Round The Mountain again

Today was the annual Round The Mountain paddle race. I think in the past I’ve referred to it as a canoe/kayak race but that really does a disservice to the people who race in Adirondack guide boats and SUPs and probably other paddle and row craft that I didn’t notice. For me, it’s usually my first race of the year- I know people who start racing earlier but there is something I love about starting my season in Saranac Lake and finishing it in Long Lake in September. Well except last year when I only did one race, the Madrid COVID race. Being back on the semi-normal schedule is the first normal thing that’s happened since last March.

Being the first race of the year, weather is almost always a factor. We always joke that it’s flat calm when we arrive in Ampersand Bay to prepare our boats and then 10 minutes before race time it’s blowing a gale and there are two foot waves just outside the bay. That didn’t happen today. All the pre-race talk was about how cold it was – it was forecast to be 43F at start time and raining an hour later, which is a pretty miserable combination. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure that’s the coldest race I’ve ever done. I elected to wear my farmer john wetsuit and viakobi storm top. I was thinking of wearing a Mountain Hardware fleece vest as well, but once I got my pfd on it seemed too warm to I took it off. I had regular socks under plastic bags under neoprene socks. I also wore my favorite fiber pile toque. Warming up on the water I felt like my torso was too warm and my feet too cold. I was hoping the warmth would redistribute a bit after my blood got flowing.

The race is under new management this year, although Brian Mac is still helping them with the transition. Two of the changes they’ve implemented are that you had to pick up your race packet at the community center a few miles up the road, and when they called your wave you had to go through a chute carrying your boat to get to the water. I’m not a fan. The first one didn’t really change anything except the route you drive to the start. The second one was a huge bottleneck which slowed down the process of getting each wave ready and acted as a disincentive to warming up early because you’d have to get back out of your boat and carry it through the chute after you’d warmed up. A traditional paddle wave would probably have been faster.

In the past they’ve messed with the order of the start waves and who starts in what wave. I think Brian’s usual method was to try to start the slow people first to minimize the amount of time they’d have to staff the finish line. This time they announced that they’d start the fast boats first in order to reduce congestion at the portage. Except when we picked up our race packets, we noticed that while unlimited kayaks were second wave and touring kayaks were third wave, for some reason guide boats and SUPs were in the first wave. As a matter of fact, other than the touring kayaks starting behind us, it was looking a lot like a Brian Mac start order.

Before the race, I like to scope out “the quality”, IE the kayaks that are faster than me and the ones I’m competitive with. And really, I felt like I was going to be alone out there. Two really fast paddlers, Royal and Matt, were going to be in doubles (but not with each other, thank goodness), two really fast old guys in my age group were obviously going to be up with the doubles and then there was Eric, who I’ve occasionally been close enough to see him finish but I’ve never managed to be with him for more than a thousand meters or so. The people I felt I had a chance to paddle with like Dave W and Bob R were in touring class and starting several minutes behind me, so I was hoping not to see them.

So when we started, as expected the two old guys and the two doubles were off like a shot. Initially I was just going to find a c-2 wake to ride across the lake like I usually do, but it wasn’t as wavy as it usually was. I was amazed to find myself on Eric’s stern wake and ahead of Tim’s c-2 which I’d tucked in behind in 2019. I figured this might last all the way across the lake if I was lucky, but there’s no way I’d be able to hold it once we got into the sheltered water and down stream parts. Eric and this very fast c-2 were side by side, and I briefly thought about transferring to their stern since they put out a bigger wake than Eric’s V10, but I decided it was too risky. I still second guess that, because they eventually pulled away. But Eric didn’t. I was stuck on him like a limpet.

Up ahead it looked like the four leading boats had separated into two groups, but I couldn’t tell if it was the two doubles and the two singles or two groups with one of each. The pontoon boat that often sits in the lee of the first big island wasn’t making everybody pass on his left this time so one of the groups went close in to the shore of the island. I’ll have to check my videos later, because I can’t remember which way we went.

In the river, I stayed with Eric. Even though he was sticking to the buoyed channel in places where I normally take a short cut, I didn’t want to risk losing this wake so I stayed with him. And we were making really good time. And a couple of the short cuts I normally take were actually bad choices because we were catching the first wave people and there were crowds in some of them. Better to stick in the channel where there was room to pass. Royal’s double appeared to be in trouble because they went well off course. I couldn’t tell if they were thinking of heading to shore, or were lost.

A couple of times it seemed like Eric was putting in a big dig to try to lose me. We hit a couple of stretches of heavy headwind and I was really grateful for the windbreak so I worked extra hard not to lose him. I still didn’t think this was going to last because my heart rate was in the red zone and eventually I’d have to slow down.

