Guest blogger: Salli O’Donnell

I recently caught up with Salli O’Donnell who earlier this year completed the Yukon 1000 Canoe Race, the longest canoe race in the world, with her teammate Paul Cox.

I simply asked her to share her experience with you.

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Salli O’Donnell:

“The hardest thing for me [is] to try to summarize not only 1000 miles of the most amazing stretch of nature I could ever want to explore, but how to include or exclude all the other facets that overwhelm ones senses during so.

After a long day of airports, planes, delays and lost baggage, we arrived at our hotel in the small mining town of Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory.  It was not long before midnight on Thursday, July 19th and we were already exhausted. My paddle partner Paul Cox – who flew in from Atlanta, GA and I from Norfolk, VA – connected in Vancouver for the final flight into Whitehorse. We were about to embark on what is billed as ‘the longest canoe race in the world,’ the Yukon 1000.

Friday morning we met the Kevlar Seaward Passat that would be our home and ‘wheels’ for a good 8 days. This is a type of boat that neither Paul nor I had ever been in; we had a lot of ‘getting to know it’ to do!

After a few hours of deciding how and where all the gear, food and water we would need for this race would be configured, we took it on a 12-mile test ride. After discovering and fixing some major issues with rudder control (thank you Team Kiwis!), we felt a bit more comfortable.  The rest of that day was spent gathering supplies and food for the race.

This is truly an unsupported race in that we must carry all we will need for the full extent. There are a few little pockets of civilization along the 1000 mile course but we are not allowed to take advantage of any of them unless we’ve an emergency, which also means we forfeit the race.

Saturday was full of boat adaptations, race and safety briefings, gear checks, satellite phone configs and tests (which were later sealed and only could be used in emergencies) and last minute purchases.

My favorite boat adaption was my footboard.

Being mostly a surfskier, the idea of having to use widespread foot pegs for 1000 miles was not thrilling. I searched the surrounding area until a found a decent plank of wood that would span the pegs, then I duct-taped closed cell foam pads to its base on either end – it made a fantastically strong and stable footboard for me to drive against.

Sunday morning the race began at 7am. The water on this part of the Yukon River is crystal clear and pleasantly cold (when it is hot out). Within the first mile, we settled into 3rd place and for the next 20 or so miles, we had a nice push from the river. Then came Lake Laberge, a 30+ mile stretch of open, slow and potentially choppy water but at the far end it necked back down to the river and we were cruising at 10 to 11 mph!

Unfortunately those speeds didn’t last too long but it sure was reinvigorating to have them and periodically over the next few hundred miles we would see them again.

Late in the afternoon, we came across the 2nd place team, Team Hobo Squad. They had stopped to get a bite to eat and were surprised to see us come by. They scrambled to get back in their boat and eventually caught up to us – they were definitely faster than us. We went back and forth a couple of times but by mandatory stop/camp time they were ahead of us.

As part of the race rules, we must stop and make camp for a minimum of 6 hours every day. The race managers said the beginning of this 6-hour stop must fall between 11pm and midnight, but they would allow a little leeway on either side of that hour. The Hobos stopped around 10:45 and, although they offered us to join them, we pushed on to find our own spot…and later wished we had accepted their offer!

About 30 minutes later – tired, wet and cold – we found our spot. Paul changed into dry camp clothes and I threw on a wind breaker. We unloaded our gear and set up camp. For safety, we had to position our food and water away from our boat and tents. In doing so, I noticed numerous moose tracks and bear prints, a skull and other bones, fur etc. I mentioned this to Paul and he, too, had come across some on the other side of his tent…we were NOT in a good place!

After looking around more, we realized we were in a ‘killing field’ (aka a good place for bear and moose to enjoy their supper) and knew we had to re-position.  Aack, that night we learned a lot about properly scouting out our potential campsite before investing too much time and energy into it! Oddly, that first night was our most mentally challenging night as it seems from that point on our rationale appeared to be more intact.

For the next couple of days, we went back and forth with the Hobos because they occasionally took breaks to get out of their boat, we didn’t.

On the 2nd night, we camped with them on the same little island just past Fort Selkirk although they reached it first. It was on that 2nd day they asked if we ever stopped and, in retrospect, we should have lied and said that we did! They quickly adjusted their strategy and we did not see them again – or any other racer – until the morning of the 4th day.

By this point, the waters of the Yukon River had already been insulted by the confluence of the White River. Around Race Mile 364 (afternoon of Day 3), it was mesmerizing and sad to see the silty plumes of the merging White River obliterate the beautifully clear Yukon waters. From that point on, not only did we listen to the hissing of the silt as our boat glided along and our paddles dipped in but we had to find clear sources of drinking water to filter as the silt was so pervasively thick that it clogged Paul’s water filter in less than 2 seconds.

To make matters worse, we ran into our first of several fires at the White River confluence. Visibility was not good, smoke was thick, burnt flotsam everywhere, water now silty white and hissing – not my most favorite portion of the race.

Day 4’s anticipated highlights were passing Dawson City (Race Mile 440) and entering the United States (Race Mile 532). Dawson City is the race’s only supported drop out point. Up to then, we knew if we had any issues and needed to pull out of the race, as long as we could hobble to Dawson City, we’d be taken care of.

After seeing the Hobos off and on in the distance on the morning of Day 4, we stopped to filter some water at a clear creek just past Dawson; we did not see the Hobos again until that night. We paddled through another huge section of fires and smoke and finally crossed into Alaska, 11 miles farther we arrived at Eagle. It was within the mandatory stop window that we climbed up the steel stairs to Eagle, found the phone and called US Customs to announce our arrival into the United States. Not wanting to make camp there, we pushed off for the island across the way and came across the Hobo’s camp. They invited us and we joined them for a windy, windy few hours of rest.

