Central Virginia paddling

I’m excited that a new, local magazine is launching next week and the publisher has decided to feature our local paddling scene in its inaugural issue.

Paddling Buddy Dave @PdleBuddyDave and I even made the cover!

Look for it at newsstands in and around Charlottesville next week.

Unbound

And be sure to come paddle with us during our local Rivanna River Race in Charlottesville, VA on May 12.

Preparing for kayak racing season

littledfinish2017

It has been a late Spring in Central Virginia.

I’ve only paddled ~40 actual water miles so far this year so my on-water training is behind where I’d like it to be.   This is mainly due to a busy schedule and cold weather.  In fact, as recently as this past weekend we experienced snow and freezing rain here in Charlottesville.

As a result I’ve continued to hit the gym hard but will back off starting next week and have several light weeks in a row as I get back on the water to log some serious miles and get back into paddling shape.   If the weather is bad, I’ll be ramping up the miles indoors on my kayak ergometer.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve lost much of my technique as the few sessions I’ve had on the water so far with Paddling Buddy Dave have been very good workouts and my form is still there.

I sold my Pyranha Octane and ordered a new boat which will be revealed in due time. (I don’t want my competition to know what’s coming.)  Keep an eye open as a new boat with a fresh review is always exciting!

I’ve also been busy as a co-organizer for our local river race this year, The Rivanna River Regatta Canoe & Kayak Race on May 12.

I hope you will join us on May 12.  I’d love to meet you.

2018headerStart of the 2017 Rivanna River Canoe & Kayak Race

The end of the James River Rundown

jrr-end

We just found out this week that the James River Association is no longer going to host the annual James River Rundown, which was becoming a popular ultra-marathon kayaking event on the East Coast of the U.S. This is sad news because many of us looked forward to this event each year and its popularity was growing.

Years ago there was a different race to benefit a day camp, The Camp Kum-ba-yah Race, in Lynchburg on the James and that was a great event, but they, too, stopped hosting that race.

So we are left with no kayak/canoe race on the James River in Virginia.

I’m hopeful that somebody else will pick up and run with the idea of an organized marathon kayak race on the James. When they do they can count on me for support.

Paddling Buddy Dave and I have talked about hosting a 44 mile race on our local river, The Rivanna, or possibly making the race longer by extending it onto the James where we could easily turn it into a 55, 66, or 85 mile race. Dave and I might have to talk more seriously about this for 2019. If you represent a charity and would like to take on this fundraising project, just let me know.

In the meantime in 2018, the closest thing we get is a new race called The Richmond Paddle Cup hosted by Crosswind Paddle Company with the longest race being a mere 17 miles. A huge letdown for those of us looking forward to another ultra this year close to home.

To make it more interesting, a couple of us have hatched a plan. In order to make this 17 mile race more interesting and as a reminder that we don’t always need to be looking for the next fast boat or better gear, we are having an event within the event.

We will adhere to all the regular rules of the Richmond Paddle Cup but we will have our own division within the 17 mile race in which we will all have to use a boat we found on Craigslist for $200 or less. It has been dubbed, “The First Annual Craigslist Challenge.”

Let the games begin.

beatupcanoe

Guest blog: First-time racer on the Chattajack 31

This is a guest post by my friend and fellow paddler, John McCue, who completed the Chattajack 31 mile race this past Saturday on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga Tennessee.  I was hoping race it this year but was unable to attend due to other obligations.

John finished 15th place in the Men’s Kayak division, 16th place overall.

Here are his impressions from the race…


 

johnmccueFirst-time Chattajack 31 paddler and guest blogger, John McCue

I just got back from paddling Chattajack 31, the big paddleboard/kayak/surfski race in Chattanooga.  We raced 31 miles down the Tennessee river gorge.

Waiting on the water for the race to start, it was not hard to realize this was quite different from other kayak races I have done.  None of the couple hundred paddlers lining up in the cold rain made a last minute decision to race.  Entry opened and closed months earlier, this indeed was a serious collection of SUP and kayak paddlers.

