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.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Stelvio

The Stelvio Pass is the second highest pass in Europe, the first is the l'Iseran, which I was able to see two years ago in france. I had known this was nearby, and helped convince me that I should try to attend Worlds this year. Thursday afternoon most of us took the afternoon of and decided it was a nice day for a drive.
48 Switchbacks up to the top.

I was able to get behind the wheel for part of the drive up and while it was quite good, the road is narrow with lots of other cars, motorcycles, and cyclists. 

The first snow sighting led to impromptu sled runs with hazard signs

A few of these looked runnable, downstream had more potential

There's still lots of snow at the top,  people are even still skiing at the moment

Looking off the other side 

It was nice to have an afternoon doing something cool completely unrelated to training

The World Championship Course

It's been a while since the last update and that's because quite lot has been happening.  Everyone on the team has their boats and we are all in full training mode.  The course itself is on the Adda River in the Sondrio region of northern Italy. At race level the whitewater is big and continuous, it's hard to compare to anything because people in the US rarely paddle whitewater of this magnitude in wildwater boats, let alone race on it. If I had to describe it, I would say a mix between the big waves of the olympic section of the Ocoee and the continuous nature of the Cheoah  When we first arrived, the water level was low, which was good to learn lines, but there were more rocks to hit.  Even at this lower level I was a bit intimidated because this spring was quite busy for me with grad school applications/decisions and final projects and graduation and the never ending need for fundraising.  Coming over I didn't have the best preparation, but all things considered, I'm happy I was able to make it happen.  The water level was been all over the place,  we (the Irish, Americans and Australians) arrived a week before the other team in order to try and learn the course, the downside was that the water level wasn't regulated and the race lines change quite drastically with the higher water levels.
Hard to show the scale or continuous nature of the water, lets just say it's a little big and pushy

The first time the water was up at race level I was really nervous, I felt really out of control.  A swim on the course almost certainly will mean major damage to the boat.  After two more days at the lower water level, as well as changes to boat outfitting, I began to feel more comfortable and starting flirting with the idea of trying to put in some speed. Unfortunately the first sprint run that I really tried hard was when I blew the line on the bottom portion of the sprint course which resulted in a hit that managed to put a 16" hole along the side of the virtually new boat.
Two hits puts a 16" crack completely through the hull of a "new" boat.  10kg weight limits are pointless

While putting a large hole in a new boat is definitely depressing, I sort of figured it would happen this course is difficult and completely new to us and it takes time to learn the course.  Luckily we were able to scrounge up some resin from the Irish and i was able to patch this up pretty well.  With the patch, the boat is stronger than is was new, which is a sad testament to the build quality of light race boats. Today (Saturday)  the Irish, Aussies and American did an unofficial time trial to start working on bench marks for times and to see how everyone was doing.  The result is that I'm pretty slow but I figured the considering the continuous big nature of the whitewater. Anyway,  now I feel pretty comfortable with the course and can now work on pushing harder to squeeze out as much speed as possible.  4 days until the first race.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Runs on the Course

The plan for Monday was to meet the Australians and Irish at the course in the morning.  Luckily there was water, it was low, but there was water. Being my first time on the course in the new boat I was quite nervous. Luckily the Irish knew the course so I was able to follow them.  First run was okay, there are some tight lines, but no major damage, which was good considering I only had a front crunch pad and one airbag... The next run was worse,  I was sloppier and the water level had dropped slightly making the lower portion of the sprint course quite hard to run clean.  Since the water was dropping off everyone elected to stop after two runs and take the afternoon off.   Since it was close to noon, Chris and I elected to stop at a cafe to eat lunch and of course drink coffee.   Having the afternoon off was nice to kick back and relax a bit.  Marin and Doug were also able to find their boats and spent a bit of time working on outfitting them.

Later that evening Emmanuel arrived bring epoxy and float bags. I then set about making a stern crunch pad that evening,  I'm not sure if it's good or bad that I've made lots of crunch pads so this wasn't really a big deal. That pretty much wrapped up Monday.

