I don’t know how many times I’ve done this race. I suppose I could trawl through my blog posts and find out, but I think it’s around seven or eight. It was my first “out of town” race where Dan convinced a couple of us newbie paddlers that there was a short course available, and then basically strong-armed Brian into putting a short course on just for us. And it’s been a favorite ever since. The scenery never disappoints, even if the weather can vary from hot and still to howling gales to freezing cold.
When we left Rochester on Friday, the weather was hot and extremely windy, but was forecast to be cold and light to moderate winds in Long Lake on Saturday. I wasn’t sure I believed that we’d be free of the strong winds, so I brought both boats just in case. (Oh, did I mention I bought a new boat? No, I don’t think I did. I bought a V8 Pro so I’d have something to paddle in conditions that I’d find too gnarly in the V10 Sport. I’ve used it a few times on Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay and it’s exactly what I hoped.)
On the drive up, I had to stop and tighten the roof rack and the boat tie downs a few times and nearly got blown into the next lane, but we all arrived safe and sound. And Saturday dawned exactly as promised – freezing cold and still.
It did warm up a bit by race time, and the wind came up a tiny bit, but it was nothing I hadn’t seen in previous years. The number of boats was quite a bit down from previous years. And absolutely nobody went out to warm up before the paddlers meeting – I can’t speak for everyone else, but I didn’t want to strip down to my paddling clothes until it was absolutely necessary. Because of the smaller than normal crowd, Brian elected to start a single wave. But he also said the start would be 10 minutes after the meeting, so I rushed down and tried to get a warm up. Well, I was anything but warm, but I was just behind the line and ready when he started the paddle wave. The canoes were spread out before the wave, but they bunched up in front of me and the other kayaks, so we ended up starting a boat length behind the line.
After the go signal, there was the usual confused mess of waves that you get if you’re not in the lead pack. The mixed C-2 that I’d ridden off the line and then passed last year was well ahead and there was a mess of boats between us. There were c-4s that were going all over the place, one of them going nearly 90 degrees off the direct line and cutting Mike off badly. I tucked in behind a war canoe and relied on them to find a safe path through the mess.
After we got under the bridge and things were calming down a bit, I realized that this was world’s slowest war canoe and they weren’t going to drag me to the front like the war canoes did last year. The stern guy was actually singing. I couldn’t make out what he was singing, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t a voyageur song. I could see the fast war canoe well ahead, closely followed by that mixed c-2 and Jan in his ICF sprint boat. Mike was drafting behind this guy in a Lake Placid boat (who I’ve mentioned in this blog before – he’s pretty damn fast considering that he’s in a poor excuse for a wannabe kayak), and was slowly pulling away from me. I could have chased him, but I decided a slow start would be a good thing after my inadequate warm up. I decided to continue to ride the war canoe wake until I felt warmed up, and monitor Mike to make sure he wasn’t getting too far ahead.
I told myself that 3 kilometers would make a good warm up, but as the turn point boat looked up ahead I decided I was warmed up enough and I put down the hammer. Mike and the LP guy were about a minute ahead when I made the jump and I probably got half that back by the turn. After the turn I could see LP guy’s technique falling apart as he tried to continue to lead Mike – it looked like Mike would make a move to go around him, and he’d hammer, but it must have been killing him. Mike dropped him a few minutes after the turn.
By my reckoning, it took me ten minutes from the time I jumped from the war canoe to the time I got on Mike’s tail. Just as I got there, he was struggling with his drink system. I could see the collar he wears for it sticking out over the edge of the boat under his elbow. He stopped paddling at least three times to fiddle with it, but he was still having problems with it.
As we got close to the bridge, I decided that Mike had been leading long enough and so I pulled ahead. As I passed him I said “I’ll pull for a while”. I found out from him afterwards that he hadn’t realized I was there – he thought it was still LP guy behind him, so seeing the red tip of my boat had been an unwelcome surprise.
Mike was on my stern wake as we passed under the bridge. Both of our wives were up on the bridge cheering us on.
One of the reasons I wanted to be ahead is that the wind was coming from ahead and Mike tends to go straight up the middle. By taking the lead, I could head to the side behind the point and maybe get a bit of relief from the wind. And so that’s what I did and it was working. But after a kilometer or so I looked around for Mike and he wasn’t behind me – sure enough, he was chugging up the middle. He said afterwards that he had stopped to try to get a drink from his messed up drink hose, realized he couldn’t close the gap directly and tried to cut me off at the pass.
After the point, the lake widens out and the wind was now coming from almost 90 degrees from my left. The lake was too wide to go to the edge to get out of the wind, so I was basically going right up the middle. I was half hoping Mike was going to catch me in this part, and half hoping I was leaving him in my dust. I may like him, but I’m as competitive as he is. I wasn’t looking behind to see which it was – I was watching ahead of me to see where the leaders were turning. Jay was the nearest kayak ahead of me and he was easy to see because he was wearing a Mocke PFD. The only other kayak ahead of me was Jan and he was impossible to judge his exact position in his dark clothes and black boat. The only other boats ahead were the war canoe and the mixed c-2 and maybe a c-4 or two and I couldn’t judge them either. I didn’t really get an idea where the turn was until Jay got there. By then Jan was cruising past me in the other direction in the wake of the war canoe.
Jay was a minute or two ahead of me, but at the turn I could see I had about a minute on Mike. If things had been closer, I would have waited for Mike and tried to work with him to catch Jay, but Jay was too far ahead and Mike was too far behind to make that work, so I concentrated on maintaining my pace all the way to the finish. Every time I slacked off I imagined that Mike would catch me and then it would be game on. Mike demolished me at the USCA Nationals because I faded after a strong first 2/3rds and I didn’t want to let that happen again. A couple of times I looked down and my heart rate had dropped to the sort of numbers I’d expect on a moderately strenuous training paddle and I’d remind myself to pick it up lest Mike come cruising past me. He told me afterwards he’d start to think he was closing the gap and then I’d start to pull away again.
After the point the finish looks tantalizingly close, but my GPS was telling me I still had a few kilometers to go, and I could see that Jay was still paddling. It seemed to take forever.
I don’t recall the official results and they’re not up on the website, but I think I was 2 minutes behind Jay and a minute ahead of Mike. Jan is under 50 and Jay was in a touring class kayak, so I ended up winning the over 50 class in unlimited class, with Mike second. That’s what happens when the fast guys stay home.