BOUNDLESS: Ep. 2 presented by

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BOUNDLESS Episode 2 with Rafa Ortiz in Montana White Water

Headed straight towards the eye of the storm, eyes widen and palms sweat on the steering wheel as the RV bustles along the open road. In a sort of anticipated anticipation, the calm before the storm boasts a tranquil but chaotic uncertainty – one that makes the hairs of arms stand up and butterflies dance. For me, the calm is almost as visceral an experience as the storm itself. For professional whitewater kayaker Rafa Ortiz, I’d imagine the same. Studying lines and reckoning objective hazards in Montana’s Big Timber Creek, he prepared for a cyclone of a waterfall drop.

The late-season snowmelt in Montana brings out perfect conditions for white water kayaking. In this episode, we join Rafa Ortiz and friends for a week in his RV on Big Timber Creek.

Just a few hours outside of Bozeman, deep in the mountains Rafa prepares to approach Big Timber Falls. With rapidly changing water levels, Rafa, Peter, and Kevin have to stay on their toes and ready for the right moment.

“It’s gnarly, it’s fast, it’s scary but, it goes!” – Rafa Ortiz

The Calm Before the Storm
By Grant Perdue for Roam and GORV

Headed straight towards the eye of the storm, eyes widen and palms sweat on the steering wheel as the RV bustles along the open road. In a sort of anticipated anticipation, the calm before the storm boasts a tranquil but chaotic uncertainty – one that makes the hairs of arms stand up and butterflies dance. For me, the calm is almost as visceral an experience as the storm itself. For professional whitewater kayaker Rafa Ortiz, I’d imagine the same. Studying lines and reckoning objective hazards in Montana’s Big Timber Creek, he prepared for a cyclone of a waterfall drop.

The Calm
The pressure drops. The air feels thinner, more spacious; traditionally indicative of an incoming storm cell, the drop in air pressure creates an environment fit for a pen to be heard. However, to feel the calm before the storm, the pressure need not drop; rather, it can be as simple as a pen striking down on paper – “Big Timber Creek Trip Outline.” The moment an idea has become adequately incubated in its transition from mind to matter, the calm-state ensues – a space of jubilant anticipation and confidence sprinkled with just the right pinch of uncertainty. The storm is coming.

Many times, I feel the low pressure dance as I jostle along a dirt road in the RV – an intrinsic part of any great adventure, the commute allows time for the objective to ruminate in a constant battle between confidence-inspired excitement and doubt. Other times, the calm flows in syncopation with the storm itself, trading off between action and recovery. On a long rock climb, the belay ledge provides a place of calming mysticism – mid-way up a massive rock face, the belay ledge offers a stunning juxtaposition from the heads-up, ultimate engagement of the last pitch’s sending escapades. Sure, a place to contemplate the upcoming vertical departure, but oftentimes the belay ledge is a space to reckon with the reality of recent achievement. “I can’t believe I just did that” sends shivers down the spine; the pressure drops, the air becomes spacious – how ironic for a position so jarring to promote such immense inner peace. Then, the next pitch: let the pressure rise.

The calm, though, is not isolated to adrenaline-inducing endeavors. Such syncopation, though, seems universal. Standing atop a steep couloir after an alpine sunrise, the butterflies tango within. “Am I really ready for this?” Luckily, dropping into the couloir or flowing into the next wave of a grizzly set, the butterflies escape to flutter only in the distant background.

The Storm
“I’m connected to the river in this really cool state where I’m just pressing, there are no problems; nothing else but me, my kayak, and the challenge ahead” said Ortiz. The eye of the storm. You see, the storm is an interesting place because once within, the winds become stagnant. Rather than anticipate, one must execute. The waters roar with gusto as they flow over lush mosses and through tight cliff bands. Rather than a murky green or blue, it’s as white as snow – rushing with such power that air pockets fill the water’s structure in a crystalline induction. Weaving between tight rocks over gigantic cliff bands, Ortiz slips into a water-bound meditation. Once in motion, when mind becomes matter, the sweat on the palms dries and breathing slows intentionality. Flawlessly gliding through the gargantuan waterfall, Ortiz flows through the eye of the storm and executes. “Just looking back at the beast and feeling it’s mission accomplished, there’s nothing better than that,” he said.

The feeling rings true arriving at the next belay ledge. A sea of vertical cracks and imperfections on the rock face, while highly anticipated, allow me to slip into that same meditative state. Rather than intensify, nerves calm because they must – and they do. Execution requires holistic presentness, a form that can easily be muddied by the nagging effervescence of butterflies. The hardest part about waking up early is getting your feet to hit the floor. In the same sense, though, the moment the feet hit the floor, the skis point nose-down, or the surfboard absorbs the initial drop, the butterflies flutter into oblivion. Mind becomes matter. After the hike back to the trailhead, which seems far longer than it did in the morning, the RV, a traveling space of familiarity and comfort, provides a space to reflect rather than project.

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While the storm itself may appear more calm than the calm before it, to reach the eye of the storm, one must run through an anticipated anticipation – palms must sweat, the heart must beat fast, and the butterflies must take flight. In their excited flutter, while nagging and nerve-inducing, they provide us with an important initiative: they force us to check our work. Whether studying sturdy logs that could make or break a river run, memorizing pitch breakdowns on a big route, contemplating snow hazards, or mapping out the next set in stagnant waters, the calm before the storm provides us a space to contemplate, to reach a state of certainty. As for the butterflies, once they have run their course, they recede into the background, awaiting the next storm cycle. #kaya