Monday, September 15, 2014

Ski Team Alumni Reunion

The plan was to get together with Steffi, Karl and Paul Schauer - all former UAA skiers - and a couple other friends for a day of hiking up Winner Creek Valley and packrafting down Twentymile Valley.  But there were concerns about high water and flooding in the upper portion of Twentymile River, and the possibility of hurricane force winds and torrential rain over Blueberry Pass. Paul is a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey, so he knows about these things, and he suggested we make an alternate plan. We called an audible and went north instead of south, to the Matanuska River for a little kayaking and packrafting.
The UAA Nordic team during the Schauer / Hiemer era, in 2009.  Recognize any faces here?

Karl and Paul during their UAA Ski Team days.  The guy sitting behind them was keeping his eye on these two donkeys.
My history with the Schauer boys goes way back.  Here I am hanging out with them in Greenland in 2002.  Look at the size of that camera around Paul's neck - it's almost as big as his little brother!
I drove across town to meet the group at Paul's house but I accidentally ended up at the wrong address. The guy who answered the door told me I had the wrong house, but after I apologized and was walking back to my car, a woman came running out of the house across the front lawn and said, "Wait! Did I hear you ask for Paul Schauer... THE Paul Schauer?"  I was pretty impressed that these people knew the UAA skier who'd won the New Mexico NCAA Invitational race a few years ago.  " If you're looking for Paul Schauer, the kayaker, we don't know him, but of course we know who he is.  We've heard he lives one block that way," she said, pointing south. "Are you going boating with him? We're kayakers, too, but we're from Montana and the water's a little too cold for us here... good luck!" It was then that it occurred to me that I was planning to go boating with THE Paul Schauer - (check the link):
Paul (Notice the elbow pads. I don't know about you, but I don't normally go boating in places that require body armor.)
A couple minutes later when I arrived at the correct address, Steffi had troubling news:  the Schauer boys were talking about paddling some "big, brown water" today and this kind of talk was making Steffi think that maybe she'd be better off spending the day at the museum. It suddenly occurred to me that my lawn really needed to be mowed, and I'd been meaning to clean the garage, too. But it turned out to be a misunderstanding; the Matanuska would be easy Class II water after all, and we'd have a nice relaxing float together.
Four fifths of our group:  Steffi, Emma Brooks, Paul and Karl. (If you look closely, you'll see that Steffi is trying to get a small carbonfiber sliver (from a paddle) out of her hand, but I'm pretty sure I know what she was thinking at this point in our day: Is this sliver big enough that I can use the "I have an injury" excuse?)
Steffi and I were thus put at ease about the paddling that awaited us, but the trepidation came back double at the put-in when Karl put on a helmet with a face mask and Paul put on a one-piece survival suit that had a rip cord attached to the front, a parachute on the back, a klettersteig rig wrapped around the side, and a bunch of other rocket-propelled doo-dads and knick-knacks that could be unleashed in an instant in case of any kind of emergency.  Suddenly, Steffi and I were once again looking for hiking options in the area.

This is how Karl retrieves a lost paddle - with a special paddle-biner attached to a throw bag, attached to a life jacket, attached to Karl.

The Schauer boys comparing gadgets.

Meanwhile, Karl generously offered to let me use his best paddle jacket while he used his old leaky one because, as he told me " probably have a lot better chance of having to take a swim". At this point, Steffi and I were starting to think of ways we could end things painlessly in case the situation got dire out on the river.
If there was to be trouble ahead, my emergency plan was to use my knife to sink my boat and get it over with quickly.
The thought of drowning scares Steffi. If the boat flipped, she figured she'd go straight for the wrists to avoid drowning.

Paul and Karl grew up in Fairbanks, where the wintertime temperature is usually around 300 degrees below zero. And they learned to paddle (and worked as guides during their youth) on the rivers of the Brooks Range, north of the Arctic Circle. So whenever the temperature goes much above freezing, they start overheating and need to jump in the river to cool off.  The Matanuska is relatively warm - it's fed by the Matanuska Glacier which is a few miles northwest of where we're paddling in it. So by the time the river gets to where we are paddling, it's several degrees (at least) above the freezing.
Never miss an opportunity to practice a rescue.

Fun on the beach. I think Karl was doing backflips or something.
The "Helmet of Death" survives another day.
I hadn't seen Karl and Steffi in far too long - not since July in Bavaria.  Nor had I seen Paul since last Wednesday on Kodiak Island.  And it was fun to meet Emma for the first time.  As it turned out, this was the right trip, on the right river, with the right people - a day I won't soon forget!


  1. Adam, you can truly tell Alaskan tales! I wish I could have joined you on this adventure! Karen and I had a great time with Karl, Steffi, Paul, and Emma over Labor day weekend. Give a yell next time you head north, and bring your packraft if the creeks are still wet!

  2. It was Paul, Emma, Karl and Steffi who brought all the laughs. I just record what I see. I'm looking forward to coming up to Fairbanks and tracking you down. And if it's not winter and if I'm not on a motorcycle, I'll bring a boat!

    1. Throw the packraft on the motorcycle! I have been trying to figure out logistics for an adventure combining paddling and riding my 1975 Honda XL250. I just need a partner, as Karen frowns on some of my solo ideas that involve whitewater and a 40 year old enduro bike.