Madrid Canoe Regatta, Day 2

What can I say about Day 2 that I didn’t already say on Day 1? Well, camping overnight was utterly freezing. I was really glad I’d decided to throw in my winter mummy sleeping bag in the pile, because an hour or two after I went to bed I decided the summer weight bag wasn’t cutting it. And then a few hours after that, my head was so cold I ended up wrapping a turtleneck sweater around it. And then at 5:00 or there-abouts a goose started honking very insistently. But other than that, camping went well.

The course was longer today, 13 miles instead of 9. It might have been hotter, as well. Added to left over fatigue from yesterday, I thought it was going to be torture. Turned out to not be much of an issue. I ended up having a tiny bit faster average speed, although I suspect that was because the time on the portage was a smaller percentage of the overall time.

There were a lot more kayaks here today, including 3 top-flight competitors from Canada. Jim said that one of them was a Olympic gold medalist in the 200 meter. More women in K-1, including a Canadian woman in a beautiful Vajda black ski, and Scott’s mother Eileen was in a V10 Sport today. Last week she’d been in a cedar strip kayak, and yesterday she’d been in a C-2, so I didn’t really know what to expect. There were 3 K-2 crews, including Roger Gocking and Scott Visser in Roger’s V8 Double and the couple I said I should pay more attention to in a Nelo kayak. The other K-2 was a Vajda kayak, so they were probably Canadian. Ontario and Quebec seem like Vajda country, if this crowd was anything to go by.

For some reason, they decided to eliminate age categories in kayak, even though we have more people today. It probably wouldn’t make much difference, I think all the people who finished ahead of me in K-1 Unlimited were over 50.

There was one guy there who I really wanted to talk to after the race – he had an ancient and beaten up Nelo Viper, and I wanted to ask him how long he’d had it. Because I could have sworn it was the same Nelo that I rode wake on in my very first NYMCRA race back in 2009. Alas, I didn’t see him after the race so I didn’t find out.

The Start

The big guys went off like a shot, including Roger and Scott in the V8 Double. Eric was right with them as well, but then Roger and Scott veered off their line and collided with Eric and the guy with the sprint boat who fell in yesterday squeaked past them. He was still staying off to one side, trying to stay out of the wakes, and Roger and Scott and Eric soon passed him and tagged back onto the lead pack. I put in the effort and got into his stern wake.

Seven or eight minutes later, I caught the guy in the sprint boat. Up ahead I could see the V8 Double and Eric had dropped off the lead pack, and the woman in the black Vajda was a boat length or two ahead of them.

The sprint boat guy was giving a good tow, except I had to be careful not to bump him if he braced because I didn’t want to be responsible for knocking him in. Eric had said he wasn’t going to go out as hard as yesterday, and it showed because my tow buddy and I were losing time to him at a much slower rate than yesterday. But a couple of kilometers in, the Nelo double came chugging on by, with Eileen latched onto their wake. I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this go by, so I moved off the sprint boat guy’s wake and onto Eileen’s. She was obviously getting a good deep wave off the K-2, but I was getting about the same wave I got from the other guy, but going a bit faster. I knew Eileen was fit – after all, she’s heading for the Yukon River Quest (715 km from Whitehorse to Dawson City) in a few weeks – but I didn’t know if she was fast, and since the couple in the K-2 had been a smidge slower than me yesterday in K-1, I was entertaining dreams of maybe getting a chance to bounce up past Eileen and getting on that sweet K-2 wake. Alas, it was not to be. After another kilometer in, Eileen lost their wake – I yelled to her to not let them go, but she did, and I had no energy to make a try to get up past her to get that wake myself. And then a couple of kilometers later I found myself losing Eileen’s wake, fighting back up to it, and then losing it again. At exactly 6.6 kilometers into it I waved goodbye to her and settled into my own pace.

Up ahead I could see Eric and the K-2 were pretty much side-by-side, although eventually I think Eric smartened up and tucked into their stern wake.

