05/26/16 AT 13:41:16
Fog And Other Weather
Ah, the fog dispatch. Frequently ignored, with regret, by dozens of paddlers each year. But for those who are smart enough to read on, here you go.
We will have fog at some point of the race. It's a given. Some years it's light enough to pick your way through. Others it is so thick you can't see the nose of your boat and you should absolutely pull over.
But wait! you say... I have a gps with a map of the river. I can paddle by staring at my screen and keeping the little triangle in the middle of the lines, right.
Right. You can keep in the middle of the river. But what else is in the middle of the river with you? A buoy? Made of steel and cabled to a cement block on the river bed? How about a dredge moored midstream? What about a barge moving upstream? His pilothouse up so high he can see above the fog... not to mention his radar. A heavy fog settled on the river 20 feet deep isn't going to slow him down. And when he hits you he won't even feel it. Or know it.
Every year we post this and every year we say it in the safety meeting. And sure enough every year there will be fog building one night starting around 3am. I will be at a checkpoint having barely made it in before things got too nasty. And I'll sit and watch 6 or 7 boats take off into the fog. I'll give my little speech and they'll tell me not to worry. By 7am when the fog has lifted I'll pass them and they'll almost invariably say it was a bad decision. They got turned around or separated and struggled to make it back to some desolate shore where the muddy steep bank was inhospitable and they spent those hours hanging on to a tree root and wishing they never left.
Would you ever paddle the Missouri at night, blindfolded? Neither would I. But our faith in our phones or GPS units makes us feel invincible. But so much can go wrong.
I understand that it's a race and laying over for a few hours seems like bad strategy, but suffering out on the river paddling terrified figure 8s is not helping. Spending those few hours catching some good, healing sleep will pay dividends for the rest of the race. So when the fog gets thick, do everyone a favor and find a good place to pull over and rest. It won't be that long before you're back on the water.
If you really want to talk strategy, let's talk about making the most of when conditions are near perfect. When the moon is bright and the sky is clear and you're alert and efficient...KEEP GOING. Wait until one of your variables fails you. Too tired to focus? Pull over. Fog starts building? Pull over. Storm starts brewing? Pull over. But if all those boxes are unchecked and life is good... keep making miles. Because there absolutely will come a time when you will have a convincing reason to get off the river and rest. Lack of alertness or visibility are two very good ones.
Storms are another given for the 340. At minimum, we will typically see rain. Again, common sense is key. If you were on your own on a multi day expedition and the wind picked up and lightning became visible and audible, you'd of course pull off the river and hunker down until it passed. Same logic should be followed during the 340. There will not be some signal issued from us for you to take cover. We are too busy taking cover. And we are assuming you're doing the same. Our safety boats and shore side volunteers are all behaving in this common sense way and so will most paddlers and ground crews. Please pull off the river while conditions will allow for a safe, controlled landing at a site of your choosing.
Sounds impossible during a midwest summer, I know. But we see near cases every year. Especially after a rainstorm at night. Your body regulates temperature by burning calories if you're cold or sweating if you're hot. You will be burning massive amounts of calories this week. Some will even get into a caloric deficit where they are burning more than they are taking in. This won't last long as you will bonk and be unable to find the energy to keep going. But when this happens you will also start to shiver and you're at risk of hypothermia.
When we pull a paddler off the water with these symptoms we do a couple things right away. We make sure they are in dry clothes and we get them into a sleeping bag aboard a safety boat. We also feed them. Food is the fuel their body needs to warm back up. But it's hard to eat if you're shivering uncontrollably.
So there are some obvious things to prevent this situation. One is to be ready for the nighttime temperatures. It may only get down to 80 degrees overnight, but that's still cooler than your 98.6. Plus, you'll be wet. It's a good idea to bring a windbreaker aboard at night. These weigh next to nothing but can feel really good. Put it on and then put your required PFD over the jacket. This will trap the heat and keep you going. You are also required to have a foil "space" blanket for each paddler aboard your boat. These are super handy and can warm you right up if you pull over to sleep. I've also seen people wrap their torso in these and then put the PFD on over it to stay warm at night.
Another strategy that works if you feel the shivers coming on is to do some sprints. These can and probably should be short. 20-30 strokes just to get the blood flowing. This can warm you right up but ONLY if you've been eating.
Try to keep your food intake consistent. You should introduce a pretty steady stream of calories. Some of this can be via what you're drinking but you should also be eating to prevent stomach problems. There's a temptation to buy lots of gel packs and things to get your calories and these are fine to have along if you've trained with them but you shouldn't introduce a bunch of new stuff the week of the race.
This is a chance to eat lots of fatty junk food and burn it off by the time it hits your stomach. Think of your body as a bonfire quickly converting fuel into energy. You would want to feed that fire steadily to keep it at maximum burn. Let it die too low, you got problems. Overload it with too many logs, you can slow it down. You have to find that sweet spot where you're snacking steadily and keeping your energy up. This will help you regulate energy and temperature. Especially at night.
Peanuts and chips are great quick energy food to have on your boat. They both come in handy waterproof packaging and are easy to shove in your mouth and keep paddling. Everyone has their own secret formula for what to bring and when to eat it. You should be training with this in mind or doing some of the other races with this goal. Be aware that if you are your partner aren't drinking or eating very much, there is a problem brewing. If you don't "feel" hungry and you've been paddling all day, that's a bad sign. Try eating something and get your stomach kick started again.
