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Run of the Charles, April 25th

Dee Hall

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I decided to enter the 19-mile Run of the Charles race this past January as motivation to get my butt into the gym each week. I decided to use the Yare that I bought from Adam because of it's weight (25lbs) and the 6 portages. (Unfortunately, it's weight puts it into the racing class even though it is much shorter than the other racing boats.)

Last week, while downloading the directions to the race I discovered that the six portages involved more distance than I expected - 1.5 miles total. I also saw pictures of (gulp) whitewater. Not a problem in my Currituck, but that Yare sure is tippy.

The K-1 racing class was the fourth class to start, the first kayak class. There were two capsizes in the starts before us. Boy, swimming a fully-swamped canoe to the side of the river looks like a real drag. I am really glad I had a sprayskirt. There are about 15 kayaks at my start, all of them much longer than the Yare. Few people wearing sprayskirts. There are also a lot of wing paddles to be seen. At the whistle, all of the other racers start what looks like a sprint to me. I don't try to keep up, I know that I can't sprint for 19 miles.

After the first mile, there is only one person who was within shouting distance of me. After the second mile he is also out of range. It looks like it was going to be quite peaceful for the next 3 miles. A few late starters pass me in the next couple of miles. Then the next three kayaks to pass me have wheels on their decks (recreational class which was scheduled to start 6 minutes after us.) The third passes me right before the first portage, it's Pam.

Pam has the kayak onto the wheels in seconds, just a little longer than it takes me to curl the Yare up onto my left shoulder. Then she runs up the hill and is out of sight before I have staggered half-way up. Ooh, this is more difficult than I had imagined. My left shoulder is definitely not my portaging shoulder. 300 yards later I am out of breath while getting back into my boat, and I have much longer portages ahead of me! I struggle for about 15 seconds with my sprayskirt while the first canoeist to pass me practically jumps into his boat.

Then I am off, paddling around a bend to see - the second portage right in front of me! I feel pretty silly taking my sprayskirt off again. Up another hill, and down the other side again. Huffing and puffing a little less this time; the right shoulder is definitely better. This time the spray skirt goes right on.

During the next two miles I pass the single canoeist and am passed by a man and woman in a canoe who are really digging in. Then comes the worst part, the 1/2 mile portage through Newton Lower Falls. I get out of my boat at a steep bank. As I start to pick up my boat, the current grabs it and pulls it under, flooding the cockpit. Time to bail. I am glad that I threw a small bailer in.

20 seconds later I have the water bailed out, kayak on my shoulder, and paddle in hand. For this leg I have a pad for my shoulder I carved out of minicell. Turns out it is too slippery when wet, so I dispense with it after a less than 100 yards. Bob and Ryan accompany me on this trek down route 16, through the village center, and across a large parking lot. Bob lets me know that he can have a sandwich ready for me at the next takeout. I reply that I don't think I am going to need to eat before the end of the race, but I have one inside my boat. A couple in a double kayak pass me, running. Again, I am out of breath.

The next few miles I didn't see a soul except for the single canoeist who is still behind me. After the first mile I start to bonk. Guess I'll be eating that sandwich after all. I down a fruit leather and keep going. I am passed by a second tandem canoe, another man and woman. I pass the starting line for the 9-mile races where it is very quiet. I guess they are already gone. Bob and Ryan wave.

The next portage is 1/3 mile through downtown Waltham. Bob and Ryan are ready to walk with me again, but I stop to eat 2/3 of a sandwich. This portage seems much easier than the previous ones. Back in my boat and off again. The river is narrow here and moving quite fast. I pass a construction site that looks too small for a road bridge, maybe a foot bridge. There is a long, wooden ramp through the woods. Probably a new bike trail. I start to pass other canoes and kayaks, realizing after 3 or 4 that these are from the 9 mile races.

The next portage is short, 200 yards. I find it quite easy, yet a guy in a much shorter kayak passes me at the put-in tossing his boat onto the bank with a resounding bonk. The water is moving briskly here too. Around the next bend I see an overfall up ahead, then I notice the granite shards on either side. This is the so-called Broken Dam. As instructed, I run this right of center, paddling hard. I get a face full of water from one wave. When I open my eyes, there is a big concrete wall in front of me. I continue digging in and sail pass, but I look back to see a canoe in a bit of trouble. It's too dicey here to see how it ends.

The final portage is the easiest. I guess I am getting the hang of this, but the last three miles seem very long. The river widens and the current slackens. Then I get hit by the wind. Feels like about 12 knots. A few more tandem canoes pass me as we approach kayakers coming from the other direction. The 6-mile races. For a couple of hundred yards it is like playing dodge ball. I pass Brenda who I shout out to, then Sean who shouts to me. Finally, I see the finish line. I start digging in again and pass the line with the sort of speed I haven't had for at least 10 miles. The clock on shore reads 2:20. We were scheduled to start at 10:36. I am a little disappointed. My splits at the third and fourth portages were only a couple of minutes off of a 3 1/2 hour pace. I guess I slowed down.

As soon as I get out of the water I start to feel very cold. The sun is behind the clouds and the wind is brisk. I am really glad I have someone else there to help with the kayak.

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You had me fooled; you were looking good as you went paddling by! I admire your resolve to take that course on so early in the season.

I had the so-so day I expected as it was the first time I'd been in the boat for about a year! Unfortunately, they got my category wrong so my posted time is a couple minutes longer than it was supposed to be--don't the organizers know that the male ego is a fragile thing?!? Anyway, you looked good in the home stretch and I managed to beat the "rabbits" I had picked out to chase, so it was a good paddle all around.


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I'm not sure I have the bug yet. We'll see after the Blackburn.

A friend from college contacted me yesterday and asked if I want to run the ROTC in a canoe with him next year. The idea of racing with company has a lot more appeal than portaging alone again.

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