Looking Back, Looking Forward 2016/2017 Edition

I did one of these at the “end” of 2014, and another one in 2015. So maybe it’s time for this year’s.

Ok, by the numbers, racing/training hours:

Activity Last Year This Year
Total 296:50:30 296:00:58
Paddling 197:39:19 223:17:07
Cycling 80:14:04 33:15:14
Erging 18:02 39:02:54

Not much change in the total hours, but a decrease in cycling and balancing increase in erging and paddling. I think if there was a way to compare it month by month there would be a lot more hours in the early season, and a lot fewer later – especially since October was mostly a wash out because of my carpal tunnel surgery. I think last year I cycled more than paddled in the fall after the racing season was over.

I’d stated in last year’s summary that I’d planned to do more muscle strength and speed work. I think I did more intervals, but I don’t think I did any appreciable muscle strength work. I need to work on that for next year.

I went to most of the races I put in my 2015 Racing Calendar. I didn’t make it to Ride The Bull, and I skipped Black River because I’d been told the river was shallow and rocky and didn’t seem like it was going to be fun. I did the Old Forge race the day before. I had some good times, some disappointments. My biggest thrill of the year was going to BC and Oregon for the Canadians and the Gorge – although I had strained something and couldn’t manage to do two runs a day like I’d planned. My biggest disappointment was the Seneca Monster, which turned out to be a weedy mess. Obviously, the big story of the year was my near death experience when I lost my Thunderbolt.

I used my V10 Sport for nearly everything this year. I paddled the V12 mostly as a way to build up my balance skills and balance muscles, but I never managed to paddle it in waves or in any races. I’m ok with that, I guess. I’d been leery of risking the V10 Sport in the Round The Mountain race because of the fragility of the “Ultra” layup, but I didn’t drop it or hit any rocks, so it was fine. And after losing my Thunderbolt, it’s not like I had a choice. I also got frustrated out west with how slow I am compared to most of the other people there. I have to keep telling myself that most of them paddle on waves a hell of a lot more than I do. Maybe someday I’ll be as good as some of them.

Next year I won’t be going to the Canadians or the Gorge, unfortunately. It’s Vicki and my twentieth anniversary and I’m super stoked that we’re going to do a European River Cruise as our big vacation. And with the timing of the cruise we’re looking at, we’ll probably miss the TC Surfski Immersion weekend as well. So I guess I’ll have to find waves nearer home.

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Another camera option

In my on-going search for a decent action camera, I forgot to mention in my earlier blog post one option. I own a camera that is somewhat waterproof (IPX7), has nearly 80GB of storage on it, and can shoot 4K/30fps and 1080p/60fps. It’s my new iPhone 7 Plus. I added a waterproof case (IPx8), and it should be fine for the splashing and brief immersions of your typical kayak race. I did a bit of testing, and I can film 2 hours of 4K video without depleting the battery below 50%, nor did it more than half-fill the free space on the phone. So 4 hours might well be possible. Plus it has the advantage that I already own it.

The drawbacks, however, are kind of big:

  • The shooting field of view is fairly narrow compared to most action cameras. They usually use a pretty wide field of view. I’ve seen add-on lenses for earlier iPhones that go over the phone but they cost as much as a GoPro, so that’s not going to help.
  • The form factor doesn’t lend itself well to being worn on the head for Point Of View shots.
  • The waterproofing is good, but it’s not rated for “full immersion to meters below the surface for hours at a time” like most action cameras.
  • Most importantly, if you ruin it somehow, either by getting it wet, losing it in the depths of Lake Ontario or smashing it on a rock, you’re out a $700+ dollar phone. And if you do any of those things or even just run down the battery and suddenly need the phone for making an emergency call, you’re shit out of luck.

I think I need to test it out, but I’m thinking this isn’t going to be my primary camera.

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Still looking for a good camera (or three)

One of the things I’ve really gotten into in the last couple of years is making movies of my kayaking, especially races. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from them. Unfortunately, I have yet to find cameras I like.

The basic problem is that my requirements are not the same as most people who use “Action Cameras”.

First and foremost, it appears that your average GoPro user only wants to go out and do a few stunts. Or they’ll be doing something where they can use their hands to turn on and off the camera. Or they can stop what they’re doing to change the battery. None of those use-cases require ultra-long battery life. My use-case is that I want to be able to turn on my cameras as I leave the dock to go warm up, finish my warm up, do a 2-3 hour race, warm down, and then come back to the dock and turn off the cameras. Mostly the cameras are not within my reach, but even if they were I couldn’t spare a hand to deal with them during a race. So basically my number one priority is that they have at least 3.5 to 4 hours battery life. I have only found one camera that comes even close to that battery life, and that’s the Contour Roam 3.