You will get some crazy cravings out there. And maybe you're an ultra vegan while training but you're body might be demanding a juicy double cheeseburger with onions and peanut butter during the race. It's likely your body is smarter than you in these moments and you should follow your innermost caveman. There will be food served by volunteer scout groups and the like at most checkpoints. Your ground crew will also be eager to bring you food. Don't hesitate to request what sounds good and enjoy it.
Please don't skip this.
This will be a test of your body unlike anything most of you have ever done. It will call for a super human effort. Your body can do it, if you give your body what it needs to do it.
There is no perfect substitute for training to learn what your body needs for fluid intake. Because of this, there is a tendency to carry far too much liquid aboard your boat. This is better than not enough, but because there is an efficiency penalty for carrying extra weight, it's good to figure what you'll need.
Doing some 30-40 mile trips paddling at a moderate pace would be a good way to estimate. That's roughly the distance between checkpoints. A couple are longer but you'll have a good idea what you need. Like food, you want to keep sipping that liquid as you paddle so your body's cooling system works properly.
Many different hydration systems can be rigged on your boat so that you don't even have to stop paddling to drink. Systems designed for bike racing are handy for canoe racing with drink tubes and bite valves sitting right under your chin and ready for sipping.
As for what to drink, that's also a function of personal preference and training. There are some rules of thumb.
1. AVOID High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
This is good advice for everyone, period. HFCS is a food industry shortcut to increase profits. It is not good for your body. Especially not in a high stress environment. It's used to sweeten food and drinks because it's cheaper than good old sugar. But your body knows what to do with sugar. It has a harder time with HFCS. It can cause stomach cramps and worse. Don't let it on your boat. Most soda like Coke has it now, sadly. But you can find some varieties that are going back to real sugar. Throwback Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper all exist and are easy to find. These are great things to have in your ground crew vehicle for a special boost on the river. And obviously make sure any type of sport hydration drink does not contain HFCS. Gatorade does not contain it anymore. But some do.
2. Water is great, but...
Nothing wrong with good old, ice cold water. But because you're going through literally gallons a day, you have to be sure you're replacing electrolytes. Lack of electrolytes has killed ultra marathon racers. Electrolytes are found in almost everything we eat, so if you're eating real food and drinking water, you are most likely fine. Some drinks, like gatorade, contain electrolytes.
Some folks will mix gatorade and water so they have a less sweet drink that they enjoy. Also fine. But under all circumstances, you should be eating salty, fatty foods on a routing basis for best results.
3. Keep it cool.
You will help your body regulate temperature during the hot days by drinking cool liquids. Having a ground crew makes this easy. When you pull up they take out your warm, nearly empty jugs and replace them with full, iced down drinks.
The number one physical ailment that has sent racers home early is heat exhaustion. It seems to be especially common on day one and most common among those in the middle to front of the pack. These folks are pushing hard to pass or not be passed and so they ride close to their limit for extended periods. Like any machine pushed hard, things can fail and fall apart. We have to be aware of our limits and watch for signs. Headache, nausea, lethargy, incoherence, cramping... all signs of impending, spiraling problems. Well before the cramping or incoherence, there are things that you and your ground crew should be doing.
1. Drink steadily the appropriate, cool liquids.
2. Slow down.
3. Stay wet. (you're surrounded by 80 degree water. Use it. Especially on your head)
4. Wear protective clothing to block sun. (hats, light colored wicking paddling shirts, sunscreen)
The above are things you do to maintain a healthy equilibrium so there are NOT problems. If problems do manifest either on the water or at a checkpoint. Stop and ask for help! Things can go bad very quickly. We've had ambulances at Lexington more times than I can count. If things are getting bad out on the water, flag down a safety boat or another paddler and ask for help.
What should you do as a ground crew or paddler if you are with someone who needs help?
If another paddler flags you down or you notice a paddler in a poor state, act fast. Recruit other paddlers if available. If it's heat distress, try to get them to shallow water immediately. A sandbar or gently sloping bank is ideal. Use your phone to contact our safety team and we'll send a safety boat right away. If the situation has reached the point of calling 911, absolutely do so, but also contact us because our boats can get there faster and can assist until help arrives.
If on a sandbar or shallow, slack water area, a responsive paddler can immerse themselves by sitting in the water. This will cool them quickly. Try to shade them as much as possible. If the paddler is NOT responsive or even close to borderline, keep them on firm ground and keep them wet and shaded until help arrives. PFD should remain on if near the water.
Best case scenario is nobody gets to the point where they can't manage their own cooling. If you are being proactive and honest with yourself you'll be smart and make adjustments well before things get bad. Slow down, stay wet, stay hydrated.
Apps and Gadgets.
Each year the paddler has more information at their fingertips while out on the water. Because a phone is required, many folks take their trusty smartphone and requisite waterproofing and charging gear along. Some apps you should consider...
Jon Marble (MarbleWare)
MR340 PRO Paddler
MR340 Checkpoint Texter
Both are great and will give you and your ground crew easy options for texting in at each checkpoint. PRO Paddler has some really nifty navigation and speed stuff too.
Shows radar and predictive path of storms up to one hour.
And a reminder that there is a great book about the 340 written by a paddler available on Amazon in paperback or electronically.
We are still waiting for a handful of TBD partners. Please get this handled asap so we can finalize our planning for July!
It's going to be a blast!