Paddling the Rivanna River –the whole thing

I hate the phrase “bucket list,” but yesterday I was able to check off an item that has been on my bucket list for a couple years.

Paddling buddy Dave and I jumped in our kayaks and paddled the entire length of the Rivanna River from just below the dam at the South Rivanna Reservoir in Charlottesville to the James River at Columbia, VA.  This was a training run for our upcoming 100-mile James River Rundown.

I paddled my new-to-me Prion Beluga and Dave paddled his Epic V7 surf ski.  He definitely, once again, had the boat advantage and I probably pushed myself a little too hard trying to keep up.

We started at 6am but paddled through the heat of the day on a very hot day and it has taken me most of today to recover.  Maybe a little heat stroke or maybe a little sinus infection, I remember rolling on my side in my sleep last night and waking up and feeling dizzy.  And again this morning, when I bent over I felt dizzy.  So I took it easy all morning and early afternoon and am back on track this evening.

Nutrition yesterday consisted of bacon and eggs with coffee for breakfast, a couple of Epic bars and water along the way, a “cheat” snack of a MusclePharm Combat Crunch bar at one point when the heat was getting to me and I felt weak, and 1 Nuun tablet in water.

Now I’m feeling good and I have a sense of accomplishment.  It took us 7-3/4 hours of paddling at 5.8mph over the 44.1 miles and we saw countless turtles, Herons, heard a few beaver tail slaps, and were even treated to two American Bald Eagle sightings.

The Prijon Beluga kayak

I’ve been searching for a boat for the past six months that would be a bit better suited to the upcoming 100-mile James River Rundown.  My ocean kayak is a bit slow and heavy and my faster boats, such as the Phoenix Match II and Cobra Viper, are probably a little too cramped to comfortably paddle them for 17 or 18 hours and probably a little too tippy when physical exhaustion and fatigue set in.  Face it, skinny boats require good posture and balance the whole time.  I don’t think I’m going to have those things for all 100 miles.

I hadn’t found much on the second-hand market, except for an awesome boat in the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association classified ads that got bought out from under me, so I asked a friend if I could borrow her Pyranha Speeder for the race and she said yes so I thought that was going to be my boat.

As luck would have it, I found a guy in Roanoke, Virginia with a Prijon Beluga listed for sale on Craigslist.  I knew exactly what that boat was because I had looked at one years ago prior to buying the Viper.  That particular boat was just a shell with no seat or outfitting and I thought the guy wanted way too much money for it so I passed.

Funny how things sometimes come back around.

So Sunday when I was done riding my bike in the Storming of Thunder Ridge ride in Lynchburg, I made a little extra drive to Roanoke to check out the boat.  I knew these boats are old and feared it might be in pretty rough shape.

The boat was faded on the bottom from sitting out in the sun and it had a dent on the bottom so I was leery.  The rest of the boat looked solid, though.  No deep scratches or gouges, fully operational rudder system, decking lines, original seat and thigh braces.

Tough decision.

I decided to buy it so back to Charlottesville it went on the top of my truck.

The Prijon Beluga kayak

I got it home and cleaned it up a bit, hit it with some Amor All, and then pulled out the heat gun to see if I could pop out the dent, which mostly was a success so then I felt better about my new purchase.

The boat is a really odd, old boat and not much can be found about it online.  I suppose that’s because the boat fits into a very tight niche in the market.  It is a cross between an ocean kayak, a downriver racer, and a fitness boat.

It has a narrow’ish hull and therefore is somewhat tippy on primary stability but has wings similar to a wild water boat like the Wavehopper so the secondary stability is outstanding.  The narrow hull allows for good stroke technique with a wing paddle yet it has a watertight, bulkheaded hatch in the stern to allow for packing gear.  At under 15′ long and with the added rudder, you might look at the boat and suggest it does not know what it wants to be when it grows up.

What I see in it is exactly what I was looking for.

Something on the fast end of the scale for being plastic, it’s plastic so it should be virtually indestructible against rocks, it has a roomy cockpit so I’ll be able to move and shift my body and legs around and fidgit a bit, it has a sealed hatch for packing supplies, and it is very stable when compared to true racing boats so I’ll be able to lean back and stretch my back and twist my torso to stay loose without fear of flipping over.

