Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last Minute Trip to the Gorge

I'm not even sure what to say or where to start when it comes to describing the gorge, but I will say this weekend was freaking awesome. I've seen a hundreds of pictures and videos of windsurfing in the area. I've read my share of articles and descriptions of it and I've even chatted with many gorge addicts over the years, but nothing comes close to experiencing the sheer power of the wind and water on your run-of-the-mill every-week-or-so epic gorge day.

Kevin and I decided to make the drive about 10 hours before we hit the road. The forecast was looking good His van was acting funny so I volunteered to drive my Matrix. The gas mileage obviously was a huge improvement, even with the roofrack fully loaded (sigh). I was so excited to go that I set my alarm for 5 am, but forgot that my alarm clock was EST not PST, and arrived at K's house at 2:30 am, not 5:30 am. Whoops.

The drive there is really long (11-12 hours) but really beautiful. Along the way, you pass by Mt. Shasta, Lake Shasta, the City of Shasta, and a tribe called Shasta. All the Shasta's I saw were quite impressive. The distances were long between bathrooms, convenience stores and passing lanes. As we passed through the desert there were a bunch of hills that indicated we were right next to the Gorge. Then we would go over the hill to find another set of hills that looked like they were DEFINITELY next to the Gorge. Nope, not really. There were a lot of almost Gorges along the way.

We finally arrived Thursday around 7pm and drove straight to Doug's Beach. The wind had a bit of a northerly component to it, so it was a bit gusty and holey. I decided to rig my trusty 5.0 and my recently injured 85L Freewave to give it a whirl. I was overpowered at times, but I'm used to that sail enough that I never felt out of control. Immediately I understood that this place is very very different from anywhere else I had sailed, even in the marginal conditions. The hills I was going up and down were pretty organized, a bit larger, and a bit quicker than the chop I've seen in the bay. I did my best and sailed pretty decently most of the time, I almost exited a jibe on a plane. (I'm getting ever so close sometimes!) I enjoyed the fresh water. It reminded me of learning to windsurf on freshwater lakes in Florida. The short session ended and I felt like I had accomplished something and I was ready to take on the Gorge in tougher conditions. This turned out to be a misunderestimation.

We found some couches to crash on in Hood River with Dave T, who turned out to be a really cool guy and an excellent windsurfer. Had a couple (too many) drinks that night and stumbled home early because the forecast was looking pretty good. The winds were howling the next morning. We drove down to the Hatchery and it looked like the wind was pretty strong. I didn't think much about it, I just rigged my smallest sail (3.8m) and stumbled down the rocks to the water. The swell was HUGE, like navigating up and down a mountain-bike trail that moves. I was completely lit up on that postage stamp-sized sail just holding on for dear life. I had no idea how the board was going to react to the next gust or the next roller. I just grasped the boom and tried to keep my eyes open as much as possible. The wind was so strong, it felt like a vacuum was sucking the air out of my chest when I took a breath. The experience almost felt like I was on a completely different planet where none of the same rules of physics applied any longer. Waterstarting was harrowing in the fresh water. Any amount of force you apply to the sail upward immediately dunks you under the water. Also, clearing the sail when you are hidden in the shadow of an 8ft wave without a breath of breeze... very difficult.

That session was the longest 30 minutes of my life. I scrambled and slipped up the rocks with my gear, making sure to ding each stone with the nose of my brand new board. I set my gear down, chugged some water and felt like I had just collected the million bucks from a prize fight with Mike Tyson -- as the sacrificial lamb who took his beating, but came away rewarded. For the record, some regular Gorge visitors mentioned that this was one of the bigger Hatchery days they could remember.

A 40 minute drive to the east is a spot called "The Wall", that supposedly has big awesome swell when it works. Knowing that I suck at sailing swell (or should I say, "knowing that I suck at sailing"?) I still agreed to go along for the ride because I didn't want to dampen the experience of the good windsurfers who were showing me around.

>>>>>>>>>> I need to sleep! Will finish the story when I get time! <<<<<<<<<<
>>>>>>>>>> Also, pictures coming soon! <<<<<<<<<<


George Markopoulos said...

great description of the gorge experience. Can't wait to get up there. looking forward to those pictures

SlideHappySailor said...

Well done sir! I got to kite last Sunday and managed to "set an edge!" Florida sucks, no wind forcasted....ever...But my skateboarding is ever improving, and my bum-knee is earning some stamina and grows stronger by the day!(check out my short skate vid!) err..shameless plug...