Day 5 was full of fires, wind and rain. We thought we saw the Hobos late in the day (they confirmed they did see us) but that was the last glimpse of them until the finish. That night we found a comfy little place to camp, enjoyed taking in the beautiful surroundings, then tucked ourselves away for a nice little rest. Little did we know how dramatically different the next couple of days would be.

Up until this point, the Yukon River carves a path through mountains and bluffs but on the morning of Day 6 we hit Circle, AK (~Race Mile 700). For the next couple hundred miles the Yukon River meanders through an area referred to as ‘the flats.’ There are no mountains nor bluffs to slow down the winds and the river itself works its way around multitudes of islands and sloughs that are transformed annually by the spring’s ice movements. The river gets very wide, several miles wide, with competing currents that you had to fight against not to be taken down a path adding miles to your race.

Unfortunately, we did not read this section well and by the afternoon of Day 6, we were passed by Team Kokura and later by Team Independence Poland. We went back and forth with Poland and even camped together on the same little beach that night but since they arrived there first, they left there first the next morning. After that, we saw no one until our finish on Day 8.

By the way, we did see much wildlife along the way – eagles, moose, bears, beavers, links, and wolverines. There were 31 teams that applied for this race, 14 teams accepted and 13 teams completed it. At the finish, the race managers were there to greet us with a Yukon River chilled beer, a race T-shirt, a commemorative coin, pictures, interviews and assistance in unloading our gear.

The logistics they endured to put on this race for us was phenomenal and I only hope I can return and do it again.”

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Wye Island Regatta Kayak Challenge 2018

Yesterday I returned to Wye Mills, MD to compete in the Wye Island Regatta Kayak Challenge.

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It has been 5 years since I last raced this race, last in my Thunderbolt-X kayak in the Racing Single division which put me in with all the surfskis.

Prior to registering for this race I contacted the race coordinator to ask what class I should enter.  I explained my Nelo 510 is a surfski but plastic and 16’9″ long with a beam of 21.6″.

He replied and told me the technical specifications put me in the Recreational Kayak division so I grudgingly accepted that but told him that if anyone at all complained, to please bump me up a class or two, either into the Fast Touring or Racing Single.

Since my boat didn’t fit neatly into any category, I really didn’t know which division to choose.  I certainly did not belong with recreational kayaks but I certainly did not belong with composite racing skis either.

So I registered in the recreational kayak division and at the time I registered I was the only entry, which I thought was odd.

When I raced the first year of the Kayak Challenge, there was a plethora of kayaks in the event, so I figured maybe everyone was waiting for the last week before the event to register.

Sadly, there were only 4 or 5 true kayaks there plus myself, and the rest of the field were all males on racing skis.

I hope the organizers address this issue at some point and try to appeal to a broader range of kayakers in the future.  I realize this is primarily a rowing event, but if it wants to include kayaks then I think it ought to try to appeal to paddlers who are below the level of advanced or elite surfski paddler, perhaps with a reduced entry fee for true kayaks or some other level of recognition.

Trust me, the people who showed up in kayaks yesterday worked harder than anyone else.  It was a shame there weren’t more of them.

The organizers bumped up the starting times by 30 minutes to try to beat impending storms, but as luck would have it, as we launched at 8:30am it started raining before we even paddled to the starting line.  By the time the race started at ~8:45 the rain was coming down steadily and at times became very heavy with strong winds and choppy waves.  This lasted for much of the first 5 miles of the race.

By the time we rounded the far end of the island and started paddling back east, the headwinds were very strong and choppy waves were coming straight at us.  In fact, in this race, the wind and waves came from all different possible directions over the course of the race so those with the best balance and skills in a variety of conditions were rewarded.

wyecompositeMy Nelo 510, my tracks from GPS and step count

As I reached the far side of the island, the Kent Island Rowing Club in a 6-person outrigger canoe came up from behind be and slowly passed me into the wind.  We chatted back and forth and a couple times I was able to retake them over the next couples miles.  Their wind profile was so high it was holding them back so I was evenly matched with them under those conditions purely based on out-of-the-water wind profile.

I paddled very close to them for the final 3 miles and tried to catch the last of the composite surfskis toward the finished line, but still came in about 10 seconds behind him.

I ended up taking home the winner’s medal, but I did not feel good about it knowing I beat a really nice guy in a regular 16′ recreational kayak who poured his heart into it.

I felt like I brought a gun to a knife fight.

But there were no Fast Touring kayaks and only 3 men and 3 women in the Recreational Kayak division so even if I entered in the Fast Touring Kayak division (20″ beam or greater & 17′ or longer,) I would have been the only entrant and the race organizers would likely have combined kayak divisions

I wish there was more competition in the kayak divisions.

This was a much different scene from the early years of the Kayak Challenge when there were many more true kayakers. In 2010 there were at least 10 participants in the rec kayak division and more than that in the Fast Touring division.

I’ll probably not come back to this race unless I buy a composite surfski and compete with the more elite racers.  Lack of participation from other kayakers doesn’t make me feel very appropriate in this race.

The race organizers should either embrace kayaks or announced this race is for rowers and surfskis only.

I have my eye on the Think Evo, the Nelo 550, the Epic V8 Pro, or the Stellar SEI, but I would only use one of those boats in one or two races per year and they would not suit my needs for the vast majority of the paddling I do where rocks are an issue.

So I find myself in No Man’s Land with regard to the Wye Island Regatta as I don’t want to invest 3 or 4 grand into a boat that is only suited to a couple races per year, and I don’t feel good about competing with far superior plastic against a limited field.

