Dispatch 5 [2014]

04/14/14 AT 22:52:18

Proceed as the way opens...

These are words to live by.  I first read them in the book River Horse by William Least-Heat Moon.  He was on an extended boat journey and this was his mantra.  He understood that planning is wonderful and an excellent exercise... but that once out there, circumstances present themselves that will conflict with the best plans.  And one can either resist, or go with the flow.  There is wisdom in deciding which is best.

I can imagine that many of us have penciled out some plans for the race... where we hope to be and when... what places we'll meet ground crew and what places we will skip to avoid crowds... and even written down a finish time... gently, softly, barely visible...but soon darkened and impossible to erase...a goal that must be met at all costs.

Nothing at all wrong with the planning.  It's a very healthy process for figuring out how to tackle the race.  It shows you how tough it's going to be and that it certainly will require a diligent and consistent effort.  But to imagine that your formula sketched on those papers is the only way to make it happen... well, that's what they call hubris and it can get you in trouble.

Instead, proceed as the way opens.  Keep your plan A.  But be ready to execute plan F.  F can stand for lots of things.  Including Finish.

And you may be pleasantly surprised to find that adjusting your plans on the fly can be exhilarating.  Liberating.  And even accelerating. 

Let's take a few examples. 

#1 Your plans indicate you will stop at Hill's Island on night 1 and sleep for 2 hours.  As you approach Hill's Island, you realize you aren't really that tired.  In fact, you're feeling better than you've felt all day.  The sun is down, the moon is up.  You're paddling with some great people.  You want to go on but it will alter the arranged plans with your ground crew. 

Proceed as the way opens...

Text your ground crew and tell them you're pushing on to Miami.  Instead of getting there at 9am, you now think it will be more like 6am. 

#2 It's day 3 and you're exhausted.  Your plans were to get to Hermann before dark and get some sleep.  But the day is hot and you're fighting for every inch of river.  You're 30 miles from Hermann and the thought of cooking that long in the hot afternoon seems impossible. 

Proceed as the way opens.

Up ahead you see a little beach of sand behind a wing dike.  There's a shady spot up the bank under some cottonwoods.  You pull in behind the dike and beach your boat (where a safety boat can see it) and find a flat spot in the shade.  You text your ground crew and tell them you plan to rest during the heat of the day instead of the evening hours at Hermann.  You set your alarm and wake up with the sun much lower and cooler.  Back in the boat and energized you are paddling faster than before and now feel like you can push through the last 100 miles.

#3  Night 1 finds you arriving in Miami at 2am.  You are excited about your pace but your'e tired and need some rest.  You tell your ground crew to wake you at sunrise so you can get back out there.  At sunrise they rouse you but the river is buried in thick fog.  Your schedule tells you to go, go, go but the fog is too dangerous. 

Proceed as the way opens...

You realize that sleeping another hour now will set you behind the schedule you kept taped to your office wall back home... but you also realize that getting an extra hour now means you may be able to go further tonight than planned.  You curl back up into the sleeping back and say "One more hour"  Your ground crew gets your boat all prepped and wakes you as the fog burns off.  You catch up soon with some folks that tried to press into the fog.  They tell you it was a nightmare and they wasted 90 minutes being terrified and paddling in circles.  You, however, are disgustingly cheerful and rested.  They secretly despise you as you paddle away humming Jimmy Buffett songs. 

In short, I believe strongly in planning out your strategy for a successful finish.  Just be ready to adapt to what the river presents you.  Some will be great opportunities to leap forward.  Others will be great opportunities to regroup and rest.  An efficient racer will make the judgement of what makes the most sense... what is the risk vs. the reward.  There's no way to know until you're in the moment.  But being stuck on a schedule that ceases to make sense for the circumstances is a bad thing. 

Of course, all this assumes you are ahead of the cutoff times.  By banking some time in the first 24 hours, you've got the ability to flex a few hours here and there.  If your back is to the wall, your choices are limited.  A good first 24 hours sets you up for adapting to what comes your way.

I feel like we've drilled into your heads how important Day One is.  How you cannot call it a day at Waverly, just 73 miles into the race, and expect to finish.  At minimum, you need to reach Hills Island, (85 miles) AND be off the island as the sky starts to turn gray come morning.  Few things are more depressing that waking up, looking around and realizing yours is the last boat on the beach... the very last boat in the race... with nobody in sight ahead or behind.  This is true at every checkpoint that follows.  It's very hard to keep going if you're last.  Lucky for you, this is entirely in your control. 

