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"The Circle of (River) Life"

I have a confession to make, friends of the whitewater community--I am starting to believe that the river does run in a circle. In the few years that I've spent adrift on its current, calm and tempestuous, the river has continued to bring me back to the people and places that I love. While it is ever-changing, it is also familiar, and I believe that as the river continues its source-to-sea path, untroubled by the questions of tourists or would-be philosophers, the people who love and seek the river will continue to find themselves and each other by its banks, wherever that may be.
This past June, while doing some reconnaissance with the California Women's Watersport Collective in Idaho, we had the pleasure of meeting and paddling with the delightful Cata Urrizola, of Chile, who spoke of her intentions of getting more girls involved in the sport. Months later, as we prepared for our second CWWC trip in Chile, our pre-trip plans included a few days on the Río Maipo, Cata's home river outside the capital city of Santiago. The Serie Chilena Femenina Aguas Blancas (Chilean Feminine Whitewater Series) had begun, and Cata had organized a full-day event of kayak instruction, chiropractic visit, and local food truck for dinner, with the help of local friends who had borrowed out gear. In addition to Cata and the three CWWC representatives (Melissa DeMarie, Sami Hawkins, and myself), we were joined by the graceful Franziska Biechler, of Germany, hard-training chilena Jesús Inzuzna, and seven eager students. With its cold, silty water and continuous current, the Maipo makes for a challenging beginner's river; nevertheless, the girls drilled hard within the swirling eddy, and it was all smiles at the end of the day. I asked if they had known each other prior to the kayak clinics. "No," one girl answered, "we just met here [at the previous classes], but we're best friends now! Seriously!" I told them that I understood. The river has a way of fostering connections amongst people who otherwise may barely know each other's names.
After a girls' lap with Cata and Jesús on the Siete Tazas run of the Río Claro, with yours truly as debut photographer, it was time to head down to our next adventure, in Pucón, where we met up with the ladies who would be joining us for ten days of paddling, horsebacking, hot pools and delicious food. Once again, we had the pleasure of staying at Escape mountain lodge, hosted by LJ Groth, his partner, yoga instructor Kelsey Clark, and their two friendly dogs; and once again were privileged to be invited into the homes of local Mapuche families. The five ladies had not known each other before the trip began, and while they spanned a wide range of ages and kayak levels, it was a joy to observe and take part in the natural cohesion that crystallized within the group. My mother, a long-time swimmer with virtually no whitewater experience, came on the trip to catch a glimpse of her daughter's world. We outfitted her in an inflatable kayak and she gamely followed along and, while I'll admit that it was nerve-wracking at times (is this what being a parent feels like?), it was a treat for me to share with her our river life.
Our final, post-trip day was spent on the waterfalls of the Río Palguín, with a reunion of the Siete Tazas chicas, Franzi and her partner Leon (of Los Leones kayak school in Switzerland), and friends of theirs. At a certain point saying good-bye, though always a bit heart-wrenching, feels more like a formality because we know that nos veremos, we will see each other again, somewhere. A few of the Maipo girls will be traveling down to Pucón in January to continue their training--we've got the next generation of bad-ass chicks on the move! I'm now visiting in Mendoza, Argentina, where the river started for me, another stop in its infinite cycle.
Sarah "Sarita" Kay
January 2019
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