I wish there was a more affordable option to get into a composite surfski.

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Below is my video from the race.  I had two cameras but the rain was so heavy and the water so choppy there was water on the lenses for much of the race so much of the video is unusable.

 

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Race report: Richmond Paddle Cup 2018

2018 8-11 Paddle Cup-492-bhdr

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Yesterday I paddled in the 17-mile canoe & kayak race during the Richmond Paddle Cup event.  The sponsor, Crosswind Paddle Co., added a longer, 17-mile race this year after they were approached by the James River Association (JRA) and asked if they would consider adding a longer race in lieu of JRA hosting the James River Rundown this year.

I’m very happy that Crosswind Paddle Co. added this longer race and encourage them to hold it again next year and think about expanding the distance.  I’ll do my part to help promote the event and encourage more participants.

The race began at 8am at the Maidens boat ramp and the weather was perfect paddling weather, which is to say it was mostly overcast for the duration of the race.

I had only paddled this section of river twice before.  Once during the 40-mile James River Rundown in 2015 and then again in the 100-mile James River Rundown in 2016, however, in the 2016 race I paddled this section at night and didn’t really get to see it, but I did recall scraping a few rocks both times.

So I knew from experience there were some rapids early in the race but the last few miles were wide and deep with the possibility of wakes from recreational boats.

I chose to paddle my Nelo 510 due to the possibility of hitting rocks and knew Paddling Buddy Dave was taking his 19’2″ X 18.9″ carbon/Kevlar Stellar SR, so I fully understood I would not be any real competition to him so I hoped to compete well against other similar boats that showed up, especially any Epic V7’s, of which there were two of them in this race.

We got off to a good, clean start and Ryan jumped out to an early lead in his racing canoe followed by Salli & Mike in their tandem Stellar ski and then Paddling Buddy Dave.

I managed to work my way up through the main pack to stay in 4th place behind them and I was able to keep Dave at least in sight for the duration of the race.

I found myself in the ever-so-familiar no-man’s land again: well behind the leaders and well ahead of the main pack, so once again I paddled alone for the whole race.

I managed to average 7.2mph for the first 14 miles and then when the river got wide and flat with a slight headwind, my overall pace dropped to a 7.1mph average, but I was happy to maintain a steady, brisk pace throughout the race with no signs of fatigue.

Screenshot_20180811-210822_Mi FitScreenshot_20180811-210920_Mi FitScreenshot_20180811-211017_Mi FitScreenshot_20180812-180953_Mi FitGPS tracks from  my Amazfit Bip wristband along with pace data

I don’t recall my official time and I overshot the finish line a little bit before I turned off my GPS, but I think I finished at ~2:25:00 which was good enough for 2nd place, about 4 minutes behind Paddling Buddy Dave.  {Official time was 2:23:44 which was more than 12 minutes faster than every other kayak/ski that was not a carbon/Kevlar ski longer than 19′.  I believe there was also a fiberglass Prijon Expedition in that mix.}

I was quite happy with that.

And this is a real testament to the Nelo 510 since we know the paddlers are about even and the Stellar SR is far superior in terms of weight and speed, so kudos to Nelo for designing a plastic ski that smokes the V7 and any plastic competition!

jrr2018medal2nd place, Men’s Solo Kayak

FB_IMG_1534380559130Me and Paddling Buddy Dave

The best part about this race, though, was the fact that it seemed like a homecoming for former participants of the James River Rundown.  It was great to see and visit with Mike, Salli and Joe from 10th Life Kayaking and also Justin from JRA.

We finished at the same pavilion we had two years ago when I crossed the finish line pretty tired at midnight and Mike was in ill health and had to drop out that year, so we had a much more pleasant experience at the finish line this year and I felt like I was part of a very cool fraternity.  It was great to hang out with friends.

 

 

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My video from the Richmond Paddle Cup 2018

Salli also agreed to an interview so I could ask her about her very recent completion of the Yukon 1000 race.   She is a true paddling rock star!

My interview with Salli O’Donnell

My nutrition for the race was typical.  2 side orders of eggs and 2 side orders of bacon from Burger King along with ample black coffee.

Before the race I also took 3 Cellucor NO3 Chrome capsules.  This is a nitric oxide/vasodilator product that I find helps open up my nasal passages due to chronic allergies and sinus congestion.

I did, however, try something new in my water bladder this time.  I added 1/2 scoop of BodyLogix BCAA’s powder with salts, which has about the cleanest (i.e. no sugar, but it does have Sucralose listed as an ingredient, which is probably just as bad, hence only 1/2 scoop in more than 40 ounces of water) profile I’ve been able to find in a BCAA product.  I’ve used this product for other, strenuous workouts but never for a kayak race.  It seemed to work well.

 

 

My experiment with BCAA’s and electrolytes

I was feeling good today and got in a workout with fairly heavy volume this afternoon at Planet Fitness.

Screenshot_20180812-203912_AtlasToday’s workout, tracked with my Atlas Wearables 2 workout tracker

As I was working out, I thought about my next boat and it is probably going to be a high-end surfski.  If you’ve been paying any attention at all then you know I typically buy a boat that hasn’t been done yet in my paddling circles.  I like to try something a little different and/or unusual.

So I’m open to talking with any surfski companies who think they have something for me to consider, but I’ll have to sell off some of my existing boat inventory first to make room both with the finances and in the garage.

Boats that will probably soon be up for sale include:

  1. Phoenix Match II downriver racer
  2. Prijon Interceptor downriver racer
  3. Wenonah Orion, K1 flatwater sprint boat
  4. Prijon Beluga
  5. Phoenix Mini Slipper

Let me know if you have an interest in any of these boats.