Which leads us to our first question this week...

The weather has kept us out of the boat so far this spring.  What should we do if we can't paddle?

This race requires both physical and mental preparation.  Anything you can do to physically improve your core strength is good.  Pushups.  Pull ups.  These are easy things that anyone can work on without a gym membership.  And it's easy to see progress.  With 3 months before the race, you could see those pushups go from 5 in a row to 25 in a row.  How much stronger would that make you during the race?  It's a big difference.  Physically AND mentally. 

Because when you push yourself past your perceived limits... whether that's pushups, jogging or paddling... you learn that you CAN go farther.  Yeah, it hurts and sometimes it just plain sucks... but you can make it.  Good to start learning that now. 

Sign up for a 5k.  Go run that.  It will hurt.  But you will finish.  And you'll learn something about how to deal with that feeling of wanting to quit... wanting to walk...because it's normal.  But learning to fight past that feeling is what will separate you from those who do not finish the 340. 

How's the river looking this year?

It's low right now.  But that doesn't mean anything.  Snowfall in the mountains was far above normal this winter.  But the lakes built to hold that snowmelt were far below normal.  The lakes are now filling back up to "normal" pool... and they have large capacity beyond that to store flood water.  The smart people are telling me that this year should not be any higher flood risk than most.  But I feel like we're looking at high water in July.  I think the lakes will keep rising until late May and then they'll start having to let more out.  June is almost always high these days... even in dry years we get spikes that will exceed flood stage.  June is just a rainy month. 

High-ish water is not a 100% bad thing.  Paddlers love it.  Race directors do not.  We like the river low and boring.  With nice sandbars for sleepy paddlers.  We like lots of open shore line under the trees for you to pull over in a storm or fog. 

We will get whatever we get.  But if you like the water fast, I think it will be higher than we've had the last couple years.

I can no longer make the race.  I see that the roster is full.  Do I need to do anything so that someone else can sign up?

Not really.  We took 400 boats because we know that 15% (60 boats) will not show up.  We really don't want more than 340 boats to start out from Kaw Point.  You'll see why when you get to Lexington Day 1.  So if you fall into that 15% that won't be there, you're helping fulfill the prophecy.  If we take you off the roster and let someone else register who will show up, then we are going to end up with 400 boats...which is terrifying. 

We will know you aren't coming when you don't show up to the mandatory safety meeting the night before the race.  If you don't show up to that and sign in, we mark you as DNS (Did Not Start) in our system and we don't look for you at Lexington. 

Do you know anyone who rents boats for the race?

There are lots of folks in the race community that have good boats for rent.  Some of them post these on the forum at ; Others wait until they see someone post a request for a canoe or kayak. 

Is there a shuttle offered at the end of the race or some way to get my car/boat/person moved from St. Charles to KC before or after?

Most racers have a ground crew following them by car all the way, start to finish.  A few go unsupported and have to try and figure out the logistics of having a car at the end.  The best advice is to post your needs on the forum and see who can help.  Everyone who asks ends up getting some offers of help.  There are many paddlers at the finish line side of the state who have room in their vehicle for an extra person and boat.  There have also been local canoe outfitters who have set up rides from the finish to the starting line the day of the safety meeting for a fee. 

How would you rig your boat for night paddling?

Good nav lights.  Good meaning they are real...not just glow sticks.  Find some LED lights.  They sell these on Amazon.  They are about the diameter of a quarter and they are commonly used by bikers or joggers to be visible at night.  They burn 100 hours and are very bright.  They come in red and green and white (nav colors) as well as many others.  I'd put these on my boat well ahead of the race and then test them in the dark.  I'd put black gorilla tape over the portions of the lights that are shining in my face or on my back.  You need to be visible from the front, sides and rear.  This can be accomplished without having light spill onto you.  If the rear light is hitting your paddle you'll be blinded with each stroke.  Tape off the forward portion of that light so it doesn't shine on that 90 degrees that is you.  Same with the forward lights.

