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Tyler Bradt | 09.06.2018

Work hard, play hard...that's the definition of a KAVU day. Then the work makes the play that much sweeter. The "Middle Kings" is a world-renowned kayaking expedition known for it’s physical intensity, breathtaking beauty, and super gnarly whitewater.

The alarm went off early. It was one of those mornings, the kind you have after a long drive. A late night packing and an anticipation filled restless was like waking up molasses, where you just wish you could stretch time just a little bit further. I wanted to will the sun back below the horizon, make the mosquitoes go back to sleep, and hit the eternal snooze button. It wasn’t even the getting out of bed that was going to suck. Within 15 minutes I would have a 70-pound kayak on my back, attempting to hike almost 8 miles to the top of a 12,000-foot pass....and then another 5 or 6 miles down the other side.

The downhill was going to be the worst part. One foot in front of the other, I swatted the first of a million mosquitoes I would slay that day, and I climbed out of the back of my van. I snapped a quick photo because I knew I wouldn't be taking another for a while. The boys were already up and moving, and the sun was just beginning to show on the tops of the mountains. Seeing the beauty and feeling the stoke, I knew this was going to be a KAVU kind of day.

With my backpack already set up on the kayak and my gear loaded, I put on my shoes, laced them up tight, and set my kayak vertically against my van. There’s a certain technique to backpacking with a kayak, and a lot of it involves avoiding the inevitable turtling that happens when you fall over backward...which results in getting stuck on your back while you are strapped to the kayak. It’s funny in a parking lot and downright deadly in an exposed situation. My eyes were still foggy from sleep as I slipped into my backpack system and lifted the heavy kayak. The absurdity of the situation was not lost on me as I walked past the team and headed for the trail. I was about to "off the couch" the Middle of the most notorious kayaking expeditions that exists. I wasn’t worried about the paddling, it was the hike that was going to kill me. I figured a head start would save the team that amount of time waiting for me on the pass. Ha ha ha!

One foot in front of the other, I tried not to think about the distance I had to walk, or how ridiculously awkward kayaks are off the water...or the hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing around me. But it was hard not to. The team passed me one by one allowing for a couple minutes of conversation and comradery. I would be accompanying some of the best expedition paddlers on the planet: Aniol SerrasolsesScott Lindgren, and William Griffith. Intuitively, I knew they we’re about to kick my ass over the course of the day.

Hours later I stopped at the last high lake before final accent to the pass. I could see brightly colored specs of plastic inching their way along the trail high above me. Knowing I was costing us time, I stripped naked and dove into the clear cold mountain water. I performed some naked yoga on a flat rock and quickly stuffed as much high energy food into my mouth as I could. I needed every bit of physiological and physical energy I could get for this push to the top. Sliding back into the harness I surrendered to the suffering and made the push to the top of the pass. Bishop Pass sits just under 12,000 feet and is truly one of the most breathtaking places I’ve seen. Extreme exertion triggers a dopamine response, and cresting the pass and seeing the beauty in the place around me and the faces of my friends reminded me of how damn lucky we all were to be there suspended in paradise for a KAVU moment in time.

I did slightly better on the slog down to the river before we all collapsed into a broken pile of bodies and gear at the river below. I was fully turtled, only I didn't have a kayak on my back to blame it on! We still wanted to get downstream, past the mosquitoes, and onto the top of the good whitewater. It has been 12 years since I had been there, and I couldn't quite remember what the section was going to be like. It was early evening as we got in our boats and slid into the water, and there were random pieces of gear that didn't find their way into dry bags tangled around my legs. The mellow paddling I remembered and envisioned couldn't have been further from reality. Hard, sharp, technical, Class V came at us drop after drop.

We scouted, portaged, and ping-ponged off rocks and down slides as darkness began to creep up on us. As the sun left the mountain tops, we were still struggling our way downstream. Finally, in the half light of nightfall, we got to camp. I caught an eddy and looked up as the team clamored out of their boats, stars clearly visible in the clear high mountain sky. This was one of those days. The reward for suffering was that indescribable bliss, a bliss that can only be earned. It had clearly been a KAVU kind of day.

Through the following days we dropped over 8,000 vertical feet of whitewater, at times kayaking down massive granite slabs and flying off of waterfalls. We spent the afternoons sitting next to the river telling stories, laughing, and appreciating every moment of our existence. Days were spent in a mostly silent flow of river running and communicating with our eyes, hands and a few words here and there. We existed in blissful simplicity, with everything we could ever wish for packed into the back of kayaks and with all that mattered in the world around us. To me this is the essence of living. This is the real world. Our days were defined by sections of whitewater and phrases like: Super slide, Middle Five, Good Morning Gorge, Bottom Nine, Mandatory Gorge, Garlic Falls. They all passed us without incident, the team operating like a finely tuned machine.

Harmony. Bliss. Peace. Love. Respect. Gratitude. These are just a few of the inherent values the world teaches us if we put ourselves far enough out there in a place where our only choice is to listen and to adapt. All told, the Middle Kings went without a singe mishap or bad vibration. These are the experiences I live for.

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