PS – I know I dropped several brand names in this post so I therefore want to remind you:  I am not sponsored by anyone and don’t have any incentive to promote or mention any of the brands I just talked about.  I merely share those products and brands I use and like.  People often write me to ask about the details of the gear and gadgets I use so I thought I’d share the details in advance this time.

If you choose to check out these products I encourage you to do so via my affiliate links below:

What I use and recommend:
Amazfit Bip Fitness Tracker by Huami
Cellucor NO3 Chrome Nitric Oxide Pump Amplifier, 90 Capsules
Bodylogix Ultra BCAA Powder
Atlas Wristband 2: Digital Trainer + Heart Rate Band

Products mentioned by Mike and Salli (I have no experience with either product):
TUF-FOOT Liquid Foot, Hoof and Paw Protection – 7 oz
Infinit Nutrition GO FAR Nutritional Drink

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Update on the Prijon Interceptor project

You may recall me bringing home an old-school, Hyperform Prijon Interceptor last summer. https://davethekayaker.com/2017/08/10/a-vintage-downriver-racer/

I finally finished her restoration in between the thunderstorms and decided to make her pretty rough and ugly.

Here’s the back story.

Since the James River Rundown (JRR) is no longer, a new outfit, The Crosswind Paddle Co., is hosting a new race in August, The Richmond Paddle Cup. Rumor has it they added a 17-mile race to try to attract the JRR long-distance crowd.

Well, I have news for them.

It is going to work.

In fact, it is going to work so well that the elite JRR paddlers have agreed to enter the race but we will all compete with kayaks and canoes we purchase from Craigslist for $200 or less. It is known as the Craigslist Challenge and will be a race within the race.

I finished the restoring the old Prijon Interceptor (purchased for $90 from Craigslist) and took her out for a paddle this evening.

She is the most uncomfortable boat I’ve ever paddled and the cockpit opening is so small it is hard for me to get in and out of.

Nonetheless, she will be my boat and I painted her up nice and ugly so nobody in their right mind would ever think of stealing her.

The boat is now a cross between a Swiss Army knife and a candy cane.

I hope her integrity and my lower back will be able to survive those 17 miles on August 11 on the James River.

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New river race in Central Virginia?

I’ve been pondering a new race on my local river for a few years now and have made the first steps toward making it a reality.

First, I asked East Coast paddlers if they’d have an interest in a 44-mile race and they overwhelmingly replied, “yes!”

Second, I went ahead and reserved a domain name this evening.

What are your thoughts?

Are you interested in a 44-mile race–the full length of the Rivanna River–in Central Virginia?

If so head on over to www.RunOfTheRivanna.org and fill out the form so we can determine if there is enough interest.

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Rivanna River Race 2018

The Rivanna River  Race has been held every year since 2006 and until this year I’ve raced in every once, except the first year when I did not know about it.

In all previous years the race was organized by one man, Merrill Bishop, who did all the heavy lifting of planning, organizing and arranging volunteers.

For the past several years I have quietly contributed behind the scenes assisting with marketing, public relations, communications and building communities to support the race via the Rivanna River Paddlers Facebook group, www.CvillePaddlers.com, and @CvillePaddlers on Twitter. I was happy to help promote kayak racing in the local community and always took great joy in helping ensure the success of our local race and helping others develop an appreciation for paddling.

This year was different.

Merrill decided to step back after last year’s race and I agreed to be a co-organizer this year along with Paddling Buddy Dave.

The amount of planning for an event like this is not insignificant.

There was the development of a race webpage, creating a race flyer, numerous news releases, constant communication via the Facebook group, a radio interview, posting the event on calendars such as PaddleGuru.com, Nextdoor.com, and Blue Ridge Outdoors online, getting and organizing volunteers, etc.

Filing a County Park special event permit application at the last moment because I had no idea we needed to file one.  Applying for ACA affiliate membership and event insurance, subsequent revision of the insurance to include co-insured, creation of an online pre-registration form.

A lot goes into an event like this.

Getting up early on race day to set up tables and chairs at the finish line, helping at the starting line to ensure things went as smoothly as possible for our paddlers and volunteers.   Paddling the route the night before with Paddling Buddy Dave and removing obstacles to ensure a safe race.

The list goes on.

I had decided a while ago I was not going to race this year.  It was a difficult decision but one I felt was the right one.

And to be honest, if we would have gotten a lot of rain with a high river on race day, I might have changed my mind.

But since I have been helping out with communications for years the local paddling community naturally associated the race with me, not the person truly to thank, Merrill Bishop.

I never intended to become the face of the race but I had.

So I decided I needed to take a year off from racing, get some perspective on the race, and avoid any appearance of conflict of interest or seem like the race is self-serving in any way.

As you know, I participate in many races and always write about my experiences and usually do a video of the events because I want to promote all kayak races and promote paddling in general. I do what I do because I love the sport and believe more people could benefit from a more healthy lifestyle and improve their mental state by participating in paddle sports.  Race organizers usually love it when I show up at their events because I help give them a bigger footprint on social media.

But my local race?

Maybe I had lost perspective.

So I helped set up at the finish line early Saturday morning and then drove to the starting line to help there as best I could.

Racers started arriving and registration seemed to go rather smoothly.  Somebody even brought copies of the regional Magazine, Unbound, which featured our local paddling community and race on the front cover.

I swear I did not bring any of these copies of the magazine.

rrr2018_1.jpgPaddling friend and volunteer, Shelli, checking out Unbound Magazine at the starting line

So the racers got checked in and the safety briefing began at ~9:35am.

