All the Gear and No Idea: Annabel Anderson reflects on the Payette River Games

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Annabel Anderson Payette River Games

Have you ever walked past your corner coffee shop and noticed the daily morning posse of neon middle aged lycra clad men with a car yard’s worth of carbon fiber leaning against the window front? There’s team kit, space age eye wear and a lot of shaved legs to match the sleek lines of their two wheeled racehorses.

Now I can definitely fake it with the best of any morning coffee ride, but come this past week I was to fall victim to the aforementioned.

I was about to become the river girl version of the lycra clad coffee shop cyclist – with all the gear and no idea.

I’d skipped the river events in 2014 for reasons now irrelevant, meaning come 2015 I was going to be starting way behind the eight ball.

Being a planner by nature, the past few years has taught me not to get too caught up in the detail, so when it came factoring in what was needed for the Payette River Games, I brought out my inner spread sheeter.

Ah, Excel my old friend, we meet again.

Scanning through the gear requirements, PFDs and helmets are mandatory; shoes and leashes highly recommended and a board with a maximum length of 11’; hard or inflatable, just one board for the entire event.

Hmmm shoes. Really? Favoring the flip flop lifestyle interspersed meagerly with running and bike shoes did I really need to rock river mits on my tootsies?

PFDs? Skid lids?

“Hi Lili (chief bottle washer at MTI Adventurewear) ummmmm can you please sort out my PFD situation for the river. I’ll leave it up to you. Thank you.

Board? Ahhh, we don’t do inflatables. I’m going to have to show up, blow up and make friends at speed this week.

Let’s just say it rolled a little like this:

  • Scampering over rocks is a quick way to break a toe and lose some skin. My random decision to throw in a pair of neon pink Nike’s was close to my best call of the weekend.
  • Standing up is critical to the art of Stand Up Paddling. It’s fair to say that I rocked a show-up-and-blow-up-yoga-mattress. Namaste became optional.
  • Thank goodness for some friends in the ‘safety first’ department who dispatched a PFD that was worthy of river rat envy.
  • After enduring a couple of agitation cycles through the washing machine of the Kelly’s White Water Park’s main feature, I soon understood why this was a hazardous hard hat territory.
  • But the #1 piece of kit? The full steamer 3:2 layer of neoprene. Oh how my elbows and shins have thanked me for the minor layer of protection you provided.

Gear was one thing, lack of any kind of skill was another. I was about to get into way over my head. Sure I’ve grown up in jet boats and gone down rivers, but that was straight and this required turning corners. I needed to get my Sh*& together and get it together fast.

I had a six day window to attempt to figure this one out. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d thrown myself in the deep end, but this time I needed to swim to the surface…and quickly.

So came the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach session by session, day by day.

Watch, learn and attempt to be the mocking bird.

Thankfully there was more than enough talent on hand for the watch and learn part.

The challenge being this was an event that you had to keep making the daily cut offs to progress to the next day in both the timed Super G slalom and the SUPer Cross events.

Come Day 1 I’d worked out how to remain somewhat upright.

Day 2 was a work in progress.

Day 3 was a glitch in system. Let’s trip on a rock, land on a rubberized drink bottle and put a neat little slash across the meat of your hand.

Bugger…… But there’s nothing like a bit of flesh hanging out and some electrical tape to patch it up until after right? Ibuprofen and some concrete didn’t go astray.

Sure there was cash on the line and as usual, and the flash of some greenbacks but this past week went beyond the finish line and beyond the final podiums. It was the unification of the river and the ocean, joined by the paddle creating an atmosphere that had to be experienced to be believed.

So here’s a cheers to the vision of Mark and Kristina Pickard and their army to giving us the opportunity to show up, blow up with all the gear, no idea and fake it till we make it. See ya next year.

..And if you’re curious, you can relive the best of the 2015 Payette River Games over again on CBS Sports on July 11th and start making your plans to be there next year in the front row seats.