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.