Kayaker, Engineer, Athlete, Tinkerer

Monday, June 23, 2014

Lofer World Cup Sprint Race Wrap Up

The last I left off was the night before the sprint race and at the moment my footboard was for the most part intact so lets pick up on saturday morning, before the sprint race.  The day started with getting up and eating some food before heading off up river to warm up on the longer classic section before the sprint race. The german team showed up right as we did and they were jamming out to the song "99 Red Balloons" and for some reason I thought that was funny so I was in a good mood as I carried my boat down to the river.  The sprint race is very dynamic and with only the better of two runs counting, all you need is one good run so it encourages more radical and flat out runs where pushing hard can result in better times or bad crashes.  Anyway I walked down to the river, "99 Red Balloons" now stuck in my head, coax my lengthy legs into to the cockpit, press the foot board lightly to get planted in the boat and hear the horrible crack as my right leg becomes loose as that side of the foot board gave way once again.... (insert creative curse word here).

I gently worked my way down the warm up run trying very little, too irate to care. At the beginning of the sprint course I pulled out, no point going further, I need to be firmly connected to the boat in order to make the precise moves down the narrow race lines.  After I carried the boat back to our apartment, I crawled in to check, yep definitely broken. The start time for my first run was in about an hour and 20 minutes, too short to do a proper epoxy repair especially since the boat was wet and the weather was cool and overcast.  Another look revealed that the original carbon piece that had initially separated was now in fact broken so I couldn't cheat it with duct tape and zip ties. At this point I was too cross to care and took off my gear and resigned myself that I wouldn't be able to race, just not in the cards.  But it only took about a minute of sitting around with the thought of racing in my head before I figured there had to be another way.  While I'm not fast, I'm had a lot of practice at dealing with unexpected, unconventional situations, like hitch hiking 60 miles in rural northern Georgia when the clutch cable snapped on my motorcycle snapped on the edge of an impending thunderstorm front.  Since it was still attached on the left, it was held in roughly the right position, it was just loose on the right side, and since the only force applied, would be directly perpendicular to the plane of the board, in theory I could just tie a rope around it or something. Well that's exactly what I did,  I grabbed some nylon cord I had and tied a loop around the board and connected it to the wooden thigh bars attached in the boat.
 using my B.S. in engineering, or does that mean BS engineering?

The focal point of so much suffering

After tying is the best I could, I slid in to test it out.  There was about 1/2 on spring, but it seemed strong enough, well that was good enough for me. Back in action!  My plan was to complete 1 run just to get a time on the board, it wouldn't be fast, just wanted to be a part of the race considering the circumstances.  So after another warm up I worked down to the start line as ready I could be for the race. One the timer ticked down to 0 I cranked hard off the line, breaking the beam of the laser eye, starting the official time.  I accelerated hard, but not to full speed, my plan was to have clean lines and hopefully an intact boat.  The top and middle of the course was good I was happy with my lines, at the crux move I was too far left on the main drop, since the horrible piton was fresh in my mind I wanted to play it safe but when the line is 4" wide, if you're off it, there will be a hit, and I heard a good "thunk" as the stern slammed to rock, but racing runs are not the time to care about the boat I worked to pick up the pace and bring it across the line. Since I made it down, with the boat not taking on water I was satisfied.  I walked the boat back, changed into dry clothes and went back to the course to watch everyone else finish.  As the faster, and faster racers came down, my place kept getting bumbed down, but not nearly as much as I thought. After the first runs I was sitting in 33rd place, same as my classic finish!  Needless to say I was quite surprised, so much for only one run, time to go big or go home.  I prepped with another warm up, but fully attacked the second run, I even had a much cleaner line on the main drop with only a slight tap, but even better was threading the needle between the two rocks immediately between the main drop, I had never made that line before so I was pretty happy to make it in the race run. After I crossed the finish line and sucked some air I looked up for my time. As I looked I saw 1:13.xx yes! better, while I only took 6/10th of a second off my first run, I improved, had a cleaner run, I was satisfied. Sadly several others had faster second runs so I actually finished 37th, but oh well I was happy. In light of the re-broken footboard, and the fact that the 3rd World Cup race was on the exact same course as the first cup race I elected not to race.  There was no way I was going to do better with a broken footboard.  Plus it was nice to know that I was done.  Weeks of racing takes a lot of thought as well as physical energy so I was a huge relief to just be done.  Now time to relax!  The way the sprint works is that the top 15 advance to final race so I had time to grab the camera and snap some photos of the pro's so everyone can see how it's done.
A fast German airing out the drop, the landing zone is a bit tight
Aussie paddler Rob McIntyre pulling his way to an 8th place finish

