Round the Mountain 2019

Round the Mountain (aka RTM) is traditionally my first race of the year. There are two constants from year to year:

  • It’s always cold. Even if the air isn’t terribly cold, the water will be.
  • It’s always calm when we arrive and the wind rises starting around the time of the racers meeting and is pretty strong by race time.

Everything else is variable. It can be cloudy, it can be sunny. There can be a big field or a small field. It can be mostly kayaks or mostly canoes. It can rain, it can snow. It can be headwinds or cross winds. I’ve even heard tell it can be a tail wind but I’ve never seen it.

Before I say anything else, though, I just want to say Dave W is an awesome competitor and it’s a privilege to compete against him, and anything disparaging I might say about his tactics is meant in a sense of fun and jealousy of his tactical sense.

So the forecast for this morning was for 44F and winds from 9-10 mph from the north west. So of course the discussion for the last week was on what to wear. And we were still discussing it 15 minutes before the start. But at that point it was time to commit and go out and warm up. I went for my usual full Vaikobi v-cold kit. I decided not to wear the storm top, but I wore a light top over the v-cold top and under the PFD. I wore my toque under a baseball style cap, thinking I could take it off if I needed to cool down a bit. In retrospect, I was probably a bit under dressed. I was cold in the beam waves on the first lake and again in the headwind on the last two lakes, although I was fine in the sheltered middle part.

Immediately off the start, Roger and Eileen went off like a shot in their V8 Double. There were four other kayaks up ahead – Eric Y, Scott V, Dave W and some guy I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t really so who was ahead of whom, because they weren’t in a pack, but kind of spread out. Also, I realized rather quickly that I should have stopped for a pee before the race. Mike and I were latched onto the wake of a moderately fast c-2. I like being on someone’s wake for the first lake because even if it doesn’t do much to flatten the waves, it gives you something to concentrate on other than the waves. And once we left Ampersand Bay, there were some waves. Not huge, but from the beam and kind of irregular. I was glad for Tim and Pete’s C-2 wake. Dave W was obviously having problems with the waves, and at one point he pointed his boat off course and more into the waves. I couldn’t tell if he was going that because of balance, or if he was hunting the wake of a c-2, but I did see him on the wake of a wooden c-2 behind me. I’d tell you more about what was happening behind, but my front GoPro shut itself off during my warm up for no apparent reason.

As is my habit in RTM, just as we’re out of the wind and waves on the lake before the river, I put on a blast of speed and passed the c-2 I’d been riding. I could see Scott V about a hundred yards ahead and I wanted to try and catch him. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope of doing so, because he’s become very fast over the last year and he demolished me at the USCA champs. But I think I was creeping closer on the river, mostly by using very aggressive lines and trying for every shortcut and direct line. But he gained about 200 more yards on the portage, so it was all for naught.

I’d snuck a few glances back on the river and I was pretty sure I didn’t have anybody close behind – neither Mike or Dave, at least. I passed some first wave people, including a c-4 that was weaving all over the place and a man and a woman with two little kids in the middle more intent on getting their snacks than paddling.

At the carry, I was my usual omnishambles and when I saw that on the downhill it looked like somebody has slid I crept down very carefully. The water was high enough that I was able to launch from the dock, which was a relief. I didn’t want to have to wade out in the freezing cold water. But because of Scott ahead and Dave behind, I didn’t take the time to pee. I still regret that.

I find it hard to get paddling hard again after the portage, but seeing Scott ahead was the incentive to work hard. I took a few short cuts but they weren’t really making an impression on the gap. There is one very important “sneak” on the second part of the course. If the water is high enough, it can cut off at least 50 yard, although because you have to slow down for it it doesn’t have as much time impact as you might think. This year, I decided not to take it, because I hadn’t scouted it ahead of time like I did last year. But after I was committed to skip it, I looked and could see a clear path through and blue water. And I could see Dave following a c-2 into it. Shit.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before Dave caught me, but I put the hammer down to try and hold that off. It couldn’t have been 500 yards later that I sensed he was on my wake. So taking a page from his book, I stopped for a drink and let him take the lead. I first tried his side wake but he was (possibly intentionally?) throwing up a lot of water and it was too cold for that shit. So I dropped onto his stern wake. But the c-2 that he’d been following before had caught back up to us and were slowly creeping ahead. I thought “slightly faster, bigger wake, what a deal” and moved over to their wake. I thought Dave would try to fight me for the stern wake but instead he settled for their side wake.

