Aspen Adventures

Canal Ambush Triathlon Parts III & IV

Part Three – 1.8m paddle

Sooner than I expected I was up and over the interstate and heading back to the bike drop.  I got off of my bike onto wobbly legs and jogged over to my boat.  I grabbed the front handle and started to drag it to the launch.  The volunteer from earlier grabbed the back handle as I was halfway there and said he would’ve helped me.  I lightheartedly said something close to “if you really want to help you can paddle this thing to the finish”.  He declined, but it got some laughs from the people who heard.  I asked him if I needed to wear my life jacket and he said no, it just needed to be in the boat per regulations.  Perfect.  I had hoped this was the case, as it is the law, but didn’t know if the race would require us to actually wear them.

The launch was quick and I thanked the man for his help before I scooted away.  Right away we had to go through a large tube to get under the road.  I accidentally bumped into the lady in front of me an apologized, but she wasn’t worried.  She said she would be out of my way shortly.  I told her not to worry about it, I was a strong paddler but had steering issues, which made her laugh.

Photo from Canal Ambush's Facebook page.
Photo from Canal Ambush’s Facebook page.

I let her pick a side before I quickly moved past.  This was not going to be a leisurely paddle, I had to boogy and make up time.  At this point the wind was definitely the most difficult to battle.  We were going downstream, not that it mattered.  The Hennepin Canal is nice for some things, but for kayaking, eh, not so much.  There’s no current and little variety in the scenery, so even short distances seem to take a long time.  On top of that, we were going into the wind, and it was causing rough water at the surface.  Like I said, I feel I’m a pretty strong paddler for how few miles I have under my belt, but this was not an easy paddle.

I leaned forward in my seat, braced my feet on the pegs, and stuck my paddle in deep with each stroke.  Water droplets were flying each time a paddle end came from the water, typically landing on me.  I was moving!  I utilized my entire upper body, twisting my torso with each stroke.  I know I was pulling some weird faces and I wish someone had been there to snap a few photos for laughs.  During the paddle I took two more big drinks of water and only rested for 5-7 seconds at a time, typically less.  I could see a large group of people up ahead and I wanted to catch up.

As with my bike, I have a nice boat.  It’s technically my mom’s but she hasn’t used it much the past few years and I’ve put over thirty miles on it in the last six or eight weeks.  Many people who raced don’t own kayaks, and the organizers recommended a business were kayaks or canoes could be rented from, and they would even bring them to the race.  I thought this was a really great option

Kayaking the Rock River
Pictured: a $200 kayak that required much effort.

and reasonably priced.  The downside?  They’re cheaper kayaks.  There’s nothing wrong with cheaper boats and they work just fine.  But I know from experience that they’re more work: they don’t glide as nicely or as straight.  I imagine most people didn’t care, they were just happy to have a boat.  I’ll admit I was okay with it, because it gave me a chance to catch up.  Between lower quality boats and inexperienced paddlers, I started to pick people off.

When I say I’ve a nice boat, I mean it.  Today a Wilderness Pungo 120 kayak is pretty expensive.  My mom’s is several years old and was several hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It also doesn’t look quite like the one pictured, it doesn’t have the pole mount, front hatch or such a nice seat.  But it’s still a very nice boat and I love being able to use it.

Anyway, enough tangents!  This is the final leg of the race and I was scootin’.  I picked off eight or nine people before I hit the final tube.  One gal was kneeling on a stand-up paddle board, she said it turned her into a kite if she stood up in the wind.  I didn’t doubt it and was secretly very happy to not have her problem, though I would love to try a stand-up board.  I reached the boat ramp and was very happy to see a slew of volunteers pulling boats out.  I followed them as they moved my boat into an open spot in the grass and thanked them before I started to peel off my gear.  From there I headed to the food area to get a bottle of water.

I didn’t even cross the finish line.

I didn’t even see it until I had a banana and drink in my hand and was watching other people finish.  I couldn’t see the banner from where my boat was due to a tree, the volunteers didn’t say anything, and there wasn’t loud cheering to draw my attention to it.  Thankfully I had been recording my own time and didn’t need theirs, but I was a little annoyed about the set up of it all.

Part Four- Trying to Leave

Yeah, this was such a nightmare it gets its own heading.  I had completed the event in just under an hour and a minute, which I couldn’t believe!  I was expecting a lot bigger struggle on the biking portion and was pretty thrilled with how quickly I had knocked it out.  After I had a banana, blue Gatorade and a bag of chips, I wandered back to my boat.

