The day dawned cool, damp and fairly breezy. Not optimal, but better than last year’s legendary strong winds and waves, which thankfully I missed. Much of the discussion around breakfast and after we got to the start area was around what to wear – you don’t want to get chilled in the wind on the lakes, but you also don’t want to get too hot on the sheltered bits. Well, that and scoping out the competition. As well as the four of us from Baycreek (Doug, Mike, Frank and I), there was Lars, the guy who sold a couple of us our Brasca paddles, in a v-12, two guys in Nelo Vipers, Mike Littlejohn in his shorter cedarstrip, and we somehow missed seeing George Belarose, Mike F’s rival and nemesis from Tupper Lake last year although we saw him at the finish. Other than the v-12, I figured I had it made in unlimited class until Kent Olmholt-Jensen told me that he’d entered his Viper in unlimited class. If the other Viper was in unlimited as well, I was out of contention. But that’s ok, I figured that once I’d started paddling the Thunderbolt, I had said goodbye to wooden plaques and ribbons.
One aside about Kent O-J: He lives in Chelsea Quebec, not too far from where I used to live, and for some reason I keep wanting to call him Karl. I wonder if I met a Karl O-J through orienteering or cross country skiing when I lived there. (I’ve looked it up – Jarl O-J was a member of the Canadian Olympic cross country ski team at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo. I wonder if he’s a relative?)
We lined up at the start, with Frank, Mike and I between two C-2s. I’m not sure where Doug ended up. The two C-2s kept squeezing in, and eventually about 15 seconds before the start the one on my left went ahead of me and further right until he ended up to my right between Mike and I.
(If you look carefully, you can see George Belarose paddling around watching the race leave – I guess he didn’t hear the pre-race meeting where they announced that Touring kayak would leave in the second wave rather than the third. I bet he felt lonely being the only kayak in the third wave.)
At the start siren, it was the usual chaotic mess as everyone was searching for the line they wanted or a wake to ride. I had my usual slow start, but to quote bicycle commentator Paul Sherwin, once my ‘big diesel engine’ winds up, I do ok. I was coming up behind Mike, who was just on the left wake of a C-2 sterned by a guy with a Mohawk with a pony tail in the back (in reference to the way a mullet is sometimes referred to in Canada as ‘hockey hair’, I thought that hairstyle should be called ‘lacrosse hair’), when the C-2 suddenly veered sharply to the left, cutting Mike off badly. I decided to swing right to get out of the mess of canoe wakes, but as we left the relative shelter of Ampersand Bay the waves got really bad. They were definitely the worst I’ve handled in the Thunderbolt. I kept telling myself that if this wasn’t a race I would have wimped out. I was now near Doug, and we passed one of the Vipers, this one paddled by a guy in a florescent green high visibility jacket. He was evidently enjoying the waves as much as I was. Doug was heading off towards the wind shadow of an island which looked like a great idea to me so I went with him. He told me I was doing a great job, but he couldn’t see my heart rate monitor – fear and excitement had pushed my heart rate up into the mid to high 170s, which is higher than I’d ever seen it.
Once we got into the wind shadow, I could start paddling for distance instead of survival. I was now ahead of all the kayaks except for the v-12 and the two vipers (the guy with the green jacket passed us almost as soon as we got into the wind shadow). I think Doug was right behind me and Mike wasn’t far behind, although I wasn’t going to pause to look back. We were passing some of the recreation boats that had started in the wave ahead of us, and I tried to say something encouraging as I passed them. There was a buoy at the turn into the river, and I was catching this rec kayaker who was all arms and no torso, and I was about to give some advice on that when he yelled ‘Right of way’ at me. I said ‘seriously dude, you’re going to challenge me for the buoy?’ I went inside the buoy, and then he called ‘sorry’.
The river was narrow and winding, and even the lakes had serpentine courses marked out in buoys to avoid the rocks and shallows. I saw a c-2 sneak through a narrow bit between the shore and an island, but Kent O-J went around. I saw the guy in the green jacket go through the ‘sneak’, but suddenly jam his paddle in a braking maneuver, so I decided to go around. Doug and Mike went through the sneak and I had to paddle like hell to get back on terms with them. Doug has a very small rudder and Mike has a kick-up rudder, so they could risk it more than me. As I pulled back ahead of Doug, he suggested I try to catch the C-2 that was a few lengths ahead, but I tried like hell and I couldn’t get them. Ironically, it was the same boat that had crowded me at the start.
Not long after that, we went under the bridge where our wonderful support crew (wives) were going to meet us to cheer us on. We could see a guy standing on the bridge taking pictures and a guy under the bridge with a dog, but we could hear women cheering. It wasn’t until we got under the bridge that we saw them on a fishing access dock. It lifted my spirits to see them there.
About a mile after that was the carry, a few hundred meter portage, up and down a steep ridge. The C-2 hit just ahead of me, but they just each grabbed an end and ran. I started to get out and got a terrible leg cramp. Doug got out and just danced up the hill as I slowly trudged after. Although he did manage to hit his boat on a tree, which was amusing. By the time he got down to the dock and away, and I got to the dock, he was a couple of hundred metres ahead. Mike arrived at the dock right behind me, but rather than use the other side of the dock he waited for me to clear my side. He assumed I was going to be faster than I was, so I kind of partially responsible for his delay. He said he’ll try to catch me so we can work together to catch Doug, so I pulled away from the dock and then paused to adjust my seat and drink hose and have a drink. I started paddling and I felt quite a bit slower than before.
Mike eventually caught me, but we were both spent, and neither of us wanted to up the pace. We could see Doug up ahead but he wasn’t getting any closer or further away. He was looking back every now and then. I wondered if he had slowed down for us and was wondering what was taking us and why weren’t we catching up, but he tells me afterwards that he was going hard too and was worrying about us catching up.
There were a couple more places where you had to decide to take the sneak or go around an island, and I was so tired that I risked it every time. I bumped my rudder a few times and jammed my paddle once, but I think most of them were net gains.
The last bit into Lake Flower was into a strong head wind, which was not appreciated since we were heading almost 180 degrees differently than when we’d been leaving Ampersand Bay, also into a head wind. I sort of thought that since we’d had a head wind on the way out, it wouldn’t be too much to expect a tail wind on the way back, but that’s racing, I guess.
Mike and I were still side by side, but he was a ways off to the right and I thought I was going more direct, so we weren’t supporting each other. So I decided this time I wasn’t going to get out sprinted at the end like at Long Lake, so I dug deep and put on some extra speed and managed to beat him by a second or two.
- It turned out that while Kent O-J had registered his Nelo Viper in Unlimited, the guy in the green jacket had registered his in Touring, so I ended up third in Unlimited
- Doug won Touring in the under 50 category.
- Mike came second in Touring in the over 50 category.
- Frank was only 7 minutes behind Mike and I, and only 3 minutes slower than George Belarose. That’s pretty incredible, considering he’s probably 20 years older than any of us.
- No word yet on how many NYMCRA points each of us got.
- I think we surprised a few people by upping our game this year.