|Another race day in the northeast...|
Wesley and Tim have established Rhode Island as the de facto surfski capital of New England through their tireless promotion of the sport. They've helped build a timeworn community of like-minded competitors that share a certain... dignified maturity. It seems, however, that we seasoned paddlers are losing our allure. The reassuring chorus of popping shoulders and the familiar odor of Bengay is no longer enough to maintain the duo's interest. While Wesley and Tim have drafted some age-appropriate recruits from the sailing community in Tim Hacket and Rob Myles, they've also been cruising the beaches of Narragansett Bay in search of fresher fare. They found it. Obsolescence will surely follow.
|Bob was dispensing vitamins freely before the race. I'm not sure whether it was the riboflavin or the niacin, but by the fifth stanza of the race, I was seeing flavors with some truly groovy textures.|
|At least one paddler came prepared for the future.|
|Taking visualization to new levels, Wesley competed without a paddle or boat. He wouldn't have even worn a PFD, but since it was already on when he woke up, he didn't bother taking it off.|
After last year's debacle, the race committee instituted a zero-tolerance policy for course-cutting in 2017. Any deviation from the sanctioned route would result in an immediate DQ. Was it my imagination, or were the guys looking right at me when relaying this new rule? In any event, like everyone else (right?) I turned in the signed and notarized form indicating that I fully understood the implications of the coincidentally-named "Lesher Clause".
|As Tim demonstrated, the penalty for cutting the course would be both severe and apt.|
Wesley soon counted us down to a rolling start. Youthful experimentation with a home gene-splicing kit having left me devoid of fast-twitch muscle fibers, I'm forced to rely on second-hand momentum from nearby paddlers to ease me off the line. By then abruptly sticking my paddle into the water, I'm able to pop the clutch on enough slow-twitch fibers to achieve self-sustaining locomotion. A half-mile or so later, I've steamed up to cruising velocity.
|I told Bruce that he wasn't going to sneak up on anyone in a white boat with a fluorescent yellow vest, but he insisted that his ninja training would protect him from detection.|
With Mike D frequently disappearing around bends in the river, I tried to focus on catching Jan. Perhaps we could work together to cut Mike's steadily increasing lead. A half-mile later, I settled onto his stern wash. I figured I'd just catch my breath for, say, forty-five minutes, then graciously offer to take a turn pulling over the final couple hundred meters. His new Nelo 560 wasn't providing the comfortable ride I had hoped for, however. The sweet spot on the draft seemed to be a foot or so behind where you'd expect, and I'm nothing if not unadaptable. Approaching the low bridge that precedes the widening of the river, I decided to catapult myself past Jan (a move best appreciated at 64x, as in my race video).
It became a point of pride to keep the glint of Mike D's paddle within eyeshot, but it was clear that nobody would be catching him today. Trying to focus on technique during the downriver portion turned out to be pointless, so I instead concentrated on a growing existential panic - my generation would soon be rendered irrelevant. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but, then again, maybe today. Despite throwing frequent glances over my shoulder (partially splayed fingers covering my eyes to temper the potential horror), I couldn't get a bead on Mike F until the downriver turn. The graceful arc I carved around the pilings had a radius about 10 meters larger than the narrowing river could accommodate, but by caroming off a wading fisherman I managed to get headed back upstream. The next time maybe he'll remember to wear his shin guards and helmet.
Shortly after completing the turn, I saw Mike F barreling towards me. I had less than a minute lead with 1.5 miles of upwind slog left. Doing some quick mental calculations, I estimated that if I could just keep my heart rate at X for the remainder of the race, I'd ensure myself of a second place finish. X seemed more like a number you'd apply to a bumblebee than a person, but what was I saving those beats for anyway? I pushed my way upwind back towards the finish, turning over all motor functions to my lizard brain so that I could truly savor the growing pain. I never managed to achieve that target heart rate, but I did work up quite a nectar deficit.
|Finally freed from our pogies, Mike and I made up for lost gesture time.|
Although Mike D would try to be the first to admit that comparing our performances wouldn't really be fair since he was in an ICF boat, I'm pretty sure I could beat him to the punch. And, in fact, I loudly inoculated myself from any expectations the instant I saw the K-1 on his car (while silently rubbing my hands together at the prospect of the extra SSR series points). Of course, the ICF-vs-surfski speed debate is the hot-button issue of these anxious times. But as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, "by all objective measures, proponents on both sides need to get a life." Let's just agree that, regardless of the hydrodynamic facts, I feel marginally better about being beaten this way by Mike. When he shows up in a 12 foot Pungo next race and still inevitably smokes me, that's going to sting a bit.
|Remember when I could make a reasonable claim on this being my boat?|
|As seen in this "before" picture, everybody arrived at the bar fully dressed.|