During the safety briefing Shelli and I headed out in our boats to sit at the first significant set of rapids and serve as safety patrol.

Everyone who knows me fully realizes I’m human and suffer from all the maladies, flaws and shortcomings associated with being human.

As I headed down to the river with my boat prior to launch I felt a bit of resentment that I was not going to participate as a racer this year.  All the hard work.  All the bumps, bruises, stress and skirmishes during the pre-race planning…and I wasn’t even going to enjoy racing myself?

I was not happy.

I did not have the joy in my heart that I had in all previous years.

But a funny thing soon happened.

As soon as I got into my kayak everything changed.

We paddled down and got to our post and took up residence on some rocks and waited for the racers to start coming through the “railroad” rapid.

I brought my video camera and tripod and set up shop.

What then happened was amazing.

I got to see the smiles on every racer’s face as they came through that rapid.

I got to capture video and pictures of every participant in the race.

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I felt their joy and I was able to share their adventure with them, if even just few a few moments as they paddled by.  I was able to cheer on every person as they passed by.  I saw young paddlers, old paddlers, serious paddlers and paddlers who were simply thrilled to be on the water.

After our safety boater, Scott Shaw, came through we knew the last participant had passed through our checkpoint so we jumped back in our kayaks and escorted the “back of the packers” to the finish line.

I gained even more perspective.

I paddled ahead and then waited below rapids to make sure everyone got through alright.  I got out of my boat a couple times to help people get unstuck from rocks and made sure everyone completed the race.

I thoroughly enjoyed the race and, quite possibly, it was my most enjoyable race because I got to see it through the eyes and perspective of others.

The volunteers. The racers. Merrill Bishop.

Two astounding events encapsulated the entire event.

One: An anonymous donor gave a $100 bill to be awarded to the racer with the fastest overall time.

Two: Said paddler taking the envelope with the cash, asked who the race benefits, and when he was told the proceeds were being given to  The Rivanna Conservation Alliance, immediately handed the envelope back and said, “Give it to them.”

That is what it is all about.

I am hopeful that new volunteers step forward to take on organizing responsibilities in future years.  I know I’m not cut out for it.

Now that I’ve been through a full cycle myself I’m happy to help transition the race organization to new volunteers and/or management and I remain 100% committed to ensuring the future success of this race.

But I do want to get back to racing in this race.

Merrill has left a race legacy that deserves the support of our community.

One way or another I will help that legacy endure.

It is a worthy endeavor.


Youghness Monster 25, 2018

Friday afternoon I drove up to Pennsylvania to paddle in the inaugural running of the Youghness Monster 25, a 25-mile paddle race on the Youghiogheny River between Connellsville and West Newton, PA.

youghness

I got to the check-in to pick up my race packet and immediately recognized some old friends and started making new ones.

First I bumped into Brian Ammon, whom you may recall I first met at the Lehigh Classic race in 2016 and then again at the Little D On The Monocacy race in 2017.  Brian hasn’t changed a bit and is never shy to share stories of paddling adventures which is part of what makes him so charming.  He is a wealth of paddling information and history.

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Me and Brian Ammon

I soon then met Hansel Lucas, owner of Performance kayaks who, along with Stellar Kayaks and others, sponsored the race.

20180504_174812Hansel Lucas, Owner of Performance Kayaks

I then also soon met Steve Bruner, who graciously agreed to an interview with me.

Shortly thereafter I headed to Uniontown where I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express.  The rain starting coming down and questions started coming to mind.

How cold would it be in the morning?
Would it rain all day for the race?
How high will the river be?
How shall I dress?
What happens if continuous Class II rapids are above my skills level in this boat?

I took one last look at my boat and then headed into the hotel for some sleep.

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I had some trepidation about this race because it was the first time I was taking my Thunderbolt-X kayak onto any moving water and I was not sure how skilled I would be with her in rapids.  I’ve only used her as a flat water training boat and the thought of rapids bigger than advertised or possibly smashing her into rocks worried me greatly.

Flipping and filling her full of water would equate to “game over” for the race as it would take long time for me to empty her out and recover.

Hansel Lucas assured me the water was at a good level and that the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to release some more water from the upstream dam so the water would come up at least 8″ overnight.  He said he and friends run carbon/Kevlar boats on that section of river regularly and that anything above 4 ft. at the Sutersville, PA gauge was fine for any construction of boat.

I looked at the gauge on my RiverFlows app one last time and saw the river was well above 4K and was already starting to rise, so I felt better about the situation.

gaugeThe water came up to a great level overnight

The alarm when off 6:30am on race morning and I quickly got ready and ate a breakfast of some scrambled eggs with 2 sausage patties and black coffee before heading back up to the starting line at Connellsville.

I grabbed another black coffee for the road for the 20 minute drive.

It should be noted I had no other food until ~7pm when I stopped for dinner on the drive home.  During the race I only had water in a CamelBak bladder and was not again hungry until well after the race.

Being fat-adapted is great. #NSNG #LCHF

People were starting to gather at the starting line and dropping boats at the ramp.  There seemed to be an inordinate amount of high-end surf skis to me, especially for this land-locked area of the country.

The weather was warming up fast so I realized minimal clothing would indeed be appropriate (even though I brought a wet suit just in case.)  I had safety clothing stowed in my dry bag, but I was not going to start with too much clothing because a body generates a lot of heat when exerting sustained energy.  It is better to get to the side of the river to add layers than it is to try to remove layers due to overheating while trying to paddle and balance a boat.  Just my opinion.

I chatted with several people before the race began and it wasn’t until I was driving home after the race I realized why one particular guy seemed very familiar.  He was Joe White, or JoeDirt22222 on YouTube.

