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.

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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

Late season kayak paddling

I got out on the water today and was able to at least log 7.5 miles.  I was hoping for more but more than half our local reservoir is frozen so I had to do some laps on the clear parts with Paddling Buddy Dave.

The full wet suit restricts full motion somewhat, but here is a look at my wing stroke in slow motion.

A good training day

I finally made it back out on the water today during a well-earned day off.

I managed to paddle 10 miles in the Thunderbolt-X kayak and took it easy so I only averaged 5.7mph.  It was a cold, breezy day so I had to wear a full wet suit which definitely constrains the natural paddling motion.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely enjoyable paddle and the water was clear as crystal.  I also spotted a flock of turkeys on shore which was a bonus.

12-8-17_kayakTaking the Thunderbolt-X out for a spin with full wet suit


Then after attacking an item or two on the “honey do” list, I dropped off my son and his friend for basketball practice this evening and hit the gym while they were at practice.  It wasn’t my typical #MFN (massive Friday night) workout, but I managed some good volume in a somewhat crowded gym for a Friday night.  Usually I can have the place to myself on a Friday night but not tonight.

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I focused on bent over rows and flies and worked in some squats.

It was a good training day.

Oh, and I’ve gotten myself into dietary ketosis and I hope to stay here for a good, long while.

And in the interest of transparency, here is my starting point for this current “cut,” according to the Skulp Aim.

 

 

Compared to Jan., 2016.  They obviously re-scaled the index since then as it now appears as though Muscle Quality is on a scale from 1-100.  It’s a shame I don’t have a direct comparison.

Short workout paddle today

I headed out to the South Rivanna Reservoir late this afternoon to get in some more training base miles.  I got some video on Ivy Creek while I was warming up a bit.  Once I got on the main part of the reservoir it was very windy and the water was choppy.  I started at the twin bridges at Earlysville Rd. and paddled to Reas Ford bridge and back.

It wasn’t a very long paddle, but at least I was able to add 8 more base miles to my training.

I also did my first ever Periscope session once I got home so I continue to educate myself on the latest social media platforms.

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

 

Vendor and boat selection

That summer of 2011 I stalked a lot of boats online and eventually picked up the phone and called Doug Bushnell at West Side Boat Shop. Doug seemed to have some really fast and cool boat designs and he was very gracious over the phone and we had a nice, long chat about his boats and how they might match-up with what I was looking for. A few weeks later I was able to swing by his place in Lockport, NY and he took me to his local water, the Erie Canal, and we paddled together.  He was in his Marauder which looked impossibly skinny and he put me in an “EFT,” which stands for “Extra Fast Tourer.”

We paddled a few miles out and back together and Doug gave me pointers on how to improve my stroke with the wing paddle.  We passed another couple of kayakers at one point and briefly chatted and one of them commented that he did not know how we could paddle such skinny kayaks.

Some more chatting with Doug at the boat ramp after the paddle and I knew I must own one of his boats. They were some of the most beautiful things I had ever seen and Doug personally hand-crafted each and every one of them.  The only question I needed to answer to myself was, Which one?

Doug had commented to me at one point that he didn’t know what my current boat, the Cobra Viper, was but he could see that it taught me balance.  He suggested the EFT was probably best for me based on my skills as the paddler he witnessed that day.

I called him up a week or two later and placed my order.

I wanted a Thunderbolt-X kayak in the Kevlar layup with overstern, pull-up rudder.

Once again I was buying a boat that was probably above my skill level without ever paddling one.

Based on my brief encounter with the EFT, however, I knew I could soon be able to master it and wanted to push myself to even the next level of paddling.

Over the next few weeks I also contacted Cliff Roach at Goodboy Kayaks to purchase a Vbar rack from him since my existing vehicle racks would not work well for such a long, skinny boat as the Thunderbolt-X.

Cliff was another great guy and exactly what you would expect from a member of the paddling community.  I called him when I was passing through on business so I could pick up my set of Vbars, and Cliff suggested I meet him at his local reservoir to not only collect my rack but to paddle with him.  He would provide an Epic surf ski for me to paddle.

I met Cliff and we paddled together and that Epic ski was the tippiest craft I had ever attempted to paddle.  He had me simply sit in it for a while with my legs hung over the sides for stability until I got used to it, and within a short while I was ready to go (or so I thought.)

We paddled out and the boat was insanely fast and tippy but I was proud at one point from the fact that I got it going fast enough that I could hear the venturi drain making a sucking sound which meant I had hit the critical speed for physics to start draining any water from the cockpit.  I said something to Cliff about it and he said, “Good!  Sometimes it takes weeks for paddlers to hear that sound.”  Heck I had even impressed myself at that point.

But then, a  few seconds later, I was swimming in Cliff’s local reservoir.

I had no idea what happened or what went wrong but I lost my balance and had tipped over.

I tried to follow Cliff’s instructions on how to get back onto the ski but I couldn’t do it.  I had to swim to shore with the boat and re-board it.  At that point I just wanted to get back to the dock, get my vbars, and drive away with my tail between my legs.  And that was pretty much exactly what I did.

A couple months later I was back in Doug Bushnell’s part of the country and picked up my brand, new Thunderbolt-X.  I drove it home to Virginia and stopped to visit my parents in the Pittsburgh area for a day along the way.  I had them pose with the boat and they probably thought I was just a little bit crazy asking them to pose with a crazy looking kayak.

Mom & dad with the Thunderbolt-X kayak on my way home with it

I was not able to get the boat in the water as soon as I got it home, but a day or two later my family was able to join me after work to watch me paddle it for the first time.  My wife was kind enough to record some video from the dock and I had a camera on the boat so I’m now able to show you that first paddle in the Thunderbolt-X.

I was very respectful of the tippy craft at first, but as you can see, it did not take me long to start getting comfortable in the boat.