Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colorado River Race 09

Well over 30 kayaks and canoes attended the 2009 Colorado River Race put on by Canoe Colorado from Dotsero, CO to Hanging Lakes just upstream of Glenwood Springs. This year, race organizers started the unlimited class (basically anything super long, skinny, made of paper thin composite, and that you can keep upright goes) in the last wave so we got to spend the whole race chatting it up with the plastic kayaks and fiberglass open canoes as we cruised downstream in our feather weight composite racing kayaks. Special thanks to Jan Kees of Jan Kees Kayaks in New Zealand who express shipped me a rudder pedal replacement from around the globe after Heather and I damaged one paddling on Lake Dillon several weeks ago.

Several wildwater kayaks were placed, by default, into the unlimited category which is hardly fair to them considering they are 15ft long versus my longtime favorite choice for any race up to class 4 of a JKK Supernova ( at 22 ft. long and no wider than my buttocks plus 10 millimeters.

Mike Harvey, fellow US Wildwater team member, was present in rare form as always. My favorite memory of this race was about 30 seconds into the race you'll see him in a blue/white kayak on my left wearing his Nascar style Colorado Kayak Supply ball cap that just speaks for itself in this paddler's quiver...where is the porch rocking chair, PBR, and spitoon I say but clearly a classic move for Mike from Salida, Colorado. Mike finished a solid 3rd behind several faster boat designs and only seconds out of 2nd.

This stretch is a class 2- swift but flatwater hammerfest where I kept reminding myself of the less than famous words of my east coast mentor, Chris Hipgrave, who says all you need to know about winning races is simple..."1) Keep it the middle 2) paddle like hell.... and 3) the fastest time wins". I made a poor choice of skirts in that I kept having to lift the skirt after every rapid to keep the skirt full of water from filling the cockpit so 3 seconds to empty it was worth the drag I'd get if the cockpit fills with water but you see me messing with it a bit much and some great one handed balancing thru rapid wave trains.

For any paddlers looking for tips on paddling a 22 ft kayak thru tight class 3-4 rapids in other races, start with flying a Boeing 747 down a one lane bridge and keep it steady I say! Seriously, the key is:

1) stay on the inside edge of flow (you can't make moves against the current, ie from the outside back to the inside, as easy as inside to outside!)
2) time every stroke in just past the wave apex so you're balanced on top of, not on either side of, each wave so the boat tracks straight and you don't flip
3) keep a high angle on your stroke again so long boat doesn't explode left or right as you balance on the wave apex. A low angle stroke makes you zig zag off of every wave followed by a swim!

Watch how my cadence changes up or down depending on the frequency of wave hits in the rapids. The key to going fast thru rapids is avoiding as many wave hits/friction as possible by micronavigating (hence the only reason you see me turn the boat on it's side in the first rapid to avoid a small wave hit) and timing your progress thru the rapid..."keep your skirt dry we say".

The calm home stretch of this canyon this year and Neil Young's song Old Man made me think of my older brother Josh who passed when I was a young 24 just like you hear in the lyrics. I always envision someday he'll be an old man reflecting how similiar our lives were so I added it to the final calm flatwater portion at the end this year for kicks. Hope life is good for you to Josh!

I had a great race in spite of slower flows and a final headwind combined with a bit of fatigue from pacing my patient Joy Robertson in the Leadville 100 Trail run yesterday. While I won this race for the 3rd year, I was unable to improve the course record time of 1:05:08 I set last year finishing in 1:06 but enjoyed seeing the well attended race; especially the recreational canoeist that cheered all on from their wide bottomed craft.

Next up, Cataract Canyon in my wildwater boat Labor Day Weekend!

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