VelonCC, an organization of professional cycling teams, makes “Inside the Peloton” videos that show highlights of every day’s stage in major cycling races, using GoPro Hero Session cameras mounted on some of the rider’s bikes. But the Hero Session, like just about every other action camera, only has 90-minute battery life, and so I wondered how they are showing the finish sprint at the end of a 4-hour stage. I asked them, and they claim that they program the cameras to turn on and off during different times. I downloaded the manual for the Hero Session and I can find no mention of timed start times. VelonCC also claims that they don’t have special firmware to allow this timing. So I don’t know how they actually do it. Maybe there’s a secret menu that isn’t in the manual. Maybe I’m missing something in the manual. I don’t know. They also seem to be extraordinarily good at guessing who is going to be involved in major events of the stage and when those events are going to be happening. I have my suspicions – I suspect they’re lying about the timing and they’ve got people in the caravan using remote controls, or they have some special device or firmware to allow the timing.

Secondly, I require my cameras to be waterproof. Naturally, most cameras are waterproof or come in waterproof housings. Unfortunately, my attempts to deal with the battery length issue have lead to me compromising the waterproofing. I had a Polaroid XS100 camera that produced a really nice picture and was simple to use, but I attempted to bodge a battery extension using sugru and an external USB battery. Unfortunately after a few uses the camera stopped working – I assume it got water through the sugru and shorted out. I also had a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver camera and a third party extended battery, which was just about perfect. It produced a really nice 1080p/60fps picture, a bit washed out in color compared to the Polaroid, but nice and smooth. And the battery life was pretty close to the required five hours. Unfortunately when I was at the surf-ski vacation of my life in the Gorge, the hinge on the case broke. I thought I had fixed it, but afterward, the camera would stop recording after 5 minutes or so. I thought I was recording when I wasn’t because it had shut off almost as soon as I got underway. I guess my fix wasn’t adequate and allowed water in. I tried both with and without the third party battery and it still does that, so it’s toast.

I also had a cheap Chinese GoPro knock-off called a “GeekPro” (because intellectual property is something that happens to other people, not Chinese companies). It looks a lot like a GoPro but is just different enough that the GoPro extended batteries don’t work on it. I worked out a bodge using a tiny flat cable from a wireless charger for Android phones. In bench testing, I got nearly 7 hours battery life. However, as soon as I tried it on the water it reverted to the 90 minutes that the built-in battery is good for. I assume that means my bodge isn’t waterproof. But it hardly matters because the picture quality is terrible – if you include any bright sky you get weird bands of color and everything is horribly over-saturated.

By this point, I was getting leery of any solution to battery life that didn’t come from the camera maker, and like I said I didn’t really like the picture quality of the Roam, so I bought a Veho Muvi K2. It promised a 2 or 2.5-hour battery life shooting 1080p/60fps. It also says the waterproof case is good down to 100 meters depth. What they don’t tell you in on the web is that it has a terrible tendency to fog up inside the waterproof case. They provide a bunch of silica pads to put inside the case, but even so, it fogged up terribly. I used in two races where I had it mounted in the front of the kayak pointing back at me, and both times I could see the lens fogging up as I paddled away from the dock. The third time I used it I hit the camera on some rocks while portaging and loosened the mount to the point where it fell off into the water about a kilometer afterward. I made a grab for it, but it sunk before I could reach it. I don’t miss it.

As I alluded to a few times above, I’ve decided that 1080p/30fps just isn’t good enough for capturing the action in races. The Contour Roam has the battery life and waterproofness I want, but I really don’t think much of the picture quality, and at least part of that is because it looks choppy and pixelated in high action like at the race start. I’m thinking 1080p/60fps is the bare minimum. After watching Bradley Friesen’s YouTube channel, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be doing 4K video. Unfortunately, 4K video seems to only come in 30fps. Some of the new Action Cameras do a 2.7K video at 60fps which looks intriguing – and some of them use the size of the 4K sensor to do image stabilization at a lower resolution (basically they’re doing some sort of cropping in the camera). Those are all things I’d like to experiment with.

