06/29/14 AT 00:17:18
The Final Countdown
If you're reading this Sunday we have 8 days until we gather at the safety meeting.
There's not much left to say! Most of it has been said before. Re-read your dispatches and hit me with questions, email@example.com
As always, a reminder to check the roster and verify your information is correct. Make sure your boat number is listed. If not, it means you have a bad boat number and we need you to choose a new one. You do NOT want to have to deal with this at check in Monday night. Much better to have all this sorted ahead of time.
Also, take the time to find your boat at www.raceowl.com and make sure we've got it all correct there as well.
Speaking of Monday night, let's drill down to what that will look like.
Our team will be at Kaw Point early. Probably around 8am or before, launching safety boats and securing them. Our security guys will be helping with that and will remain on site continuously the next 24 hours. You are welcome to leave your boat there as well. Place it along the trail from the ramp to the confluence. They've asked we not put them on the trail but anywhere else if fine.
Vehicle traffic to the lower level of Kaw Point Park will be prohibited starting at 5am Tuesday (race morning) This is by order of the fire department. They want foot traffic only after 5am. So you'll need to carry your boat down from the parking lot Tuesday morning if arriving after 5am. If you stage your boat Monday, it's already down there. Either way, no big deal. But if you don't have a ground crew to help you carry your boat, you may want to be sure and stage it the day before.
Be aware of the weather when making the decision to stage your boat. If you have a delicate 28 pound surfski and there are thunderstorms and high winds predicted Monday night, best not to leave it there. If you have an aluminum tank, it will probably be fine.
After our team launches boats we move on up to the hotel. Likely by noon. We will then organize the check in which formally starts at 2pm but informally starts as soon as we get the tables set up. If you're staying in the hotel, mosey on down early and take care of business. It will get crowded. Check in is supposed to all happen 2-6pm prior to the 7pm safety meeting.
At check in you will sign your name a few times and you'll verify that we've got your ground crew information correct, boat color correct, boat number correct, etc. If you have changes required that night you have to move to a separate line and get those made. Best to take care of all your changes now. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with these asap. It will speed up check in.
Scott Lane and Rob Foster of the Miner's Bluff Band will be performing in the ballroom like last year. And the hotel will offer a buffet there if you're interested. Safety meeting will start at 7pm. We are usually done by 8pm. I linger to answer last minute questions afterwards. But the place is pretty empty by 9pm. If you're full of nervous energy, feel free to help us carry everything out to the parking lot. Everything there has to get to St. Charles by boat or car.
After that a few of us end up at Kaw Point. It's usually a pretty night with the lights of the city on the water and the moon out.
Many folks have been asking about the river conditions and it's meant a lot of sleepless nights (including tonight) watching radars and gauges and forecasts. Very frustrating with storm after storm hitting upstream of us and causing high water here. Right now, all signs point to a go for July 8th. The water is high right now but they are still calling for a fast fall the week prior to the race. Projections right now are for about 60,000-70,000 cfs. That is a pretty user friendly range. It would be considered a high water year, but far from the highest we've had. We ran at 90,000 cfs back in 2010. And we ran at about 70,000 in 2011. Both years were easy on paddlers. We warned folks that they were getting spoiled by the high water and sure enough, 2012 and 2013 were much lower. But you're hopping onto a high water year.
The plus side is obvious. A river about 6 feet higher than last year means better speed and shorter split times between checkpoints. It means the Reaper is less likely to be breathing down your neck. It means you can probably carry less water between checkpoints which makes you even faster.
The downsides are not to be ignored. There are fewer places between checkpoints to get rest or pull off the river. Many of the wing dikes will be under water... which means folks will struggle with staying in the channel. When the water is low, it's easy. When the water is high it's tougher to know where the channel is. Invariably we see folks during high water years paddling right over the submerged dikes. They are then placing themselves in the slowest of slow water... sometimes water that is actually eddying back UPSTREAM. So a high river requires a bit more skill at reading.
And because you're moving faster, you have to be that much more vigilant for things to avoid. Bridge piers, sand dredges, rogue buoys, partially submerged dikes, parked barges, moving barges, etc. It will be more important than ever to use good judgement on whether or not conditions are safe for paddling. Things that impact your visibility, like fog or rain, should be weighed appropriately when deciding to press on at night.
Also during high water we see more of the boils and whirlpools on the face of the water and these tend to freak people out who haven't been on the river much. They are rarely an issue and the worst they can do is shove the nose or stern of your boat around a little as you glide over. If there is a problem it's usually because the paddler get nervous seeing a boil or whirlpool ahead and they over correct or whiff a stroke of the paddle and get tipsy. But honestly, you'll be bored of the whirlpools and boils by 2pm of day 1. You'll wish there were more of them. Until dark. Then they will freak you out all over again.
With high water it becomes easier than ever to find a group and stick together. The groupings tend to be bigger during high water years. People tend to get ahead and bank some time against the cutoffs. So they slow down and enjoy the river and each other.
Because many of our sandbars where we station safety boats will now be submerged, we will adapt and our team will find likely spots to tie off and be there for you. This is especially true night 1 when we know many of you are having your first night paddling experience. We still plan to have a boat at Hills Island, most likely on the upstream end (head). At the head, there is usually a steep patch of sand with room for many boats and a fire. As you know, this will be the home of last place night 1. But with high water there will likely be fewer boats there and more folks pressing for Miami.
Which means Miami will be crazy crowded night 1. I mean, it's always crazy crowded at Miami...but it evens out. Because a bunch of you who would have stopped at Miami will press on to Glasgow. Everyone moves up a notch in a high water year.
Hard to imagine we won't get some rain or a storm. Everyone should have what they need to weather a storm out there if it comes. Being aware of the forecast is important. If your crew or team doesn't have a weather radio, ask a safety boat for the forecast. Most of our boats have weather radios and we are hyper aware of what's coming.
Invariably after some rain at night we get calls from people freezing cold and shivering too much to paddle. A $3 poncho the size of a poptart could have saved their race. We'll come get you as fast as we can. But depending on conditions and your location, it could be a couple hours at night. Buy the poncho or a rain jacket and stash it on your boat if rain is forecast. You will not regret it.
And remember, storms don't last forever and the sun comes up eventually. The last year we had a river like this was 2011, the October race. We had a bad storm night two that knocked a bunch of people out of the race by morning. Cold and discouraged. But day 3 and 4 were absolutely beautiful. Sunny and mild. You'll hit some low lows out there, for sure. But the good times are never far behind. Just grind it out until you find them.
I'm going to go now and look at radars and gauges and shake a fist at the sky. Meantime I'll keep packing boats and getting ready. Gotta proceed as the way opens.
We are gonna have so much fun.