At this point I have about 2km to consider my options. There weren’t many. Dave has always been a much better sprinter than me. So I could try to put the hammer down and drop him, but that hasn’t worked out well for me in the past. Also I was pretty close to my limit and I didn’t think I could raise my pace much. So I decided the only thing to do would be to not provoke him to sprint until the very last minute so I wouldn’t lose too much time to him.

That plan actually worked out. We had a very strong headwind for the last part, and I was very happy to be behind the c-2 – not only did I get the wake, I also got a bit of wind break. I was kind of thinking that when I did go I’d go around them to the right, opposite from Dave, but they started veering to the right and I didn’t want to go that extra distance. Dave and I both started our sprints at exactly the same time, and I lost barely a single boat length on him.

I was pretty pleased with my result. Dave was in touring class, and Scott is a youngster, and even Eric is still under 50, so the only person ahead of me in my class was Ed Joy, who is a legendary paddler from Maine(?). He was the fastest paddler in the race, faster than Roger and Eileen in their double and faster than any of the canoes.

Considering that I was sick half the winter, I’m pretty pleased how this went. Felt like I worked hard, but got a good result. Not my fastest RTM by far, but the conditions weren’t exactly the best either.

Tentative 2019 Race Schedule

  • 11 May – ‘Round The Mountain
  • 8-9 June – Madrid Canoe Regatta
  • 29 June – Tupper Lake
  • 30 June – Celebrate Paddling
  • 6 July – Armond Bassett
  • 13 July – Electric City
  • 14 July – Barge Chaser
  • 28 July – BluMouLA-BuFuRa
  • 8-11 Aug – USCA Canoe & Kayak Nationals
  • 17 Aug – Wells Bridge
  • 6-8 Sep – Adirondack Canoe Classic
  • 14-15 Sep – Lighthouse To Lighthouse
  • 21 Sep – Long Lake
  • 29 Sep – Seneca Monster
  • 13 Oct – Onondaga Cup

Video stuff

I found a really cool Final Cut Pro plugin that puts a motion tracked point on your video and builds out a title that moves with the tracked point. I’ve experimented with it a bit and I think I’ll be able to use it to point out people and other points of interest in my videos. The only problem I’ve found with it is that if the point you’re tracking is even briefly obscured, it will lose tracking and its mind.

2018 Look Back

2018 started out pretty shitty. I was unemployed, and my unemployment insurance had run out. Depressed due to the long employment search and other things, I started the year out of shape and overweight, only to be hit with two massive bouts of sickness that pretty much wiped out my winter training and dieting, meaning I hit the racing season with very few miles under my belt and a lot more fat under there.

I got a job in February, and while it was interesting the pay was quite low – I’d actually earned more as a full timer with benefits in 2001 than I was earning as an hourly contractor with no benefits at this job. So midway though the year I left that job for another which paid much better. I hate to be a job hopper like that but the difference in pay was hard to believe.

Because of the reduced financial circumstances this year, I didn’t do a lot of the “away” things I’ve done in previous years – no TC Surfski Immersion Weekend, no Canadian Surfski Champs, no Gorge, no Lighthouse to Lighthouse. Instead I concentrated on doing as many NYMCRA races as possible, even camping out to save money instead of getting hotels for away races. I did several races I’ve never done before, including the two days of Madrid and the lovely Blue Mountain Lake race.

Even better, the USCA national championship races were held in Syracuse. I had two really good 10 mile races – unfortunately both races were 12 miles. Both times I lead a pack of racers for the first 10 miles, then faded and got passed by all of them in the last 2 miles. Definitely something to work on this year.

I started the season completely out of shape with the intention of racing my way into shape, hoping to peak with the USCA Champs. It worked pretty well, and in spite of my tactical errors there, I had a really good race at Long Lake. I was hoping to continue with the final race of the season, the Seneca Monster, but it got cancelled.

In other good news, I really dialed in my video production workflow, aided by the fact that I now have a high end iMac. Also, I got a really amazing carbon fibre GoPro mount for the front of my kayak – not only lighter than my older aluminum one, but also more aerodynamic. After the end of the season, GoPro released a new camera, the Hero 7 Black, with a much touted “Hyper Stabilization” mode. I bought one and tried it out and it is pretty amazing. I can’t wait to use it for races next year.

I also bought a new boat – I did some side work for a pilot friend of mine and used part of the money to buy a V8 Pro, a more stable boat than my V10 Sport, but still pretty fast. During interval workouts on the bay, I found I could just put the power down instead of bracing and trying to keep upright.

One of my daughters got engaged this year. I really like her fiance and they seem really good together.

Both of my parents had health setbacks this year. I think this coming year’s travel plans will have to mostly involve visiting them.

Long Lake Long Boat Regatta 2018

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.