Friday, June 20, 2014

Austria World Cups

Hi there,   I just finished the first race of the world cup here in Lofer Austria.  Marin, Doug and I made the journey from Italy to the course in Austria without anything noteworthy, though with 3 people and gear and 4 boats on the roof, the VW polo was having some serious power issues on the steep inclines.   Lofer is primarily a ski town so there are a plethora of apartments and hotels to stay in.  The one we are at is 100ft from the put in for the sprint course so it’s quite convenient.  The evening we arrived we scoped out the sprint course and figured that the water was off because it was very low and honestly I didn’t think it would be possible to get down without hitting anywhere.  However, sadly I was mistaken and the water is actually quite low.  The next day we figured out where the longer course started so we loaded up and set out to paddle the first race course.   When we first arrived, the course looked very shallow and very flat and suddenly I started getting excited.
The crux move of the sprint course is very tight...
To normal, sane wildwater racers, a flat shallow course is just horrible.  However since I live and train in central PA where instead of good whitewater rivers, there are a lot of shallow moving water rivers, I was very excited.  This was basically what I train on and since I had the Bala, the perfect design for shallow water, I was pretty excited.  The classic is basically 10mins of flatwater paddling with the occasional riffle and then there’s the sprint course. While the upper classic is flat and shallow, the sprint is very tight with decent sized drops.  One of them drops about 2ft and the line is about 4” wide if you don’t want to hit your stern on the way down.  After a classic run and some sprint runs I was feeling pretty good, I had managed good lines virtually all of the time and it was really fun.  Then on Wednesday I decided to do some high intensity runs.  Just paddling down the course trying to survive is one thing, racing flat out is another.  After 3 decent runs I decided to do one more and call it a day.  Sadly at the crux move of the main drop, my boat became possessed by the eddy line and swerved to the right faster than I could correct and I pitoned the rock at nearly full speed.  When 200lbs of tall lankyness is going 15mph and decelerates to 0mhp in ¼ second, something has to give and strangely it wasn’t the boat.  Instead of major bow damage, I exploded through the carbon fiber supports of my footboard with a popping crackling sound all wildwater racers know. After sliding back up to a seating position I pushed off the rock and banged down the drop just trying to make it to the end, at least the boat wasn’t leaking. 

I can honestly say I’m done with boat repair, my patience and caring is all used up from dealing with the boat from previous hits.  But after two bad layups, the foot board is sort of in.  This morning before the race I put on two heavy duty zip ties which turned out to be integral parts of keeping the footboard in place.  The classic race when well I thought, I had good intensity through the flats at the top and survived through the whitewater with only a small tap of the stern in the sprint course. I ended up 33rd with Doug in 32nd besting me by 0.79 of a second, so close.   Tomorrow is the sprint race hopefully my boat can survive some flat out runs down the course with minimal damage.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sprint Race Recap

Today was the sprint race.  Every competitor gets two runs down the course and the best time is used, the top 15 advance to the sprint finals tomorrow. With the increased water levels the sprint course is the biggest rapid of the run, there are huge holes that can nearly stop a wildwater boat going full speed and boily eddies and surging breaking waves.  Chance and luck have a big influence on each run especially for someone like me who lacks training at this scale.  I deliberately haven't spent a lot of time on the sprint course because I know I will only psych myself out.  After warming up and heading to the course for my first run I genuinely felt good, after all I was paddling a red white and blue kayak in the World Championships live on Italian National TV.   The top part of my first run went well, but despite the higher water levels I managed to find a rock in the bottom of the course and the hit was substantial and when I could feel water on my legs I knew the damage was bad.
My next sprint run was in an hour and 20 minutes, time to improvise