There are a couple of new cameras like the GoPro Hero 5, the Hero 5 Session and the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 that do all the fancy 4K stuff and the image stabilization at 1080p/60fps. But so far none of them have any option, either first party or third party, to extend the battery life beyond the nominal 90 minutes or so. Maybe there will be in the spring by the time I need to start recording kayak races again. There is also a whole slew of cheap-ass 4K Chinese GoPro clones appearing on Amazon for around $100. It’s unlikely they will ever have any options for extending battery life because although they look like GoPros, they don’t include the proprietary GoPro port that earlier GoPros used for expansions. Another option is to forget about 4K and image stabilization and buy older GoPros. GoPro themselves have an eBay shop where they sell “factory refurbs” – I could buy 2 GoPro Hero 3+ Silvers for what a Hero 5 Session would cost me, and I could use the extended life battery I bought for the one that got wet. I’d just have to be more careful about the hinge.

Oh well, at least I don’t have to make a decision on this before spring. Maybe things will be more settled by then.

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Seneca Monster Race

You might have noticed that I haven’t written anything about last weekend’s Seneca Monster race yet. There are a whole bunch of reasons for that, but first and foremost is that I had a terrible race. Secondly, one of my cameras wasn’t charged up so it didn’t get any video, and another fell off and was lost in the canal, so I have no video. And thirdly I had surgery on my wrist during the week and so I’ve had other things on my mind and a limited ability to type for a while.

If you want to know why I had a terrible race, you need to cast your mind back to 2014 when Epic changed the design of their V10 Sport. There are many things you notice, both large and small when you compare Mike’s 2013 V10 Sport with my 2014 V10 Sport. Most of them are awesome. The closable bailer is worth the price of the upgrade right there. The cutaways at the catch area are great too, and the handles sure are nice at the end of a long paddle. But if you look at the bow, there is a very subtle change in where the straight up and down part transitions to the curve that goes under. When Mike and I are paddling side by side, you might notice that on his, the waterline is actually on the curve whereas on mine it’s on the straight up and down part. I’m sure there are hydrodynamic reasons for that change, and I’m sure somebody figured out it would be half a percent faster on ocean waves or something, but the upshot is that my bow collects weeds in places where Mike’s doesn’t. They just seem to slide under his on the curve and stop dead in mine on the straight part.

The Seneca Monster race is entirely in weeds. There are weeds from the start to the end, worse than even the USCA Nationals. And just when you think it’s the weediest race you’ve ever seen, they run you through a channel behind an island that is twice as weedy and shallow suck water as well. And then just to make life terrible for kayakers, just before the downstream turn in Seneca Falls there is a massive mat of weeds that was so thick it stopped me dead from full speed. It was so bad I couldn’t make the turn until I paddled backwards to clear my rudder, then I turned and then had to go through the same damn mat again on the way up. There were three close together bridges in the town of Seneca Falls, and if they’d moved the turn to the second bridge, we could have avoided that horrible mess.

Before the race I’d been so worried about the two portages. I figured that Roger is faster than me on the carries, especially since these ones were perfect for using wheels, so I figured that I’d need a good lead on him before the second carry so I’d still be ahead at the finish. Instead, thanks to the weeds, I lost contact with him within 2km of the start, before the channel behind the island. By the third kilometer, exiting the channel, I was side by side with Mike and Scott. Both of these guys I’ve been beating pretty handily this year, but I’d blown so much effort on trying to keep up with first Roger, and then a guy I didn’t know who was behind Roger while dragging weeds that I didn’t have any energy left. My race was basically done well before the first portage. At one point Mike tried to stab the weeds off my bow with his paddle, but I had misinterpreted what he was doing and veered off so he missed. I stopped and backpaddled to get them off myself, and the weed bundle was the size of a football. By then I was blown up and I couldn’t catch back up with Mike and Scott.

At the first portage, at about 4.5 kilometers in, I actually caught them exiting the water, but they both portaged faster than me. Scott stopped to put on his wheels, but he came trundling past a few minutes in and disappeared into the distance. I did nearly catch him as he stopped to take off his wheels, and I got to see him practically drop his boat down these steep stone “steps” at the end of the portage. Since my boat is much more fragile than his I had to take it more gingerly, losing even more time. I still managed to crunch my boat a little bit – unbeknownst to me I’d loosened the stickum on one of my camera mounts, so about a kilometer later the camera dropped off and I was unable to catch it before it sunk. An expensive lesson in the value of camera tie downs, I guess.

After that, there really isn’t much to report. I tried to keep my speed up as well as I could. There were a couple of canoes that I would pass, and then they’d pass me back a few minutes later when I was backing up to clear the weeds, then I’d pass them again. In spite of the frequent weed clearing, my shoulders were incredibly sore from the effort of paddling with that much resistance. And the portages were hard on my shoulders as well.