I took it out last night after work for a maiden voyage and I was easily able to maintain 5.1mph in light wind over the 5 miles I paddled it.  It certainly is no speed demon, but it is very fast for what it is and I think the trade off in speed for the added stability and maneuverability is the right mix of boat attributes for this race.

I believe I’ve found my James River Rundown boat.  Thank you, Craigslist!


I’m becoming an aficionado of old-school boats.  Maybe because they are old and underappreciated, like me.

Storming of Thunder Ridge, 2016


Yesterday I rode in one of the–if not the–premier cycling events in Virginia, the annual Storming of Thunder Ridge in Lynchburg, VA to benefit their YMCA.  The ride features 27, 45, 75, and 100 mile routes as options.

I have done this ride twice before and completed the Century both times so I knew what level of preparation was needed and what the recovery felt like for the next day or two afterwards.

I knew I was going into the ride unprepared because I just haven’t trained or logged very many miles on the bike this year.

I vacillated between riding the 45-mile route or the 75-mile route the days leading up to the event but decided to try to ride 75 miles.  But I had decided in advance that if I got too achy, felt any sort of twinges or cramps, or if I thought I was pushing too hard that I would just stop riding since this is a fully supported event with plenty of volunteers driving SAG vehicles.  I also knew I had a big week this week with at least 60 miles of kayak paddling/training for the James River Rundown and a rescheduled Tye River Race this coming Saturday.

I made it most of the way up the mountain for the 3,300′ climb but my legs felt like they turned into lead weights at some point and just felt strained.  This wasn’t bonking or “push through it” type stuff, this was, “Dude, you are completely unprepared for this, what were you thinking?” type agony.

I was a couple miles from the summit when I did some quick calculations in my head and realized that I could still peddle respectable miles and I would be in much better shape if I turned around and glided back down the mountain rather that making it to the top and dealing still with a significant amount of climbing over the last 25 miles on the other side.

Besides, I could get some cool video that way, too.

So I headed back down the mountain and kept riding the reverse of the route I had just ridden until a SAG driver spotted me and I gladly took him up on his offer of a lift back to the start.  At that point, I had ridden 44.82 miles.  Respectable, I thought.

Analysis of my first 2.7 hours of riding

And there was something else on my mind.

I had spotted a kayak on Craigslist in Roanoke a couple days earlier and wanted to make sure I had enough of the day left to make the 1-1.5 hour drive to look at the boat.

I’ve been looking for a different boat for my 100-mile ultra marathon kayak race, The James River Rundown, in a few weeks and thought this might be a pretty good boat for the race and at a reasonable price.  I had looked at the same model of boat several years earlier and liked the design of the boat, but at that time, I thought the guy selling it simply wanted too much money for it so I passed on it.

It turns out, I did indeed get some good video of the bike ride yesterday and drove back to Charlottesville with a new kayak on my roof racks, a Prijon Beluga, which is an old-school boat that, in its day, was a hybrid between a downriver racer, ocean kayak, and workout boat.

More about that tomorrow.

For now, enjoy some video from Storming of Thunder Ridge, 2016.

Rivanna River Race 2016

I raced in the Rivanna River kayak race last Saturday and had a wonderful time.

The race organizers did a great job of coordinating a well-run event and the volunteers were outstanding.

I arrived plenty early to drop my boat at the starting line and then drove to the finish line/takeout to try to catch a shuttle back to the start. This year, a new outfitter in town, The Rivanna River Company, provided a complimentary shuttle with their bus which made life extraordinarily convenient.

There was another guy at the put-in with a Cobra Viper, my buddy Dave with his Epic V7, and several other fast boats so I knew the competition would be fierce this year. Organizers reported a record number of ~70 racers and with that many competitors, you never know what is going to happen.

The starting horn sounded and I got off to a fairly good start. A few boats were out ahead of me and I was able to pass them fairly quickly. All except for one, Dave S. in his Epic V7.

I paced behind Dave for a short while and then saw an opportunity to make my move to get in front of him about a quarter of a mile into the race. I passed him fairly easily but heard him file in behind me and I knew he was close.

We approached a bend in the river less than 1 mile into the race, and I thought Dave’s bow was at or ahead of my stern and we followed the main current where a tree was protruding from the left bank of the river. Rather than use my rudder to make a quick adjustment to the right and possibly bump into Dave, I decided to cut as tightly as I could to the tree and stay as tight into the bend as I could.