Two hours earlier before sitting in the rain waiting for the start, I chose to get out of my warm dry car and trudge into the rain.   Dozens of cars parked near the finish all doing the same thing; Discharging dry paddlers into the cold dark rain, to climb onto one of the school busses lined up to shuttle us to the start.

“Basecamp” is what they call the start area and it is alive with action.

 
chattaBasecamp at the Chattajack31
 

Everybody has stored their boats and boards overnight at the start.  Now the sea of multi colored fiberglass, carbon and Kevlar is buzzing with paddlers readying their crafts.

The clothing choices were as varied as the fancy boards and boats.   Water temp of 70, but headwind and 48 degree rain.  What to wear?

Nobody here was a causal paddler, this was not the, “ I hope I can paddle 31 miles” crowd.

Most race starts are choppy, as paddlers surge forward and a dozen blades churn the water.   It smooths out after paddlers settle in to a pace.

Chattajack, however,  has hundreds of paddles churning at the start, and unlike the smaller races I have been to, the churning continues for a while.   Experienced racers know the importance of a good start,  but if everybody is experienced, and is dong the same thing…..washing machine!   For almost 3 miles the Tennessee river was more like the stormy ocean.

My start was poor and I spent 3 miles focusing on not dumping it in the river as I was caught in a sea of SUP’s.

Drafting and draft trains are allowed but only by similar type of craft.   Kayaks can pace behind kayaks but not behind SUP’s etc.   When things cleared out I was able to make good time working with another kayak.   We traded off leading each other while drafting close behind.  It was nice to see 6.8 and 7 mph on the Garmin.

Even while making good time, by mile 4 the race for the lead was already ahead down the river.   We were able to catch and pass plenty of other kayaks and SUP’s.  But the leaders were surely working together further ahead.

My drafting partner backed off the pace around mile 18 and for the next 7 miles I continued on my own at a furious pace.  I knew the top finishers were out of sight but I still thought my time goal of 5 hours was possible.  My average speed was still 6.4 mph at the 25 mile mark despite the headwind.  It is interesting how much mental math goes on paddling a kayak!

Then I got cold.

Of course it was a cold wet day but it had not bothered me until then.   I was turning towards a power boat wake (even on a cold day they are out there) and while the hull of my epic 18x was slapping the water I felt the cold in my arms and hands.  When I am paddling in my “zone” I can block out the wind and rain….. however, choppy water, whether it is from hundreds of paddles, wind waves or power boat wakes requires a different kind of focus.   My brain was ready for more hammering down the river not capsize avoidance i.e.; turning into waves or wakes.   My hands were cold and my judgement impaired.   I did not fall in but my speed did.

Only 6 miles to go but I was now paddling fast rather than racing.   My finish time of 5hr 16min was surprising since miles 25 26 and 27 were only 5mph.

Dreaming of a warm dry car does not push a boat faster into the cold wind.

The last 4 miles I was able to pick it back up again, getting done and getting dry was the driving force, not race performance.

The winning kayaks were all surf skis that were 20 inches wide or less.

Chattajack has a simple rule for boat classification, no consideration for length but only width.   Boats narrower than 20 inches start with the surf skis (second heat) 20 inches or wider is considered a kayak.

My Epic 18X is 22 inches wide and within the normal category of “kayak” it is amongst the fastest.  However, with a rule of 20 inches one can only expect folks to take full advantage and go narrower (faster) and be included in the under 20″ category.

With the choppiness of the water (start, wind waves, boat wakes) a traditional kayak has a psychological disadvantage.  If you dump your surfski you remount and carry on.   In a kayak you may carry on but you are no longer really racing after stopping to empty out the boat.   My Epic V7 is slower than the 18X but may have better for me because of it’s (relative) raft-like stability.

I’ll be back next year for sure.  Under 5 hours in 2018!
-John McCue

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of my favorite kayaking videos

From my race at the Wye Island Regatta, 2011.  My first win at that race and my first experimentation with “pop up video” style video editing.

