Old Forge Classic 2016

Yesterday was the Old Forge Classic. I’ve never paddled this one before, but a few years back I paddled most of it while filming Doug and Mike starting on the 90 Miler.

I drove up alone the night before. Old Forge is certainly a lot closer than many Adirondack destinations, and I was half tempted to get up at 4am and drive up that morning. The hotel was hideously over priced and they told me that since I was booking within a week, they’d charge for for a day for a cancellation. I had plans to possibly do the Black River race the next day, so I paid for two days. When I arrived, I found out that the hotel was even more overpriced than I thought it had been (it was extremely ordinary – think “Super 8 beside an interstate”, although it had a great view) and I also found out that the Black River was really shallow this year and if I did the race I’d be risking my shoulders in 23 miles of suck water and risking my boat on rocks and stumps and snags, including at least one place where it becomes a stone riffle that you’d have to get out and carry. So forget that idea.

Race day was gorgeous, sunny, warm and no wind, which raised fears that every boater in the Adirondacks would be out making wakes, although that turned out not to be the case. The organization seemed a little disorganized, but this wasn’t a Mac’s Canoe / Adirondack Watershed Alliance event like most of the Adirondack races I go to. But they got us off at the start on time. Only one wave, but there weren’t many paddlers so that made sense. Didn’t see any obvious interference problems.

Jim Mallory and Matt Skeels renewed their rivalry from the Round The Mountain race earlier, and both were in V14s. Todd decided to paddle his 18X for some reason. I was there in my V10 Sport, and Roger was in his 18X that’s more patch and bondo than boat. Paul D was in his brand new WSBS Sleek, and Jim Phillips decided to paddle his tippy little Nelo Razor because it was so flat.

At the start, Jim and Matt surged out front immediately, and it looked like Todd was actually going to hold on their wakes but soon dropped off. He was just hanging there tantalizingly close, so I decided to go into the red zone to try and catch his wake. What I didn’t realize was that Roger had already grabbed onto my wake and was hanging on tenaciously. It took me nearly 1/2 a kilometer and two minutes, but I caught up to Todd, and just when I was thinking “ah, now I can recover a bit”, my paddle clonked into my boat. Todd heard it, glanced over his shoulder, and increased his speed. I didn’t have anything left to give, so I settled into my own pace to last out the race.

I have my GPS set to record a lap time every kilometer, and it beeps when it does so. At almost exactly 1.62 kilometers, I hear a familiar beep sound coming from right behind me. That’s when I realized that Roger was there – like many paddlers he uses miles instead of kilometers, so he must have his GPS set to record a lap every mile. So now I’ve got to figure out how to shake him without blowing myself up. This is not going to be easy.

We were still in the channel or river heading towards First Lake when I see Todd hasn’t gotten much distance on me, and so I decide to start cutting some corners to see if I can make up some of that gap. I quickly discovered why they have those markers in the channel when I see a gigantic rock lurking less than a rudder’s length just below the surface. I brace and try to angle the boat, but there is an almighty thud – at the time I thought I was hitting my rudder on the rock, but reviewing the video I think I managed to miss the rock and that was just Roger running into my backside. I had wondered why he’d said sorry at the time.

When we came out into First Lake there were channel markers heading slightly to my left and another slightly to my right. Jim and Matt were visible in the left channel, and Todd was on the right channel. Jim has never done this race, Matt did it once several years ago, and Todd has done it many times, so I thought I’d follow Todd. Jim and Matt actually didn’t get too far off a direct line as they quickly left the channel. However they cut right in front of us and went beyond. Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 17.57.56 It looked to me like they were mistaking the tip of that island for the tip of the point they should have headed for – but then they got close enough to that there was a passage through and they cut through the same channel we were headed directly for. It hardly matters, they were so far ahead of Todd and me and my shadow that they could have gone around the island without affecting the standings.

The first actual boat traffic we saw (other than boaters anchored and fishing and/or drinking – even the “safety boats” where fishing) was in the channel between Third Lake and Forth Lake. There were two people on a jet ski and they did not look happy that I was going around turns on the inside instead of staying to the right side of the channel.

After the channel I could see the lighthouse that Todd had told me about on the left, so I knew the island up ahead was our turn point. We were nearly halfway through and Roger was still hanging on like a limpet. I don’t have a lot of tools in my basket for this, but I needed to try them all.

First trick I tried a few times – the island had a couple of points that we came near, and each time there was shallow water off the point. Each time, I tried to put in a bit of sprint to drop Roger. One time I tried to sprint across the entire shallow water and into the deeper faster water, and one time I tried waiting until I was nearly off the shallow water. Doesn’t matter, Roger matched me completely both times.

Crossing back over all the lakes, there were a few small boat wakes, and each time I tried to put in a bit of sprint, although you wouldn’t know it looking at my GPS data. Really nothing much changed or happened until the last channel. At exactly 17.75 kilometers into it (and me not knowing exactly how long the race would be, but figuring it would be about 19 km) I picked up a leaf on my bow. I tried bouncing it off a few times. Roger took advantage of my slowness to try to come past me. He was about a boat length to my left side and even with me. I put extra effort to prevent him from pulling ahead. Eventually a large tour boat came by, and I used its wake to wash the leaf off. But that extra effort had cost me. We passed Jim warming down, and he said we had 1000 meters to go. About 300 meters later, we passed Matt warming down, and he said we had 500 meters to go. Ok, I was confused. But it didn’t matter. I had no energy. I tried to drop into Roger’s wake to get some recovery, but I couldn’t hang on. I think he ended up beating me by 5 or 6 boat lengths.

