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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The Oscar Chalupsky interview on the Vinnie Tortorich podcast

Absolutely fascinating interview combining several of my passions, diet, exercise and kayaking.

OCVT

Kayak ergometer plans from Nordic Track ski machine almost ready

Just finished the first round of edits on my “How To Build It” video. I need to shoot a little more to fill in some gaps and then the video will be ready. Definitely before the end of the month.

Update March 2, 2018:

The plans are ready!
http://bit.ly/2t7m5Ew

Homemade kayak ergometer from Nordic Track ski machine

Some of you know that back in 2013 I shared a YouTube video that showed my design for a kayak ergometer made from a Nordic Track ski machine. It was the first such design, to my knowledge, that introduced rockers to the ergometer.

It actually combined elements from both my first kayak ergometer “bench” style design along with my balance trainer. All of which I also shared. You can see all three in the video below.

Since then I’ve been refining and redesigning the ergometer.

And also since then people have used my videos to build their own units and now some of these people are actually trying to sell the plans to MY design that I freely shared with the kayaking community.

I feel that’s not right. Maybe not illegal but certainly not right.

Toward the end of last year I built a new design for celebrity fitness trainer Vinnie Tortorich so he could do indoor training in his office in preparation for a 100-mile trip down Bayou LaFourche in Louisiana this Spring. I knew he had limited space in his office so I set out to make the ergometer much shorter in overall length.

I accomplished that mission by moving the flywheel under the paddler’s legs which also had the side benefit of making the feel of the device much smoother while paddling.

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My “kayaker’s selfie” with Vinnie Tortorich upon delivery of his ergometer

Later I heard from Vinnie that he started to have some troubles with the forward rollers. Vinnie is a legendary ultra athlete and generally an animal when it comes to training so I knew he would put wear and tear on the unit like it has never seen before.

VinnieandSerena

Vinnie Tortorich with Serena Scott Thomas sporting DTK hats

So after mulling that over in my brain for a while, I went back into my garage over the weekend with a new design for the forward rollers in mind, and built two more kayak ergometers with subtle variations in the design between the two to see which is better and/or easier to build. These happened to be the 5th and 6th units I’ve ever built. (Well, honestly, I probably built and rebuilt the first two at least 10 times each until I was happy with them!) I’ve only made a few of these for close paddling friends.

These two new units have square legs so mere mortals can paddle them, but this design allows rockers to be easily attached and detached as desired.

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The result of my weekend in the garage. 1 unit complete and the other one 90% complete

I spent hours in the garage not only building the two units but also recording video of each build so I can edit and produce a “how to” video and then make it available for sale since so many people have reached out to me over the years to inquire about either purchasing a unit or buying the instructions from me.

I’ve greatly simplified the design and now use only hardware and parts that are stock and can be bought off-the-shelf at most hardware stores. The build is much, much simpler than the first few so I feel now the design is at a point where I can effectively communicate how to build your own and you can build one from those instructions rather easily.

It is also the first design I feel is so unique and innovative in the way its built that I’m not so willing to freely share it because there is a little “secret sauce” that I’ve learned through years of trial and error.

Now for the hard part.

With hours and hours of video you can imagine it will take me a few weeks to edit, possibly re-shoot steps that weren’t clear, and then produce a final video.

When the “How to build it” video is ready I will sell it for $20 since that is the price most people have told me is reasonable and that they’d expect to pay. I believe that is a fair price based on the number of hours I’ve spent building and refining the design to make it as compact as possible, easy to build, and fun to paddle.

I’m also accepting donations and to anyone who donates at least $5 before Feb. 1, 2018, I will make the video available to them as soon as it is ready. After that initial group the price will go up to $20.

Let me know what you think and please let me know if you would like to buy one of these units (Central mid-Atlantic of the U.S. only.)

Happy paddling!

Dave

PS – The second one is now complete (1-24-18) and it will be THE design since it is easier to build and by far the best design I’ve ever devised.

These plans assume you will be able to obtain an older style Nordic Track ski machine made from a wooden frame as you will be using some of the mechanical and wooden parts from it.  You might want to check on local availability first, but this video will also offer tips on how to get one for a great price or even free.

