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Monday, May 29, 2017

Race Report: Big East River X 2017

What an amazing day.

Based on wateroffice data - we had 40cm (over a foot!) of extra water level on the river.  The flow was many times last year... so any trouble we had bottoming out on sandbars last year was gone!

It rained on the way up, but the entire race was dry and wonderful temperatures ... 15C or so?

And no wind!  The lake that was wild and hairy last year was placid and peaceful this year.  Fewer boats, too, being earlier in the season.

Our Race - The Start

we're the black boat in the foreground
We hung back a little at the start, choosing to start out behind some boats we knew would be faster than us... that worked well, we had a good clean start.

Last year we went out really hard trying to keep up with people we probably shouldn't have tried to keep up with... this year we were a bit more sensible, but our pace was about the same for the first part before the river.  Steady!

Up the River

The river was so high, and the current was noticeable right from the start.  We did our best to read the water and keep out of it, but watching the real pros as they went by gave us a lesson we needed... stay close to the shore, hug the inside of the turns (without getting TOO shallow though)... we did our best.

In one uninspired moment, we decided to go between a dead tree and the shore .. and a slight bobble with the steering put us into the dead tree!  My buddy got a little branch, I got nearly skewered.  Ooops.  I still have a chunk of dead branch that landed in the boat, guess I'll keep it as a keepsake.

Could have been worse, though, as the kayak behind us who followed our line flipped!  I yelled back asking if he needed help, but he was up and didn't respond (I later realized he couldn't hear us!).

A few corners we messed up, getting too close to the inside where the sandbars were shallow - but for the most part it was a really nice paddle without bottoming out all the way upstream.  Just slow with the current...

2016 upstream - 7.4km/h
2017 upstream - 6.6km/h

Down the River


2016 downstream - 8.4km/h
2017 downstream - 9.6km/h

I don't know why we were so slow downstream last year??  But this year it was full gas, so easy, and we were paddling well and steady.  Kept it in the middle and took advantage of the current where we could, it went great.

We caught and passed the only boat we could (then promptly steered into a tree and had to do it again).  We seemed to have made up ground on one other boat, based on where they were when we came out into the lake (vs the turn-around gap) - but couldn't dream of catching them, several minutes ahead.

Across the Lake

Last year the wind had kicked this up into a lather, and then the boats made it that much worse...

This year?  Placid!  (Almost) no boats!  We were about 1m30s faster over this little hop over to the Muskoka River.

To the Finish!

We had a kayak behind us but nothing else in sight (and I stopped looking).  Maybe they could see us but we knew we were good.  The boats ahead were just in eyeshot, but it was a several minute gap late - so we muscled through to the finish steadily and feeling pretty darn good.

Despite my appearing passed out on the dock - I was actually just stretching out my abs (which had given me some mild cramps mid-race!).

All in all just an awesome day.  The patio in the background has beer, I like beer, great way to unwind and watch the later finishers...

Yay canoe racing!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Race Preview: Big East River X 2017

What Is It?

The Big East River X is a 40km (or so) paddling race, starting and ending in Huntsville Ontario.  We paddle up the Muskoka River, across a lake, up the Big East River - and then allllll the way back.

I've done it twice, once in 2015 (solo) which was long, painful, crazy... and again in 2016 tandem.

What about 2017!?

Biggest change is the date - they've moved the race from June up to end of May.

This didn't sound like a big deal - but this year the water levels have been nutso.

 I looked up the water level and flow - it's about 40cm above last year's level, which is a huge increase, and the flow is about 5x last year.

That's actually a good thing mostly, since the low water level last year was a big of a pain - lots of bottoming out and tough to paddle up-stream against the current when you couldn't get a good stroke in because of hitting bottom!

But the flow will be a challenge... going to be a tough slog getting up to the turn-around point.

The way down, though, should be a hoot!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Paddling East Cross Creek (near the Scugog River, Ontario)

We needed somewhere to get a 3 hour paddle in, and with the wind Lake Ontario was out... so we decided to check out the Scugog River.  There are two tributaries that looked promising so we set out on one... the East Cross Creek.

Here's the Strava of our paddle.

We put in at the bridge on River Road.  850 River Rd, Lindsay, ON K9V 4R4 if you want to Google Map it!

This is at the south end of the Scugog River, as it's starting to widen and form Lake Scugog.