Even in the stump Lake just before the portage, Eric took the very twisty main channel instead of going straight through the stumps like I normally go. And without the suck water, it was probably the better option in retrospect.

When we reached the portage, I was still on Eric’s stern, but he was slow getting out of the boat so I went ahead. I thought this was great, I could prevent him from getting too far ahead of me on the portage and I’d still have a shot at riding his wake afterwards. Royal and partner got there ahead of us, but they were intent on fixing something in their boat so I guessed that their earlier off course moment was a steering issue.

On the climb of the portage, I discovered a very interesting fact – if you put plastic bags between your sock layers for warmth, your shoes will slide around independent of the feet inside them which ruins whatever grip you might have. I’m sure Eric and the C-2 that arrived shortly after us were not appreciative of how slow I was, but it was marked as “no running, walk only” so I was just helping to enforce the rules. Descending the other side was even worse, because as usual there was a place where somebody had slid out on the mud and I didn’t want to slide and drop my boat.

At the dock on the other end, I took the less advantageous right side (which is partially blocked by a tree) expecting Eric to take the left side and get back into the lead with me not very far behind him. Instead, he seemed to be waiting for the right side. Before the race, we’d commiserated over our problems with numb butts and uncooperative joints, so maybe he was having those sorts of problems. The c-2 launched from the shore and was slightly ahead of me by the time I got paddling.

I initially tried to tuck in behind the c-2, but I soon realized I was faster than them so I struck out on my own. I was still expecting Eric to catch up at any moment, although I was vain enough to think maybe he’d ride my wake for a bit so I could say I’d returned the favor.

Being alone now meant I got to choose the route, which meant cutting every corner, going through the “sneaks” I’ve often taken, and generally congratulating myself on being a wiley old veteran of this race. Which of course meant struggling through some horrendous suck water because out of the channel means out of the deeper water. Also there was a lot more head wind around. I was struggling to maintain a bare 10 km/hr and in the really windy parts it was more like 8.5.

One lake was a raw quartering headwind that sent the occasional cold wave into my bucket, which didn’t increase my comfort level much. As well, without Eric to lead, I was letting my heart rate drop out of zone 5 (red) and into zone 4 (orange) which is more comfortable but slower. I was still expecting Eric to blast through at any moment, but when I snuck a glance back I didn’t see him, just that c-2.

Slowly the kilometers clicked up and the landmarks drifted by. No sign of Eric but I was convinced I’d just looked over the wrong shoulder and he’d be powered past on the other side. So even though I was theoretically alone, I put in a “finish sprint”, which is my laughing way of saying I briefly got my heart rate up into the red zone again without having an appreciable effect on my speed.

Because of social distancing there wasn’t an awards ceremony, but I did get a wood plaque for being third behind the two old guys. Other than Matt and Roger in the double, I don’t know if anybody was faster than us three. Maybe that c-2 that pulled ahead on the first lake, and probably Dave W in the touring class in third wave.

It was also a weird semi-post-covid mishmash of indecision about when to mask and when not to. In the pre and post race standing around and talking, mostly I didn’t mask because I’m vaccinated and so were the people I was talking to. But there were a few times I wasn’t sure if the people I was talking to were, but I figured since we were outside it was probably fine. It’s still feels odd and, to use an overused phrase, uncertain. I wonder how long it will take before we feel normal again?

Heart Rate shouldn’t be this hard

In the 13-odd years I’ve been racing kayaks, I’ve come to rely on having my speed and heart rate displayed in front of me to help with pacing, both during training and racing. And usually that’s been done with the combination of some model of Garmin Forerunner GPS “watch” and a heart rate chest strap – starting with a Forerunner 301 (which nobody except Garmin would call a watch) and the strap that came with it, going through several generations of Forerunner and occasionally replacing the strap because Garmin uses these tiny little screws to hold in the battery cover and they strip easy. I’ve got 2 or 3 of them in my drawer with stripped screws. A few years ago I replaced my Garmin chest strap with a Wahoo TICKR and it worked great. Not only does it have a battery compartment that you can open with a quarter (or the corner of your CrashTag) but it also broadcast on both ANT+ for your watch and Bluetooth so you could display it on your phone (with the help of the Wahoo Fitness app).

