It was a festival to remember. Or, one you can’t remember, depending on the contents of your bloodstream throughout the four long days of the FIBArk festival in Salida.
There were rafters, kayakers, runners, dog enthusiasts, beer enthusiasts, music enthusiasts, bikers, hikers, and hippies – oh, were there hippies – swarming to nearly double the population of Salida for the 66th annual whitewater festival.
The event started when a group of boaters decided to put their skills to the test in 1949 and run the 57-mile stretch of the Arkansas River – at peak runoff time – from Salida to Canon City.
It was “an invitation to death”, as many described it, and only two Swiss competitors made it. In fact, this is the river that continues to take lives – one two days before the 2014 festival began.
It’s a relentless body of water not to be toyed with, yet for four days in Salida, it becomes nothing more than a playground.
Experienced kayakers from around the world came here, a quiet mountain town, to perform flips, McNastys, blunts, and spins.
One family, the Kelloggs’, has 12 offspring – six of them competed in freestyle kayak competitions. Two of them are going to the World Championships in Spain. All of them are younger than 18.
The festival really has become an ode to the title sponsor, Eddyline Brewing. I’d estimate more Eddyline beer was consumed during FIBArk’s four days than during any four previous Spring Breaks combined.
Sure, there are world class kayakers, rafters, and stand-up paddleboarders competing, but what is FIBArk’s signature event?
Why, it’s the “Hooligan Race”, in which people with questionable judgement put together a floating device made of things that aren’t boats and dive into the river at the encouragement of a crowd near ½ the town’s population.
The final day of the race is the closest tribute to the founders of FIBArk, featuring a 26-mile downriver race, starting in Salida and finishing in Cotopaxi.
Andy Corra won his 10th Downriver classic in 2014. He’s also a school principal. His son, 11, is named Wiley, and will soon carry on the Corra legacy in the river.
The music was fun and loud, and Amendment 64’s target audience was providing the air fresheners at Riverside Park. There were New Orleans brass band Rebirths, Filthy Children, Pimps of Joytime, and Infamous Stringdusters.
I saw things I hadn’t seen before while covering the event, which made for several 12-hour workdays and over 1,200 pictures taken. It was cool, exhausting, and awful, all at the same time. It was my final assignment at my first newspaper job, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It was quite the way to cap off my time in Salida.
If you’re ever looking for something to do during peak runoff time in the Arkansas River Valley in June – go to FIBArk. Drink a lot of beer. Eat a lot of fair food. Take in some music. Watch kayakers flip in a Class III rapid. Bring your sunscreen. Stop by the Boathouse Cantina for Monarch Wings.
Most importantly – visit Salida, and tell ’em I sent you.