Tuesday had basically the same plan, meet the Irish and Australians in the morning. This time there was slightly more water so it would be closer to race level (or so we think because there is no information and it's Italy).  I spent quite a bit of time going over video of the previous day's runs so I think I had a good idea where the lines where.  The extra water made things a bit pushier, but I was less nervous than the first time down the course.  Both runs in the morning, someone was in front of me, but not directly in front so I was working on remembering the course.  Then we took a break for lunch and to spend a little time relaxing before heading back for an afternoon session.  Back in the afternoon, the water sort of low, but we (americans, irish, and australians) did a full top to bottom classic course run, since the water was lower there was a bit of hitting and nearly everyone had some bad lines at some point.  However, when we arrived back at the sprint course, the water was back up.  When the water is low, there's a higher potential for hitting, but it's less pushy, as the water goes up, the rocks get more covered but the waves and holes get pushier and the consequences increase drastically for blow moves.  I had some rough runs on the sprint course, with one mediocre one.  There are few things that can test you both physically and mentally like a properly difficult sprint course.  Luckily I did not need to do any boat repair (yet), but one of the aussies did and apparently no one on their entire team knows how to do patches. After dinner that night, Chris and I helped out by working with the Australian teaching him how to do some patching.  While I'm not fast, it's nice to be able to help out.

Being able to make crunch pads is a worthwhile skill

My boat, still looking good at the moment

Proper italian dog carrying scooter driving technique

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Time Paddling

I woke up early Sunday morning to finish outfitting my boat. Luckily the epoxy on the footboard had set and it seemed like I would be able to paddle today.  The next step was to prepare the seat.  A few years ago I made a seat mold off of a flatwater seat that I liked.  I use this seat in my race boat in the US, so all I had to do was lay up another seat off the mold before I came and I could have essentially the same feeling boat. One exception is that I used one less layer of foam to shim the seat, so now I am about 1/2inch lower in the boat which will make it more stable, which is a good thing for this course.  After the seat was in, the next step was to secure the back band, this boat didn't come with a back band, but I brought one with me.  Once the footboard, seat, and backband were in, the boat boat is usable so we loaded up and headed to the sprint course to meet the Aussies and Irish.  When we got there, it was low, very different from the race level and too low to paddle. Since some other members of the team were supposed to arrive around noon, Chris and I opted to drink coffee and wait at a cafe.  But a little before noon, we received word that they were having issues, so we went up the valley to a lake in switzerland.
 It was really windy with a lot of chop, but with views like this who cares?

After paddling, we again headed to a cafe to drink coffee and wait a little before meeting back at the course in the afternoon to see if it was running. The answer was no, still not running, but two other members of the team arrived so Chris went with them to show them how to get to the cabin while I went with the Australians and Irish to do a flatwater session.  The workout was 10x~250m sprints, and man was I slow haha.  It's always strange how different the racing standards of each country is.  Well I have my work cut out for me, but now the boat is ready to go, hopefully there's water on the course tomorrow.

New Boat and the Joys of Outfitting

Waking up Sunday, for the first morning in the cabin was no disappointment, the view is spectacular.

The first task of the day was to sort out our roof rack,  while the rental car had roof rails, there wasn't a gap underneath, so we would need to us foam blocks to set the wood pieces on before using a strap through the car doors to cinch the whole thing on the roof.  There's no easy or good way to this, just a little creativity, trial and error.
Here's an interesting sight: Dr. Team Manager Chris Norbury using a hand tool

Once the roof rack was sorted the next task was to get internet to find my boat.  My boat was bought from a German company, luckily the father of an Australian team member was driving near the factory and was able to bring it from Germany to the course in Italy. That's one of the cool reasons I like wildwater,  all of the small teams work together to help each other out.  After wandering around in Sondrio looking for a place with wifi, we stumbled upon a phone company store.  Turns out for 50 euro we could buy a mobile wifi hotspot with 7GB of data for the time we were in Italy this was a much better deal than renting one and bringing it from the US.  And since we bought it, in the future all we would need is another SIM card. Happy with the purchase, we found a cafe to eat that also had wifi.  We were able to sort out that my boat would be at the sprint course later that afternoon.  Since we had some time to kill we looked at different parts of the course
Once of the spots to see part of the course is at an old stone bridge that was built by the Romans

Looking downstream from the bridge,  the whitewater is much bigger than it looks

After a while we headed to the sprint course to meet up and grab my boat. The Aussies and Irish were going to paddle so I watched since I would have a lot of outfitting to do, and I wasn't in a hurry to just jump on hard whitewater in the brand new boat.
$2400 boat on $20 roof rack 

