I’m a machine.

Today Scott Stenberg organized a long training paddle – 18.5 miles downriver on the Seneca River. He’d invited a lot of local paddlers, but when I showed up this morning it was just Scott, his paddling partner Tom, and I. Tom and Scott were there with a kevlar Jensen C-2 canoe, and I was there in the Thunderbolt that Scott had given me. Two Rochester guys showed up with a black carbon fibre C-2 pro-boat, but they took one look at the put-in, declared it too muddy, and said that they were going to join their friends at a fishing access point about a mile downstream and we could pick them up as we passed. Except when we got there, there was no sign of them – so we just continued on. Scott suggested that they probably decided to go somewhere else that they like to paddle. There was some suggestion that pro-boaters just aren’t the same as stock boaters, but I don’t recall who said it. Or maybe the divide is between kevlar canoes and carbon fibre canoes, I don’t recall. I’ve made disparaging remarks in this blog about the unfriendliness of much of the Forge Racing team, and they’re pro-boaters in carbon fibre canoes, so draw your own conclusions.

Right from the beginning, my plan was to paddle slowly and try to ride wake, but Scott and Tom were pretty determined to ride my wake, and so I ended up leading. The first couple of miles were through a very wide-open part of the Montezuma Refuge, and the wind was very strong from the left. I tried to get close to the left bank to stay out of the wind, but it didn’t really work. There was a lot of wildlife around, especially great blue herons and a pair of bufflehead ducks.

After the wide-open part, we got into some wooded flood plain, but the wind was now straight in our faces instead of from the side. Scott kept saying that “after the turn” there would be a good tail wind. Still lots of wildlife around, including a soaring bird that I think was a turkey vulture, but I didn’t get a great look at it. I was paddling beside Scott and Tom, and managed to have some conversation with Scott. Tom is the stern paddler, so his contribution to the conversation mostly was calling “HUT” every 5 paddle strokes or so.

As we paddled along, I noticed my heart rate was getting lower and lower. I wasn’t really watching my speed because of the strong headwind, and because I was trying to take it easy. At about the 8.5 mile mark the wind shifted to behind us, and Scott suggested to me that since my boat was faster I should go on without them. I was a bit worried about this, because this is by far the longest paddle I’ve taken in my life, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alone. But I gave it a bit more speed to bring my heart rate up into the middle of zone 1, and after a short time I couldn’t even hear Tom’s “HUT” calls. Scott had told me that there were 5 more bridges, and they were “fairly” evenly spaced. Not that I needed the landmarks, since I had my GPS, but it was good to have another marker.

With nobody around to distract me, I was spending all my time worrying. Was I going to finish, what would I do if I couldn’t, was I going to dump, what would I do if I did, should I stop to pull my shirt down below the back strap so it would stop tearing up my back, was my calf muscle going to cramp up, etc. Not good. So I kept reminding myself that I was a machine, that I was going to paddle the same stroke now that I was paddling 1 hour ago, 2 hours ago, 3 hours ago, and I wasn’t going to feel pain or fatigue. But I kept counting down the miles. I took a few sips from my water bag (with energy drink) every time my calves started twitching, and that seemed to help.

At about the half way point, a kevlar C-2 came roaring out from the bank towards me. I thought they’d come from a camp that was there, but I found out afterwards they’d actually come from where were were intending to finish. They asked me how many boats were coming, and I told them it was just me and Scott and Tom. They could see Scott and Tom behind me, and they went back to meet up with them, and I guess they paddled all the way back with them.

The first three of the five bridges went by in about 3.5 miles. Then there was a four mile gap to the fourth. Scott and I have a different standard for “fairly evenly spaced”, I guess.

At about the 17 mile point, I was still a machine, but I seemed to have a bit of light headedness. I stopped and took a lot of energy drink, and that seemed to help a bit. But I was so glad to see that last bridge. I got out, and was actually a bit surprised to find that I had the strength to pick up my boat and carry it up to the parking area. Scott’s dad (or father in law, I kind of forget what he said) was waiting with hot soup and crackers. That was the best tasting soup ever. And Tom’s car was there with a set of kayak cradles as well as lots of straps, so we were able to load up both boats and truck on back to the put-in.

I’m am sooooo tired. But I’m so glad I went. That was quite a challenge. But if I want to do the 90 Miler some day, this is the sort of training miles I need to put in.

Year to date total: 184 miles
Last 30 days: 135 miles