Fast forward at bit. After a couple of years of the TICKR working great, I lost it. No idea what happened to it, it’s not in any of the places I’d normally put my strap between workouts, or any of the places where Vicki would throw it on “cleaning lady day” to get it out of the way, nor even any of the 3 gym bags or rolly bags that I normally use for travel. It just vanished. I bought a new one, which has been redesigned and is now in “stealth black” instead of blue and white. And it just never worked right – it displayed ridiculously high numbers all the time, both on my watch and on my phone. I returned it for a new one, and the same problem. After a lot of trouble shooting, I got Vicki to put it on and it reads right on her, so I know it’s not the strap. But meanwhile I’ve got no reliable heart rate.

So I bought a Garmin HRM:Dual, which is their newest heart rate strap – the “Dual” meaning that they too now broadcast on Bluetooth as well as ANT+. It worked pretty well for about a year on ANT+, but it’s *never* worked right on Bluetooth, at least not on either Wahoo Fitness or Kinomap. Ok, Wahoo Fitness might just be that the Wahoo app doesn’t work right with Garmin straps, and Kinomap is… quirky. Also, in the meantime I’ve also got a Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire watch – it does everything the newest Forerunners do, and then some. And it reads me heart rate 24×7 on my wrist. Which is great, except for kayaking I really need to put a watch on the footstrap of my boat so I can see it. I can hardly see something on my wrist when it’s flashing past my eyes 40 times a minute.

A few weeks ago my HRM:Dual started giving garbage results towards the beginning and end of workouts. The beginning I can understand, sometimes it takes time to work up enough sweat that it makes good contact, even if you remember to spit on the pads before you start. I have some electrode gel I bought a few years ago and that helped a bit, but I was still getting garbage numbers part way through a workout. I replaced the battery, and it didn’t help.

And that’s when I started a game I call “Permutations and combinations”. Using my Fenix on my wrist and my old Forerunner 920XT on my desk or on my boat’s footstrap, I started experimenting. I tried the TICKR, still garbage (shows a number, but the number keeps rising up to around 122 while my Fenix and manual counts say I’m at 44), HRM:Dual, still garbage (says it’s connected, doesn’t show numbers). Replaced both batteries, both still garbage. Used electrode gel, both still garbage. Tried the HRM:Dual with the strap from one of the older Garmin heart rate monitors – hmmm, seeing some signs of life, but still not reliable numbers. Eventually I tried shaving the strip of hair on my chest under where the strap goes. And then I got good numbers on my HRM:Dual. At least on ANT+, still nothing on Bluetooth. But I did a workout yesterday with the HRM:Dual paired with the 920XT on my footstrap, and the Fenix 6 on my wrist, and both numbers stayed pretty amazingly in sync.

Heart rate comparison
(Purple line is HRM:Dual on Forerunner 920XT, Blue line is Fenix 6X on wrist)

And I guess that’s where I’ll leave it – I’ll pair the HRM:Dual with my Fenix 6 again, and use the Fenix on my footstrap. And try to remember to shave that strip on my chest when I shave my head.

That’s discouraging

There was a discussion on Facebook about Greg Barton’s speed comparisons. In this document, Greg compares the speed of various Epic kayaks over a 10km flat-water course. He gives estimated times for both himself, and a theoretical “Intermediate” paddler. Somebody pointed out that his “intermediate” paddler paddles the 10km course in 51:55 in a V10 Sport (my favoured boat). That’s 11.6 km/hr, or about 7.2 mph. Several paddlers I respect agreed that that’s an ok speed for an “intermediate” paddler.

I’ve been racing for over 10 years, and during the season I train 7-8 hours or more a week. I don’t think I could train more even if I were retired – it’s not a matter of time to train, but more about what my body will take before it falls apart. I’ve worked very hard with many great teachers to improve my technique and abilities. But in spite of all that, even when I’m not carrying all the extra weight I put on this year, I’m lucky to exceed 10.4-10.6 km/hr for a 10km race. It makes me very sad to think that I’m not considered an intermediate paddler. It makes me wonder why I ever bother.

But then I remember days like I talked about in Flow State where I just feel so connected with my boat and my body as I stroke through calm water. I guess I’ll just keep training and racing for myself, and try not to care if everybody is laughing at the slow fat load making a fool of himself.

Another camera, another time limitation

One of the things I liked about the Garmin VIRB 360 camera is that they actually say “Constantly record for more than 1 hour on 1 charge5 — without overheating” on their product page, which shows a lot more concern for continuous recording than GoPro. They also sell a cradle that gives external power. So I thought I’d be all set for the sort of 2 – 3 hour recordings that have been my holy grail since I got into race videos.

I’ve been running various tests with different combinations of external batteries, and never seemed to get more than 1.5 hours. And today while running a test, I just happened to be looking at my camera when I displayed a “High temperature alert” on the screen just before it shut down. Well, again, I’ve got to give them props in handling high temps better than GoPro – GoPro usually don’t even give you a beep before they shut down for high temps.

