Armond Bassett 2016

Another Armond Bassett race has passed into the history books. I first did this race in 2009, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed it ever. It’s a race to survive, not to enjoy. But it’s local, so you don’t have to drive a long distance or even make up your mind if you’re going to do it until race day. And you get to hang out with your paddling buddies and some paddlers for further afield before and after, so why not?

Why is this race so unenjoyable, you might ask? Well, there are one two weather conditions for this race: torrential downpours in a thunderstorm, or hot and humid and airless. This year it was hot and humid, although there was a breeze. Unfortunately the breeze was completely saturated, so it didn’t seem to evaporate your sweat. Even after a fairly easy warm up paddle I was soaked.

Jim and I had paddled a part of the course yesterday, and a couple of times we’d stopped relative to the water and looked at our GPSes and it had said 0.0km/hr. I tried it while warming up, and it was reading 3.2km/hr, mostly caused by the wind rather than any current. So obviously getting out of the wind would be the priority when paddling upstream. That was going to be tricky, because it’s not something you can practice the way you can practice staying out of the current, because every day’s breeze is different.

The kayaks started in the third wave, 10 minutes after the C-1s and 5 minutes after the C-2s. There was also a guide boat in one of the early waves, but I don’t know which one. When they called 4 minutes to go, Jim Phillips was already on the line, but everybody else was hanging out 5 or so boat lengths behind. Nobody wanted to pull up to the line because with the wind pushing us downstream, you’d have to keep back-paddling to stay on the line. I went up earlier than most people, meaning that other people were keying on my position on the line rather than me making the decision who I lined up next to. Probably a mistake, but since I ended up with Roger Gocking on one side of me and John Hair on the other, it worked out perfectly.

At the siren, Roger took off fast. I grabbed his side wake and resolved to stay there. John was on my side wake. I couldn’t risk a glimpse back, but I assumed that Pete Gugel was close behind, and maybe Scott Stenberg. Mike Finear started as well, but he’s coming back from an injury and hasn’t had a lot of time to train, so there was little hope of him keeping up with us so I wasn’t looking for him – his job today was to paddle smart and not hurt himself (and it looked like that’s what he did).

Roger obviously didn’t want a reverse of the Old Forge race because he tried several times to scrape me off. At least twice and possibly more times he aimed me directly at a channel marker or dead head so I could either drop behind him or swing out around the other side of the marker. Fortunately John was paying attention so when I swung out around the marker he gave me the room I needed.

John is weird to paddle with – he is evidently so fit that he can carry on a conversation in the middle of a race. I’ve got barely enough breath for the task at hand, but he’s asking me about my trip out west and stuff. And his attitude is contagious – after Roger tried to run me into another channel marker I said to John “he’s a cagey one, he is” or something similar.

On the way down to the first turn, we ran into some real suck water. I had to reluctantly leave Roger’s wake and try to get back out to deeper water. I told John what I was doing, again being more talkative than is normal for me in a race. But it worked, after a fashion. I just started getting some real glide and speed back when Roger came angling out towards us and and I latched back onto his side wake.

As we approached the downstream turn buoy, I was quite concerned about this large power boat coming upstream. Jim and Todd turned safely in front of him, but if he continued his speed he would arrive at the buoy almost exactly the same time as us. There was a C-2 that overshot the turn – I’m not sure if he was going up to talk to the boat or if he thought he was going to turn behind the boat. But the power boat slowed down, and we actually had room to get around in front of him. I powered ahead of Roger on the approach because I wanted to be able to take my own line and not be forced wider – at some previous races like Long Lake I’ve seen Roger take a much wider arc around buoys and since I was outside him rather than behind him I wouldn’t have any choice in the matter.

After the turn, I glanced back and I seemed to have gapped Roger. I started heading to the wall, for the dubious shelter from the wind, but John was coming up to me and he was more in the center. I moved back and grabbed his side wake. We stayed in our echelon for a minute or two, but we started to get into the suck water and I told him to move out more towards the center of the channel. And as we did, John said “I’m going to pull for a while to get a bigger gap on Roger”. He went, and I tried to follow. But I only managed to hang on for a couple of minutes. Within minutes he was several boat lengths ahead and he continued to pull away for most of the race. I found my good pace and just tried to stay there for the rest of the race without blowing up.

Once past the shallow stuff and under the former railway bridge at Bausch and Lomb Park (University of Rochester campus), it was now time to try and find shelter from the breeze, and tucking in as close to the edge as you can get without getting into suck water. At the second pedestrian bridge, there are a few weed beds to look out for, and I passed the race’s sole guide boat around there. As I passed them, I risked a glance back and I couldn’t see Roger or Pete anywhere.

By this time we were passing a lot of canoes. Usually I’d come up through their stern wake, then just as I reached their stern I’d pull off to one side or the other and blast past. Once in awhile I’d pause in a C-2’s stern wake to grab my drink hose and suck down some electrolyte drink. Generally I’d do that when I was near an even number of kilometers from the start, using the lap indicator on the GPS to remind me to drink.

Somewhere near the fire training station, I came up on two C-1s who were obviously fighting neck and neck. I thought I could squeeze on the inside of them, but I misjudged it and ended up having to stop paddling for a second and I said to them “well, I misjudged that one pretty badly” to make it clear I didn’t blame them for cutting me off. The guy who was in second spot pulled out a bit and said “you’ve got room to go up between us”, and so I did. Nice little bit of sportsmanship, I thought.

Nearing the turn, there were two C-2s who were also neck and neck. One of the canoes had two guys who were my size, wearing matching team shirts, and the other canoe was two young women who had some nice silver and blue accents on their canoe. The two heavy guys were throwing out a gigantic messy wake, and the two girls were throwing out a smaller wake but it was mixing in with the other wake and making things very chaotic. It was almost impossible to find any aid from it. I was thinking about poor Pete Gugel – I didn’t know how far back he was, but he was in his Huki, which is a pretty tippy boat. That messy wake would be quite a challenge in my V12, so I was hoping Pete could handle it.

After the turn I could finally have a look back and see where I stood in relation to the people behind me. Pete was close, but not close enough that I really had to worry about him unless I really blew up. Roger was far back. I think Scott Stenberg wasn’t too far behind Roger, and Mike Finear wasn’t too far behind Scott.

When you turn down wind, it’s nice that you’re getting a bit of a push and your average speed goes up. The disadvantage is that you no longer have a cooling breeze blowing on you, and you start feeling like you’re in an oven. Psychologically you no longer feel like you’re paddling fast, although your GPS shows that you are. Also, the C-2s you’re catching are faster than the ones you were passing earlier (which probably seems obvious to you now, but that took me a minute or two to work that out in the race), so they seem to be dangling out in front of you for a long time. And just in time to increase my torment, the sun came out from behind the clouds adding sunburn to the list of discomforts. The last couple of kilometers seem to take forever and you have to keep telling yourself that you can rest when you’re done, not before.

When I crossed the line, I had to remind myself that I was wearing my head mounted camera, so I probably should resist the temptation to fall out of the boat. It was hot and I was soaked, and even that smelly green water looked inviting.

In the end, I was 4th overall, behind Jim, Todd and John. John is still under 50 years old, so I was third in the all important “Men’s 50+ Unlimited”. A couple of C-2s crossed the line ahead of me, but I don’t know if their time was better than mine because of the start waves. I heard that Jim and Todd crossed the line before any of the canoes in spite of starting 5 or 10 minutes behind them.

So – Good race, glad I did it, and I’ll be back next year.