Whew…what a summer! I hardly had time to blog…ahhh hmmm. Yea, I just made that up. I had plenty of time to write about my summer but I’ll be honest, I just never felt the motivation or desire to do it. SO now I have decided it has gone too far! I must update my blog or do something productive with this less busy time of year. So here we go…
Looking back on this summer I did the usual training in Park City, lifting heavy things, putting them down, picking them up again, spinning on the bike, running on the treadmill (boring!), mountain biking (not boring!) and going through the usual suffering of physical training. Not say it was a breeze or anything but I don’t need to bore everyone with the intimate details that I worked out a lot this summer as it is part of my JOB. I don’t deserve a ribbon or anything for it, I showed up and did it. I will say though (just to brag a bit) this is actually the best shape I have ever been in! After finally having a healthy winter that was injury free I was able to put the hammer down and get in shape. It’s great to feel strong and powerful, not like I’m sorta half way there and hanging on.
I also went to some ski camps…as I am a ski racer. Those were great! We had an awesome trip to New Zealand with great tech training; I even bashed a few slalom gates! It was fun at times…but at others just as frustrating and annoying as I remembered it to be (sorry tech lovers, slalom just ain't my thang). I also had the amazing opportunity to go heli skiing near Mt. Cook for an afternoon which was totally insane! Lifelong goal/dream of mine come true. I really “get it” now when people ramble on and on about heli skiing and how great it is. To be so far out in the mountains away from civilization doing your own thing and being in that moment of just loving skiing and the mountains is truly special.
Portillo was a good time as well! I love it down there. Yes, it is very secluded and life on the Portillo “cruise ship” can get a bit monotonous at times and there can be very few distractions from the daily routine but the training slope makes up for it. Some of the most fun days of Downhill and Super-G can be had there. We had excellent training for the majority of our camp and I was really feeling it, skiing some of my best skiing ever on the Roca Jack pitch, except for that one run I hipped in and proceeded to face slam then slide the rest of the pitch upside down trying to claw at the frozen corn to somehow stop which I eventually did after I nailed a gate or two. I was luckily unscathed for the most part only suffering a scrape on my chin and a bent ski. It was actually kind of nice to crash and walk away from it ok, it reminded me that I can fall hard and be fine! I have had a couple bad experiences of not walking away fine…hehe.
Finally…I must share what the highlight of my summer was, rafting the Grand Canyon in April! Just a couple days after US Nationals in Sugarloaf, where I was crowned the National SG Champion (there was no actual crown but I did get a pretty sweet imitation of a hatchet for a trophy) my father Greg, and my boyfriend Pat and I put on the river at Lee’s Ferry on April 1st. With our busy schedules we were only able to do a quick 9 day tour of the Grand Canyon. My father is somewhat of an ex-river rat having been down the “Grand” well over 20 times. It was my fifth trip, my first trip being 20 years ago when I was just a mini river rat at age 5. It was Pat’s first overnight river trip ever (really started him off with an easy one…haha) and I am sure the longest camping trip he had ever been on. But with Pat being a Vermonter he is all woodsy and stuff and did great. It was also key to have someone with some muscle (Pat) to get to work with the bail bucket, as my father would say “I’m too old for that s**t, make Pat do it.” Turns out there was a lot of bailing to had and Pat was very busy boy! For people unfamiliar with whitewater rafting the Grand Canyon ranks as one of the premier rivers to raft, not only is it some of the most incredible scenery but the rapids themselves rank very high up there in the size and difficulty, kinda like double black diamond type stuff.
In typical Mckennis Family fashion our rafting set up is a bit dated…we have a tendency to hold onto things forever as long as they work and upgrading before the equipment is in threads is not an option or thought. We have a 16 foot “bucket boat” from 1993; meaning we are kicking it old school and have to bail the boat ourselves not like the new fancy boats that are self bailing. It’s about the equivalent of running Downhill on Slalom skis. That haven’t been tuned in awhile. Coaching skis basically. You can do it, and will probably make it fine but it will be sketchy, a lot more interesting and a bit terrifying. As one old grumpy codger we met on the river remarked to us as we passed by “you find that boat in a museum?” Obviously he didn’t think our boat was up to par…lucky for him though with his old codger hearing he missed out on some less that complementary remarks from my father on how he belonged in a museum…ect. No one disrespects our rig, at least not on my father’s watch. Oh, and aside from our dated equipment we did the trip with just one raft and three people…not quite the typical group size you see on the Grand. Typically it’s nice to have a larger group and other boats in case something goes wrong but we like to live on the edge.
I was captain of our vessel the majority of the trip, and I did my best to navigate through all the rapids and amazingly we didn’t flip! We had some close calls; some that still make me cringe when I think about them, and we all came out of the raft at some point during the trip in a rapid. My Dad had a scary swim in Horn Creek (just below Phantom Ranch) but luckily was ok. Horn Creek is one of the several rapids where I thought we were done and going to flip but somehow our old “tug” of boat stayed right side up. Pat and I did a tandem swim in Upset rapid, but Pat really took the cake with a swim in Lava Falls which is classed the most difficult rapid on the river and certainly one of the biggest rapids on the river! It can be a bit terrifying when you get thrown out of the raft at the rivers latest whim but all you can do is try to grab on to the raft if you can and laugh about it later once you stop shaking…
One of the crazy things about white water rafting is how it can feel like ski racing in a way… Just like in ski racing you get to “scout” (or inspect) some of the bigger rapids from the shore and pick a line that seems best. The line’s never look that easy and are usually a bit daunting but you go with what you got and do the best you can. Naturally just like in ski racing unforeseen things happen and all of the sudden you could be turned sideways (or backwards, like I ran half of Hance Creek rapid), loose an oar from your oar lock or have the river pull you into a hole or wave you did not anticipate going into during the scout. You have to react in time to save yourself along with your raft, all your gear and most importantly the other people with you. It’s kind of scary but a total rush, especially in a bucket boat from 1993! I honestly feel a lot safer ski racing. Of course, when it comes to rafting in typical Mckennis fashion scouting all the huge rapids that genuinely deserve a scout tends to go to the wayside…we ran a lot of the big rapids blind with some variable results…eeeek! My father and I have different theories on scouting rapids, I’d like to look at all the big ones and know where I am taking our “tug” where he says it’s too unnerving to look at all of them and we just need to go for it. In the end he’s the old man of the river so I trusted him even when I didn’t want to and somehow we did it. Just like in ski racing, sometimes you are uncertain but yet you can go for it and make it through somehow!
We had SUCH an incredible trip, I think it would be pretty difficult not to have an incredible trip on the Grand. It really is one of the most spectacular places in the world, I’ve been a lot of places and it always ranks as one of my favorites. I have so many wonderful memories from raft trips as a kid with my family and being in the canyons is so natural to me and my being that at times I can forget what it is like to see the canyon with fresh eyes as Pat saw it. It was really special to bring someone on such a journey and open up a whole new world to him. I will treasure the memories from that trip like I have from so many other trips in various canyons. Somehow no matter what river I am on it is like a time warp at times, bringing back so many special memories and experiences reminding me how precious our time is together and what an incredible planet we are on. There is so much to see yet so little time!
For now the canyons and the exploration of new places will have to wait till the spring as it is now ski season! Wahooooooo! I’m ready and can’t wait for it to begin!
P.S. I made a really AWESOME video of our scout and run through LAVA FALLS! There is a surprise towards the end so watch it through! Check it out below!