Saturday was the Tupper Lake 9 Miler race. I’ve been looking forward to this race for months because last year it was the first real race I did and I was looking forward to seeing my progress. I’m in a faster boat, I’m fitter, my technique is better and I’m more used to racing. Unfortunately they announced that due to construction at “the crusher”, the normal start of the race, this year it would be a semi-loop course up and down river instead of all down river, so it won’t be directly comparable.
The weather was pretty good – a bit cool, very little wind, and it only started raining after we got in the boats to warm up. There was a huge crowd of ICF sprint kayaks, and so we would have actually preferred a bit of waves to give us an advantage over them. It turned out that most of them were in sprint boats because that’s the standard thing in Canada, rather than because they were shit hot paddlers. There were a few shit hot paddlers in sprint boats including Jim Mallory and Ken O-J and a lot of people I had no idea about.
At the start, we lined up between two buoys. There were two markers we had to round that were about 30 degrees to the right of perpendicular to the line between the buoys, so most people lined up at kind of an angle to the line. Jim and a few others actually lined up to the right of the rightmost buoy, giving themselves a shorter line to the marker, but considering how my boat turns and the traffic, I was content to be a little further to the left to approach the markers on a more obtuse angle. Except at the gun the guy beside me to my right sprints out perpendicular to the start line, cutting off me and Doug and Mike and a few others taking a more direct line to the markers. And then when I passed on the inside of him, he suddenly veered about 60 degrees to the right and slammed into me.
We reached the first marker in pretty good condition. I was on Mike Littlejohn’s side wake, Doug was on his tail, we were catching Bill, and there were only a few kayaks ahead of us, including Jim and one of the Canadians who were pulling ahead. We passed Bill before the channel.
Entering the channel, we had a bit of following seas, but with little wind it could very well be of our own making. Doug says there was a strong current coming out, but I didn’t notice it – although my GPS does record a drop in speed to under 6mph briefly. We quickly turned up river, but there didn’t seem like much percentage in skulking up the bank the way Jim was doing because there was little current and lots of weeds in close. An old guy in an old fashioned sprint boat came chugging by with excellent and effortless looking technique, and Doug was on his wake like a limpet. Mike Littlejohn got on Doug’s wake, and I was still on his side wake. I tried to pull up to Doug’s side wake, but I just couldn’t get over the one wave on to the next. The river turned, and Doug veered towards my side, and suddenly I was on his stern wake and Mike Littlejohn was trying unsuccessfully to stay on my side wake. After a while the old guy got a gap on us, and Mike dropped behind, and it pretty much stayed like that until the oxbow loop that was the turn. Doug managed to gap me once or twice but I struggled back on.
In the oxbow, it wasn’t quite as shallow as I’d feared. Kent O-J finally caught us (he’d had some trouble with the waves in the lake in his new sprint boat), and when he went by Doug put on a burst of speed to stay with him. It wasn’t successful for very long, but it was enough for him to open an insurmountable gap over me. I tried like hell to use every trick to bridge the gap, but I never got any closer.
It was along the final stretch of river that we encountered a guide boat that had been in on a dock and suddenly decided to blunder out into out path. Doug yelled at them and they slowed, but I still had to swing out around them.
We started passing the c-2s who had started in an earlier wave, and it was nice – you could pull in to thier stern wake, recover a bit, lower your heart rate and breathing, get a drink, then sprint like hell for the next one or one a few canoes up. I did most of the sixth and seventh miles like that. Doug wasn’t doing that, so he was pulling away even more. Doug was closing on three boats just tantalizingly out of reach – the old guy in the 1985 sprint boat, Kent O-J, and a guy in a light yellow Kayak Pro boat. The top two, Jim Mallory and that French Canadian guy, had finished before I was in site of the line.
I was exhausted at the end. I’d gone out a lot faster than I had at Round The Mountain, and I had nothing in the tank at the end. I ended up being third in under 50, behind the Canadian guy who’d outsprinted Jim and Doug. Jim won over 50. Mike Finear was about a minute behind me and won Touring class. Mike Littlejohn is evidently calling his boat Unlimited class now, and he finished somewhere between me and Mike F. Bill was not too far behind Mike, doing well in spite of the fact that he doesn’t paddle as much as the rest of us.
Compared to last year, this year I did 6.75 miles in 1:02, for an average speed of 6.5 mph. Last year, in a slower boat with less conditioning, I did 7.21 miles in 1:07, for an average speed of …. 6.5 mph. Hmmm. The only thing I can say in my favour is that this year, the first three miles were upstream and the last 3.75 miles were downstream, and last year the whole distance was downstream.
Update: Official results are up. Evidently as well as the three guys Doug was closing in on, there was another guy in a Marauder and a Canadian woman (so probably in a sprint boat) about a minute ahead of them. So while I was third in Men’s Under 50 Unlimited, I was actually about 9th fastest kayak. Sigh.