Dispatch 3 [2015]

05/25/15 AT 07:46:01

How's it going?  Getting excited yet?  We are just a little over two months from the start of the race!!!

Check the roster here and make sure you're info is correct...

Some of you owe me a new boat number... send that to as soon as possible.

Some more of you are missing your partners!  We really need to get that squared away so that we can get shirts, insurance, etc. figured out.  Every year this lingers into the night of the safety meeting and creates headaches. 

Let's get all partners registered by June 15th.  Tell them to get it done quickly!

We've covered a bunch of topics in the first two dispatches.  Be sure to go back and read them.  They can be found here:

Topics include:

-Let the river move you (stay in the boat)
-Make the first 24 hours count (don't sleep in Waverly)
-Respect the barges and dredges (stay out of their way)
-Learn the channel (fast water is faster than slow water)

For this dispatch, let's start with FOG.

I believe we've had some fog every year.  Some years it's mild and little more than a nuisance, lasting just an hour or so with decent visibility remaining.  Other years, it's so thick you can not see shore 10 feet away. 

Let me start by saying that paddling in thick fog is a foolish and dangerous thing to do.  Many people attempt it with a gps.  I am not sure these folks understand what a gps actually does.  It does NOT magically know what is ahead of you.  It only knows where you are in relationship to a map on the screen.  It is not radar.

Things a gps won't show you.
Moving barge.
Parked barge.
Sand dredge.
Fishing boats.
Bridge piers. 
Piles of logs pinned to bridge piers.

Fog is a strange phenomenon in that it can be very localized.  You can be paddling in relatively clear conditions and then paddle right into a wall of fog.  Usually, there are some telltale signs that fog is building.  It generally starts with thin wisps rising up out of the water.  This can go on for miles and may never build into that wall... but if you see the wisps, you should start being alert for worsening conditions.  You won't even see the wisps until you use a flashlight.  Only then do you notice them.  But you'll quickly see that these wisps begin to make the flashlight less effective as the beam gets reflected back at you.  If the fog thickens, it doesn't take long before you're running blind.  So, once you start seeing the early stages of fog, you should be ready for a possible quick landing.  This doesn't mean you have to land as soon as you see that first dusting of low fog... it just means that you should constantly be spotting landing areas in case it worsens quickly.  It's really about awareness of the shoreline and a plan for getting there if things get bad. 

It's not about going fast in these conditions (thin wisps of low fog) but about transiting from good landing option to good landing option until you're through the patch.

Please understand that when I say thin wisps of fog I'm talking about good visibility where you can still see both shores in the moonlight and can see well ahead.  The thin fog is only visible when a flashlight is applied.  This type of condition is common and very manageable.  Again, you can see both shores and any obstacles ahead.  The wisps are just a sign to be ready for worse.

If the fog is blowing across the surface, (5-6 inches high) it's a good sign that the wind is too strong for it to pile up.  But problems can occur around a bend where the wind is calm and the fog stacks. 

So, we take it a couple hundred yards at a time... spotting landing zones to the left and right and ready for anything.  If you see the treeline on either shore vanish ahead, it's time to land and get some rest.

Storms are another part of the routine experience during the 340.  Most years we experience rain and a little thunder.  Some years we've had some intense storms.  We can't start the race in a thunderstorm so if there is one at the starting line we will delay until it passes. 

But once you're out in the wild those decisions lie with you.  Storms, like fog, can be very localized.  One portion of the course may be in bright sunshine while another is under a storm.  It's each paddlers responsibility to use common sense and make a good decision about severe weather.

No race is worth getting struck by lightning.  If there is lighting around you, please get off the river.  Even a near strike that renders you unconscious will kill you if you're on the water and upside down.  Get to shore and wait it out. 

High wind can also be a danger on the water.  I've seen the river thrashed into a white capped frenzy during a storm at night.  It would be impossible to keep a boat upright in those conditions.  So when you see a storm approaching (distant thunder or lightning, drop in temperature, change in wind) start to find a place to hunker down.

Awareness of weather conditions via weather radio or phone app is crucial.  If you know there is a chance for overnight thunderstorms, you will grab what you need from your ground crew like a change of clothes, rain gear, maybe a small tent, etc. 

A simple rule of thumb is to treat weather just like you would on a camping trip or a day of paddling.  Just because it's a race doesn't mean that you should keep paddling in a lightning storm.  If you react like you would during any other outdoor activity, you'll likely make the correct decision.

Paddling in the rain (no lightning) can be a great experience if you have the right equipment.  If you're wet and shivering it's not good and can actually get dangerous.  We routinely pick up folks between midnight and 4am who are nearly hypothermic.  Even on a dry night with no rain or fog!  This always comes as a shock to them because it's been brutally hot all day and even the nights are muggy and warm often never getting cooler than 80 degrees.  So how do they end up shivering?