He designed a kayak ergometer which served as the inspiration for my own do-it-yourself, DIY, kayak ergometer design.  Please, purchase one of Joe’s ergometers! Dude is amazing and is an awesome paddler.

There were skis everywhere. Primarily Stellar but Epic skis were also well represented.

 

 

We had a pre-race briefing and then the race began.

We were given ankle bracelets with timing chips and walked across a mat to start our time and then went to the water to get into our kayaks and begin paddling.

I allowed the first big wave of paddlers to start first as I hung back a while since I knew I was racing against the clock and didn’t want to be in the first giant cluster of paddlers.  Plus I thought I might get better video if many of the racers were in front of me.

I got in my boat and pushed out and quickly realized something was wrong.

I worked my rudder tiller and realized I had very little control over my kayak.  Not a good thing in a 21′ craft.

I soon surmised my rudder cable fell off my rudder so I paddled back to shore, got out of the boat, slipped the rudder cable back into its track, and then got back in and started paddling.

Already a loss of two or three minutes which didn’t sit well with me.

Oh well, you can’t change it, you just deal with it and move forward.

So I took off downstream and quickly hit the first set of Class II rapids.

The real test.

I took short, choppy, bracing strokes and essentially “floated” through the rapids trying to remain upright to get a feel for how the boat behaved,  That worked well so I decided that would be my strategy for the day.

Short bracing strokes and conservative through the rapids and give it all I have on the flats.

The strategy worked well and I found myself in 1st place amongst all kayaks at the finish, 5th overall amongst solo paddlers.  With nothing but 4 fast surf skis with elite paddlers ahead of me I felt satisfied with my performance.

 

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Crossing the finish line at Youghness Monster 2018

It felt good to pass so many surf skis!

This section of river is mostly flat water with numerous sections of Class I and Class II rapids.  The flats aren’t so long as to get boring and the rapids are not threatening and they are plentiful enough to keep you on alert the whole time.

I ran a pretty good race and took some risks in term of lines chosen and guessed right most of the time as I was often able to gain on the paddlers in front of me by taking a different path around a few islands or taking a different line through the rapids.  I paddled alongside and chatted with a few other paddlers throughout the race and it just reinforced my opinion that fellow paddlers are some of the nicest, most interesting people in the world.

What really kept me going, though, was the fact that my sister was bringing my parents to the finish line to greet me and I couldn’t wait to see them all.

DSC_1390Mom and dad meeting me at the end of the race, the first kayak race of mine they’ve ever experienced. Astute readers may recall them posing with the boat when it was brand new in 2011.

sis

Thanks, sis!

I neared the finish and my eyes welled as I spotted my parents at the top of the ramp.

We got in a great visit for the next few hours and then I headed back home to Central Virginia through heavy thunderstorms.

It was a long day but a wonderful day.  Physically I felt fine and felt as though I could have easily paddled another 25 miles.

The organizers of this race did an amazing job for a first time race.  The awards ceremony was a bit of a letdown since there were technically no awards, but that did not diminish a wonderful experience on a very scenic river and a very well organized event.

I look forward to paddling this race in future years.

In the meantime, come paddle our local race in Charlottesville this Saturday, May 12 with me!

DSC_1397Yinz paddle?

 

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Here is the entire race from the bow of my boat, reduced down to ~43 minutes.  Happy viewing and happy scouting to those who race in future years!

 

 

 

 

Youghness Monster 25 mile race

I’m in Connelsville, PA tonight ready to race a brand new 25-mile race on the Youghiogheny River, The Youghness Monster 25.

This will be the first time I’ve ever taken my Thunderbolt-X into any moving water or river water so it ought to be fun!

Stay tuned in the coming days for a full report complete with race video.

 

 

All in all its a good life
I got what I want
I can’t complain
I’m living the good life
A toast to you now
It’s all sham pain

Charlottesville Area Paddling Gets Some Love

A new local magazine named Unbound hit the local newsstands today and I was happy to see our area’s paddling scene highlighted in such a wonderful way.  Not only did the editors feature local paddling on the cover, but they were generous in covering our annual river race on the inside.

ubcollageThe first issue of Unbound Magazine

I was also honored to have been interviewed as last year’s race winner and given a full page in the magazine.

I think it was somebody in Paddling Magazine recently who wrote that kayakers need to stop talking about the technical aspects of how to paddle and talk more about why they paddle.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share the full transcript of the interview before it got edited down for space.
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{begin transcript}

UB: How did you get started kayaking? How long have you been doing it (on your own and with the Cville Paddlers)?

DTK: It all started at a young age attending a summer camp outside of Ligonier Pennsylvania.  One of the activities at the camp was “Waterfront” which involved canoeing and kayaking on the camp’s lake.  It was painful to have to start first in a rowboat and then progress to a canoe to prove proficiency before they’d let us paddle a kayak solo, but paddling a kayak was my ultimate goal on that lake that week and I wanted to get into one as soon as I could.  As soon as I did I was hooked for life.  I guess it represented freedom.  I must have been around 10 years old at the time, so I’ve been paddling  40 or so years.

Throughout my youth I did countless canoe and whitewater rafting trips with our Boy Scout troop and I always envied the guys and girls in the kayaks who’d pass us on the rivers.  They were always going faster and always looked like they were having more fun, so I paddled a kayak as often as I could borrow or rent one since I didn’t own one yet myself.

Fast-forward to moving to the Charlottesville area 27 years ago, I soon met a close friend and local paddling icon, Konrad Zeller, who got me back into paddling after a few years’ leave of absence as I was establishing a new life and career.

