Racing California’s Cherry Creek

The Cherry Creek Race

Class V endurance racing. That’s what the Cherry Creek Race is. There are several class V kayak races that happen around the country each year. Each of them pose their own challenges to the racers. None of them require the competitors to paddle all out for 40 minutes through stacked class V rapids like the Cherry Creek Race does.


I first learned about the Cherry Creek Race in 2010 when I went to the creek for the first time. I just happened to show up on race day completely unaware that there was going to be a race. Since then it has been one of my favorite river parties to attend each year, and it has been a goal of mine to enter the race. This year it finally came together. I started making regular trips down there about a month ago to learn the course. Before last month I hadn’t been on that section of river in three years and I’d only done it a couple times, so I definitely had some work to do. After a half dozen practice runs I felt pretty confident. I drove down Friday night and felt really excited that I was finally going to race the creek. I wasn’t nervous at all which I thought was odd. I usually get pre-race jitters on even small races and this was definitely one of the hardest races I’ve done.  I woke up early Saturday morning and still felt fired up. The whole drive up to put in I couldn’t wait to get on the water. When we arrived at put in, that’s when my jitters found me. I was suddenly feeling pretty glad I had eaten a light breakfast as it was threatening to come back up. I talked myself through checking all my gear for any last minute issues. It was all solid. I felt confident, and just a little nauseous.  My goals for the race were pretty simple. First, make it to the finish line. Second, don’t get passed by the person behind me. Third, get there in under 45 minutes. Winning the race was not really a factor since my competition had way better knowledge of the course than I did. This really helped take some of the stress off too I think. Since it was my first time racing I just needed to create a base line. Next year I will be trying to beat my own time.

I was near the end of the group to start. I left the start at a strong but moderate pace. It’s easy to get caught up in the people cheering and want to go full throttle out of the gate, but when you have to paddle 5 miles through several really big rapids it’s good to pace yourself. The first mile is continuous class IV+ boulder gardens. It’s easy to get lost in here because there are few standout features. It all kind of looks the same. I managed to find my way only taking one wrong line but I don’t think it cost me too much.

The first big rapid is called Jawbone. You boogie down through some bouldery lead in until you come to a horizon where you ride a small curler in between two big holes. For me it’s about 50/50 if I get through here right side up. Nailed it in the race. One down. Ten more to go.

Cherry Creek

The author punching the final hole in Mushroom

Mushroom had been giving me some sporty lines in practice so I wasn’t sure what to expect in the race. I stuck both entrance moves but still got a little jangled up in the weird water in the middle. I recovered it though and flew off the top of the mushroom. I got surfed by the lateral at the bottom but was happy to avoid the big hole. I might have lost a couple seconds there but at least I didn’t get beat down and swim.

I never actually ran mushroom straight into toadstool before the race. Usually we stop in between to regroup and wait for everyone to get through the first part. There was nobody to wait for on race day though. It was pretty much the same going straight in although I did think for a second how it would be nice to stop for a breather. I got spun out in the eddy at toadstool which cost me time and energy but other wise it went well.

Unknown, Blind Faith, and Sky King all went really well. I was feeling pretty good at this point. I caught pretty good air at Sky King and the cheers of the safety crew fed my stoke to paddle harder. Then I got to Eulogy. Usually you drive up a pillow and boof to the right. Starting to feel the effects of the race I got rejected by the pillow. Being too right too early ran me into some dry rocks which nearly flipped me. I was hanging on a brace when I fell into the hole which surfed me to the right. Luckily it spit me out. However, it spit me out into a lateral which typewritered me the the left where another lateral took me all the way back to the right. Not the fastest way to get there but I did want to be right at the bottom so I guess that worked out. I was pretty out of breath from my surf session though so I had to slow down for Coffin Rock. You make a right to left move here right in front of a bad place to hang out so it’s important not to blow it. I just focused on the exit and catching my breath through here which cost me a little more time but like I said before, my first goal was to make it to the finish.

cherry creek race

The typical regroup and catch your breath eddy after Mushroom on a non-race run.

Feeling recuperated after Coffin I knew I had a really fun boogie section before Christmas hole, which was the last spot I was really worried about. I was feeling strong coming into Christmas hole and then I spotted the rafts. There are commercial raft trips on this section and race day is no different. I knew there was a trip out that day, but I was hoping not to see them. I had to slow down a bit to get through a tight section behind the raft before being able to power past them in the final lead in to Christmas hole. I wasn’t stoked to lose more time here but I was happy to know that at least if I got punished in Christmas hole a raft would be along to push me out.

With the raft trip now behind me and only two rapids to go I put everything I had left into each paddle stroke. I had no trouble at Richard’s hole and nailed the fast lines in the little slide things right after. Excited with the knowledge that I was going to make it to the finish I raced toward Lewis’ Leap the final rapid. At the top of the rapid you come around a blind corner into what’s known as the hallway. As I came around the rock I found one more raft. This one was wrapped and completely blocking the channel. My heart sank. This was not only going to kill my race, there was no where for me to go but right into it. For a split second I thought I was completely screwed. Then I hear, “you’re good, you’re good!” I look up and see someone on the rock above the raft pointing to tell me there was in fact a clear path around the raft. The race was back on. I rounded the raft, made the turn, nailed the entry boof and headed straight for the goal posts. As I flew off the leap I thought,”I made it. It’s done.”

I made it to the finish line. I didn’t get passed. I came in at just over 41 minutes. Pretty happy with my first Cherry Creek Race. I would have liked to have been faster, but that will be my goal for next year. I know where I made mistakes and I am looking forward to cleaning them up next time. I’m really lucky to have had a 9R for this race. Without it I would have been much slower. For me being new to this type of racing I found the fast hull on the 9R made it really easy to keep a good pace across what flats there were which allowed me a chance to slow my heart rate and catch my breath in between the big rapids.

Cherry Creek Race

Flying off the boof in the middle of Lumsden Falls in my 9R

Photos courtesy of Jen Musick and Phillip Schoenhoff

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