Category Archives: Revelation

Armond Bassett 2017

The Armond Bassett (AB) race normally has two moods:

  • Hot and airless and humid or
  • Torrential downpours and lightning touching down less than a quarter mile away

Based on early weather forecasts, I thought we were going to get the second option this year. But instead AB decided to throw another option at us – it was mild temps, still pretty humid, but with a strange swirling breeze that delivered head winds and tail winds at completely random times on the course.

It was a big crowd this year – lots more kayaks than in past years. Other than Royal, the guy who’d ridden my wake for the first half of Round the Mountain this year and then demolished me in the second half, the top contenders were all local guys – Jim, Todd, John H. I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing a top 4 finish with those guys here.

My main goal was to beat Roger and Eric. Both of them paddle Epic 18Xs, but in spite of the slower boats, I’ve had my hands full with these two in the past. In last fall’s Long Lake I’m managed to drop Roger but Eric had ridden me off his wake. Roger and I have traded off beating each other in various races in the last couple of years, so he was the benchmark.

Because AB is so flat, I elected to paddle my V12. I’m not 100% sure I’m faster in it on the flat – I’m definitely slower in it in any sort of waves, but I think I have a small edge in these conditions.

Also, because of the humidity, I elected to not wear my PFD, which necessitated a change to my drinking system. With the PFD, I keep the water bag on my back, with the drinking hose snaked through the straps of the PFD and dangling on my chest where it is easy to grab it and stuff it in my mouth without losing more than one stroke. In my V10 Sport there is a perfect spot for the drinking bag ahead of the footplate in the cockpit, but it’s a very tight squeeze in the V12 cockpit because of this stupid ledge that Epic put in for no discernable reason. If I’d been thinking clearer, I’d have remembered that previous times I’ve paddled the V12 without wearing my PFD I’ve put the bag under the bungees on the back deck. I should have done that this time.

So when it was time to warm up, I started up my two GoPros. Nothing seemed amiss except the one on the front of the boat seemed a bit askew. After a few minutes warm-up, I discovered my drinking hose must be kinked because I wasn’t getting any water out of it. I stopped at the GRC dock and adjusted both the hose and the GoPro. However, the GoPro then decided to beep and announce it was missing an SD card. I have never forgotten the SD card before, so I assumed it was a glitch and power cycled it. No luck. So with no time to put it away somewhere, I left it on the front of the boat.

One aside – the GoPro Hero 5 Session that I wear on my head sometimes shuts off in the middle of a paddling workout for reasons I don’t understand. Hitting the record button on top starts it up, and it’s usually so quick I can easily cover up the glitch in the edit.

As I was lining up for the start, trying to make sure I was close to Eric, I heard the characteristic beeps of a GoPro shutting down. Thinking it was the one on my head, I quickly hit the record button on it. In retrospect, it was probably the one on the front of my boat deciding it had been on standby long enough and shutting down. So GoPro #1 shut down and I reacted by shutting down GoPro #2. That’s like the classic Cockpit Resource Management lesson about the airliner that crashed in the British Midlands because the pilot shut down the wrong engine when one was losing power. So there won’t be any video for this race. My adoring fans will just have to wait until the next race.

So anyway, the start siren went off and we launched from the line. We had the current and wind behind us, making for a fast first segment. Immediately Jim went off like a bullet, followed by John H and Royal. Todd wasn’t immediately up there but he came through pretty quickly. Eric got a good jump on me as I struggled for a few seconds in all the boat wakes, and Roger was right beside me. I put in a big pull to get up to Eric’s wake. I didn’t turn to look because of my lack of stability, but I assume Roger was now on my stern wake.

I wasn’t on Eric’s wake for long when he suddenly stopped to deal with his drink hose that was sort of falling out of his boat. I’m not sure if that was a ploy to get me to pull or a legit problem, but the upshot was that now I was pulling and Eric was on my side wake. I did a very quick glance and I could see somebody in a white boat on Eric’s stern wake, but I couldn’t tell you if it was Roger or Aaron (more about Aaron later). He stayed on my side wake for a while, but I suddenly felt like he was slipping back. I put in a dig and tried to scrape him on a canal buoy. It worked and he wasn’t on my side wake anymore. I don’t know if he was on my stern wake or not.

