Rocking Down To Electric Avenue Again
I did this race for the first time last year. The main things I already knew about what has changed from last year are that:
- I’m slower than last year, due to a lack of winter base and having gained a bunch of weight.
- Roger Gocking, who I beat just about every time we met last year has been beating me at every race this year. I got slower, I don’t know if he’s faster as well.
- Eric Young has become a beast, and I’m unlikely to ever pass him again. I beat him here last year, and it might have been the only time I did.
- Jim wasn’t going to take the top spot in my age class this year because he’s paddling in a double with Matt.
Jim and I car pooled, and we took my car because we didn’t have a lot of stuff for a one day out and back. Plus he didn’t have a boat because Matt was bringing the double. So we met at a Denny’s parking lot and he left his car there – I think he’s incredibly brave to do that, because it would be just our luck that they’d notice it was still there between breakfast and lunch, decide they need the parking space, and have it towed. Last year Jim had suggested I live my car in an even smaller parking lot and instead I had Vicki come and get it.
First thing that happened when we arrived at the race was I started setting up my cameras, and discovered that my GoPro Hero 5 Black had turned itself on in my bag, and had completely depleted the battery. Fortunately the gods of video were smiling upon me because sometime in the last few races I’d accidentally left a spare battery for the camera deep in my bag and it had a full charge. The sidecar battery I use might have kept it going for much of the race, but it’s way safer to have a full charge in both the camera and the sidecar so I really feel lucky that I had that spare.
Second thing I discovered is that Mike Finear was there – we don’t see him any many races these days because his work schedule is so crazy, but he’s a great guy and I miss paddling with him. If I’d known he was coming, I would have tried to car pool with him except he arrived kind of late so maybe it’s just as well. He said the decision to come had been kind of spur of the moment, which is why he hadn’t let us know he was coming.
So now for the all-important “scoping out the competition” phase. Like I said, I knew Jim wasn’t going to be in my class for a change because he’s in a double. Not that I really cared, except it does mean that I don’t automatically start my count back of where I’m likely to end up at 2nd place. There was Eric, who as I said is a beast and unbeatable by me – however he’s also not in my age class yet, likewise for Royal McDonnell and Jan Wachowiak. There was another guy in a beautiful black V10 GT just like Eric’s. I didn’t know him, but his hair was grey or silver so I figured he’s probably in my age class. Don’t know how fast he is, but when somebody is paddling a GT boat you can probably assume he’s fast. According to the results, his name is John Redos. And Dave Wiltey was there again. Last year he basically sucked wake until a few hundred meters to go, then out sprinted me, beating me by 4 seconds. I had to be alert to that tactic this year, since he’s pretty famous or infamous for it – and he had done it to be before in one of our few previous meetings. There was Greg Hewlett who I just connected to on Facebook – he’s got Dennis Moriarty’s old 2006 V10 Sport and he’s really fixed it up nicely, but he’s pretty new to surfski and I was hoping he wasn’t just spouting false modesty when he said that he’s still falling in a lot in it. There was also a guy in a Stellar SEI who I didn’t recognize and didn’t know where he was likely to come in – I’d mention his name, but he doesn’t appear in the results.
One difference from last year is that there didn’t appear to be any C-4s in the race. That’s a shame, because last year Dave Wiltey and I blatantly sucked wake off a C-4 for the first 10 kilometers until the C-4 decided to participate in the rescue of a C-2 that had dumped when a power boat had come by, even though there were already 3 or 4 other boats participating and some boats were already leaving the scene. Then Wiltey had sucked my wake until, as I mentioned above, he out sprinted me.
And We’re Off!
As expected, Jim and Matt went off like a shot. Royal and Jan weren’t far behind. The two black V10 GTs of Eric and John were neck and neck, and Dave Wiltey was with them. That was unexpected. I guess Wiltey didn’t get the memo of how much faster Eric is than last year and thought he could beat him again this year. Yeah, I was giving that about a 0.0% chance of happening. The only real surprise at the beginning was I couldn’t understand where Roger was. Last weekend he was ahead of me almost from the start, but he wasn’t there. I worried about it a bit until about 1.5 kilometers into it when he came gasping and grunting up beside me. But unlike last weekend (and Round the Mountain), instead of just letting him go, I got on his side wake. Up ahead we could see Dave finally thinking twice about trying to keep up with Eric and dropping back. It seemed like only a matter of time until Roger caught him, I was just hoping I could be there when it happened.