But I’m still left with the quandary on how do I keep my cameras from overheating. I’ve thought about covering my camera with tinfoil or attaching a computer CPU heatsink, but a 360 camera doesn’t give you much in the way of non-vital surface to attach things to. Freeze it? My Fenix can act as a remote for it, maybe I could just turn it off in the middle of a race when nothing much is happening?

New Camera

I decided to make a jump and bought a used Garmin VIRB 360 camera. I was going back and forth about this camera, because it’s several years old and there’s been no hint that Garmin is considering updating it or even improving the support (there are posts in the forums complaining about bugs in Garmin VIRB Edit that have been unfixed since 2016).

But there are two extremely important factors that led me to buying it:

  • They advertised that it won’t overheat even with an hour’s continuous recording. Considering how many times I’ve lost a GoPro early in a race due to overheating, that’s a good thing to see an action camera care about. GoPro seems to feel that action cameras are meant to record short clips like a downhill ski run or a sky dive, not an hour or more of continuous action.
  • They make a “powered tripod mount” that allows you to connect your camera to an external USB battery in a water resistant manner.

There’s another cool feature I didn’t know about until I got it home – when it’s paired to my Fenix fitness watch, it will start recording when I hit start on an activity on the Fenix automatically. Also I get a warning on my watch when its battery is getting low. If I get the external battery working, I might prefer not to wait until I hit start to start recording, but it seems like this is a good way to record as much of a race as I can.

I have done a few shoots with it, and so far it seems to give just about exactly an hour of video even with GPS turned on and external sensors and devices paired to it. The video is pretty good quality, and I like the idea of a 360 degree video for seeing all the action in a race.

You should be able to move the viewport around by clicking and dragging or touching and dragging, or even moving your device around if you’re on mobile.

I’m still not sure if I’d rather put up 360 video on YouTube people and hope people see which direction the cool action is happening, or if I’d like to “direct” it.

Here’s a 360 video where I use the “reorient feature” to point the default view where I think the action is, but the viewer can move the viewpoint around manually, and then when I reorient it might get confusing.

Again, you can move the viewpoint around manually, but if you don’t you can see that I’ve tried to move it myself to track things of interest.

And here’s pretty much the same “reoriented” video, but converted to flat so the viewer can’t mess with the viewpoint.

In this one I still track points of interest, but you can’t drag the viewport around to look at things other than what I want you to look at.

The camera records what Garmin calls “G-Metrix” data – i.e. the speed and distance and heart rate and other data that I love to overlay on my videos. By recording it in the camera instead of taking it from my Fenix watch, it simplifies the process of getting the data on the video, but there are a couple of major problems with it

  1. VIRB Edit lets you plonk a gauge on the screen, but it stays in the same place relative to the view, rather than to the viewport – i.e. when you move the viewpoint around, it scrolls off the screen. I’d rather there was an option to keep it static in the viewport as you move the viewpoint around. And this is still true even if you’re using what they call “Hyperframe” to convert the video to flat. You’d think once you made the video flat you could use gauges the way you do on a normal flat video.
  2. There are a different set of gauge templates for 360 videos than for flat videos, and when you use Hyperframe, they still only show you the 360 templates.
  3. VIRB Edit had terrible editing tools. You’d think the difference between doing “trim right” in VIRB Edit and Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) wouldn’t be huge, but Final Cut Pro has keyboard shortcuts as well as “blade” and “blade all” as well a the trims. When it comes to transitions and titles the differences are night and day – there are 156 transitions in my FCPX (some are 3rd party) and 5 transitions in VIRB Edit, and hundreds of titles in FCPX versus 1 in VIRB Edit. Add to that the fact that VIRB crashes with shocking regularity – like 3 times when trying to do that flattened video before I gave up and did it in Final Cut Pro X.

So yes, I can edit the footage in Final Cut Pro – I’m not sure if I can grab it directly off the SD card or if VIRB Edit has to do something first, but I grabbed a video out of the ~/Movies/Garmin directory and dropped it in to FCPX and it recognized it as a 360 video and I was able to point around and do 360 stuff immediately.

So now I’m trying to figure out what my future video workflow will be. If I’m going to always flatten the video, I might keep doing what I have been doing and making a blue screen video with gauges in VIRB Edit and overlaying that on the flat video in FCPX. But if I’m going to output 360 videos, I could stick the gauges down near my boat, and output the full video with the gauges in VIRB Edit then bring it into FCPX for cutting, adding titles and transitions.

Maybe I need to do both for a while and see what people like.