At the bottom turn buoy, I could spare a very short glance back and see there was more than Roger and Eric behind me. I couldn’t see who else was there, but there was one other boat right there, and several close enough to be considered a legitimate threat. I rounded the buoy and went for the wall, which is optimally shadowed from the current and the wind. And I immediately grabbed my drink hose and shoved it in my mouth and sucked, only to find nothing coming out! Dammit, kinked again! This is going to be a problem, I thought.

Half a kilometer from the turnaround there’s a point where you have to leave the shelter of the canal wall and move out because it gets shallow and weedy. That’s when I realized that instead of Roger or Eric, the occasional paddle banging noise I’d heard behind me since the turn was Aaron B, a local young sprint paddler. He was now up beside me on my side wake. Since he was obviously more stable in his ICF sprint boat than I was in my V12, I asked him how far back the others were. He said they were 5 meters behind. Well, 5 meters is better than nothing, so I kept grinding. I knew they could close 5 meters in no time if I tried any tricks to get Aaron to lead or tried to give another pull on my drink hose, and I didn’t want that. Better to tow Aaron than end up towing Eric and Roger.

For the entire way upstream, I was using every trick I could to get out of the wind and the current. I’d paddled the course a few times and I knew which tree branches you could duck under and which you had to go around, and I knew about one island you could sneak behind and the other one that wasn’t an island anymore. I also made use of the wakes of canoes we were passing to get a bit of a launch. But here’s the weird thing – when I used one of these tricks, Aaron would leave my stern wake and go paddle in the middle of the river, still keeping up with me. I got the distinct impression he was toying with me. And because he’s young and fit, I assumed it was only a matter of time before he got bored of that and blasted off ahead.

I was actually kind of counting on him blasting off ahead. By the second turn buoy, my cockpit had an annoying amount of water in it, but I didn’t want to kick open the venturi drain because of the extra drag. I figured he’d blast off after the turn, I would be able to assess where I was ahead of Roger and Eric, and see if I had time to deal with the venturi drain and maybe even make another attempt at getting something out of my drink bag. But he never did, so I never did.

The second turn buoy is the best place for assessing where you are in the race. I was a little surprised to see Todd coming downstream before Jim. After Jim, John H was very close to him, but Royal looked like he’d be well and truly distanced.

I had a pretty substantial gap on Eric and Roger, who were still together. Not very far behind them was Dennis, a local triathlete who started paddling with us last year and who is making rapid progress to becoming a fast paddler. Further back was a clump of paddlers that contained Jim P, Steve B, Mike F and Mark, another local triathlete who is making the transition to paddling. It was kind of weird to see Jim leading because he put a heavy weight belt into the bottom of his boat to give himself more stability. His boat must have weighed 1.5 times as much as the Ultra layup boats of Mike and Steve. Steve B called something to his son Aaron – I think he was asking if Aaron was feeling ok, and Aaron said he was fine. So suspicion confirmed – he wasn’t having a bad day, he was toying with me.

Ok, I thought, he’s going to outsprint me. Big deal, that’s his specialty. He can probably hit 15 km/hr in a sprint, whereas I’d be lucky to hit 12 km/hr for more than a few seconds. But I kept grinding away because I knew if I didn’t, Eric was going to grind right back up to me. Aaron would be on my stern, then out a boat length or more off to my side, then he’d be back on my stern. I really had no idea where anybody else was – I couldn’t see the kayakers ahead of me through the forest of canoes, and I couldn’t hear or see anybody behind me except Aaron.

At all the landmarks where I knew how far to the finish, I expected Aaron to sprint past me. Under the 490 bridge, 600 meters to go, no Aaron. I tried to raise my speed as much as I could. Under the pedestrian bridge, 300 meters to go, still no Aaron. Ok, this is weird. He should be able to pass me in his sleep. But he didn’t. As I crossed the line, they called out our finish times, and I was a few seconds ahead. So he didn’t even pull up even. By the time I got to the dock, I could see Eric and Roger had finished not very far behind me. But the important thing was they were behind me. I think I heard somewhere that Roger actually passed Eric, but I’m not sure about that.

