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.
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.