Round the Mountain 2018

Yesterday was my first race of the year, Round The Mountain. It’s in beautiful Saranac Lake and it’s unique in that the start and end are pretty close to each other but it’s not an out and back race and you never repeat any part of it.

The excuses

This is usually my first race and it’s a good chance to assess where I stand in my fitness and training levels. This year I knew it wouldn’t be good. December was mostly a write off because I was too depressed to train, then I had the five week cold from hell, then I got three weeks of trying to build up a bit of endurance, and then I got whooping cough and wasn’t able to exercise for another couple of weeks. Plus I’m extremely fat. So I kept telling myself this was just training for later in the year, and to not worry too much about results. That easy to tell yourself when the race is a week away, not so easy when you’re lined up on the starting line.

For the last couple of years, I’ve beaten both Pete Gugel and Roger Gocking. I knew from joint practice that I was probably not going to beat Pete this year. But I really didn’t know where I stood against Roger. He’s a tough old bird and even though he’s 74 years old he doesn’t seem to be getting much slower year on year. I retained some hope I could beat him.

The Recon

The weather forecasts had been extremely variable, and so I’d brought all manner of paddling clothes, from dry suit to dri-fit and everything in between. On Friday, Jim, Roger and I had reconned the last 10 kilometers of the course, and Jim and I wore dry suits because we weren’t moving very fast and it really makes it more comfortable when you have to step into the water to launch or get out. The water was about as high as last year, but the river seemed to be flowing faster. If I’d been fit, this would have been a good year to set a PR. The is a “sneak” not too far after the portage that seemed narrower than last year, and there were lurking rocks and stumps everywhere. I convinced myself that maybe this year I should take the long way round instead of risking it. There was also a second “sneak” that was much bigger and more open looking, but there was a bunch of suck water with lurking stumps both in it and for a few hundred meters past it. I didn’t see much point avoiding it though, because the alternate was a long way around.

The other fact that we discovered in the recon is that the parking at the finish was almost non-existent because they’re building a massive structure for an EPA superfund cleanup from some coal processing plant a hundred years ago.

The dressing dilemma

When I went to bed on Friday night, Accuweather’s hourly forecast was saying that 11am (start time) was going to be 50F, so I was mentally planning for Vaikobi V-Cold bottoms and V-Cold Storm top. But when I got up Saturday morning, they’d changed that to 34F at start time, rising to 40F by finish time. So I got dressed in my dry suit but brought my v-cold pants and storm top with me just in case it warmed up. I was going to wait until I did my warm up paddle to make the decision on pogies or not.

I dropped my car at the finish and was waiting for Jim to pick me up to drive me to the start, and I was getting very toasty in my dry suit. I checked the weather again, and they’d only gone and changed it back to saying 50F at start time, rising to 53F by finish time. So I took off my dry suit, and put my Viakobi gear over the polypropylene underwear and t-shirt I’d been wearing under my dry suit. After half an hour and preparing, registering and socializing, I decided to remove the t-shirt, and soon after removed the polypropylene top as well. If I’d had my regular v-cold top in the car, I probably would have switched from the storm top to it as well, because it was already in the mid 50s.

Also, in every previous year it’s been flat calm when we’ve been registering and preparing, but then 10 minutes before race time the wind has sprung up and started whipping up waves in our face. This year it remained perfectly flat calm. It was eerie. The only bad part of all this was that when I took off the dry suit, I hadn’t transferred my car keys from the dry suit to something on my person, so all my pre-positioned dry clothes and a sandwich in my car at the finish weren’t going to do me any good. This fact wouldn’t occur to me until I saw the finish line and started my “sprint”.

The start

So this year Brian had changed the composition of the waves again. Touring class kayaks started in the second wave with unlimited, which meant there would be an opportunity to mix it up with Eric Young and a Roger. Some of the C-2 and C-4 classes would start with us as well, giving some good drafting opportunities for those that could take advantage of them. There were a few people in unlimited kayak I didn’t know, including a young kid in a V10 Sport who said he’d done C-4 last year, and a guy in a Think Surfski with “Boaty McBoatface II” on the bow. Matt Skeels wouldn’t be paddling because he was trying out a timing chip system and was going to be busy at the finish.

