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.

Round the Mountain 2018

Yesterday was my first race of the year, Round The Mountain. It’s in beautiful Saranac Lake and it’s unique in that the start and end are pretty close to each other but it’s not an out and back race and you never repeat any part of it.

The excuses

This is usually my first race and it’s a good chance to assess where I stand in my fitness and training levels. This year I knew it wouldn’t be good. December was mostly a write off because I was too depressed to train, then I had the five week cold from hell, then I got three weeks of trying to build up a bit of endurance, and then I got whooping cough and wasn’t able to exercise for another couple of weeks. Plus I’m extremely fat. So I kept telling myself this was just training for later in the year, and to not worry too much about results. That easy to tell yourself when the race is a week away, not so easy when you’re lined up on the starting line.

For the last couple of years, I’ve beaten both Pete Gugel and Roger Gocking. I knew from joint practice that I was probably not going to beat Pete this year. But I really didn’t know where I stood against Roger. He’s a tough old bird and even though he’s 74 years old he doesn’t seem to be getting much slower year on year. I retained some hope I could beat him.

The Recon

The weather forecasts had been extremely variable, and so I’d brought all manner of paddling clothes, from dry suit to dri-fit and everything in between. On Friday, Jim, Roger and I had reconned the last 10 kilometers of the course, and Jim and I wore dry suits because we weren’t moving very fast and it really makes it more comfortable when you have to step into the water to launch or get out. The water was about as high as last year, but the river seemed to be flowing faster. If I’d been fit, this would have been a good year to set a PR. The is a “sneak” not too far after the portage that seemed narrower than last year, and there were lurking rocks and stumps everywhere. I convinced myself that maybe this year I should take the long way round instead of risking it. There was also a second “sneak” that was much bigger and more open looking, but there was a bunch of suck water with lurking stumps both in it and for a few hundred meters past it. I didn’t see much point avoiding it though, because the alternate was a long way around.

The other fact that we discovered in the recon is that the parking at the finish was almost non-existent because they’re building a massive structure for an EPA superfund cleanup from some coal processing plant a hundred years ago.

The dressing dilemma

When I went to bed on Friday night, Accuweather’s hourly forecast was saying that 11am (start time) was going to be 50F, so I was mentally planning for Vaikobi V-Cold bottoms and V-Cold Storm top. But when I got up Saturday morning, they’d changed that to 34F at start time, rising to 40F by finish time. So I got dressed in my dry suit but brought my v-cold pants and storm top with me just in case it warmed up. I was going to wait until I did my warm up paddle to make the decision on pogies or not.

I dropped my car at the finish and was waiting for Jim to pick me up to drive me to the start, and I was getting very toasty in my dry suit. I checked the weather again, and they’d only gone and changed it back to saying 50F at start time, rising to 53F by finish time. So I took off my dry suit, and put my Viakobi gear over the polypropylene underwear and t-shirt I’d been wearing under my dry suit. After half an hour and preparing, registering and socializing, I decided to remove the t-shirt, and soon after removed the polypropylene top as well. If I’d had my regular v-cold top in the car, I probably would have switched from the storm top to it as well, because it was already in the mid 50s.

Also, in every previous year it’s been flat calm when we’ve been registering and preparing, but then 10 minutes before race time the wind has sprung up and started whipping up waves in our face. This year it remained perfectly flat calm. It was eerie. The only bad part of all this was that when I took off the dry suit, I hadn’t transferred my car keys from the dry suit to something on my person, so all my pre-positioned dry clothes and a sandwich in my car at the finish weren’t going to do me any good. This fact wouldn’t occur to me until I saw the finish line and started my “sprint”.

The start

So this year Brian had changed the composition of the waves again. Touring class kayaks started in the second wave with unlimited, which meant there would be an opportunity to mix it up with Eric Young and a Roger. Some of the C-2 and C-4 classes would start with us as well, giving some good drafting opportunities for those that could take advantage of them. There were a few people in unlimited kayak I didn’t know, including a young kid in a V10 Sport who said he’d done C-4 last year, and a guy in a Think Surfski with “Boaty McBoatface II” on the bow. Matt Skeels wouldn’t be paddling because he was trying out a timing chip system and was going to be busy at the finish.

