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Birthday Traditions: “A bad a$# love story”

BY HEATHER HERBECK

It’s a tradition in our circle of paddling friends that the birthday boy/girl find a waterfall of their choice and we all go out and “huck” it. Huck is a hardcore word meaning “to paddle over the waterfall in your kayak.”

This story took place in May of 2005. At the time, we were finishing up a four-week adventure quest up and down the shores of Lake Superior and up into Canada, kayaking many big rapids, waterfalls and drops.

On my actual birthday, May 15th, we hucked one of my most favorite waterfalls on the North Shore, 30-foot Illgen Falls. We lapped the waterfall multiple times until we were too sore and tired to continue.

illgen falls

That same evening I heard some friends paddled over a waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge that stood over 80 feet tall: Metlako Falls. It was at that very moment that I wasn’t satisfied with my b-day huck over Illgen. I WANTED METLAKO, and I wanted it as soon as we got back to the Pacific Northwest.

On many occasions, I don’t commit 100% to any waterfall or rapid until I am present, there, looking at it and determining how I feel at that very moment. However, I had Metlako committed from the moment I first thought about it.

Here is a recap on that very day, running the biggest waterfall I have ran to this day … and sharing it with the most precious person in my life.

May 17th, 2005

How I prepared for the BIG day:

  • For the last week, I was visualizing the waterfall  — sitting at the top, dropping over, tucking and holding/bracing for the hit.
  • I watched video of friends running the falls and committed their action to memory.
  • I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday (the day before my big huck) and literally had the emotions of having already ran the drop. I had to convince myself I hadn’t yet!

Sunday was 80 degrees and sunny – such a perfect day!

The level was PERFECT! I had never seen the entrance before, so when we hiked down to look at it, we were pleasantly surprised it was a nice big tongue rolling off the lip. We got a parking spot close to the trailhead at Eagle Creek (even though it was one of the busiest days I’d seen there).

Everyone we met on the trailhead said “have fun” instead of “you are going to die.” I wanted this for me. There was no nervous, scared energy, but the energy I had felt only a few times before, both of which ended up with successful performances.

The love story begins . . .

My husband, Nate, and I arrived at Eagle Creek around 11:00 a.m.  — organizing gear, cameras, etc. We were meeting Ryan Scott and Lana Young who were going to take photos and video. Once we got our gear together we headed up.

We pulled over at the Metlako look-out point and got a quick check on the level. “It looks perfect,” Nate said. I didn’t respond, but inside I was thinking, “Sweet!”

Our next plan was to hike down to the lip and check it out, as neither of us had seen it. We stood there looking at the lip for a little bit. Then seeing Nate head up the trail, I took one last look and headed up.

“Couldn’t look at the drop anymore, was getting a little nervous,” Nate said (as he is not very comfortable with heights).

“You feeling good about it? I’ll run it first if you want,” I said.

“No, I’ll run it first because I need to take care of you,” he quickly responded.

As we were psyching ourselves up, we also went over our game plan  — Nate was going first with no safety. If something went bad, I would have to run it right away or jump it. 

Once Ryan and Lana were ready at a lookout point way downstream, we headed up. It was awesome to be in that canyon again, in a part of the river I had never even imagined I’d ever be running, alongside my hubby!

There we were, now eddied out directly above the 82-foot Metlako Falls. Nate was running it first. He took a few breaths, went out into the current, looked me in the eyes and said “I L-O-V-E YOU,” then peeled out over the falls.

After a few minutes and feeling my heart pounding through my chest, I heard the whistle blow … he made it!

It was my turn.

“Give me 30 seconds,” I told Ryan over our walkie-talkies.

From were I was, I could see Ryan and gave him a thumbs up. I splashed my face, took a few deep breaths and peeled out into the current. Once at the lip, I held my position and tucked, holding my paddle close to my boat.

metlako falls

Look carefully and you can see Heather.

I felt myself fall, continue to fall and fall some more … finally I hit! It was a surprisingly soft hit for such a large drop. The paddle did get torn out of my right hand, but managed to grab it again and roll up!

Nate and I stayed down below the falls for quite some time, celebrating. Just the two of us! The man who taught me how to paddle, my best friend, my husband  — I had just shared an experience many couples will never share — paddling off of an 82-foot falls!

heather and nate

We shared hugs, kisses and high-fives! It was the most amazing feeling ever to experience that with Nate!

Heather Herbeck is a whitewater kayaker with Girls4Sport who lives in BZ Corner, Washington, in the Columbia River Gorge.  She teaches whitewater kayaking on the White Salmon River.  She’s also a personal trainer and aerobics instructor. Read more posts by Heather.

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1 Comment

  1. writebpm says:

    Heather, this is a true Love Story! Congratulations on “hucking” 80′ Illgen Falls, COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE! The photos are Great, the Love Story is Greater, and your relationship with Nate is the Greatest!

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