The Long Lonely Drag

Without Eileen’s wake to ride, I was all alone. There was the occasional clump of C-2s to pass, and sometimes to say hi to one or two people I’d met at the campground. But I had no idea how far back the guy in the sprint boat was, or if one of the other K-1s was going to catch me up. I just had to keep powering along, trying not to follow the canoes into the worst of the suck water but also not hanging out in the main current, weak as it was. At least every now and then there was a bit of a breeze, or some waves indicating there was probably a tail wind that I couldn’t feel because I was paddling faster than it.

I got occasional glimpses for what was going on ahead, and it looked like Eileen caught Eric, and the K-2 had distanced them. I didn’t really see it happen, but I think Roger and Scott dropped back, but that might have happened after the portage.

The Portage

Arriving at the portage, I could see Eileen having some problems carrying her boat – I think she was trying to carry it under her arm like you do with a kayak instead of on her shoulder like you do with a surfski. Eric was gone ahead out of sight at this point.

For me, it was still a slow tortuous process, but it didn’t go quite as badly for me as it had yesterday. I didn’t get my camera knocked askew, and I didn’t tangle up my drink line, although I did put in in a muddy reedy place instead of the more sandy place I’d put in yesterday.

The extended time before the portage meant that the boats were more spread out, so nobody passed me on the portage this time and I didn’t have to mark anybody to make sure I passed them back on the water.

The Final Up and Back

I saw Jim coming back down – he was about 1.2-1.3 kilometers from the finish, and had about 400 meters advantage on the next guy. There was another guy maybe 400 or 500 meters behind him. As well, some of the C-2 Pro racers were coming down, and they were pretty fast. When I saw Roger and Scott, they were out of sync and not as fast as when I’d last seen them, so I guess one or both of them had gotten tired. Just as I went in behind the island, I head the distinct sound of the camera on my head shutting down for a full SD card – the replacement 128GB card hasn’t arrived yet so I was using the old 64GB card, which is only good for about 2-2.5 hours at 4K. More’s the pity, because something cool was about to happen.

Just as I was rounding the top of the island, one of the pro C-2s came down. They’d gone an additional mile or two upstream and so they were moving pretty fast. I put on a massive effort and managed to get on their stern wake. It was 2.5 kilometers to the finish, and I was getting a great ride, at speeds up around 11.5 to 12 kilometers per hour. Up ahead I could see us getting closer to Eileen, but I knew she had too much lead so I wasn’t going to catch her.

Unfortunately, while it was a great ride, I was still working pretty hard, and just as we passed the buoys marking half a mile (800 meters) to the finish, I had to drop off the wake and go back to my standard 10.5-11 kilometer per hour finish “sprint”.

Still, it was good enough – nobody snuck up past me and I didn’t pass anybody.

I don’t have the actual results sheet to hand (otherwise I would fill in some names), but I was 4th in K-1 Unlimited Men. I was also beaten by Eric in Touring class, at least 2 and possibly all three of the K-2s, and two women, the Canadian woman in the black Vajda and Eileen. But I beat the unsteady guy in the sprint boat fair and square today, since I don’t think he fell in, as well as a couple of other people who didn’t paddle yesterday and so didn’t have any excuses.

Nice race, fun camping, I’ll definitely be back again.

Madrid Canoe Regatta, Day 1

Today is day 1 of the Madrid Canoe Regatta. I’ve never done this race before, but it’s a NYMCRA kayak points race so I thought I’d give it a go. It’s two days, and I don’t think I’ve ever raced two days in a row in kayaking – although I used to think nothing of it when it was orienteering, or cross country skiing. The first day is only 9 miles and the second day is 13 – the entire difference being how far down stream they place the first turn buoy. Each day starts below the damn, and goes downstream for 5km (today) or 8km (tomorrow), comes back upstream, portages around the dam, and goes upstream for 2.5 km around an island and comes back and finishes just above the dam.

There is on-site camping in the same park where the finish is, so basically my tent overlooks the finish line. There are lots of canoers camped here, but not many kayakers. Oh, did I mention that I bought a tent and air mattress to save money on accommodation. Unfortunately that means that I’m over here at the one power plug in the park charging up my GoPros and batteries for tomorrow.

