Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ski to Sea 2014

The last couple of weeks have been a bit rough with family issues so I’ve had just little bits of time to consider this year’s race.

We were in Florida the week before Ski to Sea Race weekend. There we had an opportunity to kayak on a tributary of the Tomoka River which lies just on the outskirts of Ormond Beach. We paddled for a couple of hours and all though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife I did enjoy getting out on the water and paddling around.

Upon my return that old feeling of wanting to race turned into a really big urge. I don’t like being left out of that race! Last year our trip to Florida occurred during S2S weekend and this year there was nothing but talk about putting a team together, much to my dismay.

I took a look at the message board to see if any teams needed a kayaker and fortunately enough I connected with Megan, the captain of team Uncle Rhabdo. The teams kayaker had a family emergency and would I be willing to race? You bet! I don’t know if they checked my age when I registered but I think they were desperate.

My poor kayak! The last time I had used it was to go crabbing in mid July of last year. It was streaked with dirt and green with mildew. My equipment was strewn around in a couple of different locations. At least signing up for the race allowed me to get it all together, clean and wax the boat.

Old car, old boat (but clean) and two great dogs ready to go race
A few years ago the boat itself was hit by a falling tree and crushed. For fun I used clear fiberglass resin to repair the cracks. From a distance it looks as if there are holes in each side of the boat. Now I was wondering if I would get a bunch of crap during the boat inspection at the race. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

With just a few days before the race I managed to get out twice on Silver Lake for an hour or so. Silver Lake is tucked in below the foothills of the Cascades, had hardly any boat traffic on it and motor boats are limited to 10 hp engines. A great place to paddle. The water is so clear you can see the bottom for a long ways out and it’s quiet enough you can hear the streams that enter the lake chuckling over the rocks as you paddle by.

The team gathered on Saturday evening at a new brewpub in Bellingham called Aslan Brewing. One of the team members asked me how long I had been paddling and all I could think of saying was “before your were born.” Twenty somethings mostly, actively finishing up their studies and internships and heading out into the greater world of physical therapy jobs. Hence the name “Uncle Rhabdo”.

The team seemed to be well connected in Bellingham, friends and family showed up a the brewery and although I was the outsider this year, it's great to see this "gathering and good cheer" aspect of the race weekend. After all it has a very fitting motto - "More than a race..."

I was very happy to hear that, Kim, was going to skate ski as opposed to traditional. The course is tough going, speed really counts and she had a very good time. 

An eager bunch they were yet somewhat inexperienced, which is OK, but I was concerned about the canoeists.  I left that evening hoping for the best for each of the racers, but thinking that it might be quite awhile before I hit the water on race day.

(I could not find pictures of the downhiller or the runner!)

Megan Ferris rides with a pack on the Road Bike leg.
The novice canoeists are very photogenic!
The canoeists hadn't done much besides paddling around the Arboretum on the UW campus and that's a far cry from paddling in a race down the Nooksack River. Not that the course on the river is an overly dangerous one, it’s just that I am cautious by nature, and things can go terribly wrong if something does happen. A racer died a few years ago practicing. They were swept under an overhanging tree and the force of the water kept her down.

I got hypothermic once practicing for the canoeing leg on Lake Whatcom. My partner had run a half marathon distance that morning and when we caught a wave and dumped, his legs cramped and was unable to kick his way to shore. We got there eventually, not very long really, but in those few minutes our core temp had dropped considerable.

Then there was the time when Ann Marie and I hit a dead head during the race and threw us off our seats. We were going full tilt passing boats right and left then wham we were stopped dead in the water. We hit it straight on and were able to recover without tipping over but something like that is a wake up call regarding how fast conditions can change. That was also the year I lost feelings in my legs and did a face plant in the sand during the exit at Hovandar Park. I digress.  I just wanted the canoeists to be safe and have fun so I mentioned everything I could recall that would make their 18 mile trip easier. Kind of hard to do without practice. 