In terms of actual time and speed, this was actually my slowest AB since 2010. That’s a little worrisome, but I think the stronger than usual current and wind slowed me down a tad. Thanks to Royal and John H still being youngsters, I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group. I’ll take that.

The Great Loop

My brother and I were together to celebrate our dad’s 85th birthday. We don’t get to see each other that much so it was great to catch up. But he confessed that he had one great ambition – to buy a boat and spend a year doing “The Great Loop“, and then sell the boat when he’s finished. And he says he’d have room on the boat for me if I wanted to join him for some of it.

The Great Loop is a circular path that encompasses the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and various things that join those great waterways. And after he described it to me, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I would love to do the whole thing. Not only would this be an amazing opportunity to see some amazing parts of the US and Canada, but it would be a chance to connect with my brother and heal some very old wounds.

The website linked above says it’s about 6,000 miles (although they give a whole bunch of different options – like whether you do the Erie Canal or the St. Lawrence, or go through Lake Ontario and Erie or take the Trent-Severn through to Lake Huron) and taking a year to do it makes for a very leisurely 16 miles per day average, or more likely a lot of exploration days and waiting for the good weather and some more ambitious days.

He has been thinking about it for a while, and he knows exactly what boat he wants. He’s looking for a sailboat, preferably a Morgan Out Island, between 33 feet and 41 feet long. They’ll be able to cruise under sail or power. He assures me it will have two bedrooms, have enough electric power to run a laptop and other stuff, and will have a shower. I suppose there are also other things to look for like fridges and stoves and navigation equipment. I’ll let Dave worry about that.

I’m not sure it would have room to put a V10 Sport on it so I could paddle for an hour or two every day. But because it’s almost all on rivers or the Intracoastal, it would probably be in range of cell towers most of the time, so I could probably work. If only I can get another remote job, I could work and keep paying the bills at home. Vicki isn’t interested in going the whole way, but she might be willing to spend a week or two with us on the Mississippi part – maybe Karen and Vicki could come at the same time for those parts. It would be sad to be apart that long. But what an opportunity!

I feel like a lot would depend on my next job and how flexible it is, whether I’d have to log in every day or pull code and work on it off-line, etc. Plus I don’t see being able to afford anything until the mortgage is paid off in October 2018.

I have a mental picture of us sailing down the Mississippi, on a sunny day sitting on the deck typing away on a laptop and just taking life as it comes in a mix of high tech work and low-tech travel. I’m stoked for this and hope I can make it happen.

Round the Mountain 2017

There are three salient facts about the Round the Mountain (RTM) race:

  1. For me, and for most racers in this area, this is our first race of the year.
  2. Much of the race occurs on a stream and a connected series of lakes that have a marked channel for the power boaters but there is no rule that says canoes and kayaks have to stick to the channel. In high water years, there are numerous shortcuts and “sneaks” if you’re willing to risk possible damage to your boat.
  3. It has a portage that can make or break your race.

Because this is a high water year, I preloaded my track from the 2015 race as a course in my GPS, because that was a high water year as well and I took all the sneaks. On Friday, Jim and I paddled the part of the course with most of these sneaks and tried to take mental note of the location of the hidden rocks and stumps. My GPS helpfully would buzz and say “off course” whenever I left the line I took in 2015 which was a real help. It was also telling me how many kilometers left to go, which I thought would be a great help for pacing during the race. Jim was saying out loud what he was memorizing as the landmarks for various distances from the finish, which turned out to be an even better help on race day.

So race day comes, and like always at RTM, it was overcast, cool verging on cold, and threatening rain. So pre-race preparation was mostly trying to find a mix of clothing that would be warm enough once you got up to speed, but you wouldn’t freeze to death waiting at the start line or if it started to rain. After careful deliberation, I ended up dressed exactly the same as the last two years – Viakobi v-cold pant and long sleeve top. Funny how that worked out. 

