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.

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