Konrad and I began meeting on the S. Rivanna Reservoir every Wednesday after work to paddle, eat chicken wings, get caught up with each other, and talk about life in general.  Shortly thereafter other friends started joining us.  That was the very beginning of what is now the Cville Paddlers Group, also known as the Rivanna River Paddlers on Facebook.  That was also the beginning of the tradition of after-work, social paddles on the reservoir on Wednesdays during the summer months, a tradition that continues to this day.

The core group of Wednesday evening paddlers now self-organize into smaller groups for paddle trips down the Rivanna and other local waters.  That organizing happens through the Rivanna River Paddlers group on Facebook and it has been fascinating to watch local paddling evolve over the years, especially as social media has matured.

UB: What do you enjoy most about it?

DTK: In what seems a contradiction, I enjoy both the solitude and the people I meet.  I enjoy unplugging and getting away from the rat race and other people for a few hours, yet also treasure the people I meet and friends I’ve made through the sport.

Most everyone you meet paddling is friendly and willing to do almost anything for a fellow paddler.  Regardless of the type of paddling we do as individuals, we share a common bond when it comes to powering ourselves across lakes or down rivers.

The scenery is almost always beautiful, there is ample opportunity to observe undisturbed wildlife, and the sense of peace and being one with nature is palpable.  It is a great way to relax and recharge while also getting great exercise.

Lastly, it is a sport that can be enjoyed at any age and like fine wine, people often progress and improve as paddlers as they get older.

You asked me what I enjoy most and I can’t narrow it down to one thing.  Is that okay?

UB: What kind of gear do you use?

DTK: That’s a hard question to answer in a short space since I have ten kayaks hanging in my garage right now, ready for just about any water condition or type of paddling.

The best boat for any particular race or trip depends on the level of difficulty of the water, the comfort and confidence level you have in any particular boat for the length of the trip, and whether you are looking to go as fast as possible or go slow and enjoy the experience.  Fast boats are tippy and require greater balance and skill which can cause fatigue fairly quickly whereas more stable boats are significantly slower.  We are forever chasing the right balance between performance and comfort for any given body of water.

My primary training boat is something call a Thunderbolt-X  kayak which is 100% Kevlar, 21 feet long and 18 inches wide at its widest point.  It is long, sleek, fast, and light and is perfect for flat water training and covering as much water as possible in a given amount of time. I can go fastest in that boat but I would never put it in an environment where I might smash it into rocks.

I have an eclectic collection of older, classic downriver racing boats I’ve restored, a modern plastic downriver racer called the Cobra Viper, various other recreational kayaks, and even a plastic surf ski, which is a specialized type of sit-on-top kayak that is long, skinny, and fast.

Regardless of the boat I’m paddling, I always use something called a wing paddle made out of carbon fiber so these paddles are strong and stiff yet light.  The paddle blades are shaped like airplane wings and when paddled correctly create a low pressure or “lift” in the forward direction of the kayak.  This can provide the paddler on the order of a 10-15% increase in efficiency once the unique stroke technique required by these paddles is mastered.

Aside from the boat and paddle, I try to keep my gear simple and functional.  Never underestimate the value of a baseball hat, polarized sunglasses, comfortable life jacket and a large water bottle.  I always keep a mobile phone tucked safely away in a dry bag somewhere in case of emergency and to notify my wife when I’m safely off the water when I’m out training alone and I also use a small GPS device to track my distance, speed and various other parameters.

UB: I see that you broke a record last year. By how much? And are you going to try to do that again this year?

DTK: I was very fortunate last year in that the water levels were very high and I had a good run during the annual Rivanna River Race.  Those two things don’t always happen.

The race starts at the bridge under Rt. 29 just north of the Doubletree hotel and ends at the boat ramp at Darden Towe Park.  I covered those 6.2 river miles in 43 minutes and 6 seconds last year, which beat my old record by more than 3 minutes.  It was one of those races where everything just came together.

The goal is always to set a new record on race day, but it is very difficult and unpredictable because so much depends on the rain the week leading up to the race, the actual water levels on race day, and boat selection.  Last year gave us near perfect conditions and a fast river so it is unlikely the conditions will be that perfect again on race day this year, but you never know.  If the water is high again I’ll be aiming for a faster time.

UB: How and when do you train?

DTK: I train year round either on the water, on land, or in the gym.

Most of my on-water training takes place on the S. Rivanna Reservoir.  When I’m in town during the summer months I do a training run right after work on Wednesdays and then join the Rivanna River Paddlers group on my inbound/return leg of the workout.  Those workouts are usually 10 miles and start at the boat ramp just above the S. Rivanna Reservoir dam at the end of Woodburn Rd. and go to the bridge at Reas Ford Road and back.

On Saturdays I typically do a longer run and paddle all the way up to the far end of the reservoir where the Meechums River feeds in, not too far off Bleak House Road.  That round trip is 14 miles and when I ramp up for racing season I’ll also paddle up Ivy Creek so it is easy to log 20 miles or so on the reservoir during  a training session without doing any laps.

reservoirmap

Two years ago my paddling buddy and training partner, Dave Segars, and I started paddling the whole length of the Rivanna River to prepare ourselves for some of our longer races and ultra marathons.  The Rivanna from Charlottesville to Columbia is about 44 miles.  Last year we did that and added some miles of the James River to Cartersville and covered those 55 miles in just a little over 8 hours.

The winter gets a little tricky as air and water temperatures drop which requires a wetsuit and makes the efficient, tippy boats more risky in case of accidental capsize.  Fortunately that’s never happened to me, but I usually paddle one of my slower, more stable boats in the wintertime just to err on the side of caution and safety and as a result paddle far fewer miles on water during the winter.