As expected, Jim Mallory and Royal jumped away from the start line and soon became irrelevant to any future consideration. The other kayaks pulled away from the canoes pretty quickly, led by Boaty with Eric on his stern. Initially I tried to get on Eric’s wake but I soon ceded it to Pete. Trying to ride Pete’s side wake, I discovered he was lifting whole lap-fulls of water with every stroke and I was getting soaked with freezing cold water, so I dropped in behind him. By now some of the c-2s were waking up and pulling up close, and when after a few minutes I lost Pete’s wake I tried to get on one of them (after first checking that there wasn’t another c-2 trying for his wake – my personal rule of out-of-class drafting is never get in the way of in-class drafting). I didn’t stay with them very long either, and my lungs were burning with that “you dummy, you went out too hard” feeling, rather than the “ok, settle into your rhythm you’re good for another 10 miles of this” like I’d felt the last couple of years.

Up ahead, I could see that Eric had taken a commanding lead on the other kayaks and might have hooked up with the fastest C-2. Pete and Boaty looked like they were either battling head to head or cooperating with each other, and were putting distance on me with every stroke.

I was no longer on anybody’s wake, and I could see the conga line was all heading to the left of the safety boat at the second island, but I could see Jim and Royal up ahead and a straight line to them went between the safely boat and the island. Nobody had said anything in the pre-race meeting about having to go a specific way around safety boats (or maybe they had and I missed it) so I headed for the straight line. But when I got close the guy in the safety boat was making emphatic gestures indicating that I must paddle to the left of him, so I had to veer back over to the main line of boats. It was around this time I heard Roger’s unmistakable wheezing and realized he was on my wake. The guy on the boat was reading out numbers and I heard his number which confirmed it.

The river

A few years ago, I’d been on Rogers wake at this point, and somewhere between the second island and the river mouth I’d made my move and blasted past him. Well, this year he returned the favor. I tried to keep up with him but my lungs were burning and I could feel my certainty of finishing slipping away, so I let him go. But not before following him through a dangerous little sneak that I hadn’t had a chance to recon this year and basically had to trust it was the same as it was last year. A bit of a risky move considering his boat is more Bondo than Kevlar, and mine is beautiful and fragile. It mostly worked except I had to slow down a tad through it and somebody slammed into me. Not sure who it was, maybe a c-4 and maybe the kid in the V10 Sport, both of whom I saw soon after.

Going under the bridge, I could see Kim and Tracey and a few other people, but missed Vicki’s unmistakable cheers. Oh well, probably just as well considering how much I pain I was in. With an out there I just might have taken it.

Soon after the bridge there is a sharp left turn onto the lake, and I was coming up on the left of a guy in a Placid Works canoe who was determined to get as far left as he could. He very nearly squeezed me out, and just as I was coming through on his left a C-4 came by on his right and called out “passing on your right” like they wanted him to move further left or something.

The guy in the bow of the C-4 addressed me by name, but I can’t quite be sure who he was. I probably have met him, but I was working too close to my limit to spare the brain cycles. I did attempt to move over a bit to get on their side wake. The woman who was in second position on the C-4 kept up an absolutely incessant stream of chatter the entire time I was within ear shot. I couldn’t believe she had enough breath for it, since I was gasping. But as well as what seemed like general chit-chat, she was also giving advice to the young kid in the V-10 Sport who was now on my stern wake. I don’t know if he’d been the one who bumped me at that sneak or how long he’d been there. I think I’d glimpsed him trying to get on that C-2 wake I tried for early on, but hadn’t seen him since up until now.

I stayed on the C-4s side wake for a while, but I was getting a decent push in the river and was starting to pull away (and starting to catch Roger). The final straw came when there was an overhanging tree – I knew from the recon (and from last year) that there were two choices here – you could go outside of the buoy marking the channel, or you could go under the overhanging tree, but there was a gigantic rock just below the water in between. I headed under the tree, and I guess they decided to in between – I heard a shouted warning and some quick braking or steering moves over my shoulder and that’s the last I saw of them.

The portage

I came into the portage having nearly caught Roger. I got out of my boat almost exactly even with him and followed him up the hill. The kid was a few seconds behind me. I could tell he probably wanted past me but there was no way I was going to give a gift like that to somebody in an unlimited kayak. Roger is a better runner/walker than me and got to the water a few seconds ahead, but elected not to use the dock. I used the dock as I’d practiced the day before and pulled away from the dock with nobody around me. I put in a big effort to try and capitalize on this advantage, electing for a short cut through some suck water rather than a longer route in deeper water, hoping to use my strength instead of my pathetic aerobic capacity. Pete and Boaty were still visible up ahead, and it looked like Pete might be tucked into his stern wake.

