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It's not how most people celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Rather than the traditional intimate dinner and bouquet of flowers, Jess Huckins has chosen to spend her fifth wedding anniversary organizing a wet, rowdy affair full of adrenaline and people as part of an inaugural kayaking festival on the Lochsa River.

It's called Lose It on the Lochsa, and it's Saturday afternoon on the Lochsa River, a two-hour drive west of Missoula over Lolo Pass.

"That's our second home," Huckins said of the river where the couple was married. They said their vows on a sandy beach on the banks of the Lochsa and their reception was a huge float down the river.

"Friends and family are everything," she said. "That's what we want to do and where we want to be - with the people we love. It's a good time to see everyone."

So Huckins and kayker and friend Cheyenne Rogers decided to organize an event that brings everyone together on the river, which is known for its Class IV rapids. They concocted the plan on a trip back from Alberton Gorge.

Lose It on the Lochsa consists of a morning yoga session, two kayak races, an awards ceremony and an evening party.

The Lochsa Rendezvous, which is always the first weekend in May, is the unofficial kickoff to the whitewater season on the river. Memorial Day draws hundreds to the river to boat or observe when flows are usually at their highest. But this is one of Huckins' favorite times on the Lochsa because it's usually warmer and the flows - typically - are lower.

"We've always wondered why there hasn't been any river festival because it is amazing whitewater and it doesn't matter if you're a beginner at lower flows or advanced professional kayakers at higher levels. It has so much to offer."

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Yoga will begin at 9 a.m. PDT in the pavilion of the Wilderness Gateway campground. Registration for the kayak races begins at 10:15 a.m. at the same location. The maximum number of participants is 50 kaykers.

(The event is on Pacific time, an hour behind Mountain time, because it's in Idaho.)

Both the creek race and downhill race begin at the Fish Creek pullout located at mile marker 120.

There are men's long boat and short boat categories, and a women's category.

The creek race, which starts at noon, is on Fish Creek, which dumps into the Lochsa River. Boaters will run in full gear with their kayaks three-quarters of a mile along a dirt road up the creek to a small put-in area. The first boater to cross the footbridge downcreek wins.

The downriver paddle race begins at 1 p.m. There will be a mass start, and kayakers will race 8.2 miles. The first to cross the Split Creek footbridge wins.

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"There may be points for your hit at Lochsa Falls," Huckins said.

Also, Strongwater Paddle Sports of Missoula is organizing a stand-up paddle and surf rally as part of Lose It on the Lochsa. However, the event depends on the water level.

Much of Montana has experienced flooding in recent weeks, so it's no surprise that the Lochsa River is also running high. On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey reported the Lochsa at 14,300 cubic feet per second.

Huckins hopes the big water will encourage professional and experienced kayakers to the event, but discourage those less confident in a kayak.

"I'm getting a great buzz from everybody," Huckins said. "Everybody is really excited, and even folks that aren't really into the whitewater community - they just want to come down and see what it's all about."

A party with music begins at 10 p.m. at Boulder Flats, more popularly known as "Wilderness Ghetto."

For a full schedule and list of festival sponsors, check the Lose It on the Lochsa Facebook page. Also, Lose It on the Lochsa will be the featured nonprofit during the Kettlehouse Brewing Co.'s nonprofit night on Wednesday, June 22. Funds raised will help recoup some of the costs of the festival.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

 

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