Odds and ends

I am not making any announcements, but my friendly UPS delivery man dropped off a new book from Amazon so I can now begin some “research.”  I’m looking forward to reading it and when I’m done I’ll post a review.

MR340bookMissouri River 340 by the Jacksons

I also happened across an interesting article, “Technique: Does Wash-riding Help?” that discusses drafting or wash riding behind another kayaker.

We seem to instinctively know this is a more efficient way to paddle, but Brett McDonald found a way to quantify the gains in efficiency by monitoring his heart rate at two different positions behind the lead boat and while he himself was the lead boat.

It is a short yet interesting read, but this one figure from the article summarizes it perfectly.

washride

 

 

 

James River Rundown 2017

2017 James River Rundown_Dave Dolak Paddling_Mark East

This year’s James River Rundown had 4 different variants, a 120-mile race, a 50-miler, a 25-miler and a 5 mile fun float.  I paddled in the 120-miler, beginning at 6am (yikes!) across the river from downtown Lynchburg, VA.

I cashed in some loyalty points and stayed at the Holiday Inn directly across the river from the starting line the night before and walked to dinner at The Depot Grille and had an amazing dinner consisting of a huge rack of ribs, broccoli, salad, and two or three chicken wings.  When I was finished gorging myself I put in an odd request since I knew I wouldn’t be able to find food at 4:30am the next morning.

I asked for an order of bacon and eggs to go so I could pop it in the refrigerator in the room and just microwave it in the morning. The kitchen staff kindly accommodated my request so I had a To Go box with breakfast in hand as I walked back to the hotel the long way so I could see a little more of the city.  I will definitely be back to the Depot Grille and highly recommend it.

The alarm went off at 4am Saturday and I was a bit concerned right away when I bent over to pack up my duffle bag and stood back up and felt some pain in my lower back.  I didn’t think too much of it, though, as I filled my CamelBak bladders with water and headed out to the front of the hotel where Paddling Buddy Dave and his wife were to pick me up at 5am.

We got to the boat ramp, unloaded boats and gear and I noticed another paddler pull in with what looked like an identical boat.  I walked over to meet him and helped him carry his boat to the starting line and we placed it right next to my Pyranha Octane at the starting line.  His name was Bill and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him at that point, but he seemed like a nice enough guy.

start

We all got onto the water and lined up at the starting line waiting for the start and then we were off and racing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

jrr2017start-a

lynchburgstartThe 120-mile starting line with downtown Lynchburg, VA in the background

I was using my Fenn 3 wing paddle and did a bit of a sprint at the start of the race and jumped to an early, fleeting lead before Paddling Buddy Dave passed me in his Epic V7 followed shortly by Ethan in another Epic V7.  This was the showdown I was waiting for to see which of these boats was faster.

I got a clear answer rather quickly.

They created separation between us in the first mile and I was amazed at what a fast start they got off to and thought they would either kill themselves slugging it out on the river all day or one or both of them would crash and burn at some point.

They chose Option A.

I was separating myself from the rest of the pack and thought I was going to be in familiar territory early yet again this year. No Man’s Land.  Well behind the leaders but well ahead of the main pack.  And that was pretty much the way it was for many of the first 70 miles.

Somewhere around James River State Park, my shoulders were getting sore and I was starting to tire as the sun heated up.  The river was shallow and many, many times when I plunged my paddle blade into the water to take a good stroke the end of the blade hit a rock just an inch or two under the water and violently bounced back at me which cause stress on my shoulders and a brief moment of imbalance.  This happened too many times to count.

So somewhere after James River State Park I found a rock on the river and stopped and swapped out my Fenn 3 paddle for my custom-made wing paddle I was carrying as a spare in the hatch which had smaller blade surface area and was a less expensive paddle in the event the rocks did real damage to my paddle.  I didn’t want to continue to beat my paddle blades into rocks and since I wasn’t running with the Big Dogs I wanted to give my shoulders something with much less resistance to paddle the remainder of the way.