We were making really good speed upstream – it was obvious we had a tail wind, not least because it was so hot. But you could also see little waves coming upstream with us. But with the heat and the lack of breeze, I was getting sweat in my eyes. I was spending a lot of time paddling with one eye closed because of it, which makes it harder to judge positioning when you’re trying to ride wake. That’s not as much of a problem when you’re on the side wake, but we were coming up to Dave and there were a couple of buoys and some canoes around. I wouldn’t have put it past Roger to try and scrape me off on a buoy or a canoe – he tried to do that to me a year or two ago at Armond Bassett. So I decided the safe thing would be to be on his stern wake – it’s much harder to scrape someone off if they’re on the stern wake, and also I’d be denying it to Dave when we caught him. I ended up tapping Roger’s stern a couple of times. I’m not sure how it happened, but at one point I did end up on Dave’s stern wake and I tapped him as well. But I made up for it by coming through and taking the lead.
It’s a Long Hot Day
So basically the entire rest of the race was Roger and I swapping turns on the front and Dave on one or the other of our stern wake. After the turn, it was a relief to get some breeze in our faces and get the sweat dried so I could see. But that was counter balanced by slower speeds and this little waves that had been helping us along were now holding us back. I could see Mike was trying to catch the white SEI, and Greg was a bit behind him.
About 1/3rd of the way on the return leg I was leading our little pack of three and the wind seemed to be getting stronger. I decided to try to move over towards the shore to see if I could get out of the wind a bit. The canoes ahead of us were all moving that way and it seemed to make sense to me. But Roger comes huffing up the middle of the river passing me, and there was no way I was going to let him get away, and so I swerved over and jumped on his stern wake hoping that being right in behind him might give some shelter from the wind. Dave followed me. Weirdly, even though the river was bending very gently towards the right, he was leading us more and more towards the left. I don’t know if that was some strange tactic, or just an inattention to where we were going. Considering his years of experience, you have to think it’s got to be a tactic, but I couldn’t figure out what he was intending to do or why.
With about 4 kilometers to go, Roger put on a big burst of speed. I tried to keep up with him but I couldn’t do it. He told me after the race that he knew he couldn’t out-sprint Wiltey at the end, so he had to drop us both to make sure that didn’t happen. If I’d managed to keep up with him, it’s pretty likely that Dave would have as well. So I waved good bye and settled in to paddle as hard as I could. I couldn’t shake Dave, although I have to admit I didn’t try much other than grinding. I didn’t know what else to do. Last year he’d shown that he didn’t handle motor boat wakes very well, and I kept hoping one would come by, but “hoping for an miracle” isn’t exactly an effective race tactic.
With about 300 meters to go, Wiltey starts moving up beside me. I still have a nose ahead of his, so I tried a few tactics – first I swerved to the opposite side from him to get him off my side wake, but he moved with me and stayed there. Then I tried cutting over in front of him, trying to push him off the direct line to the finish. Then when I had pushed him almost completely over to the side of the river, I tried the swerve to the opposite side again. He came with me. But then he started sprinting in earnest, and this year instead of saying “I’ve got nothing left” and letting him go, I matched him stroke for stroke. So instead of getting a couple of boat lengths on me, he ended up barely edging me out. They gave him a 1 second advantage over me, but I don’t think it was that much. The nose of my boat was approximately level with his cockpit, so maybe a half a boat length advantage.
Some time after the race I saw a C-2 dragging that white Stellar SEI in. I’m not sure if there was anybody in it. I heard a rumor that the kayak paddler had some sort of medical problem like a heart attack or a stroke and there are three C-2s listed in the results as “provided rescue” so it sounds plausible. I guess that’s the problem with a sport involving highly competitive over-50 year olds.
So my take-aways for this race:
- Nearly everybody (except Eric) was slower this year than last year. Even Royal who is a much better paddler this year is 3 minutes slower. So the conditions were slower, so you can’t really compare times.
- I’m quite pleased with being able to stay with Roger so long, considering what problems I’ve had with him at previous races this year.
- I’m also quite pleased with how much better I did sprinting head to head with Dave this year. I normally have a terrible finish sprint, preferring to use every last bit of energy I have to try to grind people off. I guess all those short intervals this year have been helping.
- I’ve got to remember to keep spare batteries in my bag. And also take steps to make sure none of the cameras get turned on while traveling to the race.
That’s it. More when I have the video created and uploaded tomorrow.
This is a departure for me, because normally I make my blog post as soon as possible after the race and then do the video afterwards, but it’s the day after, the video is currently uploading and I’ll embed it in this post when it’s done.
This is not my first Armond Bassett (AB) Race. I think my first was in 2009, and except for the two years I spent recovering from shoulder surgeries I don’t think I’ve missed it. It’s usually a hot one, except for when we get thunderstorms. Yesterday’s race was pleasant by AB standards – I think the high was around 85F, and there was a tiny bit of breeze. There was a tiny bit of current, maybe more than last year.
