If you haven’t heard of the North Fork Championship, check out this link before you read this, Click Here. The North Fork Race is one of the most terrifying and technical races out there. Held yearly, just outside of Banks Idaho, on the North Fork of the Payette river. For 2019, it was deemed the Extreme Creek Kayaking World Championships and it brought in over 150 competitors, including nearly 20 women.
The qualifier is a time trial down a rapid called S Turn, a super bouncy and fast rapid. Though I had spent the week on the North Fork, I was still struggling with the big, powerful rapids, despite “styling” everything I ran. I couldn’t find the energy or the courage to run Jacobs Ladder (where the finals are held) any time during the week.
The qualifier was smooth and I was placed comfortably in 3rd for the semi finals the next day. This again was a time trial but it was slated against another racer. The seeding worked like this; the person in 10th raced the 1st place qualifier, 9th raced 2nd and so on. Despite somehow getting completely vertical in a wave and almost flipping in an eddy, I won my heat and placed 4th overall. I was to race the infamous Jacobs Ladder come Saturday morning.
I spent Friday night trying to smile and act like I was pumped up. I am no stranger to pre-race jitters having raced the Green Race 12 years in a row. But this felt different. It felt like I was walking into war. War with a rapid that has injured many a great kayaker and killed a person I knew well.
Saturday morning came too fast and I couldn't put a smile on my face. I was struggling and didn’t know what to do with the emotions. I didn’t want to let anyone down but I had this gut feeling, telling me not to race. I thought about the person I beat to get here, they would be disappointed too. Why would I race the qualifier and then not race the final?
I wandered around at Jakes after getting off of the bus with all of my fellow competitors, I felt alone in a whirlwind of people. Everyone was going somewhere and meanwhile, I was just trying to take my next breath without tears streaming down my face.
After what felt like an eternity, I found James (the event organizer and good friend) and told him I couldn’t do it. I immediately started crying knowing I was bowing out of a race for the first time in my career. I told Snowy and all he could do was hug me and tell me he was proud of me, I cried. I felt so much support and love as I slowly moved around telling my competitors I wasn’t going to race. Meanwhile, trying to avoid spectators questions; “good luck” or “are you racing?”
What an odd set of feelings to have; immense sadness along with a weight that was pulled off of my shoulders. I can barely write this without choking up but I want to add, even after the race, it wasn’t easy. I have a #4 bib that will never be utilized along with the feelings that I missed out on something that helps our sport so much.
I will think about this decision for a good while. I didn’t want to drop into a rapid without knowing 100% that I was going to style every single drop in the race. I chose a really rough road emotionally, but I was safe at the end of the day. Kayaking is 80% brain games and sometimes it is best to walk away with your head held high.