Monday, July 30, 2007

Elk River Challenge 2007

Boat withdrawal is a terrible thing. With all the orders being processed and the shipment of all the Cadence pedal boats we had in stock to customers around the globe I had none to play with!

Worse yet, the Elk River Challenge was looming and it would be really tough to take photos of this event in a paddled boat.

As luck would have it, however, a new test boat was nearing completion. With a bit of work it could be made ready in time for the race. However, this meant driving a couple of hours up to Bellingham, installing the mechanical portions, and driving a couple of hours back home. This would be followed by driving a couple more hours the next day to Westport, WA for the race.

It didn't help that we finished the boat at 11:30 PM, either.

Cadence on Matrix

Anyway, enough with the griping. The limited sleep wasn't too much of a problem, nor was the drive to Brady's Oysters, the headquarters for the race. As it turned out, the start of the race was delayed to 12:45 PM due to the tide. This was sort of good as it made for a very relaxed preparation schedule as well as a few minutes of shut-eye.

With the race starting right at my normal lunch time it seemed like it would be a good idea to have something to eat well prior to the race. I downed a couple of Power Bars and a bottle of Naked Juice/Orange-Mango. It was not too bad a combination.

Two Cadences

Todd was there with just one of his Cadences. There would be competition!

Registration table

I registered for the race. This year, like last year, there was no charge for Sound Rowers members. Woo-hoo!

The weather shifted from overcast and misting rain to light haze, and back and forth until about noon. The sun then seemed to burn off most of the clouds and raised the temperature to the upper 70's. There was a bit of a breeze from the west, roughly 7 to 10 mph or so.

Pre-race meeting

Pre-race meeting attendees

Vern held the pre-race meeting shortly after noon. New this year was the inclusion of a short race call "The Little Elk". This would be an out-and-back race up the first slough also covered by the long course racers. The distance for the Little Elk was about 2 miles.

The long course route was the same as in previous years.

Launching by the 'road'

Launching by the bridge

When the pre-race meeting completed, people headed down to the water with their boats and began warming up.

Todd and I put in at the oyster shell paved road. It was easier to reach with our wheeled dollies, but was quite shallow. We had to wade perhaps 30 yards into the cool brine before it was deep enough to float our boats.

Submerged obstacles

Once we were afloat we had to keep moving along the submerged road so as to not get entangled in the weeds growing in the water on either side nor in the oyster cages that were more or less peeping above the surface.

Todd warming up

Soon we were headed to the highway bridge and warming up.

The new carbon/basalt Cadence was performing extremely well. I was surprised at how easy it seemed to pedal, and how fast it moved through the water. Doing a short, easy sprint with the 2 mph tidal current the GPS registered 9.6 mph. Against the current the GPS registered about 6.5 mph for another easy sprint. Wow!

Mixed double shell

Z-1 reclaimed

While pedaling around the other racers I performed my duties as club photographer. It was fun trying to get some action shots as well as shots of the local scenery.

Paul bringing water bottle

While I was out there Paul paddled over with several bottles of frozen water lashed to the deck of his kayak. He asked if I wanted one. I said "Yes!", as I had forgotten to stow an extra bottle in the boat. Thanks, Paul!

Ready to start

We're off!

Eventually the signal was given to line up to start. A few minutes later and we were off!

The water was churning from the paddling and rowing mayhem around me. I managed to compose and take a few shots of nearby racers as they headed off the line, and was pedaling fairly hard myself.

Early lead

We emerged from the shadow of the bridge into the sunlight. As we passed Brady's Oysters I noticed that the propeller had picked up some weeds. No problem - just pedal backward a bit and the forward and things would clean themselves up nicely.

Paul passes

Unfortunately, however, when I started pedaling forward the boat didn't start moving forward. Uh-oh! The propeller must be loose!

Quickly breaking out the canoe paddle I headed towards the shore. Paddling at a snail's pace, relatively speaking, of about 3 mph was strangely restful.

I abandoned the Cadence along the submerged oyster shell road near the shore and sprinted to the car. After digging through the tool box for a set of allen socket keys I returned to the boat and commenced repairs with the assistance of a bystander.

Sure enough, in the late night hours I had somehow missed mounting the propeller set screw over the proper spot on the shaft. It didn't take much before the screw had loosened and enabled the propeller to slip.

It was pretty easy to fix once I lined up the proper spots. Thanking the helpful bystander I brought the boat back into deep water and pedaled off - 15 minutes after the problem was manifested.

Lonely course

By this time all the racers had made it back from the first turn buoy out in the bay and continued on past the bridge. Deciding that there still was a chance to catch a few of the laggards I continued from where I left the course onward to the first buoy.

The water of the bay had quite a few floating blobs of weeds and weed fragments. It was easy, looking at the GPS, to see when the propeller collected some of those fragments. The speed indicator slowly dropped from 7 mph to 6.5 and lower. When it got to 5 mph and just short of the buoy I went through the weed removal process. That worked, bringing the speed back up to 7 mph.

Heading towards the bridge

Race officials below bridge

Rounding the buoy and dodging a few more mats I headed back towards the bridge. None of the other racers were in sight.

Just for fun I veered towards the race officials beneath the bridge to take a few photos. If nothing else, it would also serve to inform them that I was still in the race.

