Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 EC Report - The Start

Keeping with our annual traditions over the past 5 years, we picked up Kristen (KiwiBird) before 5:30 am, towing the Dawn Patrol and with our 2 kayaks on the van, we headed for our favorite fried chicken lunch at the ‘El Cheapo’ gas station and grill in Midway Georgia. We arrived at the Ft Desoto campground about 6:00 PM, set up tents, headed for dinner at the Italian restaurant down the road, and then headed over to the annual WaterTribe party put on by PaddleMaker and SavannahDan.

Kristen and I on the way down to Tampa

Friday morning started with our annual Eggs Benedict at a local breakfast spot, and then Paul and Alan dropped us off at the start beach, while they headed off for some shopping at West Marine. The rest of the day was spent setting up our kayaks, checking out boats, visiting with old friends, and meeting new members of the Tribe. This year’s Captains Meeting was big event, with 84 boats starting (Everglades Challenge and UltraMarathon), there were more challengers there then ever before, and all getting to introduce themselves at the meeting.

Chief and Tribe at the Captains Meeting

Saturday morning while still dark, we took down camp and drove over to the start beach for last minute final packing of boats, wishing everyone well, and roll call. At 7AM the fog horn sounded, and the Challenge began. The start is always an interesting event. I’ve heard one describe it as a bit of chaos, the horn sounds and everyone gets in their boat, gets on the water, and all seem to go in a different direction. Many head across the Bay towards either the East or West sides of Anna Maria Sound, other’s go West past Edgemont Key and out into the Gulf.

I've no pictures on the water, but found this great article of the EC start, it's descriptions and pictures give a good idea of the diverstiy of the craft that come to the Everglades Challenge (including 2 Paddle Boarders), though it doesn't speak to the numbers of kayakers who attempt the challenge.  This year's EC had 33 kayaks and canoes in both class 1 (kayak/canoe with downwind sail) and class 2 (racing and no sail) starting the Challenge.

Kayaks on the start beach, Seiche (standing) and KneadingWater (kneeling)

We had a bit of a windy start, 15kts out of ESE, my Flat Earth Kayak Sail, which sails up wind to a degree, was doing very well, and Tampa Bay was not too terribly rough. During the crossing, I noticed Kristen up ahead, her PAS seemed to be set at an unusual angle, rather than sitting upright and turned in, it was tilted way over to the right side, almost hanging off her kayak. I recalled she’d had trouble with her sail mount once before, but I’m not sure this actually wasn’t her way of trying to get the most of what most would call headwinds and unsailable in a kayak.

There were WT boats all around.  At some point I paddled a bit with Boat1984 (yes, that's his year of birth :). He was quite excited about the Challenge. He was an MissouriRiver340 veteran many times over, and knew that I also had completed an MR340 a few years ago. In last years MR340 he’d met and paddled a bit with SaltyFrog and had decided to do the EC. This he said was the first time he’d ever paddled in salt water. I never saw him again during the Challenge, but expect he had some great adventures.

Once I got towards Sarasota Bay, the wind was howling, and in my face. No sailing during this crossing. In the distance I saw a few Kruger’s on shore taking down their Balogh rigs, just too much windage if paddling.  I would often see many other WaterTribers around, mostly kayakers, it’s a very big Bay.

Further along and just under the big Sarasota Bridge I heard my name called out, and turned to see Steve (KneadingWater). He was paddling his new TideRace kayak. I was a bit surprised to see him, figuring he was up ahead with Kristen, but also knowing that being from Michigan, and not having much opportunity to paddle over the past months, the first couple days has him needing to get out of his kayak every once in a while to stretch out. He told me he was thinking about dropping out. WHAT, I couldn’t believe it, Steve has finished 9 various WaterTribe events.  Was the new boat giving him problems? He’d said it had just arrived, and he’d only once had it in a pool.  It turns out his shoulder was really bothering him, he was having tingling down his arm and numb fingers, and worried about possible nerve damage if he continued. He'd been having a problem since starting.  His friend Denny(Seiche) then also joined us, he had been waiting for Steve at the bridge since Steve had slowed down earlier.

Steve said he was going to paddle a bit more, take his time, and then make a final decision soon.  He encouraged Seiche to put it in high gear and catch up to KiwiBird, who they figured wasn’t too far up ahead.  I'd offered to paddle with Steve a bit, but I too needed to get going; so feeling a bit left out, but ready to continue my own Challenge, I too paddled on.

