Man-o-man…welcome to Kook Central. You may normally expect such a place to be situated nearer the coast, but this week Kook Central is definitely as far from the ocean as you could potentially get.
Yes, we’re in the middle of America, transplanted in the ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ truck stop of Cascade, Idaho. Once a buzzing mill town, the mill left, the jobs dried up and tumble weeds rolled down the main street of Highway 55.
Snowbound for a good seven months of the year, the summertime brings hours of endless daylight, the roaming of cattle crossing the prairie and a sky traced with chemtrails from the flying highways of aviation.
Back to Kook Central…aka Kelly’s Whitewater Park, and home to possibly the most lavish whitewater park any river rat has ever laid eyes on. Trust me people, no expense has been spared and it’s all here for the benefit of the locals and visitors alike.
Blessed with dammed lake sitting above the village collecting the snowmelt from the winter, the Cascade River meanders through the valley. Add in some significant excavation, earth works, construction and landscaping and welcome to the home of the Payette River Games.
It’s kind of like a mash between a homecoming event and the cross pollination of species. The place where the mountain folk of the river are intermingled with the wave hunters of the ocean. Joined by the common union of the paddle the river rats are standing up rather than sitting in boats and the seafaring ocean paddlers have to learn the nuances of the river. In a jumbled mess of talented confusion it’s a week of being humbled by the power of water and trying to reduce your kook status. If you brought an ego, you can check it at the gate and collect it upon departure.
The river brings its own character and the lack of tides and weather mean any daylight hour can be spent honing your skills. Given that we’re in the week of the summer solstice this means if you’re got the mental and physical energy the play can last for hours on end.
At first you kind of try to surf it, then realize once you have caught your rail a dozen times that that really just isn’t going to work. So you sit back, watch and learn. It’s a weird but strangely graceful thing that when done well looks divinely easy – but in reality is a crazy collusion of skill, technique, poise, balance, grace, power and harmony with the power of the river as it flows over and around anything in it’s path creating rapids, hydraulics, eddies and the like. Yes, the river even boasts it’s own vocabulary.
As you glance around the event site, the hum is starting to build in anticipation of the week ahead. The early birds have already been here a week – and by watching them on the river it definitely shows. The parking lot is slowing filling with some seriously professional looking RV and camping set ups. The road warriors and their Sprinter vans are filled to the brim and the locals….well just look out for the Ford pick ups. Odds are on that it’s a local.
For those of us who are here for the first time, it’s all in the learning and taking the punches one day at a time. Absorbing the frustration and celebrating the small improvements as you become more comfortable and hone your skills. With skill comes the confidence to try and attempt the more difficult maneuvers and features.
So the river dance continues from dawn until dusk. Some will have come for the money, others for the camaraderie. All will be challenged; most will be humbled. While two people will walk away triumphant, many others will triumph more by conquering fear and winning the round of them versus themselves.
Yes, the Payette River Games 2015 is officially open for business and the whole circus is in town to provide the entertainment.