompanied by spicy salsa—which only made the day feel hotter.

When lunch was over, a medicine man who also happened to be the owner of the home we were staying in showed us through his medicinal garden. He had plants to cure any ailment that a person could have and swore by them. He claimed that many of his treatments would do things better than what any pharmaceutical pill could do. He had plants for nausea, sore throats, and other minor illness as well as a plant that he claimed would cure irregular menstruation for life in as little as three doses, and also a plant he used to cure cancer.

The medicine man told of a woman who suffered from leukemia and could not be healed through any of the top-end treatments. In desperation, she flew to Costa Rica and allowed him to treat her with this plant, by her next checkup, there was no sign of cancer. She never relapsed. We all listened to the stories in skeptical amazement. None were quick to dismiss the possibility of a plant that could do this, and all had heard of drug companies not releasing cures because they make more money treating an illness rather than curing it, but at the same time we were skeptical of the stories of a medicine man in the jungle telling us about curing a disease that scientists have been working for decades to cure.

Note the large spider by my right ankle.. they were everywhere

We soon migrated to the sauna on the riverside. A small rock hut required a squatting waddle to walk into. The movement brought me back to my days as a lineman in football. We sat in the sauna for 10 minutes then swam in the cool river for 5 minutes and repeated the process three times.

I jumped in the water after the second time in the sauna, and just as I arose from the water, I heard a clunk. In horror, I turned around to see my leader, old enough to be retired, lying on his back with blood quickly staining the rock below him. On his way to the river’s edge, his feet had popped out from under him and his head broke his fall on the rocks.

Without hesitation, Santiago and I (both trained as Wilderness First Responders) rushed to his side. The girls who were nurses also came quickly. The rest of the group gave space for us to work. Some offered to do whatever we needed as it came up while others shied away from the sight of blood. Everyone prayed continuously for our leader over the next few hours. The situation had potential to turn very ugly at any moment without warning.

We treated the bleeding as best we could, checked for any spinal injuries, assessed his level of responsiveness (which was A&O X4, thank God!), and ran through all the necessary procedures we needed to as wilderness first responders. Everyone worked together as a team. The nurse with the most training treated the large gash on the back of our leaders head; I did the spine assessment, checked LOR (level of responsiveness), and wrote the SOAP notes; Santiago jumped in and out to help wherever he could and also helped translate to the family at the house where we were staying.

When we cleared our leader to be moved back to the house, we planned to carry him but he refused. We negotiated with him and allowed him to try walking so long as we could hold his arms in case he were to lose his footing. He consented.

He had a 2-inch gash we had to clean and dress. Fortunately his blood clotted quickly and allowed us to clean it well without much blood coming out.

Once back at the house, we cleaned the cut, sterilized it, and re-dressed it with clean bandages. We discussed our options for evacuation if it became necessary and came up with a plan for how to proceed. We were several hours of hiking away from the nearest road, it was less than 30 minutes before dark, but luckily our leader showed no signs of even a minor concussion.

Our plan was to wake the leader up every two hours throughout the night and re-assess his LOR, pupils, and other indicators of head trauma. If his state worsened, we would evacuate him in the morning by trail or with a helicopter if the situation called for it.

Our leader was grateful to have so many medically trained people around him and he tried to be the best patient he could be. We stayed up and played cards with our leader to keep him attentive and continually monitored him until bed. We arranged our beds such that he slept very near Santiago and I and we monitored as planned.

I monitored our leader at 1:00AM and 3:00AM and needless to say found myself very tired when I awoke early the next morning. Our leader had swelling outside of his skull but still showed no signs of a concussion. He checked out splendidly at each check throughout the night, and he was only slightly irritated from having his sleep disrupted. Our prayers were answered. A situation that could have been fatal and was likely to at least have complications was turning into just a scary experience on Friday, the 13th.

The view from the dinner table


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