We headed up the valley back to the garden supply shop to grab some epoxy because I would need it to secure my foot bar. The boat comes with aluminum foot braces, but they are only little pedals that are right next to the side of the boat, since I knew what would come with it, I prepared by pre-making a foot board and bringing it with me.  Since I paddle this design in the US, all I had to do was measure where everything was and I should be able to make it fit just right.  After acquiring the epoxy, the next task was prepping everything by marking out where the foot board would go and shaving it to fit just right.  Since I am quite tall people tend to ask if I need to order special boats, I just smile and say no, but the procedure below is always in the back of my mind. 
Since I am tall, the boat needs to be dropped on top of me, then I lean forward and can barely reach where the foot board needs to go

Since the boat is a very confined space especially with half my body inside, a good respirator and headlamp are essential equipment

After a decent amount of time preparing everything it was time to start mixing the epoxy to get start, but when I opened the tube I found out that it was the wrong type of epoxy, it was thickened epoxy which has fillers to act like a glue rather than the liquid epoxy which is used to wet out composite cloths like the carbon fiber I would be using for my foot board. We quickly put the word out asking the Irish and the Australians if they had any epoxy.  Luckily they both did, but the Australians got back first and after getting their address I was off to pick it up.  I should note, it's a pretty good time driving in the Alps in the car with a manual gearbox.  After arriving back I quickly set everything back up and got to work laying up the carbon. Since the plan was to meet at 10 tomorrow morning, we brought the boat inside where it would be warmer to speed curing of the epoxy.  

This boat is expensive, not particularly well made, but man it looks good

Heading to the Course

Saturday morning Chris and I were in Milan packing up and getting ready to head north into the Alps.  But before we left I wanted to stroll around Milan one more time.  The plan was to go to Taglio, the really good cafe we ate at last night, but they weren't open, so I wandered around the canals and saw a pretty cool mural.
Jump the shark

After the nice walk we packed up and set about leaving Milan, which miraculously happened without making and wrong turns, running any red lights or hitting any cars, white knuckle driving but good.  Once on the highway it was smooth sailing. Since we had plenty of time we elected to drive the coast road along Lake Como rather than stay on the highway, it was a good decision.
Yep definitely worth it

The timing worked out that we had lunch on a lake side cafe  on Lake Como, just a nice place to drive around, and since it was early summer, it wasn't super busy.  There's a Moto Guzzi museum I wanted to stop at but they are only open for one hour a day,  italians...

Once we rejoined the higway it was a short trip to Sondrio, the biggest  city near the course.  The next task was trying to find the cabin where we would be staying.  To do this we needed a local map, which meant finding an information center.  On the third village we finally found one that was open and was able to get a map that led to where we were actually staying after many wrong turns.  In small italian villages, street signs or labels of any kind are small and hard to see.  Eventually we had it all sorted out and the next step was to find wood to make a roof rack for the rental car.  Luckily there was a home and garden store the next village up the valley and it was actually pretty easy to get to then we bought food and headed back.  After a little food, we received word that a member of the Irish team was around and was willing to show us around to the different parts of the race course, this was a good oportunity to see exactly where we needed to go to access the course which would save us a great amount of driving around figuring it out on our own. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Training (my palate)

Well today was an off day in Milan.  I had ambitions to rent a motorycle and try to drive the Stelvio, but the combination of there being snow and just the experience of italian driver's I decided that could wait for another trip.  Instead we had a plan to drive to a wood working shop to buy some wood to make a roof race for the rental car.  After making directions and look at maps we set off.   Let me just say that driving in Milan is ambitious, just the vast number or cars combined with lane splitting scooters/motorcycles along with lots of cyclists and pedestrians makes things difficult.  About a quarter of the way there I ended up taking a wrong turn,  then took and even worse one heading further into the city center.  It took driving in a bus lane and some aggressive driving to make it back in the right direction. Once we got to the spot where I thought the store was the next task was finding a parking spot.  After a few go rounds of the streets in the area we actually managed to find one and with a little direction I was able to parallel park the car, which I believe is honestly the first time I've had to do it since my drivers license test. Then, we had to find the actual store, the unfortunate part was that we actually weren't at the right spot and after spending half an hour wandering around we gave up and headed back. After driving in Milan traffic for a good portion of the morning I came back and took a nap.  Later in the afternoon we headed out again but this time on foot.  We already saw the Duomo yesterday so today we went to an old castle, not really sure of the name but it was cool.
The main entrance of the castle