If I ever go back to this race, it would have to be with a boat that doesn’t pick up weeds as badly as my Sport. My V12 has the same bow as Mike’s Sport, and it doesn’t pick up weeds, but it’s heavy. Maybe if I had wheels…

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Long Lake Long Boat Regatta 2016

Today was the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta, or LLLBR for short. LLLBR and me go way back – back in 2008 Dan Murn convinced me and some other of the novice Rochester racers to come, and he convinced the organizer, Brian Mac, to put on a short race for our benefit. First and probably last time I beat Tom Murn in a race.

I don’t know how they do it, but somehow they usually have awesome weather for this race. Yeah, we’ve had some windy ones, but I don’t think we’ve had bad rain or thunderstorms. (Sorry, I probably just jinxed it for next year, haven’t I?) And the leaves are turning and it is just beautiful up here. This morning it was quite cool, almost cold, and as usual I didn’t know what to wear. I showed up with my v-cold long sleeve shirt and v-cold paddling pants. As I prepared the boat it warmed up a tiny bit and first I switched the long sleeve v-cold top for a short sleeve v-cold top (in retrospect, a good move) and then later just before getting in the boat I stripped off my paddling pants exposing my v-heat shorts (in retrospect, not such a good move). You see, a few years ago Jim told me I should be a little bit chilly when paddling into the wind so I don’t overheat when I turn back downwind. Which is great in practice, but I swear we never had anything but headwinds or beam winds for the entire race. Got some following waves, but never actually got a respite from the wind in my face and blowing cold spray onto my legs.

I put my Muvi camera on the front of the boat, since when I’d tried it as a head mount last weekend it had given me a wicked headache plus I hadn’t started it. The FAQ for this camera notes that people had have problems with the waterproof case fogging up, and they provide a bunch of silica gel packets for include in the case to help prevent that. I decided to be safe and put two fresh packets (right out of the foil sealed packets) today, but it didn’t work. As I approached the starting line, I could see the damn thing fogging up, and it never cleared. I’m cursed by movie cameras that hate me. If it wasn’t for all the great feedback I get from my loyal followers I’d give up. (If anybody wants to start a fund to buy me a GoPro Session 5 or two, I’m sure I’d produce much better videos without so many technical issues, hint, hint.) The Countour Roam camera on the back continues to have great battery life, be simple to operate, the only problem is it doesn’t do 1080p at 60fps and I don’t think the video is smooth at 30fps.

Oh, and because all racers like to start their excuse making early, I should mention that I’ve been dealing with terrible allergy symptoms for a couple of weeks. Sneezing, stuffy nose, and a slightly sore throat. Yuck. The only factor I felt like was still in my favor was that although my nose was stuffed, it didn’t seem to be interfering with taking deep breaths through my mouth. So I figured I might be ok, or I might have a terrible coughing fit somewhere out on the course and have to DNF. I was giving even odds, but nobody would take the bet.

So at the start, there were some surprises. Todd and John Hair didn’t show up. Jim was paddling in touring class in a v8 for the challenge. Matt was in a double with some guy who hasn’t been paddling in a Surfski much but who evidently in his first outing last week did the third day of the 90 Miler – so maybe not much time in kayaks, but a way above average paddler. There were only three of us in unlimited class, me, Mike and a guy in a V10 GT who looked like the sort of guy who deserved to be in a GT class boat. I knew if my breathing didn’t fail, I could probably beat Mike, and obviously the GT guy was going to beat us. So really my race was against my own lungs, and if they were good, my goal was to beat Roger. Roger had beaten me in our last showdown in the Adirondaks by riding my stern wake the whole way and then coming around me just as I picked up a weed on my bow. I didn’t want to let that happen again. Actually, I was sort of hoping that I’d beat Mike, but it would be really close. Mike is coming back from injury and down time and he’s getting faster, and I want us to be head to head rivals again.

At the start, Jim was off like a rocket, followed closely by the GT guy. There were a couple a c-4s and a guy in a 18x touring class boat. Suddenly Matt’s double came roaring up the outside and quickly joined Jim. It looked like they dropped GT guy pretty handily. I was on the side wake of one of the c-4s and another c-4 was well off to my right. The  guy in the 18x had a gap on me, and I tried a couple of times to close it but he was holding me off. I found out later his name is Eric (I think) so I’m going to refer to him as Eric for the rest of this blog. In a quick glance back, it looked like Mike was on the stern wake of the same c-4 I was on, and I couldn’t see Roger which was a bit surprising. The other c-4 looked like it was actually a tiny bit faster than the one I was on, so I accelerated a bit and left the first behind with the thought of maybe glomming onto the faster ones wake.