Also to save money, and to hopefully make sure I don’t fall asleep when driving home after the big race on Sunday, I travelled up here with Jim. Unfortunately both of us suffered from an excess of caution on the timing which meant leaving his house at 5:00 am, which meant getting up at 4:15, which meant obsessively checking my watch from about 3:15 on. So I’d be pretty tired right now even if I hadn’t raced. We arrived at 9:00 am for a 11:30 start, which meant I had time to pitch the tent and get everything set up before hand, which is good because I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do it now. And I got a good spot for my tent, right near the bullfrogs.

The start

The pro c-1 canoes started first, followed by the rest of c-1, then the c-2s then all kayaks. It was a very small field of kayaks. Jim and Matt were in a k-2, Royal was obviously going to be fastest in k-1, Eric was going to continue to destroy me, so about the only question mark in my mind was a guy in an ICF sprint boat. I didn’t know him so he could be up there with Royal or back with the two older slower people I’d already discounted as serious competition.

The starter gave us absolutely no count down or warning. He did the usual “paddle wave” to make sure everybody was there, and then we were off! Nobody had even pulled forward to the line.

At first everything seemed in order – Royal kept up with the k-2 for a few minutes, Eric was pulling away and the sprint boat was behind me. But then the sprint boat guy found his form or something and he went charging past me. I dropped into his stern wake and it looked like he was going to pull me up to Eric, but then sanity prevailed and I dropped off his wake rather than blowing up early. He caught Eric but then instead of tucking into his wake he veered off and they were paddling side by side. Which was bizarre because there was a bit of a headwind for parts of the way down and one of them could have gotten a good reduction in effort by tucking in behind.

The early going

Even though we were going down river, there didn’t seem to be much current. The breeze seemed far more important. I tried to avoid going too tight into the corners because it was shallow and weedy in there. After not too long I was passing some of the slower canoes. So at least I wasn’t lonely. I could see Eric and the other guy far up ahead, still bizarrely side by side although it looked like the other guy might be dropping off a bit. Royal and the k-2 were rarely glimpsed way up ahead when the river was straight, but mostly it was too twisty to see much.

The first turn

Nearly a kilometer and a half from the turn, I saw the first of the C-1s. I counted them, thinking that this might be useful information for Jim and Matt. When I saw them, I called out that there were 8 C-1s ahead of them. I found out afterwards that they hadn’t heard me, so that was a waste of time. But I could also see the sprint boat guy was starting to throw out the occasional brace. I don’t know if he was just tired or didn’t like the wakes coming off the C-2s coming in the opposite direction (although we’d all had to pick our way through clumps of C-2s heading in the same direction by then, and the slower C-2s are often heavier and put out more wake). And then he fell in. He was swimming the boat to shore by the time I caught up with him and I did the neighborly thing and asked if he was all right and if he needed help, and breathed an audible exclamation of relief when he said he didn’t.

After the turn, I got my first glimpse of the “older slower people”, and they weren’t all that far behind. I was going to have to keep pushing if I didn’t want to get caught.

The uphill battle

The way upstream wasn’t much worse than the way down, except without the breeze it was hotter. I was passing more canoes and they were going in tight in the corners. They put out some pretty good wakes if they’re inside and you can find a compromise position not so close in as to die in the suck water but not so far you can’t use their wakes. I was trying not to interfere with canoe on canoe action but still take advantage of their wakes, but much of the time it was just as fast if not faster to be out in the deeper water in the middle of the river.

The portage

I knew the portage was going to suck. It was on grassy parkland and paved paths, and my paddle shoes have no padding and no support. Plus the whole reason I got into paddling was because I couldn’t run or ski any more. I got passed by three boats on the portage, but managed to pass one. The one I passed was a guy with only one leg who was dragging his canoe on a rope around his body. He wasn’t very fast but full marks for being up there. I also knocked my head camera askew – it looks like the last 5 km are just a view of my legs. The whole experience was very painful and I couldn’t wait to get back in the water. Except I messed up my drink hose and had to stop paddling to untangle the mess and get that working again. It was too hot to do the last 5 km without water.