That was a mistake for a couple reasons.

First, my boat hit and branch that was just under water which forced me into another branch that hit me in the left shoulder and chest. While either one of these would normally have been recoverable events, combined they caused me to lose balance and I overturned. I thought my race was over.

The second reason the decision to cut it close to the tree was a bad decision was the fact that Dave wasn’t actually just behind me. He had split river right, so unbeknownst to me, I had plenty of room to maneuver around the tree. I should have spun my my head around to know for sure where Dave was.

After I overturned, I was able to quickly get to some shallower water and when I looked up, Dave was paddling back up river to check on me to make sure I was OK. I yelled at him that I was OK that he should turn around and keep racing but he kept coming back upstream. I yelled at him again, “Go, go set a record,” and he said, “no, I can’t leave you.”

I quickly flipped my boat over to try to drain out as much water as I could and watched as least 5 or 6 boats pass me. I jumped back in my Viper telling Dave, “I’m fine, go, go!” At that point he turned back downriver and started racing again.

It took me another 10 or 20 seconds to get my boat turned around and start downriver again, but I probably lost at least 90 seconds in total and now had an inch or so of water in the bottom of the boat which represented a great deal of extra weight.

I realized quickly I had two choices. Paddle leisurely knowing I was defeated or start racing again to see if I could catch up to the front pack.

I decided to continue racing.

Much to my surprise, I was able to catch up to and pass most of the other paddlers. All of them, in fact, except Dave.

I kept him in sight for the rest of the race and tried as hard as I could to catch up to him just to see if I could do it, but I had decided that if I caught him, there was no way I was going to pass him. His selfless act in helping me earned him the right to win this race if it came down to just the two of us. I was able to close in on him but wasn’t able to entirely close the gap.

When I crossed the finish line, Dave was already there and I gave him a high five and thanked him for his help and concern. He finished in 52:47 and I finished in 53:41, a little less than 1 minute behind him. The next closest time was just under 58 minutes so even with my mishap and Dave’s sacrifice, we pretty much smoked everyone else.

I don’t think I ever felt so good or had as much fun in a river race! Adversity threw itself at me and I was able to quickly recover and overcome.

I also know that I have the best paddling partner possible for the James River Rundown and I predict right now, if we complete that 100-mile race together, we will have exactly the same time as we cross the finish line together.

Last Saturday

As feared, the water levels were very high last Saturday on the Tye River, forcing the race organizers to postpone or cancel the Nelson Downriver Race.

It was a disappointment.

But I used the morning to take advantage of the high, local water on the Rivanna River and took my whitewater play boat down river and tested out a new helmet cam.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be racing in a kayak on the same section of river.

See you there.

My upcoming schedule and training shift

This past Sunday was my last big/heavy workout in the gym for the next couple weeks.  I won’t bore you with the details of my massive workout routine that included at least 6 sets each of squats, tricep pulldowns, incline flyes, reverse flyes and dumbbell pullovers, but I will tell you that this week is now focused on light cardio and plenty of rest in preparation of my first kayak race of the year, the Nelson Downriver Race on the Tye River this coming Saturday, May 7.

The following Saturday, May 14, I’ll be racing on the Rivanna River in my local kayak race, and then the following weekend I’ll be riding my bike for The Storming of Thunder Ridge ride.  Lastly, I’ll be paddling an ultra marathon kayak race in the James River Rundown on June 11-12.  I’ll be in the 100-mile elite division. Come join me on one of these adventures!

It has been raining a lot this week in Central Virginia, which is good because we’ve had a very dry Spring up to this point, but now I’m somewhat worried that we might get too much rain and the race on Saturday will be cancelled due to high water like it was in 2014.

Tonight was a rest night and last night was a night of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on the homemade kayak ergometer in my basement.

I did three all-out sprints of 1 mile each with a few minutes of recovery in between.

I hope to get on the bike at least twice this week for a minimum of 10 miles each time, but short of that I’ll be in the gym either doing the Concept II rower for cardio or, heaven forbid, a treadmill or elliptical machine.

I know cardio is important, but lifting heavy stuff in the gym just seems like more fun if it isn’t cardio in an actual kayak or on a bike.

Come join me during the next three weekends.