After my first run I was sitting in 47th place, since there wasn't time to properly fix my boat I had to improvise.  Luckily I had my roll of gorilla tape with me. The plan was to tape every open orifice in the stern, to seal out the water, then mash my stern crunch pad on to give it the right shape and hopefully a little strength in case I would have the misfortune of finding another rock. 
All taped up and hopefully water tight

Ready to race?

Now that everything was taped up and as good as it was going to get it was time to try and focus. After finding a little shade to get out of the scorching heat I drank some water, listened to a little music and headed back to the line. I deliberately waited as close to my start time as possible to put on as to minimize the amount of water that could seep into my boat before my run. Sitting in the starting position watching the seconds tick down,  I could look downstream and see Chris waving the American flag and suddenly the massive structural damage of my boat didn't matter,  all that mattered was when that clock hit 0 I would pulling as hard as I could.  The top of the course was decent, room for improvement, but I've had worse runs, then the bottom was significantly better, I managed to avoid that rock and keep some more speed till the end.  The final result? I shaved nearly 2 seconds off my first runs and jumped up two places into 45th, not too shabby. 

The biggest surprise was when Emmanuel had a smoking run which qualified him for the sprint finals tomorrow.  In light of the recent damage, I have opted out of the team sprint race so that I don't have to hurry to fix my boat, (and potentially break it again).  There are 3 world cup races coming up and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to racing on some different course, hopefully with a little smaller whitewater...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

TV Coverage

There will be live TV coverage of the sprint qualifications tomorrow. My runs will be at 11:25AM (5:25AM EST) and 1:20PM (7:20AM EST) Tune in to watch me try to paddle a red white and blue kayak down some huge whitewater as fast as possible! http://www.wherever.tv/tv-channels/Rai-Sport.jsf

Classic Race Recap

The following is a recap of the Classic Team race that occurred today:

