Do I want to be here?

Is a question I am asking myself. Italy, pretty much my favourite boating trip, its always a toss up between this and the Zambezi. It’s winter 22/23 and I am pondering. I’ve just done a week in Scotland with Andy Holt, a great trip, good people and more water than we knew what to do with.

Andy is advertising Italy trips, I speak to Brian, he did Italy last year but is up for it again, we book. Something I had worked out from the Scotland trip, Andy, (Escape to Adventures), is very good at working out how much input is needed. In my case, not much, I know where I need to be and Andy recognises that and makes himself available as and when needed, just enough and not too much, very much appreciated.

I wonder if Italy should be left where some friendships have been left, in the past. Like friendships, Italy challenges you, makes you fess up, if only to yourself, you want to do it for you, me, myself, but you also value doing “it” with your mates. I’ve been to Italy 3 times before, a long time ago, just where those friendships are, a long time ago. Should it be left there?

Italy is hard, its steep, its committing, its alpine, but a different kind of alpine to France and Austria. Do I actually want to put myself in there again? Can I? Should I?

Brian and Mark rock up at my house, we load the car, boats, blades, kit, ghia, for 2 alpine weeks. I meet Mark for the first time, 10 miles up the road we’ve known each other for a while, Mark rides motorbikes, we chat, swap stories, trips, there’s a common ground, this feels good.

We’re on the Mastallone, classic alpine water and we are at the first rapid of significance. We inspect. I am looking at something that years ago would have registered ok on the ok scale, it’s a bit beyond the ok scale, I can see it but I’ve not paddled anything like this for years. Davide swims the rapid to show us its all good. There’s is a group of 12 or so all chatting about the line, I have never been one for a group chat, I ask Andy if he is ok with me just dropping in, he is, I drop in. I miss a support stroke, roll and it’s ok, Davide’s swim showed us it flushed through. Still not feeing the love tho, but the roll in anger is good, in a strange way.

cheers for picking up my camera Ben.

As we paddle down the Sesia I’m at the back of the group with Gigi, one of our Italian guides, Gigi asks me where I have paddled, I rattle off a list of rivers, including the Tsarap, turns out Gigi did the Tsarap last year, we swap stories, compare notes, I’m in good company. Later Gigi gives me the link to a you tube video of his trip, I give him the link to my Tsarap article, Egg n Chips, Egg n Chips – It’s Only A hill ( later published in the Paddler magazine. I ran the Tsarap in 2017, the river running at a ten year high, Gigi’s trip is high, high water, rain adding to the flow, I portage Reru, Gigi paddles it, we thread the needle through Bastard , Bastard, two big ass holes on a right bend, Chilling is a mess of massive white water, crashing, collapsing waves, same river, different levels, different experiences, but, a common bond.

Back to todays river, Mark paddles a Dagger Code, it just wants to turn alllll the time, this time it turns just before a pourover, not massive, but it’s a keeper, Mark drops in sideways, I paddle through and eddy out, Brian and I sit downstream, waiting for the swim, he’s not coming out of that. Until, Gigi, hits Mark, on purpose, turning the boat 90 degrees, he grabs a boat loop pulling Mark out of the pourover with his momentum, a proper class move, Gigi is due some beers!!

We’ve been paddling a couple of days, and I am still not feeling the love. I am making my lines, but, it’s hard work, I’ve not boated enough and the question rears its head again, do I want to be here, should I be here? We inspect a pretty straight forward drop, the line is hard right, really hard right. I take pictures, I mark my line on river and bank features, I am last man down, all good, a few meters before the “move” the boat spins out, fuck! A flurry of strokes follow and I hit the line, just, do I really want to be here?

Downstream a big ass G4, moves to make, another group drops through and we can see there is time to move, to make the lines. I ask Brian and Mark if they want to drop it as a 3, they do, can I lead? I can. We walk back to our boats, there’s lots of hubhub going on, on the river bank, conversations, conversations I don’t want to part of. we snap our decks on, drop into the eddy and gather ourselves, a look, a nod, and agreement. I peel out into the flow, spin round and watch and Brian and Mark commit behind me. Looking downstream I see my marker, right of the first rock, between the two below, track right, through all the funky shit, eddy out. We nail it. My elation is beyond what we have just done, it’s bigger than that. I’ve paddled as a group within our group, I led, not that Brian or Mark need leading, but its a big thing, for me at least, my confidence soars. Maybe I do want to be here.

We toddle off to run the Sorba Slides.

We rock up at the Gronda, jeeeeesus it’s steep!! I’ve paddled this before and it scared the shit out of me then. I am looking up stream from the bridge, its like looking up a liftshaft of white water, not feeling it, at all! I exchange words with Paul, we are in the same dilemma. Do we actually want to get on this? Turns out, we do.

leaning back, ffs.

The Gronda is steep, straight forward, but steep. We split into 2 groups, that soon merge. The Gronda is a world of chaos, added to by the sheer numbers on the river. The first couple of drops pass, the nerves, well, they don’t disappear, but they do abate somewhat. Davide is showing us the lines, we’re making the moves.

The move on a drop, two thirds of the way down is fly down a ramp, boof the hole, hit the wall river left, turn right, paddle out, all good, until I hit the wall and bounce back into the hole, bugger, I’m stable on a left edge, digging my way out, this is ok I think, until, I pull a muscle in my stomach, this hurts, a lot, If I don’t dig my way out of this I’m gona get mullered and swim, and swimming ain’t an option. I dig my way out, exit the rapid and crumple into an eddy, I’ve just knack’d myself, proper style. There’s still two decent drops to do, the first, straight forward, drop it somewhere and it will be ok, I drop it somewhere, vaguelyI Yea that hurt.

The last drop is somewhat more committing, straight forward, but committing, the easy option is bail, get off, but, stupidity wins, should have been further left, hurt like fuk. I have looked at the pictures and videos post trip and I am going into stuff in the right place but I can see from footage I am leaning back too much, not in the box, straining things that don’t need to be strained, need to spend more time in a boat.

Next day, we’re on the Egua, I feel that I shouldn’t get on, but this is the Egua, and I’m getting on.

The landing from this hurt!
Cylinder, the last drop on the Egua

Big thanks to Brian and Mark for the trip, good company on and off the river. I think I want to go back. Big shout out to Andy Holt and Escape to Adventure. Escape to Adventure. Kayak courses & guided trips. and Riversoul, Davide and Helena. RIVERSOUL – The kayak and rafting center in Valsesia

Thanks to all on the trip and the pictures and videos, I have no idea who took what and who deserves a credit for which picture, there was more IT in the apartment than mission control NASA!

As for the friendships, some of them, can stay just where they are, in the past.