The set-up for the finish was not handy for removing boats.  There’s a turn-around for the boat ramp and the finish line was situated on the road to the turn-around, with people milling all about.  People with friends or family could easily remove their boats, those with rentals didn’t have to worry, and the people with lightweight boats could haul their floats solo.  Not me.  I was looking around and trying to find someone I thought was a volunteer, with no luck.  I’ll admit I was getting a bit upset by this point.  I’d had a stressful week and didn’t want to bother a stranger for help, especially if they were to say no.  But it was the man in flannel to the rescue, yet again.

He came over and asked what I was doing, if I needed help.  I told him I was wondering how to get my boat to my truck since I couldn’t carry it for very long on my own.  He told me to just drive my truck over and use the turn around, and a volunteer would help me load.  I thanked him again and told him I appreciated all the help he’d given me as I set off to my (dad’s) truck.  While pulling my truck around I met the gentleman who had helped me, he was leaving. I waved and smiled but wasn’t happy to see him go.

I didn’t use the turn-around like he had advised, because people were still wandering all over and no one else had used it.  I pulled it off into the grass relatively close, dropped the tailgate and headed back to my boat.  After looking around I sighed and realized I might be own my own for hauling to dang thing.  I threw my gear into the back compartment and secured the lid, put my paddle in as far as possible, grabbed it by one side and started walking.  Again, many people saw me attempting this and said nothing.  One man did though, and I was so grateful.  He grabbed the front end and I grabbed the back and off we went.  We got it thrown in and I thanked him profusely before he left.  I ran a strap to secure my vessel before getting back in the truck.  Then I sat for a moment.  How was I going to get out?  I could’ve easily backed down the one lane road, but there was a blind corner and I knew it was likely I would meet someone.  In front of me a van was leaving and was opening up a little room to turn around in.

Wilderness kayak on the Rock River
Kayaking the Rock River in August. Blue boat > orange boat.

It was a tight squeeze and there wasn’t much grass on the water side of the road, but I made it.  It took an embarrassing amount of pull-forwards-back-ups but at the time I didn’t care, I was getting out of the damn place.  It took forty-five minutes from me getting out of my boat to getting on the highway with my boat in tow.  I wasn’t a very happy camper.  This would’ve been a much, much smoother process if the volunteers had been wearing damn volunteer shirts.  I don’t want to sound like the organizers didn’t put a lot of effort into the race or anything, but come on!  My day would’ve been so much more enjoyable had I known who was there to help me out and if I could’ve easily identified them.  I really don’t think I’m asking for too much.

And to make matters just a little worse, one of the organizers is my brother’s friend, and she sent him a text message.  My dad and brother both have black 2008 Silverado’s and she asked my brother if I was struggling in his truck.  Siiigh.

Final thoughts.

Will I do another dry-tri?  Absolutely.  Will I do this one again?  Probably not.  If I do, I will bribe a friend or family member to go with me and help carry my boat.  I like that this race is so close but overall, right now, the frustrating parts stick out the most.  Could I have asked people to help or if they knew who were the volunteers?  Sure.  But that didn’t guarantee me help or an answer.  Such a simple thing of volunteers wearing the same shirt with the word ‘volunteer’ would’ve made this a much smoother and enjoyable process.  Some instructions in the final race email about how to easily extract boats would’ve been nice, too.  Or a volunteer at the exit telling me the finish line was straight ahead, just follow the road and they would record my time.  Or having people in volunteer shirts so I easily knew who they were… It’s almost like there’s a trend.

Canal Ambush Triathlon Parts I & II

Saturday I tried something new!  I did a dry mini-triathlon along the Hennepin Canal.  It consisted of a 1.5 mile run followed by a 6.7 mile bike and the final leg was a 1.8 mile paddle to the finish line.  It’s called a dry-tri because of the paddling portion instead of swimming, and I am very much a fan of the idea.  As I was by myself, as is normal, I don’t have any media save for the first photo, the rest are unrelated by relate-able and exist to break up the giant block of text.  So here we go!

I pulled up to the bike and boat drop area and it was mildly chaotic.  I had emailed one of the organizers and she said there would be volunteers to help unload boats, but I didn’t see anyone in a volunteer t-shirt.  I unloaded my bike first and took it and my helmet to the bike stands and found a spot to cram it in.  After that I decided it was time I tackle my boat.Annawan Canal Ambush  Or try to.  See, I have a really nice Wilderness kayak and it’s 48 pounds and about 12 feet long.  Really nice, really fast, but really cumbersome to carry solo when you’re 5’4″ such as I.  In grass I will drag it, but no way I was doing that on the paved road.

I had made it about twenty feet and had to switch to my other hand to carry it.  By this time I was coming upon a group of people, mostly men, who just looked at me.  Now, I don’t want to sound like an asshole or anything, but clearly I was not having an easy time.  It is my instinct that if I see someone struggle, I go help them.  Not just at events, but in every day life.  I’ve been waiting in a vehicle in the winter time and saw a lady with a cane trying to navigate the slushy sidewalk to find a spot to cross the street at.  Did I get out and offer her my arm?  Yes. Yes I did.  Not so I could tell the story, but because it’s what you do, you help people.

