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Chris Emerick, one of the premier whitewater videographers and producers, is a good friend of mine. We have discussed producing an instructional kayaking video to go with my instructional book that was published two years ago. I just won the World Championships for the second time and it made sense to get the video underway as soon as possible. I got a call from Chris in November suggesting that we should film the video in Ecuador this winter. I have never been there, and needed to check the map to see just where it was, sad but true. I have paddled in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina, but never Ecuador. I discovered a few interesting facts about Ecuador before leaving. We fly into Quito, a city that lies at 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. The source of the Amazon is near Tena, in Eastern Ecuador, in dense virgin jungle, where the only people you will find are the Quichan (indigenous natives), and a few native trails. The three ideal places to find an abundance of whitewater are in Baeza, Tena, and Banos. Chris suggested that we should film in both Baeza and Tena.

We arrived in Ecuador on January 2 with winter white skin and still feeling the holidays. Two special people to me were invited to film with me in the video, Jessie Stone and Danny Stock. Both of these people have been brought up in their kayaking career under my direction using my “Strokes and Concepts” program. Danny helped to edit my first book at 18 years old. He is unusually intelligent, motivated and caring, bucking the trend as a teenager. No drinking or self-destructive behavior of any kind. His focus on the good things have paid off as he made the U.S. Junior Men’s Slalom Kayaking team after only two years of serious training. Jessie Stone is another incredible human being. I met her at the Gauley Festival in West Virginia in 1998. She told me that she would trade medical services for coaching. She had graduated from Berkley Medical School but decided that kayaking was her call in life at this point, not medicine. I am a sucker for anybody that is willing to look status quo in the eye and say, “this is not for me”, and make a conscience quality of life decree. Jessie was just that. Not many people would consider giving up being a doctor to be a kayaker an intelligent decision. Jessie doesn’t think twice about it, she knows what she wants, and what she doesn’t want, and makes her life decisions based on a simple formula. “Will I be happier doing this?” By no means does she think short term either. Her decisions are based on goal achieving, not tension relieving. So, she has lived up to her end of the bargain time and time again. She has given my son, Dane, stitches four times since that agreement, as well as helped me in raising money for major competition trips. Jessie has also been rocketing up the rankings in freestyle kayaking. Last year, she was ranked 7th in the women’s pro class.

One more thing that made our group special is that nobody ever complains or argues, ever. As a group it was almost embarrassing how selfless everybody was. “Let me get this check, no let me, etc.” You almost had to be pushy to pay for something. Ok, so I am now ready to continue with my story.

We got a taxi to the bus station in Quito and boarded the 3:30 bus to Tena, a six-hour ride over a 14,000-foot pass in the Andes and back down to 2,000 feet into town. The weather got much hotter in Tena than Quito. It actually felt like we were on the Equator now. The bus ride was just like you might imagine. Sharing the isles and seats were the prized chickens and pets of the locals. Grandma kept her chicken in her shopping bag, and little Jose’ had the little chicks in a cardboard box.

Chris was ready to get to work on the video right away. We checked into one of the nicest hotels in town, $7 per night, and began going over my outline for the video. Chris knew of a lagoon to film the flat-water shots about a 30-minute hike above the normal put in for the Napo River. We spent a few days there in what could certainly be described as paradise. A crystal clear green lagoon made by a steep mountain creek of 70 degree water flowing out of dense jungle. My only regret was that perhaps the only people who would appreciate the ultimate swimming hole more than me would be my kids, Emily and Dane. There were actually a series of three lagoons ranging from 10 to 20 feet deep with sandy bottoms and rocks to dive off of. The rapids in between them were class 4+ made up of steep drops, very low volume. Chris suggested that we take a day off from the Lagoon and try another river run that was nearby. Last year Chris scouted most of the river runs and was familiar with what was available. Locals were also helpful for finding the put-in and take out points, especially since many of them required hiking from the road to find them.