The smaller blades (equivalent now to the Epic mid-wing) were much easier to paddle but I soon resumed really feeling the heat of the day.  My lower back was screaming by this point.

I hugged the right shoreline to find shade and took many breaks to stretch my back.

Then I saw Bill in his Think Nitro coming up from behind.

I wasn’t too worried because I knew there was still a lot of river ahead of us, but he caused me to stop taking breaks and paddle with some purpose once again.

Soon we were paddling next to each other and started talking.  Bill got a little ahead when we approached Dog Island, just upstream of Howardsville.  Bill went left, I went right.

Soon I was paddling past some people on the shoreline with saws and ropes removing a sweeper that extended into the river.  Entangled in the tree were the remnants of a canoe.  We had been told about a woman who had died on the river earlier in the week because she became entangled with a tree and this was a spot where the main flow went directly into that tree.  I knew immediately this was the place where that poor woman lost her life just days before.  I bowed my head and stopped paddling as I passed the tree and prayed for her family and friends.

It was a somber moment.

I emerged at the bottom of the island and found Bill was a little behind me at that point.  Now I don’t honestly remember if I waited for Bill to catch up to me or if he just caught me, but we resumed chatting as we pulled into the boat ramp at Howardsville for a pit stop.  I did a quick refill with water without getting out of the boat and pushed back out quickly but Bill got out of his boat and took a few minutes rest on land.

Not too long later I looked back and saw him behind me on the water again.  My back was in great pain and I had just about had it so when he caught up to me again a new dynamic took over.  I found out this was to be the longest distance he had ever paddled (in fact, I think 50 miles was more than he ever paddled in one shot) and he learned how much pain I was in and offered me a pain killer.

We then started encouraging each other.

I told him how much nicer it was to paddle with somebody than paddle for hours on end alone and we agreed to paddle together and briefly mentioned something about fighting it out for third place the next day.

But then shortly after that we also talked about how there was really no fame, reward or glory in taking 3rd place in this race and how unlikely it was that anyone in the main pack behind us would catch up to us.

At some point it was discussed that we would each come back in the morning if the other one did and resume paddling together and that it was starting to sound silly to paddle together for so many miles and then try to sprint at the end to beat the other one for no particular reason other than a few seconds difference on some time sheet.

We observed each others’ boats and for the first time truly understood how much rocker these boats have and noticed both the front of the bow and the stern were both out of the water.  When you are paddling the boat you don’t see this, but when you are paddling next to one you do.

bowsternThe bows and sterns both out of the water makes for a shorter waterline and slower boat

This amount of rocker makes for a much shorter waterline and with the flat hull, we truly understood that the Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro (same boat, different badge) was fundamentally a much slower design than the Epic V7.

What is discussed on the river stays on the river, but two people at some point in time might have discussed starting an online flame war between the Pyranha Octane and the Think Nitro, each arguing why his boat is far superior to the other.

As we approached Hatton Ferry I was describing the best line on the river but then opted to just lead the way and show him the best line since I was more familiar with that section of the river.

We pulled into the mandatory overnight stop in Scottsville (Mile #70) together and I honestly didn’t know if I was going to return the next day.  I figured I would give myself a few hours and a good meal to see how I felt and then make the call.  After a fat filet mignon I bounced back and felt an obligation to Bill.  I knew he would be back.  He is a strong paddler and I could sense how important this accomplishment was to him.

So we resumed in the morning.

Once again I jumped out with The Big Dogs but knew my boat was no match so I fell back and waited for Bill.

We then paddled the rest of the way together and really enjoyed the day.  The rapids at Seven Islands were awesome with some good drops and rock gardens and we made it through with solid lines and just a few bumps.

We caught up to and passed a few of the 25-mile paddlers.  We made every pit stop together and waited for each other at each pit stop.