We expected to go a few kilometers up the creek then turn around and try the other creek thing on the west side of the Scugog River - but to our surprise, it was clear, not weedy, and best of all deep!

Not far from the put-in point / bridge we saw the remains of an old railway bridge - just the wood foundation supports are visible, and the old causeway thing. That was about the only civilization related thing we saw the entire paddle!

It's all considered "wetland", so mostly it was marsh, more marsh, and then some marsh.  Oh and it's very twisty.  A couple of herons kept us company pretty much the whole way, kept flying up and going upstream - nice big birds.  If you like birds.

The water wasn't flowing much ... almost stagnant?  So I'm guessing in a few weeks it's going to be stinky/skunky and weedy.  But for us it was clear and great.

Also water levels this year are pretty high, so it could be that we lucked out.  But we had no problem paddling, only hit bottom a couple times with the paddles.

In the end we went 11km upstream then came back down - 22km total.  We could have gone further but we were trying to keep it to 3 hours.

The entire time we saw one other paddler - a dude in a kayak - and he was within ~3km of the put-in point... so I don't think this is a very popular destination.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Storm the Trent

What a great day!  2nd overall (and REALLY close to 1st... more on that later).

But first I really want to give kudos to the organizer - I had a few complaints about last year's race, the disorganized canoe start and the outdoor freezing in the rain BBQ being the biggest two.  Both fixed this race - they moved everyone forward right before the race started to ensure we had a proper start line, and they moved the BBQ indoors (thankfully, since it rained again!).

Our Race - Canoe Start

We were once again in the Team of 2 Males category.

Canoe start was a mass start again, which can be sketchy... but we managed to lurch forward enough to get out of the main throng of boats in the first minute.

We quickly found ourselves next to a team we always seem to be around... I'll call them "Team To Beat".  we actually bumped into each other a couple of times picking lines!  It was foreshadowing I think.  (more on that later!)

Within about 5 minutes there were 3 boats out front - a solo kayaker, Team to Beat, and us.  After this the canoe was mostly uneventful - up the river to the turnaround (which was the full 4.5km distance this year), punch in, downriver to the finish.

Downriver was a little sketchy with boats going both directions, but we managed to find safe/good lines through the traffic.

By the end of the canoe I'd say we were about 30-60s behind Team to Beat (and I'm not sure how much behind solo kayak) in a very solid 3rd.  Not sure how far the next boat was behind but it was minutes.

Bike #1

This was all on-road between the canoe to the first trail section at Warsaw Caves.  Entirely uneventful.  We did catch Solo Kayak as they had some kind of bike problem.

Run / Navigation #1

We had a good strategy here - pick off the 3 checkpoints on the easy loop first, then tackle what looked like the potentially tricky short checkpoint when there were more people looking for it.  A lot of time it's like ants when it gets busy, folks just marching toward the checkpoint making it obvious where it is.

This worked great.  On the way around the loop we saw Team to Beat going the other way - it felt like we had put some time into them, which I'm guessing was while they looked for Tricky Short Checkpoint (once splits are up we can probably confirm this!).

We hit Tricky Short Checkpoint without any trouble thanks to the swarm of other racers.  Things were looking good!

Back at the checkpoint to switch to the bikes and we were first!  Except... as we were about to leave another team (who I'll call "Young Guns") swooped in without having to change shoes and actually got on the road before us.  Grrr.

Bike #2

As we left we saw Team to Beat coming to the checkpoint, so we new they were maybe a minute behind us.  Then we saw the Young Guns stopped, looking at their map... hit the road, now firmly in first place of the entire race.

We haven't lead a lot of races in our lives, so this was a pretty big thrill!

Young Guns closed the gap, but didn't pass us - I think they were relying on us for navigation a bit.  We hit a short off-road muddy section with a checkpoint by a pond - lucky for them I spotted it as they were about to go right by!  I was hoping we could get in and out before Team to Beat showed up, but alas, it wasn't to be - they saw us and we tipped off where the checkpoint was.

Back on the road, Young Guns fell back a bit.  Still leading at the end of the bike... yikes!  Could we actually win this thing???

(I felt like someone with a slow canoe with killer run/bike splits would show up at any minute and blow by...)

Run #2

As we rolled into the checkpoint both Young Guns and Team to Beat showed up!  Again, they were able to pass us while we changed shoes.  That's something we'll have to figure out, it cost us precious time today.