Thankfully it wasn’t much longer and a gentleman in a flannel shirt jogged up and grabbed one side of my boat.  We got it positioned and he helped me figure out my sticker sheet, which I liked and disliked.  It was nice to have a way to identify all of my equipment, but the stickers would not stick to my clothing or skin.  It didn’t take long into the 1.5 mile run that i was messing with them to try and keep them on…  But after throwing my paddle and life jacket in the boat I was off to the starting line.

Let’s back up for a second though, shall we?  This gentleman, who was very, very helpful and I’m most appreciative of (he would help me two more times later) didn’t have a shirt that said volunteer on.  The ladies doing sign-in didn’t have them on either.  Perhaps I’ve gotten spoiled in the running/OCR world, but why in the hell didn’t they have volunteer shirts?  I had no idea who to go to for assistance, no idea who was in charge or running the event.  At a Spartan Race or a Warrior Dash the volunteers are in red shirts that say volunteer, nice and big.  I should know as I have seven of them.  Point is: volunteers should be easily identifiable to help a race run smoothly.  Period.

At the starting line I was busy getting my gear adjusted.  It was unseasonably chilly with the high expected to be 74 degrees Fahrenheit.  I was in a t-shirt and shorts and would be wearing a CamelBak (and I’m about ready to destroy the god damn thing, but that’ll be a separate post).  I ended up being very happy for the water supply because there wasn’t much provided on the course, and I do not like to be thirsty.  Perhaps they would’ve had more if the weather would’ve been warmer, I don’t know.  Regardless, I don’t care how silly I looked to have it, I was happy.

As there was no official timing for the race I was happy to have my FitBit Charge HR from L.L. Bean.  I’m not thrilled that in less than two months the screen had cracked and in less than six months the device had broken to the point of not being used (and I am gentle on my gadgets), but L.L. Bean has a great return policy so within a week I had a replacement.  I planned to track each individual event to see how long they took.

Since it was trying to rain as we waiting for the race to start, I put my phone in a sandwich bag before putting it in my arm band to give it extra protection.  I started my audio book and kept my headphones off until I crossed the start line.  I desperately need to replace my headphones with something water/sweat proof and hopefully wireless, but I’ll have to do some reading to see how much bluetooth headphones drain batteries.

Ten minutes after the listed start time we congregated at the start.  There was something said about two kayaks still being delivered?  Couldn’t hear too well so I’m not entirely sure.  The national anthem was sung very nicely while a service member held the flag, and then we were off!

Part One – 1.5m Run

I’ll be blunt: my run was pretty bad.  I had eaten less than an hour from the start of the race and it showed.  I.  Was.  Struggling.  I made a decent time, but it was brutal.  And there was only one person behind me when I got to the biking portion, which was pretty embarrassing.  Yes, I know that just by being out there I’m already a head of most everyone else, but I wish I could’ve carried a sign.  It would’ve said ‘I ate too recently and food is digesting and not letting me run plus I am recovering from a would-be injury last month so I didn’t train very much so quit judging me please’.  Or something.

Running at home.
Running at home.

The run was along the canal with the wind to our back, which I knew I wouldn’t like in the next to phases.  It was pretty windy, averaging 15mph and up to 20mph gusts.  I decided it was going to be a rough morning and just accepted it.  The race was the same day as the local car show in town and my dad was there with the car, and I was eager to join him.  I had anticipated taking two hours to complete the race; I had little faith in the biking section.  As I came up to the nearly empty bike racks I tried to ignore how poorly I was doing and swung onto my Trek.

Part Two – 6.7m Bike

Now, before I get into the biking too far, let me take a moment to explain my hips.  To put it lightly, they suck.  I was not blessed with great joints (thanks genetics) and biking has been a very painful experience for me.  While at University I would try and do some low impact cardio on the stationary and recumbent bikes in the gym, but I couldn’t last long.  My right hip in particular does this real fun thing where it hits a spot in the peddling motion and it gets caught.  I usually have to throw my knee out to the side and change the way my joint is moving to get past the spot, then go back to normal until I get back around to it.  If I try and push past the trouble spot it is very painful.  FUN RIGHT?

So now we have established how much my hips suck, let’s talk about my butt.  Perhaps I’m sitting on my bicycle wrong, perhaps my pelvis is at a funny angle, but despite all the padding my butt has, too many miles on a bicycle leaves me with a sore derriere.  Right at the seat bones it gets tender, and I’ve no idea why.  I have a junk in the trunk, it makes no sense!  Ugh.  So, naturally, I was looking forward to the biking section.  (That sentence was so heavy with sarcasm it almost crashed my server. [Good god I’m a dork.])