I stopped again this year at a little beach at the swing bridge at Blackburn Point to put on some warmer clothes, change out my water bag, empty my bladder, and to call Steve (my shore contact).   I remembered last year when Floatsome and I stopped here, we were very cold and really needed some warmer clothes on.  The Sarasota Bay crossing was very hard, and very slow.  Lots and lost of wind.  My report to Steve which he posted on his blog included the word 'Brutal'.  Funny how you don't remember how bad it is afterwards, guess that's why I keep coming back :)

I hit a great tide in the Venice Ditch past the Venice Inlet and around the airport, continuing to either be passed or passing other paddlers over the next few hours.  A few were talking about stopping and camping the night, then starting early to make the checkpoint (CP) before 10am the next day. I recalled that in 3 previous challenges I too camped at this part of the stage, and offered my advice for good spots I knew about.  But I was still feeling good and felt it was still a bit early for me, I'd not really paddled enough distance yet to stop.  I’d decided to get through Lemon Bay and get within a couple hours of the CP before I’d consider camping.

Right before entering Lemon Bay, I heard someone shout out ‘Are you WaterTribe’. It was KneadingWater again, only this time on shore and not dressed for paddling. He said he was looking for KiwiBird and Seiche, he’d seen on the forum that KiwiBird had lost her SPOT, and he was going to lend his since he had dropped out.  I was surprised to hear they might be so close; both are faster paddlers than I, maybe they’d stopped for lunch along the way. I never did see them, during the challenge, though thougout the challenge I'd hear that they were never too far away, either in front of me or behind me at various times during my 3 days.

I was pretty sure KiwiBird would try and make the CP, then camp that night about a mile further, but I was getting pretty tired, and had slowed down in the dark. I decided that since I wasn’t going to make the CP before 2am so decided I’d camp about 8 miles away, and arrive there in the morning. I stopped and camped about midnight; the results page shows KiwiBird and Seiche arrived at the CP at 19hrs 50min which was 2:50 AM. I’m not sure I believe that, else I would have been in front of them when I pulled off to camp. I think there are a few errors in the results times posted.

After a great night sleep in my Hennessey Hammock, I left about 6am arrived at the CP (about 60 miles) a bit before 9am (my times on the results page are wrong, I’ve requested a correction).  I remember how disappointed I was when Pelican the CP Manager told me I was the last kayaker to come in. That just couldn’t be true. I’d decided to camp but couldn’t believe all other kayakers paddled through the night to get in, heck I knew a few who had camped as far as 20 miles north. Pelican also said that DophinGal and a few other’s had just left the CP about 20 minutes ago after camping there that night. Something must really be wrong with the result times on the website, as her CP arrival is listed as 1 Day 9 Hours32 Min. She would not have even arrived yet.

Getting help landing at CP1, one of the Adventure Island kayaks behind me

to be continued......

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Happened?

We’re all back home now and life is as it was, almost as if our vacation and the Everglades Challenge didn’t happened. My wounds have pretty much healed, both physical and emotional (so hard to not have finished a challenge). Now it’s time to figure out ‘what happened’. I certainly don’t want a repeat, and I plan many more paddling and WaterTribe adventures in the future.

Basically I was taken out by chafing sores both at my tailbone and up my backside, and around my waist. I have had chafing issues in previous challenges, actually most challengers have some chafing, hard to paddle 50-60 miles a day in salt water and not chafe at all. But this year my sores started early in the challenge, and then began to fester and weep. To have continued would have had me in too much pain, risk of infection, and a very lengthy recovery. I’ve just no time in my life for that any more. As hard as it was (I am never a quitter), I really didn’t have much choice in the decision.

I’ve attributed the backside wounds to an adjustment I’d made a little while back to my seat back (bringing it forward and lower), my neoprene shorts (different than what I usually wear), and to the weather conditions. Though most have complained of the headwinds, I often found them angled enough to have me sailing almost continually through the first 3 days except for the mid morning crossings of Sarasota Bay on day 1, and the first few hours across Charlotte Harbor on day 2. The rest of the time I was sailing like crazy, often trying to keep from being heeled over (winds were almost often 20-25 kts) and always sitting on one cheek (likely pressure sores as well as chafing).

Quick aside; my Flat Earth Kayak Sail worked beautifully, simple to use, easy to launch and easy to take down. It’s a bit more complicated initially setting it up (then the PAS), requiring side stays as well as front and back stays, but I love the ease in adjustments for various wind and angles.  Less a downwind sail, and more a real masted sail with sheet.  I wish I had some pictures of me sailing it in the Challenge, hopefully someone will have picture I can post later.

I labeled the my EC two years ago in 2009 my Muumuu challenge. I’d had such horrible chafing around my waist that at the finish I had to shop for a muumuu at the local dollar store, not able to withstand the waistband on my shorts or pants. I’d thought it was due to a different brand spray skirt I’d used that year. However with this year’s equally bad chafing, I realized it was the bottom of my Stolquist PFD where a thick cord runs through a tunnel that clips across my waist. By Monday morning I was telling Steve (mine, Paul's and Alan's EC shore contact this year) to warn Paul when he next spoke to him that it was looking to be another Muumuu year. Not sure how I managed last year.  I’m pretty sure I’ve figured this one out now. I’m now going to try out the Kokotat MsFit PFD, and think it’ll even ride higher on my chest.  Perfect timing, my REI members check has arrived.