JRA-8JRA-9

Although at the time the last 50 miles on Day #2 seemed like a slow and boring part of the river, the time passed rather quickly and again I commented how much better I felt mentally paddling with somebody and engaging in pleasant conversation.  I explained how paddling for so many hours alone last year did strange things mentally.  Last year my mind wandered into ‘the zone’ and when I had a minute or two of human contact at pit stops my crew man sensed I wasn’t quite right mentally and I knew I was struggling to put a coherent sentence together.

There was none of that this year.  Bill and I enjoyed each others’ company and the conversation kept our minds occupied and in a much better place.

We were not paddling leisurely either, regardless of what it might have looked like at the pit stops.  We maintained a pretty good pace together.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So we got to the finish line in a dead even tie for third place.  We found out that Paddling Buddy Dave came in second place behind Ethan and those two did indeed push each other all-out for two days.

I grinned and almost felt guilty knowing I had a significantly more enjoyable 120-mile journey, made a friend along the way, and still managed to come in third place.

The number of minutes or hours between 2nd and 3rd place was meaningless.

IMG_2362Turning off the GPS at the finish line.  117 miles in 19hrs, 55 minutes moving time.  Official race time will be more because pit stops will be included.

My race video:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

# # #

PS – I recovered quite quickly and was back in the gym Monday training opposite muscle groups and then again on Tuesday training legs with squats and leg presses.

During the race I had snack-sized baggies with beef jerky, Epic chicken jerky, salted almonds and shelled pistachios.  I ate less than one baggie each day and on Day #2 hit the river without breakfast or coffee.  A true testament to being fat-adapted and #NSNG.

But Wednesday came and when our local paddling group got together, I cut loose and enjoyed some cold brew and a fine, Dominican cigar.

wednesaday

And for historical purposes, I updated the historic chart of river levels on the James River during the James River Rundown.

table1jrrlevelstable2jrrlevels

PPS – I stayed at the finish line after the ceremonies ended and after most people had left to help finishers get their boats up onto land and help them find their land legs and it was there and then I witnessed some of the best this race had to offer with the “back of the packers.”

A male duo in a canoe that weighed roughly the same as the USS Yorktown finished the 120-miler still in good spirits.  The female tandem kayak team, The Sirens, completing the 120-mile journey telling tales of their interpersonal mayhem during the race but obviously getting out of their boat with a tighter bond than ever.

And the most touching, the female 50-mile solo paddler who got to the finish line and began shaking and became emotional due to the sense of accomplishment.  This was her first finish in three attempts.  I even got choked up watching her reaction and joy.

Some of the best stuff this race had to offer was with the folks who got off the river last with little fanfare or recognition.

Here’s to you!

# # #

A little leg work

Between paddling a 19.5 mile race last Saturday, 5 miles last evening to stay loose, and with an 8.5 mile race coming up this Saturday, I decided to work my lower body tonight and give my arms, chest and lats a little break.

See you Saturday at The Nelson Downriver Race.

*** UPDATE: This race has been postponed until May 20, 2017 due to high water ***

tye5-5-17

airborn

The “Little D on the Monocacy” race

littledcollage

Yesterday I paddled in my season-opening race on the Monocacy River up in Frederick Maryland and was blown away by what I discovered.

Danny Sullivan, or “Little D,” was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystropy a few years ago.  It is a terminal disease that affects the growth and development of myelin, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fibers throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems.    Symptoms include muscle wasting and weakness, muscle rigidity, developmental delays, progressive loss of vision leading to blindness, convulsions, impaired swallowing, and paralysis.

Friends and family of Little D organized this race a few years ago to raise money for the immediate family to allow them to do as much with Little D as they can while he is still with us.

The sense of community and purpose I discovered was inspiring.

I woke up at 5am, grabbed a shower quietly so as not to wake the family, got ready quickly, and then made the normally 3 hour drive up to Frederick and was pleasantly surprised when it only took 2-1/2 hours.

Traffic through Leesburg, VA is certainly much easier before most decent folk are awake and on the roads.

