Monthly Archives: May 2011

Going Long…..

I started working out again back in January – and almost immediately hurt my wrists lifting weights. I couldn’t lift weights, I couldn’t do push-ups, and I worried about hurting myself further by paddling. Now, even though the wrists are better and it’s warmed up some, I haven’t been out on the lake. And I really haven’t been pushing myself to get back in shape for October.

I need to “get my mind right” so I’ve been thinking about what it means to go long; to paddle for hours and hours. I need to start thinking about what’s ahead, what to expect, what I’m in for.

Perhaps the genius of ultra-marathon paddling is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to race vast distances. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets , apostles, and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra marathon paddlers know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In paddling such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are…… Paraphrased from a quote by David Blaikie, former journalist;athletics historian and statistician and founding member of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians……..

I sure wish I could write like that. And I have to tell you that I’m not sure I understand it completely, but there’s certainly a kernel of truth in it.

So, what’s it mean for the three of us planning a 133 mile race down a bayou in south Louisiana? Well, the last couple of months I’ve been posting things about how much fun it will be to come down here and race in it. And, it’s tempting to make predictions about how quickly we’ll finish or how well we’ll do. The reality is that a lot of depends on the weather, the river, the competition, and other things out of our control. Of course, we’ll be paddling like crazy for ourselves and for those of you cheering us on. We don’t want to let anyone down by quitting so we’ll put it all where it counts – in the water.

I haven’t done this race, haven’t seen the Teche, haven’t even ever been to south Louisiana. But…. paddling is paddling, and I’ve spoken to a couple of guys who did the race last year. So, here’s the scoop on what I think we’re really in for in October.

1) It will be hot. Average highs in that part of the state in October are in the 80s. Once the sun goes down it will get a little cool. The temps will drop into the 60s and we’ll be wet and chill quickly.

2) There will be bugs. We’ll be on a bayou (definition: “an extremely slow-moving stream or river, or a marshy lake or wetland”). We’ll be sweating a lot. Perfect conditions to attract a lot of little things that want to bite us, especially after dark. We’ll bring along a lot of bug spray and be glad it’s just little things biting.

3) It will be hard. Working my way up to the MR340 I once did 40 miles in one day on non-moving water. It just about killed me. It was brutal. There will be a current in this bayou but not much of one, so don’t expect much help there. We won’t have the waves to push through, like I did on the lake, but we’re still looking at Friday and Saturday being some long days. And Sunday will be better at only 30 miles but it will be the last day and we’ll be tired. There’s a portage that day, the bayou may be flowing the wrong direction, and there’s the possibility of portions being clogged with vegetation that we’ll have to plow through. Our arms will hurt, our backs will hurt, and our butts will REALLY hurt from sitting all day on Friday and Saturday.

Out of the boat here, into that mud, up that hill (and through the weeds) with the boat and all the gear, down the other side to the Wax Lake Outlet, paddle across the outlet – and repeat on the other side.

4) I joke about alligators and snakes but I really don’t think they’ll be a problem. Still, they will be there, especially after we pass Franklin. No swimming and after dark and we’ll be pairing up with other racers for safety.

Picture of an actual REAL gator on the Teche

5) I talked about enjoying the parties at the end of the day but the reality is that we’ll be too tired to do much of this. By the time we get to the finish line it may be late and the party might be over. We won’t feel like much of anything except a hot shower and a soft bed. And if we do have a cold beer – it will be best to keep it to just one. Our bodies won’t be in any shape to metabolize much more than that.

6) There will probably be a lot going on at some of the checkpoints. People will be hanging out and having a good time eating and drinking, and they’ll be cheering for us. Don’t think we’ll get to enjoy much of it. We’ll want to hit the checkpoint, let the race officials know we’re still in it, and get back in the boat. It will be tempting to linger but don’t. The pain doesn’t end until the finish line, so get the idea will be to get there as quickly as we can.

2010 Arnaudville Checkpoint

That’s the bad news. Now the good stuff.

1) Those of us that finish will have done something we never thought we could. Every checkpoint we pass we’ll see other racers dropping out and loading their boats to go home. And every time we keep going we’ll feel better about what we’re doing.

2) We’re working out to get our muscles in shape. We don’t want to forget our “smile muscles” because we’ll need them at the finish line. We’ll will be so happy to complete the race – and so proud of what we’ve accomplished.

3) One of the best things about paddling is the people. We’ll meet some absolutely amazing people on this race. Paddling isn’t a huge sport like running or bicycling, and the people who do it are, by and large, really thrilled to have someone join them in their passion. During my preparations for the MR340 I mentioned on the discussion board that I didn’t have a boat yet. I immediately received an offer from a guy in the Chicago area to let me use a racing canoe that was at his friend’s place in Texas. I didn’t need to take him up on his kind offer but I’ll never forget it. Thanks, Wally. And, during the MR340 I saw time and again the generosity these people are capable of.

4) We’re in a sport that’s good for us and, and it’s something Jim and I (the old guys) can keep doing. Low impact on the muscles and we can make it as easy or as hard as we want. Running is running and tennis is pretty much the same every time (ever see a tennis court that looks any different than any other court?). But paddling is something that we can take slow or fast. Every river and lake looks different than every other. We can paddle for an hour or a whole day.

5) We’ll have plenty of time to get to know ourselves out there. Grinding it out all day will give us a lot of time to be alone with our thoughts. I enjoy that part of it a lot.

6) We get a T-Shirt! Our ground crews will get hats! Woohoo!

….the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort…. We’ll answer the call that asks who we are. Maybe we’ll find out.

Jim and Christian – can’t wait to see you in October. Only a little over five months to go. OK, time to go do some sit-ups.