Back on Black Paddle Odyssey 2012
It is always fun and exciting to participate in a first annual race. The Back to Black race on Father’s Day June 17th proved this once again. The weekend weather forecast was a bit sketchy and we had some pretty strong storms moving through Saturday evening and through the night, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for Sunday morning. I woke up at 5:00 AM had some breakfast and headed out on a pretty dreary and wet drive north from Traverse City to Cheboygan. I was excited when I veered off I-75 into new territory. In my 10 years of living in Michigan I had never been on the far north east side of the state. It definitely reminded me more of the upper peninsula than the western side of the state. This is a complement as I’ve always like the UP because it reminds me of Alaska just without the mountains. Lots of nature, sparse population, and very authentic!
I eventually arrived at the High Bluffs resort and campground with plenty of time to get registered, drop off my boat, and chat surfskis with some of the paddlers. I was relieved to hear that as the Race Director, Denny Paull would be running the show rather than racing. I had been anticipating a race start where I tried to sit on Denny’s draft and eventually bonked 4-5 miles into the race. So with Denny out, I really had no idea who I would be racing against, but was relieved nonetheless.
By the time all the paddlers got their craft in the water, I counted 3 surfskis paddlers , around 20 kayakers, and one brave stand up paddle boarder. I lined up next to Greg Hintz who was paddling a Carbon Huki S1-X. The race started in Black Lake and at the time of the start it was still pretty dreary with a decent wind generating a bit of small lake chop. We had about a 2 ½ mile dash across the lake before entering the Black River for the remainder of the 18 miles. At the time, I didn’t know Greg and wasn’t sure how strong he was, but figured my best shot at gaining a lead would be to capitalize on my stability in the Stellar Advantage SEL and put the hammer down for the river. I paddled hard and didn’t look back and actually thought I had dropped Greg but as I maneuvered to find the channel into the river I quickly learned he had been right there with me as we dashed across the lake.
Entering the River
As we entered the river we were together with a solid gap on the rest of the pack. We both agreed it would be much more enjoyable to work together as we hammered out the next 15 ½ miles. We did some drafting off of each other and some side by side paddling, and overall pushed a pretty hard pace down the river. The clouds were now clearing and it was turning into a beautiful day. This was only my second time ever paddling on a river and it was very peaceful and fun to see the current helping us to clock several consecutive miles at 7+ mph, before the headwind started picking up The Black River was wide and deep throughout the 15.5 miles that we paddled on it. We passed some wildlife and saw a few fishermen but overall it was a very quiet and peaceful morning.
We hit the first portage (Alverno Dam) at mile 9 and this provided a much needed opportunity to stretch the legs out and prepare for the next half. It was my first time ever doing a portage and I found it very challenging to move with any real urgency coming out of the water. I also found that this is where it would have been nice to have a lighter boat. It is amazing how tired and weak your arms can be after 9 miles of hard paddling.
Greg hit the portage first but paddled easy in the water and waited for me to catch up. We again got into a rotation pattern and the next several miles went by pretty quick. At about mile 14 I started to get pretty hungry but didn’t really want to fumble with getting Cliff Blocks out of my life jacket so just kept powering on hoping the Gatorade in my Camelbak would sustain me. By this point I was well beyond the distance I had been trained for and it was starting to really show. I was getting pretty uncomfortable in the boat and the next portage at Lincoln Street Dam couldn’t come soon enough. Denny had mentioned that after the final portage there was nice strong 3-4 mph current and I was dying to both stretch my legs a bit and also get into onto that current boost for the final 2 miles
Final Portage and the Finish
Eventually we did get to the final portage at about mile 16. As with the first portage there were volunteers on hand to help guide us and carpet laid one at the put in to ensure we didn’t scratch our boats. Greg again waited for me as we arrived into the portage together. Once through the portage and back paddling I was really feeling hungry and my strength was quickly fading. It was very cool to paddle with the extra current boost and even cooler to go through downtown Cheboygan, my only regret is that I wasn’t in any condition to fully appreciate how scenic it was. As we neared the mouth of Lake Huron and passed by the Mackinaw Coast Guard Cutter I started thinking my only hope for taking Greg would be if there was some significant waves on Lake Huron that could dump him. Unfortunately for me, that was not the case. We rounded the break wall and sprinted for the finish at Gordon Turner Beach where Greg took a much deserved victory by a few boat lengths finishing the distance in 2 hours 43 minutes.
Some Very Notable Finishes
About 15 minutes later the 3rd place finisher Carl Trost came through in his Epic V12. Carl has only recently started paddling the V12 and took quite a few swims as he fiddled with the bailer at the start of the race. Carl has quite the engine and I expect he’ll be a force to be reckoned with once he gets his stability on the V12 dialed in.
Tracy Hardin was the first place women’s finisher coming in with a time of 3 hours and 36 minutes. A very impressive time considering she was paddling a heavy
beast of a kayak. Later in the day I made my first sale of a Stellar SR to Tracy. I fully expect she’ll be back next year to shave at least 30 minutes off her time. Tracy’s partner John Gravlin finished in 3hours and 22 minutes also paddling a beast of a kayak. John would definitely be dangerous in a surfski.
I can’t recall his name – but I watched a 70+ year old man finishing in the top 5 or so paddling a hand built wooden kayak
Also very notable was a finish time of 3:52 for Bryan Roth paddling a racing stand up paddle board. I’m working on getting Bryan into a surfski, paddling a SUP for that distance just seems like way too much work.
Demos After the Race
After the race we had fun with some demos. Both Carl and Greg tried out my Advantage SEL and immediately commented on the great stability that it had versus the V12 and S1X. Later back at Black Lake where the wind had picked up even more, I put a few people into the SR. No swimming at all and they were all very excited to be doing circles in the lake chop with full control of the boat.
An Excellent Race and a Great Father’s Day
Overall it was everything I expected and more. I was definitely not prepared for 18 miles of hard paddling so was thrilled to have finished in good shape, avoided a bonk, and able to function and enjoy the rest of the day. Denny proved he is not only a phenomenal racer but an equally great race organizer and director. I have never competed at Nationals, but I do believe what others were saying – this course could very easily host a Nationals competition. The river is excellent, it has lots of width and depth, little to no boat traffic, and very few weeds from what I could tell.
I really hope and expect to see the race grow over time. It is all for a great cause, to fund the grooming for my other favorite sport, Cross Country Skiing.