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.