I come to this year’s race slower than I have been in several years. Mostly because when I was looking for work I got depressed and ate a lot, and then in the winter when I should have been building a base and dieting, I instead got really sick and continued to eat. And then when the season started I told myself I couldn’t diet and build speed at the same time, which was a great excuse to keep eating badly. I haven’t stepped on a scale, but I’m at least 20 or 30 pounds heavier than I was last year. And consequently, some of our local paddlers who I was faster than in practices last year have been kicking my butt, and they all decided to come to this race since it’s local. I was hoping that maybe my experience would be enough to keep me ahead of them in a real race. It didn’t work out that way.
On the other hand, I have finally worked out many of the issues I’d been having with the head mounted camera, and I had a brand new carbon fiber front camera mount that I was eager to try out. So at least the video would be good. Or at least it would have been good if I hadn’t gotten a smear of sunscreen or dried sweat on the lens of the head mounted camera. Sigh.
I had scouted the course a couple of times last week, and the biggest potential problem I found was a branch that was just under the water and coming out from the shore to about 1.5 boat lengths off shore. There was nothing to tell you it was there until you bumped your rudder on it. I sent out a message on Wednesday to the local paddling group:
A little bit of secret scouting information for Armond Bassett: about 1.5 miles from the dock heading upstream, you come around a right hand bend and you first see the power lines ahead of you. Right there at the bend there is a branch just below the surface of the water with nothing sticking up to hint that it’s there. It stretches about 1.5 boat lengths out from shore and even with my cut down rudder on my V10 Sport, I hit it every time.
Unfortunately I forgot to send a similar warning to out of town paddlers. I feel kind of bad about that. (foreshadowing)
The canoes all (except a war canoe, more about that later) started in the first wave, and the kayaks in the second, 10 minutes later. As seems to happen a lot at this race, when they called the kayaks up to the line I was the only person who actually moved up at first. This is a disadvantage for me since I can’t choose who to line up next to, but so be it.
As we lined up, we could see two C-2s upside down at the first bend, maybe 300 meters past the start. Don’t know if they collided or what, since I don’t think anybody noticed it happening. I’ve got to give them props – I don’t know if I’d keep going after such a disaster so close to the start, but they remounted and kept going.
One note about the video: I experimented with setting my GPS to “auto pause when stopped” so I wouldn’t have to hit the start button when I should be paddling at the gun, but it caused a tiny bit of sync problems with the GPS overlay on the video because I was actually drifting towards the start when I started so it didn’t pause until I’d completely stopped at the line. I don’t think I’d do that again.
As expected, Jim and Royal took off like a shot. John Hair chased them, and Eric chased after him. Eric was in Matt Skeel’s sleek black Epic V10 GT, which is way faster and way lighter than the Epic 18X he usually paddles as long as he has the stability to keep it upright and apply power.
At first a guy I don’t know in a green Stellar got ahead of me, and as I expected Roger was starting to edge ahead of me. I couldn’t see the other boats, but I assumed I was pulling ahead of them. At the first bridge, John Hair diverted off the line the other two guys were on to go through the middle span. Normally the middle span would be faster going downstream, but he was close behind the other two guys, one of whom had scouted the course, when he suddenly veered off. Seemed like a strange move. Eric looked like he hesitated a second before deciding to go through the left span like the two leaders.
By the time we reached the U of R footbridge just past Egret Island, Roger was well clear of “my” peleton. Jim and Royal were together, followed by John some distance behind, Eric about an equal distance behind him, Roger about twice that distance behind Eric and me about the same distance behind Roger. As I passed the trailing C-2, it was obviously one of the ones from the earlier dumping because they were trailing a huge plant. I think the stern paddler sat on it when she was remounting. I warned her about it, she said she knew, and then in the rear view camera I can see that she actually pulled it out from under her butt.
At the turn, I glanced back and could see a line of people behind me. I can’t actually see any details in a quick glance, but from the video I can see it was Mark, Dennis, Phil and Pete. All four of them are local paddlers, all but Pete haven’t raced more than one or two times before, and all of them are people who I was faster than last year but who have been kicking my ass in workouts this year. I probably should have been more worried about them than I was.
After the turn, it’s always a bit of a quandry. Do you go in close to the concrete wall to try to keep out of the current and breeze, or do you stay further out in the channel because it gets quite shallow and weedy, especially as you get closer to the turn. In previous years I’ve got right in close until there is a clump of weeds sticking out of the water, then gone about 45 degrees to the current to get out into the deeper water. This year I opted to stay further out right from the beginning so as to not have to make quite such a drastic turn at the weeds. I’m not convinced it was the best, but at least I wasn’t like Roger who dragged his way though the shallows and the weeds all the way around the bend.
Coming to the railway bridge, I was just about to pass a C-2 on their right when they veered a bit right towards the bridge abutment. I paused paddling for a stroke to stay behind them until they then started to veer left a bit more, then I passed them as planned. Looking in the rear view camera, I can see it caused a bit of disruption to my train of followers.