One feature of RTMs past is that the lake would be flat calm when you arrived, and about 10 minutes before the start it would suddenly whip up into 1-2 foot waves coming from your right bow quarter. That didn’t happen this year – it remained pretty flat all the way across the lake. The only waves were coming from a couple of boats with camera crews who were filming the race who were constantly hitting us with boat wakes at odd times and from odd angles. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Another feature of pre-race preparation is trying to determine who your competition was going to be. Roger Gocking wasn’t going to be there, but Eric, the guy Roger and I chased for much of last year’s Long Lake race (unsuccessfully) would. Pete was there of course, but last year I got ahead of him on the first lake and managed to put a gap on him after the portage, so I was pretty sure if I was at my best I could do that again. And there was this new guy in the same boat as me, a V10 Sport Ultra, named Royal. I don’t know much about Royal except he’s young and athletic looking, and I believe he was Matt Skeels V10 Double partner at Long Lake last year. I didn’t hold out much hope of beating him, but maybe his inexperience would give me a chance.

So they announced the start waves, and the second wave would be just unlimited kayaks and C-4s. That means I wouldn’t get my rematch against Eric because he’s in an Epic 18x and would be starting in the first wave. Also, it meant no C-2s to ride wake on. Oh well, maybe some of the C-4s would be the right speed.

The start siren went off and immediately Jim and a K-2 leapt ahead. Jim was actually dogging it a bit – he hadn’t done a proper warm up and so without a Matt Skeels or Todd Furstoss to push him, I think he was planning to warm up on course. He also seemed to stop and look back a few times, like maybe he was considering waiting for us and giving us a wake to ride. Pete is a fast starter and was soon ahead of all the second wave except for Jim and the K-2. Royal was on his wake, and I was three boat lengths back trying to get past the disappointingly slow C-4s. 

I’d have to review the video (oh, by the way, my cameras both worked all the way to the end this time!) but it took me maybe a kilometer to catch back up to the Pete and Royal train. We must have looked fancy with our 3 V10 Sports battling for position and for each other’s wakes. In a repeat of last year, just as we were catching up with some of the dense traffic of the first wave, I make my move and pull ahead of Pete and Royal. After that, I’m aware that at least one of them remained on my stern, but I couldn’t tell you if it was both – I don’t pick up a lot of detail in a quick glance back.

Soon after we headed into the river, I was passing a touring kayak from the first wave when he said: “there’s a rock right in front of you”. Stupid me, I’d been facing him instead of watching where I was going to get a good view for the video camera on my head. When I looked there was a rock sticking an inch out of the water less than a boat length in from in me. Without that guy’s warning, I probably would have hit it dead on and at high speed, wrecking my boat. So thanks, anonymous dude.

A bit later, we get to the most famous “sneak”. This is one Jim and I had scouted yesterday. It’s an island, and the prudent thing is to go around it. If you choose to go in between the island and the shore, there is a massive rock in the middle. The moderate path is to go to the right between the rock and the island, but if you go between the rock and the shore you save a few meters. I’d scouted it, so I knew there was a small rock lurking just at water level, and yesterday Jim had said he was going to take the moderate path and I’d said if I can see the rock before I get there so there are no waves or rain making it invisible, I’d take the risky path. I heard Royal behind me saying something about going right but I could see the rock, so I went straight. Honestly, I thought he was talking to Pete because I had scouted it and I sort of knew what I was doing. But in retrospect, he didn’t know that.

That was shortly before the bridge. Crossing under the bridge, I could see the “BayCreek cheering section” with Susan and Tracey and Kim, but without Vicki, it just didn’t have the volume I’m used to. Still, it was nice to see them there.

After the bridge, it gets into a twisty part where the channel was twisting all over the place but there were lots of opportunities to cut corners. I finally realized that while Royal was right on my tail, I couldn’t see where Pete was. Again, I only take very quick glances and so I didn’t know if he was 2 boat lengths back or 50. On some of my riskier shortcuts, Royal would take the conservative route and then come right back on my tail. At one point he said something about he’d get off my stern wake if I didn’t want him there, but I can hardly object to what is a perfectly legitimate racing tactic. What I probably should have done is grabbed a drink and let him lead for a while, but I wasn’t sure if the only reason I was still in contact with him was the shortcuts I was taking.