The first part of the biking featured a moderate hill over the interstate and I wasn’t excited.  But, thankfully, we started on a slight hill over the canal and so I had plenty of room to get up to a good speed and tackle it.  The gal in front of me reached the peek and I heard the tale-tell sign of chain

Biking at home.
Biking at home.

issues and instantly felt awful.  “Is the chain off the spoke?”  I asked as I came up to her.  She looked up from it and said it wasn’t, but commented that it was going to be a long day.  I was so sympathetic and it changed my outlook.  My bike, though very old, is a nice Trek and was quite expensive when my mother purchased it new.  She’s moved on to a hybrid bike so I inherited the sage green Trek, which I’ve always quite liked.  So unless I were to hit a nail on the road, I likely wouldn’t have any troubles.  This gal was three tenths into a 6.7 mile ride and was struggling.

Right at the descent I stopped my bike and waited for her, listening to see if she needed help.  I wasn’t afraid to get a little oily if she needed help getting her chain back on and would’ve been more than happy to do so.  “Is it going to be okay?”  I asked her as she got close enough to hear.  “Yeah, it just might be a long day.”  I smiled sympathetically “Thank you for stopping!” She said, to which I responded with “Of course!”.

Shortly after I descended the hill and started along the level path I realized I hadn’t started and stopped my FitBit.  I swore and hastily did this and made a mental note of how much time I thought had passed since I’d gotten on my bike.  Oops.

Tangent: I think it’ll be difficult for me to be truly competitive in races.  Yes, I do have a competitive streak and like to win, it really shows up when I play soccer.  But it’s much more important to me that everyone completes.  In the OCR world, one of my favorite obstacles are the muddy hills.  There are always hands reaching down to help you up, especially when you can’t get your feet out of the sloppy mud to try and get some grip.  After I’ve been helped up, I flop down on my stomach on the peak to do the same for following racers.  Talking to strangers at the top of obstacles that challenges your fear of heights is something I frequently do.  And as I am always working on conquering my own fear, I know I won’t patronize them or say things like “don’t look down”, which tends to cause people to do just that.  It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished so much more when I cross that finish line, knowing I helped even one other person do the same.

Now, let’s get back on track.  The bike route was straight forward and a road I’m very familiar with as it’s right in front of the ethanol plant (yay for renewable energy sources!).  The first quarter was to the west with some slightly southwest portions which meant riding into the wind.  I picked a middle gear that wouldn’t be too tiring into the wind and hunkered down on my handle bars.   I was meeting quite a few people who had very fancy bikes and knew these were bikers doing teams.  There was the option to sign up as a solo participant or as a team of two: one person to run and paddle, the other person would bike.  The teams had a huge advantage with a fresh person to bike, but I feel these people might’ve just been overall fitter, too.

As I rest my forearms on my handlebars, since I don’t have the actual grips for this, I noticed I was the only person riding like this without the proper grips.  Oh well!  Ride smart, not hard.  It helped me quite a bit, too.  Twice I sat up to shake out my arms and instantly I felt the extra drag it became harder to peddle.  The first water stop was at the first turn on the bike portion.  Maybe this isn’t too far, maybe I hadn’t had enough water that morning, but it would’ve been too far for me.  I had already taken some sips while running and some big gulps while on my bike.  My lungs were screaming in protest, begging my to train before I do something like this again.  Oops.

But after that turn I flew!  I jumped up to twentieth gear on my twenty-one speed bike and started peddling like a mad woman with the wind at my back.  Shortly after the turn I met the lady who had been having chain issues and was happy to see her still going and offered her some words of encouragement, which I believe she appreciated.  Then I was down to business.  This stretch

Race map.
Race map.

would take us to the intersection with the lights and was the longest section and would be the easiest.  And man did I start picking people off.

Before the turn I had passed six people and I was feeling great.  No hip issues, whoo!  The first half of the last quarter wasn’t bad, but I did drop two gears. Then we got to a long gradual uphill grade.  I had been so worried about going over the interstate I’d forgotten about this part.  I dropped a few more gears and bent low over my handle bars and headed uphill into the wind.  One guy did pass me at this part, a guy who passed me right at the beginning riding a bike with off-road tires.  He’s a pretty large and broad guy and I couldn’t believe how easy he was making the biking look, just trucking along at the same pace the entire time.

Quicker than I expected I reached the level road again.  I met the bike chain gal while going up the grade but opted not to say anything and focus on my biking, I knew I needed to focus because I didn’t want to have to get off and walk.  Now, this was never a real worry, but as soon as it got into my head it was what I focused on.  And who says scare tactics don’t work?

The next half of this is incredibly long so it’s getting a separate entry of its own.

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