As expected, Jim Mallory and Royal jumped away from the start line and soon became irrelevant to any future consideration. The other kayaks pulled away from the canoes pretty quickly, led by Boaty with Eric on his stern. Initially I tried to get on Eric’s wake but I soon ceded it to Pete. Trying to ride Pete’s side wake, I discovered he was lifting whole lap-fulls of water with every stroke and I was getting soaked with freezing cold water, so I dropped in behind him. By now some of the c-2s were waking up and pulling up close, and when after a few minutes I lost Pete’s wake I tried to get on one of them (after first checking that there wasn’t another c-2 trying for his wake – my personal rule of out-of-class drafting is never get in the way of in-class drafting). I didn’t stay with them very long either, and my lungs were burning with that “you dummy, you went out too hard” feeling, rather than the “ok, settle into your rhythm you’re good for another 10 miles of this” like I’d felt the last couple of years.

Up ahead, I could see that Eric had taken a commanding lead on the other kayaks and might have hooked up with the fastest C-2. Pete and Boaty looked like they were either battling head to head or cooperating with each other, and were putting distance on me with every stroke.

I was no longer on anybody’s wake, and I could see the conga line was all heading to the left of the safety boat at the second island, but I could see Jim and Royal up ahead and a straight line to them went between the safely boat and the island. Nobody had said anything in the pre-race meeting about having to go a specific way around safety boats (or maybe they had and I missed it) so I headed for the straight line. But when I got close the guy in the safety boat was making emphatic gestures indicating that I must paddle to the left of him, so I had to veer back over to the main line of boats. It was around this time I heard Roger’s unmistakable wheezing and realized he was on my wake. The guy on the boat was reading out numbers and I heard his number which confirmed it.

The river

A few years ago, I’d been on Rogers wake at this point, and somewhere between the second island and the river mouth I’d made my move and blasted past him. Well, this year he returned the favor. I tried to keep up with him but my lungs were burning and I could feel my certainty of finishing slipping away, so I let him go. But not before following him through a dangerous little sneak that I hadn’t had a chance to recon this year and basically had to trust it was the same as it was last year. A bit of a risky move considering his boat is more Bondo than Kevlar, and mine is beautiful and fragile. It mostly worked except I had to slow down a tad through it and somebody slammed into me. Not sure who it was, maybe a c-4 and maybe the kid in the V10 Sport, both of whom I saw soon after.

Going under the bridge, I could see Kim and Tracey and a few other people, but missed Vicki’s unmistakable cheers. Oh well, probably just as well considering how much I pain I was in. With an out there I just might have taken it.

Soon after the bridge there is a sharp left turn onto the lake, and I was coming up on the left of a guy in a Placid Works canoe who was determined to get as far left as he could. He very nearly squeezed me out, and just as I was coming through on his left a C-4 came by on his right and called out “passing on your right” like they wanted him to move further left or something.

The guy in the bow of the C-4 addressed me by name, but I can’t quite be sure who he was. I probably have met him, but I was working too close to my limit to spare the brain cycles. I did attempt to move over a bit to get on their side wake. The woman who was in second position on the C-4 kept up an absolutely incessant stream of chatter the entire time I was within ear shot. I couldn’t believe she had enough breath for it, since I was gasping. But as well as what seemed like general chit-chat, she was also giving advice to the young kid in the V-10 Sport who was now on my stern wake. I don’t know if he’d been the one who bumped me at that sneak or how long he’d been there. I think I’d glimpsed him trying to get on that C-2 wake I tried for early on, but hadn’t seen him since up until now.

I stayed on the C-4s side wake for a while, but I was getting a decent push in the river and was starting to pull away (and starting to catch Roger). The final straw came when there was an overhanging tree – I knew from the recon (and from last year) that there were two choices here – you could go outside of the buoy marking the channel, or you could go under the overhanging tree, but there was a gigantic rock just below the water in between. I headed under the tree, and I guess they decided to in between – I heard a shouted warning and some quick braking or steering moves over my shoulder and that’s the last I saw of them.

The portage

I came into the portage having nearly caught Roger. I got out of my boat almost exactly even with him and followed him up the hill. The kid was a few seconds behind me. I could tell he probably wanted past me but there was no way I was going to give a gift like that to somebody in an unlimited kayak. Roger is a better runner/walker than me and got to the water a few seconds ahead, but elected not to use the dock. I used the dock as I’d practiced the day before and pulled away from the dock with nobody around me. I put in a big effort to try and capitalize on this advantage, electing for a short cut through some suck water rather than a longer route in deeper water, hoping to use my strength instead of my pathetic aerobic capacity. Pete and Boaty were still visible up ahead, and it looked like Pete might be tucked into his stern wake.