One option offered this year for kayakers was Early Release, meaning that a racer could opt to leave before the Cross Country Biker arrived so that some of the slower teams could finish earlier. This appealed to me. In 2011 I was on a team where the kayak leg was cancelled around 4:00 due to high winds and waves. The result was that I waited around all afternoon and the team I was on was so slow that I didn’t even get a chance to race. All I got was a T-shirt.

The other advantage is to avoid a mass start. At 5:00 all the remaining boats are released at once. I didn’t want to get into something like that either. By leaving early I could theoretically race against teams that may have faster kayakers, something that brings out the competitiveness in me and urges me to perform better.

I know it’s all about fun, but racing is even more fun when you can perform your best. Granted I didn’t train for this event but once I hit the water it was all about passing more boats than getting past by others.

During the kayak meeting Early Release was indeed offered, some boats would be released as early as 2:30. Doing some rough calculations I figured given the lack of experience of team Uncle Rhabdo I probably wouldn’t hit the water until 4:30 or so.  The team meeting was to be held at noon so that was going to be a long wait for me. So I opted for early release.

It rained off and on throughout the afternoon. I enjoyed watching the leading teams head out and powerhouse across the bay. I also sat with an old friend and his dog and people watched as folks promenaded along the waterfront paths but hanging around was getting old. I also saw Ali Moore whose family team was also racing. She was with husband, nieces and nephews and her dog Eleanor. Cute

The early release turned out to be not that early, I left at 3:30. I was glad to be on the water though and conditions were about as good as it could get. Light rain, a little chop and enough of a breeze that when I went into it, it cooled me down. The boats were spread out and I eagerly looked for boats to overtake.

Not many kayakers know about drafting. Paddling up behind another boat, like within a couple of feet of their stern, puts my boat in calmer water and provides a windbreak much like drafting in the road bike leg of the race, the way cyclist do. The first guy I drafted didn’t even know I was there and he provided a much need break while I was working the kinks out of my paddling stroke. I told him about drafting as I passed him, telling him he could do the same to me but he couldn’t keep up the speed. He said “Wow you mean like NASCAR?”

Some of the racers did not make good choices on their line to the buoys that mark the turns. I passed them without even coming close to them. Those few that did pass me I drafted behind them for as long as I could to take advantage of their speed. Most impressive was a Hawaiian woman in a outrigger. Her stroke count was impressive, she never slowed down and she passed everyone in sight. A joy to watch.

This racer was seriously fast!

Drafting before passing, what fun.

The picture the S2S photographer took of me was just after the turn at the first buoy. I’d cut off a couple of boats on the turn and was drafting a boat for a bit so I could slack off my pace but keep my speed up. It was a fun time.

Rounding the final buoy there was one more boat between the finish and me. I tried to catch him but couldn’t. I made a shaky exit and sort of stumbled to the beach but I got to ring the bell after 1:03 on the water.

Looking at the stats for team Uncle Rhabdo the cross country skier and the XC Biker turned in some impressive times. Had I known how well the XC biker would do, I would have waited until he arrived. With the late “Early Release” and his quick leg there was only about a 30 minute difference between the time I left and his arrival.

Michael powerhouses it to a 3 place finish in our division. Impressive!

The finish at Marine Park was soggy and crowded. None of Uncle Rhabdo was there. It would have been a difficult for them to get through the throngs of cars and people especially since my early release. They were meeting at a local restaurant but I opted to hop back in my kayak and paddle back to the start.

What a nice was to end my S2S day! I met the last stragglers on the kayak course about half way across the bay. Then all the safety boats left leaving me alone on the now windless calm waters. The rain had stopped and the clouds had lifted. The Bellingham skyline was before me. There were tons of bait fish jumping around the boat and some noisy Terns where wheeling overhead. How cool is that?

Arriving back at the cabin Alison had a beer and a burger waiting for me. What a Treat!

And next year? Well the best category to be in would be Whatcom County Rec. That would require us to pull in all locals but by planning ahead we might just be able to do it. Look for the return of "Acht to Lieber!" See you there.