Outside of the entrance there were some crazy street performers.  The top one is sitting on a soccer ball on top of a pole held in one hand by the man on the bottom who is sitting on a glass jar.  The were just sitting there static, who knows for how long.

from inside the castle

Some castle's have moats with water, this one has a moat of stray cats
The view out the back of the castle

After all this wandering we were getting hungary. I heard tip from one of my old roomates about a cool coffee shop in Milan, after looking them up, it turned out they had an eight course dinner special that night, so that sounded like a good thing to try.  First was some Jean-paul Deville champagne 
Next, was basically a vegetable medley, but with 15 different elements and it was amazing

Next was a sort of tomato paste with stewed yellow tomatoes, basil and several other things I can't remember

this course was branzino (sea bass) with sea urchins, and a spinach cream sauce

Then came the some sort of meat? haha well it was marinated for 3 hours, then roasted and dried slightly and served with a light mustard sauce on thin slices of toasted bread doused in olive oil

Then came a shot of yogurt with ginger to cleanse the palate

Ah dessert, dark chocolate mouse, with rasberry jam, and white chocolate cream,  not nearly enough of this, so they have us another plate

Top it off with some really good espresso and some cookies. An excellent meal in a really cool cafe.  Going to try and head back in the morning for this before leaving Milan, so good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Long Flight and First Impressions

Well my self and Chris Norbury (Team Manager) have arrived in Milan and we made it to our hotel or at least that's the short boring version.  Going back a few steps, we both were on the same flight and ironically the same row of the plane which made the logistics of meeting in the airport easier.  Once we picked up our luggage, the plan was to rent a car and make our way into Milan (the larger airport is a little ways from the interesting part of Milan).  Since Chris would be heading back sooner than I, was he was going to put the rental car in his name and I would share cost.  Yet Chris didn't know his driver's license was expired until he tried to rent a car at the airport, so now the rental car was in my name, but attached to Chris's credit card, haha perfect...  Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear said that the fastest car in the world is a rental car, because it's a car you will drive to the limit.  I disagree, I say the fastest car in the world is a rental car on someone else's credit card haha.    So we hopped in and started on our way towards finding our hotel.   Let's just say that being jetlagged and jumping straight into absurd crazy italian traffic is not the most relaxing, luckily I can drive quickly,  we made it through the madness to the hotel.  Since it was still early, we couldn't check in, but we were able to park the car and explore a little on foot,  there was a nice restaurant a little down the street so we went there for lunch, after two airline meals, the food was delicious and the shot of espresso that came the meal was much needed to keep the jetlag at bay.
After the meal we still had some time to kill so we walked to the city centre.  I've never been in any of the really old cities so it was cool to see everything made of stone instead of asphalt. We wandered around the plaza of the Duomo and even went inside for a bit (I didn't have my camera on me so google duomo, the third largest church in the world).  It wasn't long until the inevitable happened, someone asked me if I played basketball..... After a while we went back to check into the hotel and shower, and sleep a little.
I booked the hotel through hotwire for two adults,  I was sort of hoping that it would mean two beds, but it didn't.  The receptionist even tried to be coy be say there was only a single available, which I responded with a deadpan stare and stammering uhhhhh, luckily she was joking but there is only a queen size bed. Ah memories.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Italy Bound

Hi there, well later today I will take a flight to Italy to begin training for the World Championships.  I've always like the idea of trying to keep this updated but recently there have been several distractions: graduation, picking grad schools, find places to live,  and even working in NC for the past two weeks. Since this is my second World Championships race I have a better idea of what to expect and how things will play out.  I'll keep this updated as training progresses and especially for the races.  Thanks to everyone who helped by donating or buying a shirt!


Monday, April 7, 2014


In 10 weeks I will be representing the United States at the Wildwater World Championships in Italy. Since wildwater isn't an olypmic sport there is no funding, so to try and raise money for this trip I'm selling t-shirts. $20 for cotton, $30 for synthetic. All proceeds go towards my expenses. Plus I have a pretty cool boat designed... So if your interested, message me or email krsmithgall@gmail.com. I'll be submitting the order on April 15th so if you are interested, make sure to get in contact with me before then, but donations are welcome anytime. Thanks, Kurt
T-shirt design

Polo Shirt Design

Boat Design