Sneaky sneaky

Approaching the very narrow sneak, I could hear Roger wheezing behind me and knew he was going to pass me soon. I’d initially planned to avoid this sneak but figured that with it being so narrow that he couldn’t pass me and he might slow down to get through, so it might buy me some time. I think that strategy might have worked, except I headed for the first bay instead of the second bay for the second sneak, and lost a few seconds. Roger was now just a hair in front of me, but he now used his position of control to force me off the line I wanted through this area of stumps and suck water. I could see Pete and Boaty ahead and to the right, but Roger kept forcing me left.

I put on a supreme effort and got my bow a few inches ahead of his so I could force us more to the right, but the effort cost me too much and Roger surged ahead. I no longer had to worry about his bizarre lines, but I also wasn’t going to finish with him. Jim was out there warming down and told me “500 meters, give it everything you’ve got”, but I didn’t have anything left. It was also at this moment, when I should have been sprinting my guts out that I suddenly realized I didn’t have my car key. I guess I’d been thinking of those warm dry clothes and that sandwich in the car, and then suddenly realized I couldn’t have them.


The kid finished not too far behind me. If he’d been a little more capable getting back in the water after the portage, he probably would have had me. And that’s why I practice portages before this race. And why I’m glad I probably won’t have to practice them again until the St Regis race.

After the race, I took my gopros off the boat and off my head. The one on the boat had still been recoding, but the one on my head was off. Oh oh. In the past it has spontaneously turned off but I’ve heard the beeps and started it again. This time I hadn’t heard any beeps and so I had no idea what it had recorded to. Worse yet, when I tried to turn it on again, it said “SD Card Full”. That’s worrisome – did I forget to delete the last video I shot on it? I think last time I used the GoPro app to download the videos, and it has a bad habit of not deleting stuff when it told you it deleted it. (No worries though – I eventually got the SD card into my computer and it appears that it shut off just as I was getting out of the boat after the finish)

After wandering around, socializing and relaxing, I got a ride back to the start with Rogers neighbor Irene. I got my car key out of Jim’s van and for some reason I grabbed my dry suit but not my paddle bag. I had figured that Jim would bring his van either to the finish or to Doug’s house for the cookout afterwards and I could retrieve it then. Turns out neither of those things happened – he came to the cookout with Roger in Roger’s car. Which makes perfect sense since he was staying with Roger but I didn’t think of that at the time.

Anyway, back at the finish with my car key, I was able to use my pop up changing tent and change into my dry clothes. And eat my sandwich. Turns out that when I packed to come here I did a real good job of considering every possible paddling conditions, but I didn’t do a very good job of remembering adequately warm after-paddle clothes. So I didn’t even had a dry t-shirt to change in to and had to wear just my fleece up top with nothing under it.

At the awards, I was the only BayCreek current, former or honorary member who didn’t get a plaque. Boaty and Pete are both over 50 so snapped up the 2nd and 3rd place in the unlimited geezer category. Again, I had to remind myself this was just a training/social exercise, and I wasn’t expecting to be competitive. But those plans never seem to work out that way, do they?

After we got back to Doug’s, I wanted to have a preliminary look at my GoPro video to see how it turned out. And I had major panic because I couldn’t find my GoPro Hero 5 Black, my fanciest and most expensive camera. I tore apart my car and my suitcase and couldn’t find it. I texted everybody I knew at the race and put out on Facebook hoping somebody had seen it. I tried to reach Jim back at Rogers to see if I’d left it in his van or dropped it in Irene’s truck when she’d given me a ride back to the start, but he was busy helping Roger with his broken garage door and didn’t see the text.

Long story short, after the cookout he checked my paddle bag and it was safely tucked in there. I guess I did it without thinking and promptly forgot I’d done it. Panic over.

I can’t wait to see if the video from it came out well. The other video from the camera on my head looks great, but the mount on the front of my boat has had a few knocks and it looked like it was moving around a bit when I was paddling so it might be too unsteady to use.