But then I hear this horrible wheezing sound and realize Roger has managed to catch up to me, and now he’s got designs on catching Eric. He and Eric were in the same type of boat, and I believe they both live in the Adirondacks, so I bet there is some sort of rivalry going on there. Fine by me. As Roger went wheezing by, I jumped on his stern wake and graciously allowed him to tow me up to Eric. I wasn’t exactly getting a free ride here – even with the wake, my heart rate was still up over 160, in the “red zone”. But so far my lungs were holding on. We got into a nice conga line, but then we hit some wakes from war canoes in the other direction and some other waves and then the faster c-4 actually barged into the line and forced me off Roger’s wake and suddenly they’ve got three boat lengths on me. Oh oh. I tried to take it in good humor, saying to the c-4 guys “hey, I’m paddlin’ here” like in Midnight Cowboy.

At the turn I turned a bit tighter than them and managed to recover one of those boat lengths, and so I put in a massive effort to close the gap up and get on Roger’s stern wake again. We had a fairly good gap over the c-4s, and Mike was still hanging onto the stern wake of one of them.

I thought after the turn we’d be heading down wind since we’d been going up wind before the turn, but somehow that didn’t work out that way. If anything the headwind was stronger going this way. Eric is a powerful guy and every time the wind picked up, he seemed to put the hammer down – I’m pretty sure it was a deliberate attempt to gap us. We stayed mostly together back under the bridge, and then we hit some waves and we broke up again. I put in a supreme effort to get back on Roger’s stern wake again, but he wasn’t closing on Eric. So I stepped up my game and came around Roger and blasted my way up to Eric’s stern. I realized I was probably towing Roger back to his rival, but that’s not my problem. 

But then we hit some more waves and wind and I started coughing up phlegm. The allergy symptoms had finally started affecting my race. Suddenly I lost Eric’s wake again. But it looked like I’d managed to gap Roger as well. Ok, now it’s a matter of just trying to maintain my pace and not blow up, and maybe I could get back to Eric after the turn when we’re not fighting our way into the wind. Yeah, I’m an optimist. 

There was confusion in my mind about the second turn. The way Brian had described it in the pre-race meeting had left it ambiguous in my mind as to whether we were supposed to go around the island, or just the boat parked in front of the island. Jim and Matt and GT guy and the war canoes had all been so far ahead I couldn’t really tell whether they’d rounded the island or not, but GT guy’s line really looked like he’d circled the island. So I was lined with the shore line ready to go around, and so was Eric, but he actually yelled something to the people on the boat, stopped paddling to listen to their response, and then abruptly turned directly towards them. Ok, I guess we’re not going around the island. Probably just as well, because as it was it looked like the race was going to be longer than advertised. We were expecting a 16 km (10 mile) race, but if my calculations were correct, it was going to be more like 17.5 km.

After the turn, the expected tail wind didn’t happen. It felt like it was a direct beam wind most of the time, with occasional blasts from in front just to make this hard. The waves were from behind but they weren’t giving me any push. My coughing got worse, and Eric continued to pull away. But the two c-4s from earlier came through. Unfortunately Mike wasn’t on their stern wakes any more, but fortunately neither was Roger. Once again, the one I’d been on the side wake of near the beginning came by close enough that I could get on the side wake again, while the other one was a bit ahead but way off to the right side.

The stern paddler on “my” c-4 was nice – she offered me words of encouragement as well as to her own team. The stern in the other c-4 just seemed to be yelling at his paddlers for not working hard enough. I didn’t last long on the side wake, but dropped into her stern wake and got a really nice ride. My heart rate climbed back into the red zone again because it was hard work, but that little bit of help from their stern wake was all it took to get me seeing speeds up near 11 km/hr again. They were slowly and surely catching the other c-4 and it looked like they were bringing me up closer to Eric. I had a little discussion with myself and said that if we did catch Eric, I would not pass him because it would be unfair to beat him using a canoe wake, but I’d be quite happy to glom on to his wake again and finish at the same time as him. As it happened, we didn’t end up catching Eric, so it was a moot point. I was also trying to gasp out some words of encouragement for my tow truck, but I don’t know if they heard me because I was also coughing a fair bit.

So in the end, Jim won touring class, surprising nobody. GT guy won unlimited, surprising nobody. The c-4 that was towing me beat the guys who’d cut me off way back near the beginning. Eric was powerful and strong and beat me and Roger, coming second in touring class. I’d accomplished everything I’d hoped for at the beginning of the race, beating Roger, beating Mike, and beating seasonal allergies. I’ve got a bit of soreness in the old bronchial tubes as a result, but I also had a great day on a beautiful lake in the sunshine and got to hang out with friends afterwards.

Jim said before race that we should dedicate this day to the memory of Bill Feeney. I think we did him proud.

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