Sneaky sneaky

Approaching the very narrow sneak, I could hear Roger wheezing behind me and knew he was going to pass me soon. I’d initially planned to avoid this sneak but figured that with it being so narrow that he couldn’t pass me and he might slow down to get through, so it might buy me some time. I think that strategy might have worked, except I headed for the first bay instead of the second bay for the second sneak, and lost a few seconds. Roger was now just a hair in front of me, but he now used his position of control to force me off the line I wanted through this area of stumps and suck water. I could see Pete and Boaty ahead and to the right, but Roger kept forcing me left.

I put on a supreme effort and got my bow a few inches ahead of his so I could force us more to the right, but the effort cost me too much and Roger surged ahead. I no longer had to worry about his bizarre lines, but I also wasn’t going to finish with him. Jim was out there warming down and told me “500 meters, give it everything you’ve got”, but I didn’t have anything left. It was also at this moment, when I should have been sprinting my guts out that I suddenly realized I didn’t have my car key. I guess I’d been thinking of those warm dry clothes and that sandwich in the car, and then suddenly realized I couldn’t have them.

Aftermath

The kid finished not too far behind me. If he’d been a little more capable getting back in the water after the portage, he probably would have had me. And that’s why I practice portages before this race. And why I’m glad I probably won’t have to practice them again until the St Regis race.

After the race, I took my gopros off the boat and off my head. The one on the boat had still been recoding, but the one on my head was off. Oh oh. In the past it has spontaneously turned off but I’ve heard the beeps and started it again. This time I hadn’t heard any beeps and so I had no idea what it had recorded to. Worse yet, when I tried to turn it on again, it said “SD Card Full”. That’s worrisome – did I forget to delete the last video I shot on it? I think last time I used the GoPro app to download the videos, and it has a bad habit of not deleting stuff when it told you it deleted it. (No worries though – I eventually got the SD card into my computer and it appears that it shut off just as I was getting out of the boat after the finish)

After wandering around, socializing and relaxing, I got a ride back to the start with Rogers neighbor Irene. I got my car key out of Jim’s van and for some reason I grabbed my dry suit but not my paddle bag. I had figured that Jim would bring his van either to the finish or to Doug’s house for the cookout afterwards and I could retrieve it then. Turns out neither of those things happened – he came to the cookout with Roger in Roger’s car. Which makes perfect sense since he was staying with Roger but I didn’t think of that at the time.

Anyway, back at the finish with my car key, I was able to use my pop up changing tent and change into my dry clothes. And eat my sandwich. Turns out that when I packed to come here I did a real good job of considering every possible paddling conditions, but I didn’t do a very good job of remembering adequately warm after-paddle clothes. So I didn’t even had a dry t-shirt to change in to and had to wear just my fleece up top with nothing under it.

At the awards, I was the only BayCreek current, former or honorary member who didn’t get a plaque. Boaty and Pete are both over 50 so snapped up the 2nd and 3rd place in the unlimited geezer category. Again, I had to remind myself this was just a training/social exercise, and I wasn’t expecting to be competitive. But those plans never seem to work out that way, do they?

After we got back to Doug’s, I wanted to have a preliminary look at my GoPro video to see how it turned out. And I had major panic because I couldn’t find my GoPro Hero 5 Black, my fanciest and most expensive camera. I tore apart my car and my suitcase and couldn’t find it. I texted everybody I knew at the race and put out on Facebook hoping somebody had seen it. I tried to reach Jim back at Rogers to see if I’d left it in his van or dropped it in Irene’s truck when she’d given me a ride back to the start, but he was busy helping Roger with his broken garage door and didn’t see the text.

Long story short, after the cookout he checked my paddle bag and it was safely tucked in there. I guess I did it without thinking and promptly forgot I’d done it. Panic over.

I can’t wait to see if the video from it came out well. The other video from the camera on my head looks great, but the mount on the front of my boat has had a few knocks and it looked like it was moving around a bit when I was paddling so it might be too unsteady to use.

My current video workflow

So this post showed up in my “On This Day” feed on Facebook, and so I thought I should post an updated version. These days I record with 2 GoPro cameras, a Hero 5 Session on my head, and a Hero 5 Black on the front of the boat on a mount made by James I Smith, from North Carolina. James gave me the mount as a gift, which I’m really grateful for. I also managed to snag a legit copy of Final Cut Pro X when it went on sale.

So here’s what I do now after shooting some video.

