Back on Black Surfski Race 2013 – Another Beautiful Day and Challenging Race
The crazy pace of the summer of 2013 continued this weekend with the Back On Black Paddle Odyssey. I spent most of the week traveling to Warsaw, Poland for meetings on Thursday and then back home on Friday. I arrived home on Friday in time to take the kids out for a nice 4 mile paddle in the tandem and loosen up just a bit from the long 24 hours of travel home. I managed to stay awake long enough to have dinner with Kim and the kids and then a few glasses of wine to enjoy the beautiful evening.
Then it was game on Saturday morning with a customer demo at 8:00 AM. The demo went well and after that we packed up the boats for a couple hours at the beach with the kids, enjoying my birthday and the kids paddling the tandem again (this time adamantly without me). It was then back home to quickly load the trailer with boats before heading out for a good friend’s wedding that evening I didn’t anticipate getting home from the wedding until around midnight so wanted to be sure I was all set to go at 4:00 AM for the drive up to Cheboygan.
A Guest Racer all the way from Stockholm
I had a surfski paddler in town from Stockholm Sweden who really wanted to rent a surfski and paddle in Traverse City. Unfortunately I completely ran out of time on Saturday, so offered to take him with me up to Cheboygan for the race on Sunday. Sven happily signed on and met me in Traverse at 4:45 in the morning for the drive up to Chebogyan.
We arrived in time to get registered, deliver Denny’s repaired V12 back to him, and install 2 weedless rudders for Tracy and John (my first surfski customers ). They made a very wise choice to go with weedless rudders – more on that later.
A Very Competitive Field of Paddlers
It was an extremely competitive field of 17 paddlers that lined up at the start on a flat calm Bear Lake. One of the race officials yelled go and we were off at a break neck pace with Erik Borgnes and Rob Hartman quickly taking the lead with Denny Paull chasing close behind. According to my garmin, the first mile across the lake was at an 8 mph pace. We hit some weeds entering the river and that started to break up the pack a bit, with a definite advantage going to those with weedless rudder setups.
I took up the fourth place position about 50 yards behind Denny. For the first 8 miles I was able to keep Denny, Erik, and Rob in my sights, but after the first portage at mile 8 they were gone. I learned this weekend that the portages are not a time for leisurely stretching and fueling rather an opportunity that the serious racers take to make up ground or stretch their leads.
A Long Solo Grind and Lots of Mental Games
As the long solo grind wore on I got into the all too familiar mental games convincing myself that I had a nice gap on the rest of the pack. I even came up with a hypothesis that they were all paddling together and waited for each other at the portage therefore increasing their overall protage time and helping me increase my gap. In hindsight it would have taken just 2 seconds to look behind me and realize this was one big hypoxia induced dream, but at the time I guess I was just too content living the dream.
For some reason I had it in my head that the 2nd portage was at mile fourteen and I was holding off on fueling until I got there. In the madness that has been my life this summer one of the things I’ve really not done well is prep for races. In this particular case I did not have any type of camel bak hydration system, rather just a water bottle stuffed in my life jacket.
Starting to Hit the Wall
Needless to say, at about mile 14 I started hitting the wall hard. By mile 15 I was at the wall and by the time the portage came at mile 16 my legs were cramping and as soon as I picked up the boat my hands were cramping too. In my fatigued and bonked state I was leery of damaging my kevlar boat so moved very slowly. This was the opportune moment for Greg Greene and Greg Hintz to make their move and pass me during the portage.
For the remaining two miles I fought leg cramps and painfully limped into the finish about 50 yards behind Greg and Greg but with no hope of closing the gap.
I was actually thrilled to take a 6th place finish given the level of competition and the limited training and preparation I had for an 18 mile race. Aside from a 10 mile paddle in May during the immersion camp, and the Cincinnati river race my longest paddles were all 6 miles. I knew I could power through 10 miles and maybe even 12, but 18 was going to put me far beyond my training. Add to that, not having a good hydration system and it was a recipe for pain and bonking
I really felt bad for Rob Hartman and other racers who ran into weed troubles because I had hyped the race as being pretty much weed free. When we did the race last year we didn’t have nearly the weed issues. I’m certain I paddled with a standard rudder and never hooked any weeds. However, the race was three weeks earlier last year and I also remember navigating through the channel markers into the river, versus taking the straight line through a weed field as the pack did this year.
Another Great Race
Overall it was another great race on a beautiful day through a beautiful section of Northern Michigan, that many people don’t even know exists. It was awesome to see so many surfskis and such a highly competitive field. It was also very humbling as this race definitely challenged the ego. All of the surfski racers were very accomplished podium and age group winners at big races in their respective specialties. I can imagine it is a tough pill to swallow being considered purely by the numbers as a mid-packer or even back of the pack. But in the end I’m confident everyone realized that in the surfski culture that is not at all what it is about, and everyone enjoyed the camaraderie, friendship, and humbleness of all the racers. While I do hope to see the race numbers grow substantially over the years, there is also something very unique and special about finishing a race where everyone talks to everyone and it really feels like a shared experience. I’m certain we’ll all work hard to keep it that way as the sport and race participation grows and ultimately that will be just one more reason we can all use to lure our friends into surfski paddling.