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Ben Mercer, WA representative on Australian down river team touring Europe for World Championships, 2004

Letter 2

15th May, 2004

 Hi All

What can I say... There are a lot of rocks on the Losaich River and I have been aquainted with a fair portion of them !!

Have been settled in at Garmisch now for nearly two weeks and it has been fairly routine but nowhere near boring ! The weather is cold and usually lightly raining, sunshine is greeted with much joy.

My first runs down the course were purely survival. The other guys in the team had all paddled the course in the past and I went in with no idea. The interesting thing about this river is that unless you are right on the tail of the paddler in front it is hard to follow them as they disappear behind large boulders and have made about three turns since then !

The water level was quite high at first and therefore not as many submerged rocks, but you needed to be much quicker to know where to go. I basically just hit the boulders harder !!! In two runs I broke my nose guard, footbar, seat, put two splits in the hull and made the tail a mess of soft kevlar. So my training boat went straight out to the backyard for repairs and I borrowed a plastic boat somewhat like a Wavehopper off the Italian team. This boat had been given to them to test out and see where the weak points were... Well in two runs I bent the front 1ft of the nose at right angles and then smashed it into a crumpled mess !! ha ha They gave it to the right man. They asked where I hit rocks... the question was where I didn't !

I now have a basic handle on the course and we work on fine tuning the lines and discovering new rocks as the water drops. It is a constant process of walking and paddling the course and repairing the boat.

I wrote my faithful 'Savage' training boat off at the start of this week after going too hard down a rapid called 'Treppenhaus'. I have now purchased and setup another boat to train in... and continue.

We have been doing flatwater sessions on the Eibsee lake which is reached by about a 3km hill. We have been running quite a bit including this hill before training. Whilst my boat was out of action I ran up a smallish mountain the other day and ended up above the clouds. It took 40mins to get up and the last bit was running 100m, walking 50m. Hard work !

The Italian team staying at our accommodation are real characters. There are no women in the team and it is a very macho scene with lots of wheeling and dealing. They like to know what is going on all the time and we constantly catch them peering around our balcony and inspecting our boat repairs etc. We have been training with a British paddler, Oliver Wickham, who trains with the top Italian, Robert Pontorollo. He has the gift of the gab and has been very entertaining.

A classic the other day was the Italians trying to swap dodgy boats and paddles for one of Oliver's practice boats. He had none of it... but produced a new set of paddles that he had for sale for 100euro. Francesco jumped at the chance and went and borrowed 100euro off Carlos. He quickly handed over the money and then they proceded to gloat that Oliver was a fool and the paddles were worth much more. Oliver casually shrugged his shoulders as he walked off and mumbled, "I don't care... they're Carlos' paddles anyway !!".  Five stocky Italians chasing a nimble Pom was no match... but you can't run forever, so it was all sorted with a few red faces ! ha

Hope all is well.
Regards
Ben


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