On the way up and back

I was still counting C-1s for Matt and Jim, although this was made slightly more difficult in that there were some recreational paddlers around. Although it really isn’t that hard to tell the difference between a C-1 Pro and somebody in the 3 mile recreational race. But some of them required some dodging. Matt and Jim came by with just one C-1 Pro left ahead of them. They ended up not catching him.

The turn around at the top of the course was an island. It was very shallow and weedy around that and it was pretty painful. The disadvantage of a loop around an island is that when you’re coming back down, you might not get to see your rivals because they’re the other side of the island from you. I never saw the two I’d dismissed before the race, so I knew they were close, and I just caught a glimpse of the guy in the sprint boat before he disappeared behind it. That made me feel like at least I still had some cushion on him.

I managed to catch and pass all three of the boats who had passed me on the portage, but I know I lost a lot of time to everybody on the land portion.

Results

As expected, the K-2 was the fastest boat on the course, Royal was second fastest boat in his v12. For some reason Royal was registered in touring class, which meant Eric was second in touring class and 4th fastest overall. I won unlimited class. The man and woman I’d dismissed as old and slow were 51 seconds and 2:52 behind me respectively, which means I should pay more attention to them tomorrow. The sprint boat guy was almost 4 minutes behind. I wonder how much of that was from that one dump, or if he continued to struggle with his balance.

Tomorrow is another day, and a longer one. I’m hoping I left enough in the tank.

Tupper Lake 8 Miler

Today was the Tupper Lake 8 Miler canoe/kayak race. This race has had many iterations. Before I started paddling, it was evidently called the Tupper Lake 11 Miler, because it was 9 miles long. When it was my first Adirondak race, it was called the Tupper Lake 9 Miler because it was only 7 miles long. In those days it was all downriver, starting at “The Crusher” (which is a boat access on the Raquette River) and finishing at the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club. Now, it’s called the Tupper Lake 8 Miler, and in a break with tradition it’s actually 8 miles long. It starts at the Rod and Gun, goes up the river to an oxbow, around the oxbow, and back down the river. This means there is actually a fork in the river and Roger, the organizer, makes sure there is a safety boat and a buoy so you don’t get lost.

I haven’t done the race in a number of years because it’s the same weekend as the TCSurfski.com “Surfski Immersion Weekend” that I’ve been to a number of times. Last year I didn’t go because it was right after we got home from our cruise.

The field

There were a fair number of boats here. But to me, they broke down into the “too fast to care about” category, and the “too slow to care about category”. The middle ground was occupied by Scott Visser, a 15 year old kid in the same type of boat as me who rode my stern wake at Round the Mountain and who only finished behind me because he didn’t do well remounting after the portage. No portage this time, so I knew I’d have to think of something else. Eric Young was probably still out of reach, but I held out a sliver of hope of finishing within sight of him. Mike Finear was making his return to paddle racing after a winter that was even worse than mine, and I was hoping he’d do well but not over tax himself. I didn’t expect him to finish near me.

The warm up and start

During the warm up, there were some moderate waves coming directly from the direction we’d be starting in. Mike and I were both hoping that they’d build during the race and give us a nice ride to the finish. Waves really help separate out the inexperienced from the experienced and they’d be a big advantage if I came to the lake with young Scott on my tail.

At the appointed time I got to the start line. My bailer leaks terribly so I try to time it so I don’t have to sit there too long with it leaking and my boat filling up with water. Unfortunately Roger decided to delay the start by several minutes because of two late arrivals so by the time we were ready my cockpit was completely full. That means the first paddle stroke would dump a load of cold water in my crotch, which is not pleasant. Also, he said “in thirty seconds I’ll start the count down”, and the next word out of his mount was “GO”, so I had to hit start on my GPS while everybody else was paddling. I’ve always got a slow start, but that didn’t help.

And we’re off

My start was slow, so I was behind Mike Finear and Jim Phillips and just about everybody else. I don’t recall if Scott started slow or what, but I soon found myself coming up to Mike’s stern wake with Scott on my side wake. Mike had tucked into the wake of this guy in a Lake Placid boat who is astonishingly fast in it. Lake Placid boats are canoes, but they’re almost always paddled with a kayak paddle, and people will insist that they’re actually open top kayaks. Which I guess is why this guy was starting with us rather than with the canoes. But even though he’s very fast in it, it’s still a canoe and it’s not as fast as a real kayak. So it puts out a good wake and I was thinking that would be a good place for Mike to spend the whole race if he’s up to it. I took a few breaths and then blasted up through both Mike’s and the Lake Placid boat’s side wakes, and turned up into the river.