Several years ago I needed a solution for those times in the winter when the reservoir is frozen so I designed and built myself an indoor kayak ergometer out of an old Nordic Track ski machine so I can paddle indoors anytime now.  When the water is frozen I just paddle in my basement.  Much to my surprise, the device found somewhat of a global, cult following on YouTube and I’ve built a few more of these devices for friends and now in a strange twist due to popular demand, offer a “how to” video teaching people how to build their own.

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I’m in the gym year round.  Extended cardio exercise like paddling is primarily catabolic so I try to counter that in the gym during the off season.  When paddling time is light the weights get heavy.  When the paddling picks up in the Spring, the amount of weight and total volume in the gym drops so I don’t hammer my shoulders, wrists, elbows, and back through overtraining.

UB: Briefly describe the Rivanna course.

DTK: The Rivanna River around Charlottesville is mostly flat water with a few sets of small to medium rapids to keep it interesting.  The largest rapids qualify as Class II+ under the right conditions, but those only last a short distance so the river is generally safe for a wide range of skill levels.  My daughter did her first downriver solo on the Rivanna when she was 8 years old.

The river feels amazingly remote in many sections and it is quite common to spot an American Bald Eagle or two.  It is such a gem I wish public access was a better so more people could enjoy the peace and beauty of this local treasure and enjoy all it offers.

UB: Have you done other kayaking races? Where? How does the one in our area compare?

DTK: I’ve paddled many races and they are all different.

The most comparable race to the annual Rivanna River race is the Nelson Downriver Race held on the Tye River in Nelson County the first Saturday in May each year.  It is a little longer and more technical than the Rivanna race and seems more like a wild mountain stream when compared to the Rivanna.

The Nelson Downriver used to be my first race every year until I discovered another race, “Little D on the Monocacy,” in Frederick, MD held in April that is a fund raiser for a young child, Danny Sullivan or “Little D,” who has a terminal disease.  It has become my new season-opener and last year I raced in the 19-mile version of the race and never felt more of a sense of purpose and community coming together to support one of their own.  The Monocacy River is easy technically but it seemed like the whole town showed up at the finish line to cheer on the racers so it had the feel of a much larger, more challenging event.

I’ve paddled the Wye Island Regatta in Maryland several times which is a 13.1 mile, open water race around Wye Island and the Lehigh Classic Whitewater race in Pennsylvania which was a terrifying experience for me because I chose the wrong boat which was way too  tippy for Class III rapids.  I got home after that race and immediately told my wife I needed a shower to wash off all the fear and regret.

I’ve paddled in some other races that no longer exist, and in 2016 paddled the Cumberland River Challenge in Kentucky.  That 15-mile race was an absolute hoot because of the great people I met there who made me feel especially welcomed as an outsider.  I managed to set a new race record in that race and as a result met and shook hands with the mayor of Barborville, KY at a finish line awards ceremony as he presented me with a commemorative, Overall Winner wooden paddle with brass plaque to place on my mantle.  How often do you get the opportunity to shake hands with the mayor of Barbourville, KY, for goodness sake?

Last but certainly not least is the James River Rundown, which to my knowledge is the longest race on the East Coast.  I set the 40-mile race record there in 2015, came in 2nd place to Paddling Buddy Dave in the 100-miler in 2016 and tied for 3rd place with a wonderful man named Bill Crawford last year in the 120-miler that started in Lynchburg and ended at Tucker Park in Goochland County.  Bill and I paddled neck and neck for nearly 70 miles and became instant friends even though we started out as competitors.

The James River Rundown was my first experience paddling an ultra-marathon race and it is certainly quite different than paddling the 6.2 mile Rivanna River race.  The Rivanna race is more of an all-out sprint but when you paddle the longer races a lot more planning, strategy, preparation, nutrition and other factors come into play.  During the long races you put your body into auto pilot paddling while your mind focuses on everything else.  It is a very different experience where all those base, training miles pay dividends.

Probably the next level goal is to paddle in the Missouri River 340 race.  I’ll let you know how that goes when it happens.

UB: Anything else you want to say about kayaking, or being outdoors in Charlottesville/Albemarle?

DTK: Kayaking is better than therapy or a social networking site.

I’ve made good friends through the sport and last year was contacted by Los Angeles-based celebrity fitness trainer and best-selling author, Vinnie Tortorich, who reached out to me to help him train for a 100-miler he’s preparing to do in Louisiana.  I now consider Vinnie a friend and look forward to paddling with him and alligators down Bayou LaFourche in Louisiana later this year.  We’re doing it on a diet absent of sugars and grains and it promises to be a unique experience.

The Charlottesville area is a wonderful area for training and being outdoors.  I can ride my road bike on some of the back roads and see some of the most majestic views, climb up into the Blue Ridge Mountains for unforgettable hikes and paddle any one of the numerous rivers or lakes…and maybe even do all of that in one day.  Please don’t tell anyone about the fly fishing on the Rapidan River near Camp Hoover.  That place is so special I want to keep it to myself.

The local kayaking and paddling community is very healthy in the area whether you are looking for recreational opportunities, flat water training, or whitewater thrills.  I’ve been lucky to be able to participate in the local paddling community and have enjoyed watching it grow and evolve.

My wish is that our community comes together to support our annual river race held the second Saturday each May and that the event itself evolves into a charity event or fundraiser to give it greater meaning and purpose.  It would be wonderful to one day see the whole community come together to support the event for a good cause and know that I played some small role in creating a spark to help make that happen.

# # #

And, no.  I never thought that faded Prijon Beluga I bought off Craigslist would ever make the cover of any magazine.

Unbound

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