Lighthouse to Lighthouse 2017

So this is my third Lighthouse to Lighthouse (L2L). I did it in 2014, then they didn’t have the race in 2015, and I did it again in 2016. I had high hopes this year because I’ve been training hard with Tom Murn trying to fix some flaws in my technique and add some speed to my great base that I’ve built up by paddling all winter and spring with Jim M.

L2L is a great time to catch up with friends from Traverse City and with people I’ve met out west and here at L2L. We met a good crowd the night before at the Tavern on Seven and more at the race site in the morning.

Ok, some salient points in case you haven’t read my posts from the previous times I’ve done this race:

  • It’s long. Nearly 22km.
  • It seems to always be hot.
  • It’s dominated by boat wakes from all directions rather than wind or tide driven waves.

As in previous years, the water was flat as hell when we arrived. It was also foggy. At race time there was a light breeze that was basically along the long part of the course between the two lighthouses – at our backs on the way out, in our faces on the way back in. The waves were small on the way out, and maybe about a foot high on the way back. The fog had lifted a few feet off the water so you could see the other racers and the landmarks.

At the start I did two things right compared to last year: I lined up sort of in the middle but one row back, and I didn’t go out too fast. I’d sort of hoped to keep up with Chris Chappell but he rocketed off the line so I settled into plan B and tried to find somebody’s wake to ride. After the first turn, I was behind a guy in a red Nelo. I’m not sure, but I think he was the guy who paddled a V8 last year with no shirt under his PFD.

I kept on his wake for a little while before dropping off. Then three more guys came by and I couldn’t get on any of them for any length of time. One of the guys was in a Fenn Swordfish, who I later found out was Ray Fusco (who organized the Mayor’s Cup races a bunch of years ago) and another guy had an Epic paddle with gold blades (possibly Yosef Dayan).

After the first lighthouse, we turned generally downwind. It was hot and humid but I was catching some waves. Cliff Roach from Goodboy Kayaks (they make really good v-racks) came up beside me and started chatting. I didn’t look back to see who he was talking to, but he told somebody else to slot into my stern wake – I think he called him Allen or Alex but I don’t see any likely candidates in the results. I looked at my video, and I couldn’t read his boat number. I also could not see him pass me either then or anytime after. He was in a black Stellar with orange tips – not sure if it was an SS20 class boat (SR) or unlimited. (Looking at the video from the start, it might have been Bradley Ethington.)

I was catching waves and I pulled away from them. I caught up to Ray Fusco again, and he also wanted to chat. I stayed with him and it looked like we were catching the guy with the gold paddle blades until the water got really choppy and confused. Then Ray and gold paddle guy pulled away like I was standing still. Soon afterward, so did Cliff. That always happens to me – the segment from the end of the last island to the second lighthouse and back is a confused mess of waves from all directions and I slow right down. I said to myself as it happened “oh, this is where I lose all the gains I’ve made so far”.

After the lighthouse and back to the island, but it wasn’t really getting easier because the headwind, while refreshing, was also throwing waves straight at our faces. There was a sea kayaker who was just a few meters ahead of me at the turn, but I just couldn’t seem to catch him. We paddled parallel courses for ages. A guy in a v14 came paddling by. When he had his paddle in the water, he was pretty fast, but he kept having to brace, and one time he let go of his paddle and put his hands in the water – I was sure he was going to lose it there. A classic case of a paddler who would be a lot faster in a boat he could actually put power down. But he managed to pull away.

The guy with the gold paddle blades was bracing a lot, and I was actually catching him. It was so unusual for me to pass anybody in the rough part of that race that I actually asked him if he was ok as I passed him.

After a while, it settled down a bit and I started to speed up. I passed the guy in the sea kayak – we had a brief conversation about camera mounts. Evidently being chatty with people you’re passing is contagious. I felt like I was catching back up to Cliff as well, but he had a substantial lead by this point.

After turning around the second last island to the lighthouse I was catching waves and it suddenly became fun again. I passed one of the Achilles doubles (Achilles is an organization for disabled paddlers) and I tried to say some encouraging words to them. I think the guy in front is blind – I’d seen him walking around on the beach before the race with a white cane. I thought about making some joke about him being in a chair with somebody blowing a fan and spritzing him with water, but I didn’t know how it would be received. As I got to the actual lighthouse, I was trying to plot a course between the lighthouse and a rower who was kind of zig-zagging around so I didn’t say much to the second Achilles double I passed.

Right after the lighthouse, this gigantic fishing boat cut between me and a woman paddler I was chasing (I found a picture on Facebook where I could read her number, and it was Linda Aragon in the SS20 category). I had to brace a bit when the wake hit me and I swore out loud – somebody behind me, either the Achilles double or the rower apologized, but I wasn’t swearing at them, I was swearing at my inability to handle a boat wake at that point. The wake make me brace, and when I got into the middle of their wake I hit heavily aerated water that you couldn’t really paddle hard in, but I sprinted over to the other side and caught a ride on it, enough to catch the woman and pass her. I was putting in a full-on effort – Cliff was up there, but I didn’t think I could catch him. I went a little too close to the last island and it got slow in between waves because it was so shallow. But I still had enough energy to sprint, but I never quite caught Cliff.

There was one of the official boats at the last turn buoy and it looked almost like the finish was there. It didn’t fool me, but Mike got briefly confused. I was already fading from my sprint, but I keep going with whatever I had left.

In the end, I ended up 32 seconds behind Cliff Roach, and nearly 9 minutes faster than last year and 7 minutes faster than 2014. I’m pretty satisfied with that. I think for next year I’ll have to spend more time in sloppy conditions. I don’t enjoy them, but I’ve got to figure out how to maintain speed when the waves are coming from every direction. I think I say that every year after L2L – one of these days I’ll figure it out.

Then after the race, it was time to eat and tell stories. They put on a pretty good spread at L2L. Really good chowder and chili. I’d tell you how good the hot dogs were but I dropped mine when I was trying to roll up my sleeve to show my tattoo to Tim Dwyer.

Ok, Final Cut Pro has finished transcoding my video, time to start editing.