Truck Life Tour continues in Canada, and so does the UNLEASHED tour. We ended up having two full downtime days between stage 2 Boater-X and Stage 3. The extra layover day was due mainly to super high water across eastern Canada. Everywhere was too high, most of the big waves in Northern Quebec weren't in yet because it was still freezing cold up there. There was uncertainty about if it would be a freestyle or creek event next. Water levels were just dictating an unknown quantity. So when event organisers said drive to Quebec city for a Giant Slalom race on the Basse Cache the the next day, I was sceptical. Friends from the area had told me just a day before that the Basse Cache was richter high and had been for days. Checking the online gauge confirmed this, but I kept an open mind, the weather was for clear and cold which often leads to a level drop on that section.
I have paddled Basse Cache just one time before, it is a stout but fun section of classic Quebec whitewater. Fun slides and drops with big holes everywhere. If the levels came good it would be the perfect Giant Slalom course.
When we arrived at the course the weather was perfect and so was the level. Before the pre race meeting the Truck life tour team set out for a course walk. The trail beside the river went to thigh deep snow in a few spots. The race course section would be a short but stacked section with three fairly straight forward gates just before a tricky section of sliding holes, a stout cascading double drop and a super spicy ledge hole finish. A short but sweet race. I was stoked. After the meeting I geared up and spent a couple of hours hustling photos before taking my one allowed practice lap and then my two race laps.
Practice lap didn't exactly go to plan, I almost missed one of the gates, had to eddy out a couple of times, had a terrible line out of the biggest drops and was forced to work pretty hard to make the final line. On the walk back upstream I checked the course carefully to see my mistakes. Race lap one went somewhat better, I bumped a few more rocks out of the start than before and lost some time, I styled the gates which was sweet but then it started to go a bit downhill, a bit too much left angle through the first of the slide holes squirted me into a small eddy on the side of the river, I quickly got back in the main flaw but had lost a decent chance of time. I thought about packing it in right there and saving it for the next run but after I had the greasiest (best) line through the tricky cascading double drop I sprinted as fast as I could for the finish. Room for improvement certainly. Lap 2 had some smooth spots and some mistakes, different smooth spots to lap one, different mistakes too. In the end I was stoked and exhausted to reach the end of the day and get into 10th place in the event. That night after a stout Poutine for dinner we headed over to Emrick’s house in Quebec city where good intentions to party turned into a lot of sleepy kayakers pretty much on all of the floor space his house had.
Excitement was high the following day, although everyone felt tired the word had come through from the event organisers that we would be heading north to Dolbeau for an event on either Saturday or Sunday, on one of the big waves of the Mistassibi river. Levels up there were just starting to rise which meant we could expect cold water and plenty of ice, but fingers were crossed all round. Before we could travel up we had to get an oil change and alignment for the truck, this turned out to be a broken part and an expensive repair which had us wandering around for half a day. But undeterred we finally got on the road and headed up to Dolbeau, home to some of the biggest waves on the planet.
Saturday morning the plan was meet at Molly Wave at 11Am. I was incredibly sceptical. In all of the Stakeouts I have taken part in Molly is the most elusive of all the waves, its an hour and fifteen minutes outside of town and there is no cell service out there so you have to drive out there to see if the wave is in. Because of its location in relation to the online gauge it is hard to predict if it is in just by looking at the gauges, which is something we usually do fairly reliably for all of the other waves. From the gauge it looked like we would be either too early, or there would be too much ice to surf. The usual graph of spring melt shows a sharp spike up as the ice breaks, a prolonged period of high and then a decline back down, which can be at various speeds depending on an number of factors. Since the discovery of Molly wave in 2014 we have never been able to catch it on the way up, usually surfing it as the levels drops back down. BUT stars seemed to be magically aligning for this event so maybe, just maybe we would be lucky.
We drove the hour and fifteen minute drive up the road. It is a dirt road mainly used for logging, surrounded by frozen lakes. As a result of recent hard rain this road was in rough shape. I was happy we had the high clearance of the Tacoma but I would have LOVED to have the option for 4x4 as the road was soft in places and a single mistake by Brooke behind the wheel would have got us stuck. The weather was driving rain with no sign of stopping which would have made being stuck extra bad. Luckily no such mistake was made and we arrived at the wave in time for the briefing. Stars had aligned, levels were prime. The ice flow however was heavy and flowing exactly where we would be surfing. After an athlete meeting the decision was made to wait and in 2 hours see if there flow of ice subsided. As the two hour window progressed the amount of ice was decreasing and the number of fallen trees passing through the wave was also subsiding. At 2 o’clock the first heat begun, ice was still a factor but not as dangerous as when we first arrived. There was an appointed ice spotter on the bridge with a whistle who would let you know if you had to surf off for ice/wood etc. So off we went. The athletes were split in half, for two sets of one hour heats, same biggest three trick format as at Ruins wave just a week before. The comp went off without a hitch and after a little after comp surfing the level was rising fast. By the time we left the level was almost too high and would surely be too high to surf in another two hours. Probably the luckiest water levels for a competition possible.
That night we had a final awards ceremony and athlete party at Quebec Rafting base, huge thanks to Wally for letting us get indoors and dry out after a day of just being completely soaked at Molly. I wound up 11th place in stage 4. I was unfortunately having some boat issues which was causing me to sink, despite getting out of my boat to empty the water out after every ride there was still enough water in my boat that I could feel it rolling around and pulling my boat around whilst on the wave. I still pulled off a few tricks but definitely did not achieve my full potential at this stage. I was stoked to walk away in 9th place overall. I actually tied with David Silk for 8th place on points but the tie was broken with the best place in a single event. We each had an 8th place finish but he had a 7th where my next highest was another 8th. If I had placed one place higher during Stage 2 it might have gone a different way but next time I will try harder. Dane Jackson took the win after winning all four stages, fellow Team Kokatat paddler Kalob Grady took second in mens and fellow Brit (but basically a fellow ex-pat) Bren Orton took third place. Women's was actually not such a tight comp after Darby McAdams stormed ahead after stage 3 as she was the only women to race. Which put Brooke Hess in second and Jordan Slaughter in third.
UNLEASHED competition was probably the competition highlight of this year, nothing else I have been a part of has been as fun/scary/challenging as this event and on top of that I was hustling photos so hard throughout the event which you will probably see some of through Kayak Session mag later this year. I will release the full album later in the year, but stay tuned there were some real bangers this week.
Another great week of #TruckLifeTour but not to many more to go now before I have to get back to work proper. Don’t forget to stay up to date with my Instagram @seth_ashworth
Check in next week.
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