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Spinning on the river

Scott Willoughby

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst, they carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.– Chief Seattle speaks to Washington, D.C.As far as I’m concerned, the legendary Suquamish Native American Chief Seattle might very well have been the original spin doctor. Actually, Ted Perry, the man who penned the chief’s biography more than 100 years after the famous 1852 speech to the president, ought to take that credit. Since the speech printed in Perry’s book contains elements dated after Seattle’s time, scholars agree that the Indian’s environmental opus was likely written by Perry in “the spirit” of Chief Seattle. No matter the origin, the poignant message is worthy of our attention.It is said that the Eagle River was so-named by local Native American tribes because the many tributaries that join it are like the feathers of an eagle’s wing. From its headwaters atop Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero, the river that carved our valley is braided by more forks than the tongues of both Bush administrations combined. And while the temptation to draft my own opus chiding the impacts of the environmental menace currently occupying the White House is strong, I’ll save you from it for another day. I’m on deadline.And I want to talk about spinning.As you might imagine, spin doctors are something of an occupational hazard in my line of work. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t encounter some messenger of hope for any number of worthy causes, no matter how transparent the missive. Perhaps the reason why journalists are considered universally cynical.But every once in a while even the skeptics agree with the idealists. Or vice versa.Not that I consider myself a cynic, but I know a canned answer when I hear it. Statements like, “Something that a relatively small group of us have known for years is that when the snow melts off the mountain, Vail becomes one of the best whitewater destinations in the world.” Or, “Just like Vail Mountain is a world class ski destination, the Vail Valley during runoff is a world class whitewater destination.” And my favorite from the East Vail flood, “While our condolences go out yadda, yadda, yadda this is an opportunity to celebrate high water.”I know because I specifically asked a trained spin doctor for a canned statement on how great the whitewater is when the Eagle River is going off. I just didn’t realize he was so good at his job. Kudos, Ian.The fact is I’ve been among that relatively small group celebrating the Eagle River as a whitewater destination since my first summer visit in 1989. And when the river cranks like it did for the past week leading up to the Teva Mountain Games, it is quite simply a Colorado classic.For whitewater kayakers, the Eagle has everything. Class I at the Edwards Lakes to Class V up in Gilman Gorge. There may not be a more fun Class IV run for kayaks and rafts anywhere in the state than Dowd Chute over 5 feet, and the stuff between Dowd and Edwards is playful enough to entertain you for years. Tack on Homestake Creek in Red Cliff or the upper Eagle above town, and hair boaters even have a credible creek line. To quote another source, “Above 400 cfs you better bring your Pampers.”The notion of the Eagle River as a “world class whitewater destination” occurred to me when I ran into pro paddler Ken “Hobie” Hoeve of Dagger Kayak lore taking off the water in Avon and endured his goofy grin for the next hour, when he put his Kingpin back in the water atop Dowd Chute (at 10 feet, no less) and rode it back down the river to what he called the “Secret Spot.” Seems it was so good, he had to run it twice.Since I had a camera, I was given directions and allowed access to the mysterious locale, if for no other reason than to prove it existed. Here, on our own Eagle River, was a new wave that forms when the river pops above 4,000 cfs, offering hot shot boaters in state-of-the-art designs a chance to throw down like surfers on the North Shore. OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’m spinning here, remember?Indeed, it was the spins and semi-aerial blunts and cartwheels the boys strung together on Secret Spot that got the wheels turning.”When it’s running like this, the Eagle has everything you could ever ask for,” Hobie said through the goofy grin. “I mean, look at this.”I looked. And I laughed. And I loved it, like a brother.Scott Willoughby is a Minturn-based boater who spins yarns for a living. E-mail him at snowrite@vail.net.


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