Scott was latched firmly onto my stern wake. We were starting to catch up to the canoes of the first start wave, but otherwise Eric was tantalizingly close up ahead and the really fast guys were rapidly disappearing out of sight.

The grind

The river is quite winding, which is one of the things that made it so much fun when it was downriver. But going up river you wanted to get into the insides of the corners, but not so far inside that the shallow water (aka suck water) would slow you down. I misjudged that balance many times and watched helplessly as my speed dropped and dropped, from somewhere around 10 km/hr down to the mid-8s. And suck water is hard on your joints as well, so my shoulders were getting sore.

Eric and some of the canoes seemed many times to be entirely on the wrong side of the river, going around curves on the outside bank. I never figured that one out. But after a while I was starting to get the hang of how far away from the bank to be on the inside line to not get slowed down too much by the shallows.

The bridge

There is a bridge that crosses the river. Roger said it’s 2.75 miles from the start. Another local paddler warned us that near the abutments there are rock cribs just under the water and to stick to the middle of the channel between the abutments. Fortunately the river was relatively low – one of the downriver years I remember having to stop paddling and duck under it.

I figured 2.75 miles was a good place as any, so after the bridge I suggested that Scott take a turn leading. He said “well, I hope you don’t mind if I’m not as fast as you”, and then promptly put the hammer down and hit nearly 11 km/hr. So much for getting a bit of a rest. Also, he hadn’t figured out the suck water thing yet, so he dragged me through some pretty horrible shallows.

And of course now that he’s leading we of course passed a family who were watching the race from their dock, as well as canoers who knew him and made disparaging remarks like “oh, I see you’re paddling a double today”.

The oxbow

I was warned that the oxbow was shallow but Scott dragged me through fields of lilly pads. I was completely on my limit in terms of muscular fatigue and shoulder pain, and if he’d dropped the hammer there I would have had to drop off. But he didn’t, because he’s too new to this game to know the tactics and to know that shallow water affects heavy guys a lot more than light guys.

And sure enough, in the oxbow were two balcony-like structures with more spectators who thought I was taking advantage of this poor young man.

When we came out of the oxbow back on to the river, he had a moment of confusion because now we were paddling at people we’d passed 20 minutes earlier. I reassured him that we were in the right course. I tried to yell encouragement a few times because he’s young and new and I figured he could use it.

Down river

It sure was nice to be going down river now. You could stay away from the shallows and see speeds exceeding 11 km/hr the whole way. In a fit of exuberance I decided to take over the lead again after the bridge, which meant I’d be leading for 5.5 miles out of 8. I haven’t checked the distances on my gps track, so I don’t know what that is in real units.

Most of the way down was uneventful. I don’t think we passed anybody or were passed, although we did of course see that same family on their dock when Scott was leading.

The final stretch

All the time I’d been counting on the lake to give me some good waves that would help me finally drop Scott. We come out to the lake and I can see a flag pointing in the right direction, but no waves. I cut really tight on the turning buoy and tried to get a gap, but even though he turned outside me he wasn’t dropping. In fact, he stated to pull away. Jim Mallory and the other fast guys were warming down and Jim yells “250 meters” to me. I know exactly what that means – speed up your cadence and pull as much pain as you can tolerate because it’s going to end soon. And it nearly worked – I think I was starting to close the gap a bit, but not enough and he beat me by 4 seconds.

I don’t have a laptop or an SD card adaptor, so I don’t know how much video I got, but I think I only got about an hour with the Hero 5 Black because I forgot to put the internal battery in and was just using the side car battery. The Hero 5 Session was saying “SD card full”. Hopefully it lasted to the finish, but I don’t know.

So it was a good race. I’m still rebuilding after a lousy winter but I can feel the progress.