The road trip is underway. I arrived at the Nantahala River and Fontana Reservoir area Friday afternoon and camped there Friday night and last night. I'm now visiting my sister's family in Lincolnton and getting caught up with Internet chores.
After making camp at Tsali Campground Friday I went down to the reservoir to paddle for 40 minutes. I did four 12-stroke sprints and worked out the kinks from the long drive. Though I'd paddled on the Nantahala many times before this weekend, I'm not sure I'd ever actually paddled on Fontana. One thing I can say is that a person could get lost on it pretty easily: the lake backs up into many different valleys and hollows that contained the rivers and creeks that fed the "main" river that was dammed to create Fontana, the Little Tennessee. I was careful to memorize landmarks as I paddled along so that I could find my way back to where I put in.
Yesterday was race day, and I was greeted at the site of The Paddle Grapple by numerous familiar faces along with other people whose names I knew but had never met. We all checked in and signed waiver forms, readied our gear, put our boats in the water, and assembled at the starting line. The six-mile race was to be two laps of a three-mile loop.
When the gun went off at least a dozen paddlers charged off the line to set a quick pace for the first mile. I just tried to settle onto a wake and get my bearings amid all the mayhem. Eventually, some guys began to drop back after going out too hard, and I started working my way up through the field. I kept hopping from one wake to the next until I found myself on the stern of a racer who wasn't slowing down. That racer was Pete Greene, a veteran of many Outdoors, Inc., Canoe and Kayak Races at Memphis. I knew from experience that I would do very well if I could manage to stay in contact with him.
Up front, the early leader was Chris Hipgrave, the director of the "Grapple." Chris had gone out very fast and forced Eric Mims, who's having an excellent season in the boat, to try to reel him in from a few boat lengths back. K1 paddler Sven Jonsson sat in third place with Terry Smith in fourth, Pete in fifth, and me in sixth; behind us a pack of racers including Ted Burnell, Rick Carter, Cory Hall, and Bruce Poacher lurked. Having been caught by Rick at the end of the race at Vicksburg back in April, I was extra motivated to stay on Pete's wake.
Eventually, Pete pulled even with Terry, and the two of them began to take turns "pulling" in an effort to close the gap on Sven. I continued to work very hard to stay on their stern wakes, several times coming perilously close to falling off and exposing myself to the vultures in the following pack.
At the end of the first lap, Hipgrave dropped off the pace and let Mims take the lead. Apparently, Chris had decided ahead of time to go hard for only one lap and spend the second lap watching over and encouraging the other racers. So now the top five consisted of Eric, Sven, Terry, Pete, and me. Some six boat lengths ahead of our pack, Sven continued to tantalize Terry and Pete and the two of them kept throwing in surges to reel him in. I continued to fight for my position right behind Terry and Pete. I actually was feeling pretty good even though I was working hard, and I knew we had a pretty good lead on the next pack back because I'd seen them after the buoy turn at the end of the first lap. Nevertheless, I'd been burned before and didn't want that to happen again.
With about a mile to go, Pete made his move and took off after Sven, leaving me and Terry to fight it out for fourth place. I tried to move up onto Terry's left-side wake but Terry responded and pulled a boat length or so ahead of me. As the finish line came into view I could sense that he had a bit more left than I did.
Eric Mims cruised to a convincing victory with a time of 46 minutes, 3 seconds. About a minute and a half behind him, Sven and Pete duked it out for runner-up honors, with Sven edging out Pete by one second. Terry took fourth six seconds ahead of me.
Bruce Poacher, Rick Carter, and Ted Burnell came into the finish in a pretty tight pack to claim sixth, seventh, and eighth. Chris Hipgrave completed his second-lap "jog" in ninth overall, followed by Cory Hall in tenth.
Eric Mims makes his home in Isle of Palms, South Carolina; Sven Jonsson and Chris Hipgrave both live in the vicinity of Fontana Reservoir; Pete Greene is from Beaufort, South Carolina; Terry Smith, Ted Burnell, and Cory Hall are Chattanoogans; Bruce Poacher hails from Charleston; and Rick Carter gets his mail in Eutawville, South Carolina.
The top overall female finisher was Lindsey O'Shea of Gainesville, Georgia. A pair of Ashevillians were the top single canoe racers, with Andy Kluge edging out Lecky Haller for the win. The complete results are as follows:
I was happy to claim fifth place in a good, solid, competitive field. It was probably my best race of this year so far, and I hope I can continue the good performance next weekend in Massachusetts.
This morning I put in at the NC 28 bridge over the Nantahala River branch of Fontana Reservoir, and did a pretty solid-paced 90-minute paddle. Since my paddling schedule is a bit uncertain with all the travel I'm facing in the coming days, I wanted to get a substantial session in. Tomorrow will probably be a recovery day.
Here in North Carolina it's warm and muggy but nowhere near as bad as Memphis has been lately. The sun was beating down on me a bit in the last half-hour of today's paddle, and when I got back to where my car was parked I fell out of the boat and took a nice swim.
Read more from Elmore here: http://mytrainingblogbyelmore.blogspot.com/