It was also during this stretch that I realized that the screen on my GPS was frozen up. This happened to me once before, on a bike ride, and I know from that experience that the only way to clear it is to hold the power button for 60 seconds, so I knew I wasn’t going to get it back for the rest of the race. As well as not getting heart rate and distance to go information, I was more worried that this was going to screw up my video overlay when I make my video. Damn. But oddly, it was still making the occasional beep, but I couldn’t tell if that was a kilometer lap indication or an “off course” indication.

During the twisty part, I hit a stump a glancing blow with my boat on a shortcut that I’d scouted yesterday. That made me a bit cautious and maybe half a kilometer before the portage I stayed in the channel past a couple of marker buoys where Royal went inside and he took the lead. I grabbed onto his stern wake, determined not to let go.

He slowed down before the portage and slowly slid in. I’d been practicing portages with Jim, whose preferred tactic is to come in full speed and jam on the brakes at the last possible second, but there was no room to go around Royal and no point doing so. He was a bit faster than me up the hill, even though he appeared to just be strolling up it. He caught the k-2 that was at the top of the hill with their boat on the ground. Just as he was even with them, they picked up the boat. Initially I’d thought they were going to let Royal go ahead of them and then get in my way, but instead, they were interfering with Royal and trying to go side by side with him on a trail that wasn’t wide enough for two boats. But then they dropped their boat again in the downslope, letting Royal get to the water ahead of them. I got to the dock as Royal was pulling away, and that was the last time I was in contact with him.

The k-2 was too fast, and I couldn’t get on their wake. About the only remaining bit of drama came at another “sneak” that I’d scouted with Jim yesterday. Royal wasn’t taking it, but the k-2 was. I knew the sneak was shallow, required a tight turn and there were numerous rocks on the far side of it. I had little confidence that the k-2 could get through without screwing it up somehow because they’re deeper draft and less able to turn than me. But I figured the best case scenario would be that they would be held up just long enough for me to catch them, and then I could ride their wake for a while and maybe catch Royal. Worst case they’d be bottomed out in the middle and hold me up, but again, afterward I’d have a wake to ride. No such luck, they went through without visibly slowing down, and I actually hit a rock with my rudder. So no k-2 wake for me, and Royal was visibly pulling away even without the benefit of my shortcuts.

From then it was just a matter of trying to pace myself based on my memories of the landmarks Jim had pointed out yesterday and trying to keep myself just on the verge of a stitch in my side. I’m so used to using my heart rate on my GPS to pace that this was literally painful.

It seemed to work, I set a personal record on the course. I really wish I had a GPS track to compare against previous years. I know in 2016 I didn’t use the sneaks because the water was low, and I know in 2015 I had a pretty terrible portage. But it would be nice to see these things side by side.

I talked to Eric afterward and he’d had a very similar time to mine, maybe 20 seconds or so faster, but he’d managed to ride some C-2 wakes for part of it. It would have been a great battle if we’d been in the same wave.

Oh well, time to drive home and then work on my race video.

Possible breakthrough on the camera front

I went for a paddle today with my GoPro Hero 5 Black, and in spite of carefully attaching my Novabeam USB battery, I only got 95 minutes from it, just as if I hadn’t used the battery. Meanwhile, I had the GoPro Hero 5 Session at home doing an experiment where I’d hooked up another Novabeam USB battery, and when I came home I discovered it had recorded 4 hours and only stopped because it had filled up the SD card.

But then I tried just unplugging and re-plugging the Novabeam on the Hero 5 Black, and it happily started recording. I suddenly realized that a light comes on in the Novabeam when you first plug it in. And it struck me that one significant difference between my “bench tests” on my desk and my tests on the water is that in both cases I plug the USB battery in and arrange the silicon putty here at my desk in both cases, but in the “bench test” I hit the Record button almost immediately, while for the water tests I first drive 20 minutes. I bet the battery is turning itself off in that time.

So next time I go paddling I’m going to have to try plugging the battery in and waterproofing it just before I hit record. If I can get 4+ hours of the battery, I can do that early in the pre-paddle preparation and still get the whole paddle or race. I’m so happy that I have probably figured this out before my first race.