Remember that you are burning a tremendous amount of calories and your energy reserves will get depleted.  Often folks will be in a severe calorie deficit.  The fire inside them is very low on fuel.  And their body has been working all day to stay cool in the hot sun and warm 90+ degree air.  Then night comes and the beastly sun goes down.  There is condensation and dampness that happens on the river so their lightweight t shirt and shorts get wet.  Soon they start shivering to the point where it's tough to even paddle.

For these reasons, a good windbreaker or rain jacket is good to have aboard at night, even if no rain is forecast.  Put the rain jacket on under your REQUIRED PFD.  This will trap a bunch of heat.  Also, remember to eat and keep eating so your body has fuel to burn.  And finally, keep paddling.  Do a few sprints from time to time to keep the blood flowing and heart rate up.  This will keep you alert and warm. 

Top reasons safety boats get called to pick up paddlers.
(in no particular order)

-joint or muscle injury
-equipment failure
-partner wants to quit

Speaking of quitting partners, it's a good idea to discuss how this will look before the race ever starts.  Each partner will go through highs and lows out there physically and mentally.  Understanding that these feelings will ebb and flow throughout the week is powerful knowledge.  You can feel terrible and a few hours later be laughing and paddling strong. 

But sometimes conditions conspire to make a race un-finishable for a team.  I've witnessed many of these negotiations to quit out on the water or at a checkpoint.  A common dynamic is that both partners want to quit... but neither partner wants to be the one to quit first.  This seems to be especially true with male paddlers.  They want the other one to quit so they can go back to work and say, "I wanted to keep going, but Billy didn't"  Well, Billy wants to say the same thing about Tommy.  This manifests itself out there with circular discussions about what the other guy wants to do or not do. 

Paddlers that have trained together a bunch don't usually have this problem because they've laid the groundwork for how to communicate and live in a boat.  If you and your partner haven't had this chance, you can at least work out ahead of time what a DNF (did not finish) should look like. 

If you've banked some time then you may only need a little sleep or a shower or a warm meal to get the energy to continue.  Sometimes just finding the right group to paddle with can lift your spirits and get you through a rough patch.  Setting small goals to break up a leg of the race can help... Like stopping on a sandbar for a swim or cracking open a cold drink at the halfway mark between checkpoints...  turning on the baseball game on a small radio... 

To some extent you have to be your partner's psychologist and she needs to be yours.  Coach each other through the worst moments.  Make sure they're eating and drinking... and that they understand that just because they've felt like crap for the last 20 miles, doesn't mean the next 200 are going to feel that way. 

But if the time comes to quit, let your partner do it in a way that saves face and dignity.  Use words like, "WE just aren't feeling it this year."  "WE have decided to pull out at the next checkpoint." 

Sometimes a partner wants to continue on to race after losing a paddler.  This is allowed but also requires some thought ahead of time.  It's easy enough for a 5 person boat to lose a paddler or two and keep going... but a 2 person boat dropping to one is difficult.  It happens every year and there are successful finishes, but this again should be talked about with the partner who will likely have to ride along in the support vehicle for the remainder of the race. 

Please note: Whatever division you start in is the division you finish in... regardless of paddlers lost.  A tandem division boat that finishes with just one paddler is still considered a tandem division boat.

Another question:  Can a partner leave the boat for one leg of the race and then get back in later?  Answer: NO.  Once a partner has missed a portion of the race course, they are no longer allowed to get back in.


Things you should be working on now...

Core strength (back, abs, chest)  Pushups, pullups, yoga, PADDLING, weights.

Losing excess weight (every ounce of weight costs energy to move it 340 miles.  Losing 10 pounds makes a big difference)

Build endurance (this is as mental as it is physical.  Develop a good relationship with discomfort.  Paddling is the best experience but biking or running are good substitutes.  It's about understanding your pain and knowing you can push through and survive it. 

Get your boat and gear ready.  (minimize weight, plan where you want stuff and what you really need.)

Planning with ground crew.  (Huddle over maps, discuss alternate meeting places, teach them to boss you and push you.)

Practice a wet entry into your boat.  (what happens if you flip over mid river?  You should be able to figure out how to get back in.  Practice this in shallow calm water at a lake.  How will you be able to collect your gear and keep it all together?  Figure out how to secure gear in the boat, how to pump or bail it out and climb back in.  Hint:  Sometimes it's better to leave some water in for stability until you're back in the boat, then bail it out... understanding the dynamics of your boat and how this all works is good to do BEFORE it happens on the river.)

Enough for now... more to come soon!


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