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.