Friday, December 12, 2008

Slough Slog Saturday

So my buddy Christian Knight at Paddler Magazine sends out the following note to his 200 closest paddling friends on a Monday...

MEET: 10 a.m., Saturday
Wilmot Gateway Park, Woodinville
Class I down- and upriver race
Stagger: Long boats: +6.3 minutes
Sea kayaks +9.5 minutes
Weather forecast: Partly sunny, 50 degrees No registration fee

...and he bills it as a practice race for the Deception Pass Dash. Hooo yeah right, more on that later. So since I'm managing entries in the Dash, this sounds like a great way to connect with some racers and why not race too while I'm there.

So who amongst Christian's homies do I see when I get there but Tao Berman, still hangin' in his jeans while the rest of us get all serious in dry suits, pfds, helmets (no rocks, but plenty of flying paddles to be found in this race), gloves, & what-not. After Christian explains the course to the crowd that includes whitewater legends Rob McKibbon and Jennie Golberg, side by side with Greenland kayaker & instructor Henry Romer, I say hey Tao, aren't you suiting up?

Naaa man, I'm just paddling in board shorts.... dude, you got a boat?

So Tao ends up in my sweet little Eddyline Fathom LV... a pair of board shorts. Remember that "partly sunny, 50 degrees" BS? More like drizzly and low 40s. As a Red Bull paddler, I believe Tao is permanently on overdrive. Hence no sense of cold.

We took off from the start, heading down river to the small rapid that would be our crux move attainment on the way back to the start. It was just fun and fast as we screamed along. The field strung out in the next mile as the good river-readers figured out the current patterns and eased past those of us who took the name "Slog" seriously and just muscled along. A week later, Christian would get a dose of this surreal feeling of watching a boat slide effortlessly past him on a different ribbon of current, but that's a story for the Dash.

Rounding a buoy and heading back upstream, shoulders burning, muscles screaming, looking for any advantage along eddylines and behind curves, the pileups started as a boat would overtake another, bump its stern, and broach it across the paths of 3-4 more racers. Eventually the former pack-leader is left pointing backwards downstream, jammed in the weeds along shore, wondering "what the hell just happened?"

On to the crux move. With a quarter mile to the finish, the current picks up where a small stream comes in from the left. Gravel from the stream makes that tempting slow water on the left reeeeeallly shallow, while that nice deep water on the right is too fast for most of us to make the attainment. And an error in ferry angle puts you in the tree branches overhanging on the right bank. No appealing options here, and we had a couple of swimmers as they got shot into the trees by the cross current at the creek mouth.

When the dust, spray and mud had cleared, a bunch of us had walked the crux (Henry "knuckled" it, a skill he said he's developed doing surf launches) but Tom Weir had won the overall crown -- with just one blade, even -- and I'm proud to report that Team Eddyline picked up the Sea Kayak division piloted by none other than Tao. I have no idea what that thing is that he won. And Rob picked up some props for fastest whitewater boat.

Christian plans another Slog soon. This could become a regular thing. Meanwhile someone needs to sneak down to the river and trim some trees. Hey Bernie, bring your clippers next time so we can all stay in our boats.

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