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2014 Wildwater World Championships-World Cup

June 17, 2014 -- Lofer, Austria

by Doug Ritchie, USA Wildwater Team Member

Travel day to Lofer Austria, site of World Cup races 1,2 and 3.
The World Championships last week are not part of the World Cup.
The 4th World Cup race will be June 28th.

Everyone took Sunday off. And here's why:

There were no races Sunday which means that the awards, closing ceremonies, and then the party, took place last night. The after party was great, I arrived ready to have a beer and find the buyer for a kayak that I came to own. I brought the boat with me and carried the nearly new Sesia to the parking lot. The buyer wasn't around so I stood the kayak up on its end and carried it onto the party field, bouncing it up and down in synch with the rhythm of the music. A bunch of Czech guys grabbed if from me, threw it on the ground, then grabbed one of their athletes, double medalist in men's canoe. They stuffed him in. He was shirtless, had only one shoe on, but was wearing both medals. He was also hammered. The dancing throng picked him up and began crowd surfing him around the field. I began to wonder if bringing the boat was such a good idea. Team coach Chris Norbury looked at me with an expression that could only be interpreted as "dude, that might not have been such a good idea". I yelled to him "This might not have been such a good idea!". I needed to yell because he was too far away hear me, we were maybe 3 feet apart.

The boat survived the crowd surf, the Czech caoeist did not fall out, no one got hurt. They put the boat down and allowed him to go free. I grabbed it while the grabbing was good and ran off to the parking lot. Who knows what would have happened next if I hadn't. I found a van that looked sort of like the right vehicle. I tried talking to the driver who was sitting in the front seat snoozing. He just looked at me and shrugged. I strapped the boat on anyway.

The van turned out to be the right van.

We all had a good time and because of proper planning and some last minute communications we all managed to get home. No one was left behind, standing in the rain, on a grassy field, in Italy, 30 minutes from the hotel, with a dead cell phone. That did not happen. It has happened, but not this time. We're a team - we look out for each other. We did good.

Sunday morning team member Emmanuel Beauchard had to leave at eight to start his trip home. He didn't get back to the hotel until about four. Poor planning if you ask me. Not the staying out until late plan, the having to leave early the next morning plan. He was of course being chaperoned by team coach Chris Norbury. The rest of us got up bright and early and made eggs and bacon. Okay, that last part's a lie. The rest of us got up to say goodbye to Emmanuel. Then we all went back to bed and later got up and began to pack.

Packing for a World Championship trip is tricky. People almost invariably bring too much of the wrong stuff. I'm 53 and have a job in financial services. When I pack clothes I tend to grab things that would be great if I was going to Davos Switzerland for an economic summit. But in Italy, in the heat, going paddling every day? No, I've got the wrong wardrobe. I look at my suitcase and wonder why I have all these clothes that I'm not going to wear. Dumb. I brought a nice sport coat, but no Kevlar. Double dumb. I also didn't order any epoxy to be shipped to the race site. Quadruple dumb because epoxy is desperately needed and in short supply. We survived, but note to self; ditch the sport coat and bring more boat repair stuff.

The other thing that people tend to do is that they get cheap about the wrong things at the wrong time. For example, I've flown into Frankfurt Germany because the flight cost less, but then it took me 9 extra hours of driving and all the extra gas to get where I was going.

This time we created some problems by saving money on the rental car. We didn't get the satellite navigation system," Navi" as we call it. Usually you can set the system so a nice female voice with a British accent tells you were to turn. We managed to not get lost but that was entirely because Marin was here last year. Note to self; splurge and get Navi.

Second, we rented a VW Polo. Nice car, but barely big enough for two given that we've got paddling gear, my unbearable clothes, boats, repair stuff etc. To complicate matters the trip from Italy to Austria won't just be me and Marin. Kurt is coming with us. Kurt is six feet seven inches tall and barely fits in the car. This is going to be interesting.

We consolidate and stash and put stuff in the kayaks. We have to be careful not to overload the boats, they'll break on the rack. Amazing packing takes place. There's room in the back seat for me if Kurt shoves on me and I exhale while Marin slams the door. Kurt is up front navigating. He's got the epoxy repair kit, acetone, glue, and other flammable liquids on the floor between his feet. Marin has to drive.

We set off and follow mountain roads out of Italy and into Switzerland. It's beautiful. It's also steep. Sometimes we can get out of second gear. We're saved from feeling embarrassed about blocking traffic by the other slow vehicles. It's not just us. We drive for a few hours and I'm sort of dozing in back when I hear Kurt say "oh wow… cool… wow… wow!" About the same time I hear a throaty roar go past us. I ask Kurt what it was and he says "About a million dollars worth of Lamborghinis just blew by us!" The Italian Wildwater team no doubt. Someone else takes their boats, they drive mom and dad's Lambo.

We make the trip to Lofer Austria with no issues and easily find our accommodations. Lofer is primarily a ski town but there are a few other activities that keep them busy in the summer; kayak races, mountain climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking etc. There are loads of really neat little hotels and houses you can rent. Everything is centrally located and it's easy to walk to the store or restaurants. Our place is maybe 100 feet from the start of the sprint course rapid.

We park and take a walk down to the river to check out the water level and some of the features. There was a huge flood here last year and a wooden bridge that sits about 40 feet over the river was almost destroyed. The bridge was damaged and some of its support structure ended up jammed down in the last drop. The race organizers have shortened the course so that we don't have to run that part. They'll have to wait till the end of August when the river is low enough to get down there and cut the bridge structure out so future races can run that section again. I spoke with a C-1 W paddler from Germany - she warned us, "it is fun, but now, because of the bridge, it is just so incredibly dangerous that we must not go".

I'm like "uh, okay... wooden bridge jammed in the drop?... Incredibly dangerous?... Yeah I'm good with not going… no real argument here…"

The town of Lofer, if you're an American and have ever been to Disneyland, is a place that you would think was designed by Walt Disney himself. It is so picturesque, so uniquely Bavarian as to be almost a fantasy. The river is similarly wonderful; though the classic is really easy it flows through a pastoral landscape with stunning alpine mountains all around. The bedrock substrate is limestone and over millennia the river has formed perfect passages for kayaks to race through. The large boulders make great chutes in the sprint course and the rapid line looks to be really fun. Unless, of course, we don't quite get the line right in which case we're going to hit some of those large boulders. But compared to the indomitable Adda river in Valtellina, the Saalach river in Lofer Austria is serene, fun, and relatively stress free. The race itself, on the other hand, will be just as intense and contested as what we saw last week.

Already other countries have started to arrive and teams with a coach for each racer, France for example, have been down to the sprint course site to discuss the finer points.

Aufwiedersen, from Austria

Doug Ritchie