First place, short course

2nd place, short course

As it turned out, going that direction also made it easier to subsequently take better photos of the participants finishing the Little Elk Challenge.

Todd having troubles

Once past the bridge the incidence of weed encounters dropped significantly. I was able to maintain speeds in the range of 6.5 to 7 mph for most of the way to the second turn buoy in the first slough.

Todd was about halfway out of the first slough when our paths crossed. Apparently he was less successful in clearing some of the finer, stringier weeds from his prop shaft. They were keeping his speed somewhat below 6 mph. He was still enjoying the beautiful setting for the race and the gorgeous day.

2nd turn buoy, first slough

A few minutes later I reached the turn buoy at the furthest reach of the slough.

The boat was performing well. My legs were feeling great. The westerly 10 mph wind was doing fairly well to keep me cool, but was something of a nuisance with the brim of my big hat. The camera in its waterproof bag was getting quite warm in the sun, and was getting my hand sweaty in its vinyl glove just holding it. It felt good to take my hand out every so often and let it cool off in the water. Ahhh!

First long course boat

Second boat

Upon returning to the beginning of the first slough I encountered the first boats on the long course. Robert was well ahead of the others in his rowing single. The next boat was a mixed double rowed by Jeff and Theresa.

I decided it would be best for photography purposes to do the third and last slough next in order to snap shots of the other racers - and so I did.

Close race

Paul on return, and buoy

Most of the people I would normally be grouped with were in this bunch. It was fun to cheer them on and take their photos. Unfortunately, traveling with the wind coupled with the heat of the sun made the camera stop functioning several times. It would display "Err" in the top LCD and attempts to clear it by pressing the power button made no difference. The only way to clear it was by removing and reinstalling the battery.

This worked for a couple of photos before happening again and again. Eventually I was able to cool the camera enough by keeping it in the shade of my hat and body. Absorbing some of the heat with the hand holding it and then cooling that hand in the water seemed to help, too.

My head was dripping profusely with sweat. I put on a sweatband under the hat to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes. It seemed to work fairly well.

Eventually I reached the turn buoy at the end of the 3rd slough and headed back to the mouth.

Heading down the 2nd slough

Just after reaching the entrance to the second (and last for me) slough I encountered another racer who was wondering if there was a turn buoy that he had to go around before entering the third one. I told him that there really wasn't one as the one buoy that was floating far away was too far this year. It had apparently drifted from where it was supposed to be. Oh, well.

Two more racers

Todd taking shots

Further down the slough I found a rower in a wherry and Todd pedaling his boat. He and I took photos of each other as we passed.

Chase boat with buoy

Continuing on I noticed that the appeared to be no buoy at the far end of the slough. Uh-oh! The folks in the chase boat apparently thought the last boat had already gone around it.

I asked them to tell me where I needed to turn. They said it would be no problem.

They quickly brought their boat about and sped up the slough.

It wasn't long before they found the spot and deposited the turn buoy. Thanks, guys!

Turn buoy ahead

Heading to the finish

It seemed to take only a minute or so before I rounded the buoy and headed back down the slough towards the finish.

Wherry again

Now that I was back in sync with the other racers I could tell where I was in the overall event. It appeared that I was pretty close to Todd and the guy in the wherry. It was also time to put on some speed for the finish!

Whaling pilings ahead

Nearing the bridge

I began pedaling a bit harder. There were fewer distractions now, so most of my attention could be applied to turning the pedals. The hat was still rather bothersome with the headwind, but I didn't have a good place to put it. Oh, well.

The GPS was reporting speeds around 8 mph, even with the headwind. Some of this was due to the current, but even when I was traveling nearly 90 degrees to the direction of the current - as I had to do near the bridge - the speed was still in that range. This boat was great!

All done

With a time of 1:33:52 I crossed the line. Considering the mechanical difficulties at the start, the weeds en route and the troubles with the camera it wasn't too bad of a race. In fact, the way I felt at the end of the race I'm sure I could have given it quite a bit more effort. Oh, well.

I circled back to escort some of the other racers to the finish.

Todd heading to the finish

Another paddler

I passed Brady, the guy in the wherry, on his way to the finish, followed by Todd and Connie in a fast sea kayak. Circling back after Connie I poured it on to sprint after Todd. We crossed the finish line simultaneously. What fun!

Perilous course

Cadence on wheels and water

I threaded my way between the oyster cages and anchored boat up the oyster shell path to shore. The dolly worked well in wheeling the boat up the slope and back to the car.


Not much later Vern held the drawing for the prizes provided by the race sponsors. Lo and behold, my name was one of the names drawn!

I picked the $20 seafood certificate from Seafood Connection instead of the large cooked crab alternative.

Vern awarding fastest racer award

Once all the sponsored prizes were awarded Vern then handed out the special Elk River trophies. They were given to the fastest man and fastest woman in the long race, the fastest boat in the short race, and the craziest paddler in the long race.

Janet handed out the ribbons for both the short and long races.

All in all, it was an excellent race!

Lampi's route and stats
My course and stats can be found here.

Photos taken at the event can be found here.

Average pulse during the race, but starting after the stop to secure the prop: 139 bpm over a period of 69 minutes (out of 71 minutes).