Paddling the Rivanna River when it is high

Last Saturday I paddled on our local Rivanna River at the highest level I’ve ever paddled it.  The Palmyra gauge was somewhere between 3800 and 4000cfs when 3 paddling friends and I launched at 10am from just below the South Rivanna Reservoir.

I knew for sure the river had crested overnight and was dropping, so I felt confident at this level.

The rapids under the railroad trestle became standing waves that were Class II+ – Class III.  I was paddling my Nelo 510 surfski in the most challenging conditions yet and I stayed upright the whole time.  The bucket filled with water at least 3 times, though, and I learned to open the drain before entering a set of large rapids.

One of our members capsized in the largest of the rapids and her boat had very little buoyancy since there was no foam or flotation in it anywhere.  This could have been a very serious situation but we rescued her and her boat, though getting it out of the water to drain it was a challenge with so much water in it.

We arrived at Riverview Park and then I paddled back upstream to Darden Towe Park where FLOW: The Arts of the Rivanna River Renaissance Festival was taking place.  There were artists set up along the walkway along the river and there was a boat decorating contest.

It was most enjoyable and I think my favorite were the Earlysville Bluegrass Boys, 3 brothers who are very talented musicians.  I wish I could have stayed and listened to them for hours.

I then paddled back down to Riverview Park with a few other paddlers with decorated boats and then joined the after-party at Rivanna River Company.

I came away concluding the Nelo 510 is probably the most versatile boat I’ve ever owned.

And this celebration of our local river is a wonderful event I hope continues.  It sure came a long way since last year.

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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.


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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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.

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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.

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

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Preparing for kayak racing season

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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

Found – lost kayak

During my workout paddle this afternoon I found a kayak on the S. Rivanna Reservoir in Charlottesville, VA.

It is a play boat and my best guess is the recent wind storm blew it out of somebody’s backyard and into the reservoir and/or it came from the Moormans or Meechums River and drifted down.  I can’t tell if it has been in the water for days or weeks, but it was found upside down in a small cove.

If you lost a kayak in the area, contact me and describe it so I can get it back to you.

Towing it back to the boat ramp gave me a little extra workout.

Rockin’ the Rivanna

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This past Saturday I participated in Rockin’ The Rivanna, part of a larger, full-day festival on my local Rivanna River that included a 5K running event, a river safety demonstration, river parade, and an arts festival all along the river banks from Darden Towe Park to Riverview Park.

I participated in the paddling portion as I saw it a way to get on the water and log a few miles, even though the water levels have been very low for weeks now.

My initial plan was to paddle slowly and bring up the rear of the 15 or so boats that had assembled at the launch site and I had brought my slowest boat (my Necky Jive whitewater boat.)  Soon after we started I realized I am not hard-wired to paddle slowly or even just float and I also realized if I stayed at the back of the pack I might be on the water all day, so I soon started paddling at a brisk pace to get in a workout.

I stopped at a couple art exhibits along the way and also stopped at the one or two remaining play spots to surf a little bit, although at such low water levels there wasn’t much to surf.

Upon arrival at Riverview Park I found several exhibits and painters painting along the river.

It was a very enjoyable morning and I hope the event continues next year.

Soon after that I headed to the mountains and hiked up to Humpback Rocks at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A complete upper and lower body workout in the great outdoors on a perfect day!

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