I'd have a good, strong LED flashlight that I kept handy.  This means it's velcroed or secured somewhere (out of the bilge water) that I can easily grab at night.  I would have a smaller red light for finding stuff in my boat at night.  This can be a headlamp or a hat light or clipped to my pfd.  I'd have reflective tape on my paddle so that if I somehow dropped it in the river I'd be able to see it by shining a light on it.  I'd have my spare paddle within reach.  I'd have everything important secured in my boat so that if I tipped in the dark I would be able to keep it all together.  My cell phone would be wrapped in a small dry back and somewhere I could get to it if I needed to at night.  I'd have enough food and liquids to get to me to the next checkpoint.  I'd have it handy so that I could keep eating all night because I know I'd get cold around 2am if I did not keep eating.  I'd have a rain jacket or windbreaker handy, not because it was going to rain but because I might get cold in the wee hours.  (Will seem impossible to you but does happen sometimes) 

I would have some familiarity, at least on paper, with the stretch of river I planned to run that night.  I'd know what mile marker was the next checkpoint but I'd also know where the other boat ramps or good landing spots were.  I'd know the weather forecast for that night.  I'd watch the skies.  I'd watch for fog.  I'd stick with some other paddlers so that the miles would go faster and I'd have someone to talk to.  I'd listen for the sound of rushing water and shine my light out there to see if it was a buoy, a log or a wing dam.  I'd stay in the middle, more or less.  I'd love the moon.  If I started getting a little cold or a little drowsy I'd sprint for 50 yards then grab a mouthful of food.  I'd sing badly.  I'd tell bad jokes.  I'd try not to look at the clock too much.  I'd try to catch the next set of nav lights up ahead.  I'd anticipate the sunrise.  I'd gush about its beauty when it actually came up.

How fast will the first boats get there?

Depends a bunch on how high the water is, but 38 hours is a fair guess.  So, doing the math, if 340 boats start and about 100 pull out and don't finish, we'll have 240 boats finishing between 38 and 88 hours.  That's a 50 hour window which is 3000 minutes.  3000/240 = 12.5.  Which means in theory we'll have a boat landing in St. Charles every 12 minutes or so starting Wednesday night.  But there's a bit of a bell curve as you might imagine.  Slightly skewed towards 65-75 hours.

Can I have a new ground crew take over part way through the race?

Sure.  Just make sure that the contact number we have for your ground crew is someone who can take calls from us the entire time.  For example if Uncle Jerry is your ground crew day 1 and 2, then hands it off to Cousin Larry, make sure that if we call Uncle Jerry on day 3 trying to find you, he will know how to get a hold of Cousin Larry and get us the information we need.

Will my son/daughter/wife/husband be near a safety boat at all times out there?

Depends on what you mean by near.  Will they see one at all times?  No.  Not all the time.  But we've learned pretty well where to position our boats over the previous 8 years.  Day 1, they will see a bunch of safety boats as we'll all be pretty clumped together.  But as the paddlers spread out, so do our safety boats.  There will be a safety boat at each checkpoint, day and night.  If there is not one there, it means that one just left to help someone or a new one is almost there from an upstream location.  We also sprinkle them at strategic spots between checkpoints where we've learned they can do the most good.  The boats are rarely called on for a dramatic rescue of any kind.  Usually, someone is sick (puking) or injured (shoulder, wrist, elbow) and is having trouble making the next checkpoint.  Sometimes after a storm we find and aid the hypothermic, shivering so badly they can't paddle.  All paddlers should be prepared to spend a night out there, wherever they are, waiting for a safety boat.  Sometimes conditions do not allow for immediate aid.  If there is heavy fog or bad weather, we don't send our boats into danger.  If the paddler has landed and is otherwise ok, he or she needs to be prepared to hunker down and wait.  But overall, our response time averages minutes, not hours, from the time we get the call.  It's rare that a paddler is ever more than 10 miles from a safety boat in either direction.  Which translates to less than 30 minutes from help in most cases.  Also note, all the other canoes and kayaks are available to help if there is a need.  We have many great stories of fellow paddlers seeing one of their own in trouble and offering on the spot aid until a safety boat can arrive.  This is every paddler's responsibility and privilege. 

Enough fun for tonight.  Keep reading the forum and asking questions.  All previous 2014 dispatches can be found there if you're just joining the fun.  Here's the link: ;


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