  1. I make a bluescreen video with my Garmin data overlayed in Garmin VIRB Edit. The procedure I use is detailed in this video
  2. While that is processing, I bring the files from each camera into Final Cut Pro X, and for each camera I make a full duration compound clips to simplify the editing.
  3. Hopefully I will have remembered to clap or otherwise do something distinguishable in front of both the cameras so I can get the two compound clips time synchronized.
  4. I’ll use the transforms to move and clip both compound clips to create a split screen effect.
  5. It’s sometimes a good idea at this point just to leave everything overnight so the VIRB Edit export can finish and so can the creation of FCPX render files. Even my new iMac is pretty sluggish until those files are finished.
  6. I’ll scrub back and forth on the split screen looking for things I want to comment on in the video, and putting in lower third titles. I’ll also look for places where I only want the front view or the back view instead of the split screen, because all the action is happening in front of or behind me. I’ve experimented in the past with making my own transitions using key-frames so the split screen transitions to a single view over a few seconds, and transitions back over a few seconds, but I rarely use it because of all the cutting I do later.
  7. At this point I’ll bring in the blue-screen video above the other clips on the timeline, and apply the Chroma Key effect to it so the other videos below show through. Then I’ll try to time synchronize it – hopefully you can see me pushing the start on my GPS in one of the videos.
  8. Now I’ll make a compound clip of the blue-screen and the two compound clips.
  9. I’ll use the “Blade All” key shortcut and cut out all the bits where I didn’t have anything to point out. I’ll make another pass of cutting and deleting to try to get the video down under 15 minutes, although sometimes I don’t succeed.
  10. I’ll add transitions on all the cuts. I prefer to use the same transition on every cut for consistency, usually one of the simpler ones. I want it to be obvious I’m cutting.
  11. Usually I reduce the volume on the compound clips down to near zero, and try to find some music to put over it. There isn’t a lot of talking during paddle races, and some of it we’d rather not remember afterwards. I prefer bouncy folk music, especially stuff from Genticorum or Great Big Sea or something that sounds like Voyageur music, but I’ve had problems with YouTube and copyright on those songs.
  12. Add title and out-tro titles. In the out-tro, don’t forget to label all the music I used. I should probably have boilerplate asking people to like, subscribe and share like all the pros do.
  13. Export the video to a master file, and then upload to YouTube.

During the off season I’ve been thinking about and experimenting with some things to see if I can improve my videos. Here’s some of the ideas that you might see in this year’s videos:

  • Using motion tracking or a 2 second freeze frame to label the other people in the video. Here‘s a short example of using a freeze frame.
  • Adding a third camera. I’ve only got lower resolution cameras like the Contour, but I’m thinking of sticking it behind me pointing backwards for when the camera up front is missing what’s happening because of my body being in the way.
  • Making a public Dropbox that other paddlers can share their videos so I can include other people’s points of view. The biggest hurdle is finding out if people will actually do this.

2018 Racing Calendar

I don’t think I did one of these last year. This year, because of the extended unemployment and the fact that I’m currently underemployed, I’m thinking of staying closer to home to save money, and just doing the NYMCRA kayak points races plus the USCA Nationals and Lighthouse To Lighthouse. One thing is that some of these races are far enough away that I’d really want to stay overnight the night before – I wonder if I should buy some camping equipment to save money? I’m also worried about my extended illnesses so far this year – I’ve gotten less than 13.5 hours of training so far this calendar year, and last year at this time I had nearly 55 hours.

So here’s the preliminary schedule.
May 12 – Round the Mountain
June 2 – Tupper Lake 8 Miler
June 9-10 – Madrid Canoe Regatta
July 7 – Armond Bassett
July 14 – Electric City Regatta
July 29 – BluMouLA – BuFuRa
Aug 10-12 – USCA Nationals (The website isn’t clear about what day is what, but I’m thinking of doing Unlimited and Touring this year)
Sept 15 – Lighthouse To Lighthouse
Sept 22 – Long Lake Long Boat Regatta
Sept 30 – Seneca Monster

The ones in bold are the ones I did last year. Last year I also did the “Onandaga Cup”, which was a test run for the USCA Nationals going once around the course. This year we’re doing it twice, and I believe we’re not going to start out in the lake like we did last year.

I’m thinking I might continue to use the V-12 on races where I know it’s going to be very flat, like Armond Bassett and USCA Nationals. I’m thinking about buying or borrowing a V-8 to race the Touring class at the USCA nationals. I’m also toying with the idea of maybe doing the V-8 at Lighthouse To Lighthouse to see if it means I don’t slow to a crawl in the rough bit around the second lighthouse. Either that or paddling the short course in my Sport. Otherwise I’ll stick to the Sport.

I’m hoping this will be a good year for videos. I’m going to set up a public Dropbox in hopes that other paddlers will share their videos – maybe I can make a big overview one showing multiple viewpoints instead of just my own.