Update day 2, Wildwater World Championships, Adda River, Valtellina Italy

Today’s race is the classic team event.
For those who’ve never raced team wildwater let me shed some light; it’s just like regular wildwater only complicated by the fact that there are 3 of you racing really close together.  You don’t want to get too far behind your team mates because it’s really hard to catch up, and you definitely don’t want to get too close or in water like this you’ll end up with the back of someone’s boat in your face.
The U.S. team is comprised of Doug Ritchie (me), Kurt Smithgall, and Emmanuel Beauchard. Emmanuel is quite a bit faster than Kurt and me.  I have the benefit of having raced team a lot back in the day, Kurt has done it maybe twice. 
I know some of the tricks and am aware of the realities.
 Trick number one; stay with the lead boat no matter what it takes, cut the corner, find their wake, stick like glue, yell at them to slow down, do not get dropped. 
Reality number one; if you do get dropped you are going to be hating life.  If you drop back even 10 seconds your team mates should slow down for you, but they won’t stop, so you’ll have to push yourself hard for two to three minutes to get back on wake.  By that time they’ll be rested, and they’ll immediately take off again and expect you to hang with them.
It’s brutal when it happens.
We get up to the start line, same as yesterday, a small eddy in the middle of a hue rapid.  But now rather than just myself to worry about I have to pay attention to where Kurt and Emmanuel are. Things actually go pretty smoothly except for the fact that my legs are shaking.  It’s not just this rapid, I pretty much always feel this way at the start of a race.  Normally I get a minute or two before the first hard rapid to work that adrenaline off.  Today we start in the middle of the hard rapid. 
We hear the start beep and Emmanuel takes off, I work to stay with him knowing that though he’ll wait if necessary, I want to do the least amount of catching up as possible.  Kurt starts behind me and I never see him.  It’s impossible to look back in this water.  I do pretty well and keep the tail of my boat behind the bow. That’s all I can hope for; tail behind bow, bow pointed downriver.  Later, Kurt would tell me that he got pretty wonky and sideways.  When I finally did get chance to look back he was right with me. 
We all run through the next two rapids, big wave trains, one with a big “S” move you have to make to avoid rocks.  Emmanuel looks back and yells at me that Kurt is off.  I look back, Kurt is maybe six seconds back of us.  Emmanuel and I slow way down but in this fast water it takes Kurt about two minutes at nearly full throttle to get back on wake.  We immediately take off again.  I’ve had a two minute break, I’m feeling good again, all I can do is empathize with Kurt because, boy howdy have I been there. I know how he feels and it ain’t no fun.
Kurt busts ass in the easier rapids on the lower section of the course.  I fall in behind him and stay on his wake.  I know Kurt is killing it because I’m working to stay on his wake. 
For a moment Kurt and I are right on Emmanuel’s wake, it’s sunny, the river is great, and I’m in an awesome race boat.  For a moment, I’m 25 years old again.  Then some more reality hits;
We get a split from U.S. team coach Chris Norbury.  We’re dead even with the Serbians, up nine on Team Japan, and nineteen seconds ahead of the Irish.  The British who we hope to beat, have started behind us and after them come the rest of the powerhouse teams; France, Germany, the Czech Republic etc.  We’re racing as hard as we can, but for Kurt and me it’s a struggle to keep up with Emmanuel.  Emmanuel yells encouragement.  As we get down more towards the finish Kurt and I run through a boily eddy in the middle of the river.  Emmanuel saw it and broke just to the left. Emmanuel kindly points out that we are in a - pardon my French! – eddy.  Tempers tend to rise with adrenaline, testosterone, lactic acid and fatigue. 
I respectfully ask that we be given a – pardon my French! – break.
We’re nearing the line, about 500 meters out, Emmanuel is yelling, Kurt is really pushing hard, I’m hanging onto his wake.  We finish in tight formation and beat the Serbians by 13 seconds.  That was an incredible effort by Kurt Smithgall.  We went from dead even with about six minutes to go, to up 13 at the finish.  And, that was after he had to sprint for two minutes to get back on wake with Emmanuel and me. 

The U.S. team finishes ninth.  I make sure we all still love each other and then begin to chill out for the Masters Worlds later today.  I’m wondering if it was wise to try to race both senior and masters at the same event. The few moments of time travel, when I feel like I’m 25 again are great, but trying to hang with the young guys is more stressful than I thought.   

Doug Ritchie
U.S. Team Manager, 2014 Wildwater World Championships

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day 1 Recap

Today was the individual classic race of the Wildwater World Championships.  I ended up placing 47th out of 53.  Sure I wish I could have done better, but that's where I'm at right now. There's no substitute for hard work and training and Spring Creek just doesn't quite compare to the Adda.  Tomorrow is the team classic which should be interesting trying to start with two other people. Oh well, any day I get to paddle a red white and blue wildwater boat in the World Championships is a good day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The night before

Well this should be the time where I say If feel confident about the course and feel fully prepared to race at the World Championships, but this is not exactly the case.  In the past 24 hours there have been several major developments. First, the river level today was 105 cumec which equates to over 3700cfs,  earlier in the week we had the impression the race level would be around 70 cumecs or 2500cfs and lets just say on this course that makes a big difference.  And second, today, the day before the race, the organizers moved the location of the race course that is happening tomorrow.  Instead of starting upstream at the original start, the race will now start at the sprint course and continue further downstream on the flatwater. And no one was officially notified, instead a flier was posted at some point on the course.
The course is difficult at the lower levels, at the current higher levels even the best in the world are having a lot of difficulty with the course.
The picture shows the scale of the water we are racing on

Anyway all I know for sure is that tomorrow I will race at 11:21 AM.  While I may not be the fastest, I will try my hardest. I feel comfortable in my boat and with a little luck I hope to lay down a respectable time.  To everyone who bought a tshirt or donated some money thanks! I would not be here with out your support.