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.

RR44_b

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, http://www.CvillPaddlers.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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 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

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

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

 

 

 

A vintage downriver racer, HiPP Mithril / Prijon Interceptor (?)

 

 

A vintage, barn-found, downriver racing kayak will be heading to Central Virginia tomorrow from its roots in New England, (found outside of Hudson, MA.)

If anyone knows anything about the history of Mithril Kayaks, Hingham, MA  please let me know.

The “Prijon Design” sticker is still clearly visible after all these years.

She looks fast.

== Update 8/12/17==

I got her home late last night and got her out on the water today after cleaning her up a bit.

The kayak is still in amazingly good shape for how old it is.  The deck is still pliable, the hull solid, and the seams are very well done.

From what research I’ve done and information I’ve been able to find, it appears as though this boat was a  Tony Prijon design for Mithril Kayaks back in the 1970’s.  Some have suggested it is a model called the Prijon Interceptor from a company named Hyperform (hence the “HiPP”,) but I have no idea.   Somebody on Paddling.com says he thinks, ” ‘Hyper Craft’ was a parent company for High Performance Plastics (HPP?) who built both Prijon and Lettmann designs under license?  HPP morphed into Hyperform in the late 70s.”

It is very obviously a downriver racer but has a “stubby” stern.  One person described these boats as constructed of “durable fiberglass reinforced plastic,” which seems accurate to me.  The boat is not just fiberglass, for sure.

It is of very similar design to my Phoenix Match II and paddles much the same also.

I would love for anyone who knows the history of the boat or the company to contact me.

I have a weird fondness for these old-school boats and have now added a bit more kayak history to my collection.

== Update 8/17/17 ==

One of my kayaking connections in New Zealand (whom I consider an expert) has verified this is a Prijon Interceptor and says it is “the grand daddy of the multisport boats.”

I think I might have overpaid a bit, but am comforted knowing I now own a classic.

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!

# # #

Enter: The Phoenix Match II kayak

One month after the Camp Kum-ba-yah race I found myself on vacation, visiting family in Erie, PA.

I checked out the local kayak rental places to see how much it would cost to rent a kayak for the week, and quickly realized it was very expensive.

So off to Craigslist I went.

In a cosmic event of unbelievable timing, I found an ad for a downriver racing kayak for sale.

I went to see it and shortly thereafter it was mine.

I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I could tell it was a very fast design and it looked like it was constructed of fiberglass.

It turned out to be a Phoenix Match II downriver racing kayak constructed of fiberglass and Nylon and one of the best investments I ever made.

After I realized what I had, I decided to restore her to the level she deserved.