A bubbly New Year’s tradition
If the sturdy souls who jump into freezing water on New Year’s Day are called polar bears, these folks are polar bears with paddles.
Every New Year’s Day for at least 15 years, kayakers along the Interstate 70 corridor have gathered in Glenwood Canyon to paddle the mile-long stretch of the Colorado River from the Shoshone power plant to Grizzly Creek.
This year the kayakers started arriving in the canyon just before noon, and the first one to emerge from the icy river hit the Grizzly Creek boat ramp just after 1 p.m.
“This is a cool thing I can look back on and say I did it,” said Lainey Daniels as she pulled her kayak from the river and headed for her truck.
There were 14 kayakers in all, and they came from Glenwood Springs, Vail, Eagle, Edwards, Silverthorne and the Front Range. Steve Parker was one of the first to arrive at Grizzly Creek, and he happily fielded some questions while pulling on the waterproof clothes that would keep him warm on the river.
In answer to the standard question “Why?” Parker just smiled and said, “Because it’s there? What else are you going to do on New Year’s Day?”
The temperature was in the high 20s when Parker and the others started rolling into the nearly deserted Grizzly Creek rest stop. Twelve inches of snow sat on the picnic tables, powdery snow rose up to the change dispenser on the pay phone, and snow covered the utility poles’ cross arms on the opposite side of the river. The sky was gray and a few snowflakes drifted down from the low clouds.
The mood was upbeat and jovial as the kayakers geared up for their trip down the river. Daniels, who made it over from Denver with boyfriend John Torro, said her main priority was to not roll her boat. “In the summer, you don’t mind going over. It feels good. But I don’t want to go over today,” she said while getting ready in her truck at Grizzly Creek.
Daniels and Torro had partied until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, and set out for Glenwood Springs at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. “It was a short night,” Daniels said, while John took off his shirt outside their truck and started putting on his neoprene top.
Sean Glackin, who owns Alpine Kayak and Canoe in Vail, was pulling kayaks from his truck while Torro quickly zipped up his top a few feet away. Glackin said the New Year’s Day outing is a way for paddling friends to get together after not seeing one another in a while. “We paddle with each other in the summer, but don’t get to see each other as much in the winter,” he said.
After Bob Durand, of Glenwood Springs, pulled his white pickup into the Grizzly Creek parking lot, a caravan of kayak-topped SUVs headed east on I-70 to the Shoshone rest stop. Glackin’s red truck was the first to arrive. Ken Hoeve was already there, and shot videos as Matt Solomon piled out of Glackin’s truck and gave him a thumbs up.
“I broke my back last year, and the doctor just cleared me for having fun again last month. I figured this is a good way to start the new year,” Solomon said as he started stacking gear in his boat.
Most of the kayakers were in their 20s and 30s, but across the parking lot from Solomon, 62-year-old Fritz Menninger paid a quick trip to the rest room before putting on his kayaking togs. Menninger joked he was “much too old” to be doing what he was about to do, then concluded, “I like the novelty of this. … You don’t see too many older than me.”
A Dagger kayak sales representative, who goes by the name Hobie, was first in the water. With a couple of hip thrusts, Hobie managed to scoot his kayak down the steep boat ramp and short bank before plopping into the river. Solomon, who was helping Hoeve record the event for a Vail television station, scurried down to the river for some close-up footage of Hobie. After Hobie spun his boat to the middle of the inky river, Solomon explained some of the tricks that can be done in the winter.
“You can surf some waves, do cartwheels and rock spins,” Solomon said. “A unique trick you can do that you can’t do in the summer is an ice spin. For that one, you pile up on a piece of ice and spin your kayak around.”
As Hobie paddled downstream, Solomon trained his camera on a row of five kayakers who were perched in their boats on the bank above the river. One by one they nosed their boats down the snowy bank like otters, then dipped in the river. Some kayakers spent more than an hour doing tricks and playing in the river, while Daniels made a beeline from Shoshone to Grizzly Creek, and was warm and dry before the next boater arrived.
Back up at Shoshone, as the last kayaker slid into the river, Denver area residents Ron and Malea Ellison were dressed in down parkas, and looked on. Ron had just bought a new kayak in Glenwood Springs, but didn’t put in the Colorado River New Year’s Day.
“I’m not as crazy as they are,” he said with a grin.
Ellison, who wore a down parka, said he’d watched the New Year’s Day kayakers before. Three years ago, the temperature was 15 degrees below zero. “The people who swam … we did the rescue thing on them,” Ellison said.
“Swimming” is a term for when a kayaker leaves his boat. “They’d have a quarter inch of ice on them when they’d come out,” Ellison said. “One woman had to run for her car and we carried her boat over. … Today is a perfect day for this.”
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