I don't know where Young Guns went at first, the only team we saw when we ran was Team to Beat.  They had about 10 seconds on us, then 20s, then 30s... we were pretty close throughout but they were chipping away.

The weird part came when Young Guns showed up out the blue, then were following us from one checkpoint to another.  Then, instead of continuing around what I figure was a pretty obvious loop, they turned back.  I have no idea what they were doing - and we didn't see them again the rest of the race.

Bike #3 and THE SWAMP
Not us (pic someone else took) but that's the swamp...

Back on the bikes, and Team to Beat was nowhere to be seen.  They were gone, they just had more running pep than we could muster and had put some minutes into us by now.

A short road section gave way to a gravel/mud road and trails in a Conservation Area.  It was pretty cool and suited our riding skills I figure (especially my partner as he's a more technical rider than me generally).

We were looking for the checkpoint that was described as being at "swamp, on trail".  We came around a corner, and there was the swamp... and the checkpoint... and across the swamp, Team to Beat already leaving!  Gah!!!  I figured we didn't have much chance at that point.

THE SWAMP was literally chest deep, and I'm 6' tall.  For the kids in the race it must have been a swim, or a piggy-back ride!  It was crazy.  The only good thing was the bottom wasn't mucky, more rocky than anything... pretty sketchy though!!!  I floated/pushed my bike through the gross swampy nastiness as quick as I could, with my teammate in tow.  Looked back, nobody even starting the swamp, so I knew we had a pretty decent gap.

After this there was more really good trail, rocky/muddy, some sketchy mud bogs, but we really plowed through it well.

When we emerged on the final road section there was noone to be seen.

At this point we actually didn't know if we were in 2nd or 3rd... Young Guns could theoretically have beat us out of the run.  I didn't think they had, but who knows?  We felt a podium was a good possibility though.

A police officer at an intersection stopping traffic for us was kind enough to inform us there was only ONE team in front of us, so now we knew we were in 2nd.  Looked back again, long road behind, nobody.  But ahead I could see them now...

I still thought they were too far away.  We hammered it.  I had really good bike legs for this kind of riding, just turning a big gear and go.  My buddy drafted, and we started clawing back time.

And clawing.

And clawing.

We could see them looking back... a glance at first, then another, then another... and the gap closed.

We flew into the last parking lot neck and neck.  Ran our bikes at a ferocious pace over to the racks, racked them (poorly).

The Final Sprint

I wanted so bad to have enough in me to sprint to the finish but I was cooked.  C-o-o-k-e-d.  They are stronger runners and it showed, even though they were probably feeling pretty cooked themselves, they pulled away.

We entered the arena where the finish line was...

... and then it happened.  They ran right past the timing checkpoint.

My teammate lunged for it and checked in first.

What just happened.  Had we just won the race on a last-second slip up!?!?  They realized their mistake, came back and checked in.

They looked dejected, we were elated!

But then the organizer came over... asked who came in first... apologized for not having someone manning the check-in...

We didn't protest, they were truly at the finish line first.  It seemed fair that we finish second.

The organizer gave us the beer give-away prize anyway - and we got our 2nd place medal, so I'm good!

In Conclusion

It was just amazing to be fighting for an overall win like that - I've fought for placings and age groups but this was the entire race.  We were just spot-on on our navigation and plan, didn't miss a beat all race.  Except the shoes... but we'll figure that out!

Great race, great event, will be back next year!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Race Preview: Storm the Trent (Hike)

We're back for Storm the Trent!
2016 Start - Sketchy!!!
We did this race in 2015 (Hike) and 2016 (Trek)

For some reason I can't quite remember we're stepping back down to the Hike - maybe it was the long day in the rain/wind last year.  It was a bit rough!

This year they're back at Warsaw (same site as 2016).  This means the canoe will be in the Indian River, which was a pretty nice body of water to paddle - I just hope it's not the first thing with everyone clumped together starting in the water again, that was horrible.  Also hope it isn't cut short!

We've only paddled once this year so far (yesterday).  My bike legs should be good and I've been running a lot of hills.

We did a bit of getting lost last year, so this year the big goal is not to... it can be a huge advantage when everyone else is getting scrambled around to not get scrambled around.  Most teams had some challenges navigating, I think only one didn't... hope to be that team this year!