Buy the “How to Build” video with parts list now for $20 USD.
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FinalErgDesign
Update March 2, 2018:
The “How to build” video is now ready for purchase!

The device can be built with either the square legs or the rounded ones and the video discusses both approaches.

These plans assume you will be able to obtain an older style Nordic Track ski machine made from a wooden frame as you will be using some of the mechanical and wooden parts from it.  You might want to check on the availability of this first.

Buy the video plans now for $20!
paypal_payment_buttons

The device can be built with either the square legs or the rounded ones and the video discusses both approaches.

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

 

 

 

Different types of kayak paddling

There are many types of kayak paddling just as there are many different types of kayaks.

The two videos below cover the most basic types of paddling, mostly applied to flat water kayaking.  Of course, these strokes are every bit adaptable to flowing streams and rivers, but whitewater kayaking is almost a different sport requiring its own special blend of unique strokes and nuanced maneuvers.

These, however are the basics.


Recreational or fitness paddling with a flat bladed paddle

 


Fitness paddling or racing with a wing paddle

See also: The kayak wing paddle

Training for the James River Rundown

I had the day off today for Good Friday and after waiting a bit to see if it was going to rain (it was very overcast with some sprinkles this morning,) I decided to head out to get in some base miles in preparation for the James River Rundown 100 mile race.

I got up and ate about 4 strips of bacon and 3 eggs and by the time I hit the water it was noon.

I skipped lunch.

I should also point out that I got myself into a state of dietary ketosis this past week.  (I’m never more than 2 or 3 days away from being in ketosis.)

I hit the water with my Thunderbolt-X kayak (my go-to flat water training boat) and new custom wing paddle and made the conscious decision to paddle for 20 or so miles rather than my typical workout which is geared toward maintaining relatively high speeds for 10 or 12 miles, with an all-out sprint for the first 5.

This was a huge mental shift.

It was very windy and the water was choppy.  I had to force myself to start out at a much slower pace than what I’m used to on my training runs.  I normally like to start out sprinting for 5 miles but today I wanted to paddle more miles to build calluses and log some base miles for my ultra-marathon in June.

I logged more miles on my local reservoir today than I ever have in one day before, and the wind was definitely a factor.  At one point when I was paddling directly into a brisk wind I remembered the words of one of my paddling heroes, Oscar Chulupsky, in a interview in some article when he stated, “You have to shift gears.”  He was talking about adjusting his wing paddle due to changing or different conditions on the water.

So with Oscar’s words reverberating in my head, I started playing with my paddle.

I normally paddle with a 30 degree offset but I tried different settings and found that a 50 degree offset seems to work well for me in windy conditions and seemed to favor a better stroke for a marathon pace.

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I ended up paddling 20.7 miles and averaged 5.5mph. That was slower than I thought it would be, but not unexpected given the windy conditions.

The only nutrition I had with me on the outing was a 25 ounce water bottle with water and BCAA’s.

I was fine.

In fact, I didn’t need to eat again until a few hours after I got home at around 7pm.  That’s a full day with 21 miles of paddling on 3 eggs and 4 strips of bacon.

Being fat adapted is great!

I learned a few things as take-aways for my upcoming James River Rundown adventure.

  1. I need to paddle a boat with a bit more stability that will allow me to lean back, twist my torso, and stretch my back without fear of overturning.  My back isn’t going to be able to handle a tippy kayak for 100 miles.  I’ll need to move around and fidget more.
  2. I’m going to have to remind myself to start out at a steady, slower, marathon pace which is counter to all the training I’ve ever done.  Marathon not a sprint…marathon not a sprint.  I’ll be repeating this mantra for 90-95 miles.
  3. I need to continue to experiment with different offsets and lengths with my wing paddle to figure out what might be the best starting settings for race day.  I’m so used to the same settings that it is going to take me a while to play around and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
  4. Loose hand grip on the paddle shaft will be essential
  5. I need to be in dietary ketosis on race day.

It was a great day on the water and I have an early season sunburn on my arms and shoulders now.

Let the training continue.

3-25-16bFeeling a little grizzled after 21 miles