Aside from the sores/pain during my 3 ½ days of paddling I was actually doing quite well.  Fitter and in better condition than I’d thought, this thanks to the weight training I’d been doing 2-3 times a week with Lauren at Chapel Hill Training. Lauren had set up a program for me that was very specific to the strength needs of paddling, lots of core, upper body and legs. In fact I don’t think we ever did anything that didn’t have me on a ball, a half round disk, or one leg, always working the core with every exercise.  I’d not put as much training time on the water as I’d have liked prior to the challenge, but really, I'm always on the water, know how to paddle, and know the way, it really didn't seem to matter too much.

My progress for the 160 miles I’d completed before dropping was great.  I was very pleased, and had been having quite a good time.  We had a very windy EC this year, and the Gulf was as rough as I'd ever seen it, but my speeds and times were as good as my fastest years, I was camped on White Horse Key in the 10,000 Islands on Monday night, which matched my previous and fastest year ever. For all the weather issues, and physical issues, I had really made some great time, and arrived at Checkpoint 2 in Chokoloskee a full day ahead of the deadline.

It was also while camping on White Horse Key when I’d realized I was likely seeing the end of this Challenge. I’m very careful with body maintenance in these challenges, using hydropel continuously, desitin on my butt, good soapy non-rinse wipes, and talcum powder to help dry at night. But the sores festered very quickly during the night, by the time I made it in to CP2 it was clear most were open weeping wounds that would never heal by staying wet in the boat, just sitting in my kayak had become excruciating.

I think because I was doing so well, as good as I could have, and with little room for another option, dropping out was only hard that very first day, and hardest when greeting other challengers as they prepared to continue their journey.  As a DNFer, I was in great company, as this year, 30 dropped out of 71 boat starters, including other EC veterans.  In the end it really wasn't such a bad vacation, I had a few extra days in Key Largo to celebrate Alan and Paul's great success, greet the remaining finishers, and visit with my many WaterTribe friends.  There will always be next time.

 Kristen (KiwiBird) and Alan (SOS)

Party in Key Largo

Me very well rested in Key Largo

Regardless, I paddled 160 miles in 3 days and 6 hrs, and do have some stories to tell.   And since  life just doesn't stop, I'll be getting on the bike now, starting training rides for the upcoming RABGRAI challenge in July.  Next weekend, I'm off to Hobucken and Pate's Boat Yard for the annual Goose Creek Paddle Weekend, a weekend of paddling, camping, eating, partying, and karaoke, last years report here, great fun.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ready or Not

Here we come. Another year, another WaterTribe Everglades Challenge (EC). 

KiwiBird, and the not so little “Wee One” came over this evening to drop off KiwiBird’s kayak and gear; we’ll be picking her up very early tomorrow morning for the drive to Florida.  And, in keeping with tradition, FlysWithKiwiBird cooked us all a nice dinner and Tana made us all dessert, for our annual pre-EC dinner (thank-you!).

Excitement was running high as we ate and talked of previous ECs; between us all we’ve experienced 14 of them. This year will be extra fun (or extra worry) as Paul (DancesWithSandyBottom) and Alan (SOS) will be also racing in the DawnPatrol, and again with parts and pieces untried

I know KiwiBird can’t wait for this to become a family affair for her too, though I’ve told her Andrew will not like the Tribal name of “WeeOne” when he’s old enough to join her.

How to Follow Along:
Check the reports on the ‘Log of Spartina’ blog regularly. Our friend Steve Earley has graciously volunteered to be our shore contact person, and will be reporting on our progress and phone calls on his blog. I promise this will be great entertainment, Steve’s an excellent storyteller.

You also might enjoy visiting the WaterTribe Forum as the racers friends and family will be posting updates on the many of the challengers. The Forum will contain official status reports (or log entries) on each racer once the race starts. Log entries must be made every 24 hrs (except in the Everglades where phone service is bad) to avoid a call to the Coast Guard.

The Challenge Viewer will include slideshows taken by the challengers and downloaded during the race, or view some of the slideshows from previous races.

Another feature is the Challenge Mapper which is a Google Map showing where the challengers are on the race course. You will be able to select from a list of all racers in a particular class /division, all challengers in the race, or any one challenger.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oh Oh is Right

You got that right KiwiBird.  Tomorrow morning I'm off for an emergency visit to the Dentist.  Seems I have some kind of gum lesion that's getting worse rather than better.

During the Everglades Challenge I'd probably be ok in a pinch, there is always KneadingWater, a cat vet who specializes in cat dentistry.  But I'm figuring he won't have his tools or novocaine with him, though a good hit of his rum might do the trick :)