I had my boat (Cobra Viper kayak) and all my gear loaded in the truck the night before so I could get on the road as quickly as possible.

I had entered the 19.5 mile race this day but there was also a 6 mile version.  I opted for the longer race as a test of my physical conditioning so early in the season to use as a benchmark for my training for the rest of the season.

I arrived plenty early and had a chance to chat with Steve Corbett, event coordinator, and learn a little more about the event and river conditions. The participant turnout for the 19.5 mile race was a bit disappointing but Steve told me there were 30 or more paddlers gathered at the starting line for the 6 mile race.

Before the race even began I helped a local kayak fisherman finishing up for the morning load his kayak on his trailer and when he heard about the event he walked up to the registration table and made a donation on the spot.

We got on the water and I asked a fellow paddler to turn on my bow camera for me and he was happy to do so.

Turns out, he was Brian A. from Pennsylvania and as we chatted we learned that we had paddled together last year at the Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race, but didn’t know or recognize each other.

Brian is an outstanding paddler and he and his Epic Touring Endurance 18 fiberglass kayak would turn out to be more than I could handle on this day.  The Touring Endurance 18 was the predecessor to what is now known as the Epic 18X.

After a quick bit of research, I was able to find a photo of Brian and me at the Lehigh Classic last year.

It is a small world and an even smaller community of kayak racers.

lehigha

Brian and me at the Lehigh Classic in 2016

The race began and I allowed the other racers to get off ahead of me so I could capture some video.

As luck would have it, Icarus Air was there with a video drone and they graciously volunteered their services and allowed me to use some of their video.

We started in overcast conditions at the 10am start but the sky cleared, the sun came out, and it was very hot by 11:45.  Normally kayakers hate a headwind, but the headwind during the end of the race was actually very welcomed as it helped us stay cool.

Two sets of canoers in racing canoes jumped out to an early lead at the start of the race and that just left Brian in plain sight of me for the entire race.  I burned more energy than I wanted to early in the race just to stay close to him thinking I’d wait for the latter parts of the race to try to make a move as he tired, but it turned out Brian kept as much gas in the tank as he needed and chose all the right lines on the river so that by mile 15 I realized I was unlikely to pass him.

This section of the Monocacy River is slow and winding so this was almost entirely a flat water race.  Had I known this, I would have chosen a faster, lighter boat.

So I settled into  healthy pace and enjoyed the remainder of the race by mile 16, with Brian still in sight, but with a wider gap than I had allowed previously.

At the end, I came across the finish line in second place for kayakers on the 19.5 mile race, 2-1/2 minutes behind Brian with an official time of 2:55:27. My GPS showed exactly 19.5 miles with a moving average speed of 6.6mph and a maximum speed of 9.3mph.

I’ve never been at a race where there were so many people cheering at the finish line.  The supporters and volunteers for this race are awesome!

There were tents with food and drinks at the finish line and an awards ceremony.

The idea behind this race is to help Little D’s family now and then serve as a living legacy to his memory.

I encourage all paddlers to participate in this race next year and every year after that.

I’ll be back.

Come paddle with me.

See you next Saturday at the Nelson Downriver Race.

See also:

Frederick New-Post Story

The Race page on Facebook

First real test of the new year

I got called out of the country on business this week and only managed to get in one workout in the hotel fitness center.

So today was a test to see if I could snap back into the groove of training, especially since I am still a little jetlagged and am fighting the remains of a head/chest cold I had over the holidays.

I got in a very good lunchtime workout and snapped right back into the swing of things.  I managed to do a medium-difficult upper body workout and then later made dinner for the family which included grain-free, sugar free pizza and white turkey chilli.  A high protein, moderate fat, low-carb dinner that made everyone happy.

I’m feeling good and am ready to challenge my mid-section and lower body in the gym tomorrow morning.

This evening I also learned about the Chattajack 31 race in the American Canoe Association‘s Paddle News newsletter.  I’ll do a little more research into this race and then maybe add it to my racing schedule in 2017.