Dennis came up and offered to pull. But he was going so fast I could barely keep up with him. Then I guess he realized he was going too fast and slacked off, and I overshot and ended up back pulling again. Then he pulled through again, this time without the huge acceleration and I was able to get on his wake for a bit. Unfortunately, 400 meters later he went through a shallow spot, I thought I’d be clever and leave his wake to stay in the deeper water, but he gapped me and I couldn’t come back. Looking at the video, I can see that although we hadn’t made a lot of progress towards catching Roger, we had got a gap on Mark, Phil and Pete.
A kilometer later, Dennis stopped for a drink and to let me catch back up. I’d started feeling better so I pulled for a bit.
This Means War (Canoe)
I was looking at my GPS and realizing that the bend up ahead was where that submerged log was, so I was starting to swing out a bit from shore to miss it. And there was Eric paddling in the wrong direction, slowly. I realized that he’d probably hit that log, and I’d forgotten to warn him about it. Oh, that’s a bad feeling.
But almost immediately I heard a war canoe storming up beside me. I don’t know how they started behind me, I hadn’t heard any mention of any wave starting behind the kayaks except the 3 Mile recreational race. But there they were. I immediately got on their side wake. Kevin, one of the canoe paddlers was saying something to the other paddlers about the GoPro on my bow when he suddenly noticed the one on my head and exclaimed “Two GoPros!”. I responded “yeah, you’d better have your game faces on because this is going on YouTube”.
After about 500 meters on their side wake, I was tiring and looked to see if I could get on their stern wake, only to discover that Pete G was already there. And Dennis, who had been on my stern wake, saw a good thing and jumped on Pete’s stern wake. So I was left the dregs, trying to grab Dennis’s stern wake in the chaos of a war canoe wake. It didn’t work well for me, I was too tired to put in a burst of speed to match and so they slipped away.
Maybe A Second Chance?
At the second turn, there was a C1 paddler in the water. By the time I got there, he was hanging off the side of the “race committee” boat and the war canoe had stopped to retrieve and empty out his canoe. One of the paddlers who was ahead of me said that when he passed the canoer was quite panicky in spite of the committee boat being right there. Pete and Dennis didn’t have their tow any more, but they already had over 30 seconds lead on me.
As I turned, I got a view back and could see that I had nearly a minute on Mark with Phil a bit behind him.
One funny thing about out and back type races, especially ones like this with two turns, is that no matter how little breath you’ve got left, you start greeting people and yelling encouragement when you’re on the last stretch. And this was no exception. I yelled out greetings to most of the other kayak paddlers who were still coming up, at least the ones whose names I knew, and got encouragement and greetings from most of them as well.
After about 15 minutes, I heard what I’d been hoping to hear, the war canoe coming back after their delay at the turn. I glanced back and saw something I hadn’t been hoping to see – Mark had latched onto their stern wake and had made up that minute lead I had on him.
I got on the side wake of the war canoe, but again I was only able to stay there for about 500 meters. Then I dropped onto Mark’s stern wake. And because I was completely cooked, I barely managed to hang on there for about another 800 meters. And with less than 400 meters to the finish, I had no sprint left to stay with them. Mark ended up beating me by a few seconds.
While I had also taken advantage of the war canoe, I have to wonder if it hadn’t been a factor if I wouldn’t have at least beaten Pete and Mark? I had a good gap on both of them before it came along and both of them passed me while riding in the best position, right on its first stern wake. I probably wouldn’t have beaten Dennis, but at least we would have traded leads a couple more times before he completely demolished me.
But really, more than anything there’s nothing to blame for my performance than my own inability to lose weight. Maybe if I lost some of this I could go back to being faster than the guys I was faster than last year. Maybe not all of them, because some of them were fine athletes who were just learning kayaking, but maybe at least one or two.
After I wrote More Griping About GoPros, I was having more and more problems with the GoPro Hero 5 Session “head camera”. However, after doing a bit of research, I found a microSD card that is fast enough for 4K video, and only $40 for 128GB! Samsung Evo MicroSD, so cheaper than the Sandisk Extreme that was crap. That was helping – I could record 90 minutes with just the camera (without the external battery) with no interruptions. But I was having problems with the camera. Sometimes it wouldn’t even turn on even though it had been charging overnight. Or it would act like it was only partially charged. Or if I hooked up the external battery, it didn’t seem to be getting power from it. When I enumerate the problems like that, it probably seems obvious to you, but it took me a while to realize that there must be internal damage or rust on my USB cable. A few bucks on Amazon later, and now I’ve got a working camera – I took it out today and got 160 minutes of continuous video with no interruptions. And just in time for this weekend’s race!