Photo: Abbey Sowick

Photo: Abbey Sowick

Standup Paddling Gotham City and the Grand Canyon

"This is a moat, not a river."

The thought pops to mind at Mile 17 on the Harlem "River," but it's only a brief distraction from the pain. My right lat and triceps are cramping up so badly I can't even make a fist. I literally feel like I'm stuck in a moat, trapped outside the castle, knowing that I'm just halfway through the clockwise, 27-mile loop around Manhattan.

I wince, noticing a few paddlers bailing out of the SEA Paddle NYC event, and onto a support boat. I ask them for water. A woman replies, "We're out of water, eat this PB and J." Peanut butter won't help me now. I mumble some obscenities and soldier through the cramps, thinking about my preparation for this urban epic: none. No training. Just 18-hour days running my paddlesports business in Idaho, then no sleep prior to a cross-country flight, borrowing a 14-foot race board and lugging it through Manhattan to the start.

I'm determined to paddle as much as possible in a two-week timeframe. I look out to blank stares from random faces on shore, then pass a fellow racer who's surrendered to paddling prone into the gusting headwind. "The city has got grit!" he says, "Did you think this was going to be easy?"

Photo: Andy McFarland

Photo: Andy McFarland

Six days after finishing the race in the Big Apple, I'm still sweating. Dripping, in fact, as I hike down the seven-mile descent into the Grand Canyon to standup paddle the Colorado River's most renowned stretch of whitewater. I brought water this time, but hustling down like an ill-prepared tourist, I forget that the hardest day of rapids is today. Our group, having paddled the top half of the canyon, has been waiting with the gear. So I hastily pump up a board, paddle into the current and suddenly grasp the situation: things are about to get real.

I can hear the roar as I approach the horizon line above Horn Rapid. Rather than stopping to scout, I just dig a few strokes into the initial drop that slopes into a huge entry hole. No chance. Pummeled by the muddy water, I come up unscathed, still leashed to my board. But instead of glass, concrete and metal, I look up to the empty sky and the endless red canyon walls. The wilderness refuels my desire to keep this epic paddling crusade going. I hop up and start thinking about the next rapid. The beating I just took makes me smile. Now this is a river.

Victor Myers runs Corridor Paddle Surf Shop in Boise. He may, or may not, compete in this summer's SEA Paddle NYC event.

This article originally ran in our Summer 2013 issue.

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