After the race, he thanked me for the tow. Oh well, that’s racing, I guess.

In retrospect, I probably should have dropped into his wake when I had the leaf, and tried to recover so I could come back around after the tour boat washed it off. Who knows, maybe I would have beaten him? The problem is that people who don’t know what an unstoppable force Roger is will say “you got beaten by a 72 year old?” or ideally “so you barely beat a 72 year old?” That’s not a recipe for gaining respect.

After the race, the organizers lack of experience in organizing races really came to the fore with a really, really late awards ceremony, and once they were supposedly ready to present, they didn’t seem to understand their own organization of the piles of award certificates and post it notes and sheets of paper, so that took way longer than it should have considering only about 10 of us stuck around to pick up our awards. On the other hand, it was a really nice award certificate.

Turning a corner

Up until a few weeks ago I was really worried about how bad my balance was in waves this spring. But then on day I was out in the “washing machine” on the canal dealing with the diamond shaped standing waves caused by boat wakes reflecting back and forth, and something just clicked. I suddenly felt relaxed and I felt my hips just loosen up and go with the flow in a way I don’t think I’ve done before. Last weekend in the washing machine the diamonds were even bigger and I was even more tired and again, I felt fine and continued to put power down through them (mostly). Then last night we were out on the bay with its usual confusion of boat wakes and swells, and my usual trepidation bordering on fear was completely gone. Gigantic boat wakes hitting from exactly on the beam didn’t faze me at all. Of course it helped that I was in a group, and we were doing intervals so I was concentrating on a task, but it felt really good. I can’t wait to see what it’s like on the bay or the “potato patch” (an area around the Genesee River outlet where a combination of boat wakes, lake swell, reflections off the pier and shoals causes mass confusion) on a hot summer day when all the power boats and jet skis are out.

I just hope that whatever has clicked in my head and my body stays clicked over the winter so I don’t have to relearn it next year.

Paddle Around The Bay

In what is now an annual tradition, I’m at my third annual TC Surfski Immersion Weekend. It’s a bit of a long drive, but I really enjoy myself when we’re here. And as another tradition, the Saturday morning event is participating in a local race. The organizer of the race is constantly tweaking it to make it better. Two years ago it was just a straight shot 2 miles across the bay. Then last year it was a squarish course about 4 miles long for the surfskis and kayaks and a triangle course of about 3 miles for the SUPs. This year he used the same course, but added a slight wrinkle with a beach start and finish. Which means you start holding your boat on the shore, and have to run into the water and jump in and go after the start siren goes off, and then at the finish you have to jump out of your boat and run ashore to a finish line a few meters from the water line.

I’d brought all 3 video cameras but discovered before the start that my head mounted one was dead. Never mind, two should be plenty. I started them both before the warm up, so hopefully they both kept going for the whole race (I haven’t checked them yet).

At the start, I found myself beside a local paddling legend named Denis, and both of us were struggling for room to paddle on that side. Rob and Greg had their expected very fast starts, and so did Denis after he got clear of me. Even Eric was way ahead of me before I got slowly up to speed. About half way to the first bouy, Nick and his son came chugging through in the V10 Double, and it looked like Eric managed to latch onto their wake as they went chasing after Greg. Rob and Denis were lost in the distance ahead and I rarely thought about them for the rest of the race. Eric didn’t last long on Nick’s wake and I soon passed him and managed to get to Nick’s wake just before the turn. At this point I thought there was a chance of getting up to Greg’s wake because he was only a boat length past Nick, but try as I might I just couldn’t come around Nick.

On the second leg, Greg started pulling away from Nick. A couple of times Nick briefly paused and I’d try to come around him but every time I did my heart rate would climb back into the red zone so I’d drop back into his wake and recover. But about 3/4 of the way into the second leg, Nick maneuvered me into the lead and hung out on my stern wake. I could out turn him at the bouy, but it didn’t seem to amount to much gap and he was soon back on me.

The third leg was along the shore line and I tried to stay off shore enough that I wouldn’t feel suck water. We started passing SUP paddlers who had gone directly from the start to our second bouy, and I tried to get a bit of help from their wakes, not just to get a pull but also to scrape off Nick, but neither thing happened.

On the fourth leg, Nick came back into the lead about half way to the finish. I tried to recover a bit, hoping if I left my finish sprint late enough I could out accelerate his heavy Double. I came up beside him right at the very end after we turned into the little harbor, and I recklessly sprinted for the shore. I jumped out just as the last second to save my boat from crunching into the shore less than a meter behind him.

I put more into that run up the beach than any run I’ve done in thirty years, but half way between the shore and the finish line I felt something pop in my leg and I fell face first in the sand. I had to crawl over the finish line, and they didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt and stop the clock when I fell, so officially I think I was nearly a minute behind Nick. But in my heart, it was a damn close thing.

One of the other participants is a doctor and he briefly examined me, and said it looks like I tore part of my outer calf muscle (he called it the gastrocnemius? Doesn’t “gastro” mean stomach?) and I’ll need to rest it for a week or so. He said I don’t need to rush to emergency, but I should probably see my doctor on Monday. He said they may want to mri it because a severe tear might need surgery.