Thousand Yard Stare


In many ways, the Chattajack has become the de facto marathon national championship racing event on the calendar. If you haven’t booked your entry, you may want to consider having a run.  The double blade paddlers have increasingly been showing up, now it’s time to push for more elites at the top level.  I suspect 2018 will see this occur.  Erik Borgnes has thrown down the gauntlet and will likely result in a call to arms for the nations best to show up and challenge his mark.

So what is it about this event that makes it unique?  A few things:  

  • Distance-- Longer races are readily available, but 31+ miles seems to be a sweet spot.  It’s just long enough to push the boundaries of endurance and just short enough to require sustained shorter 10k distance speed. So in a word--relentless.

  • Timing--Coming at the end of a long season is a great way to end your sporting year and segway into a break.  It’s like that final cataclysmic climax that defines an action movie.

  • Conditions--Placing itself right on the cusp of a big shift in the weather, the Chattajack conditions are always the wildcard.  And without a doubt, it plays a major role.  At last count, half of all editions have been plagued by meteorologic adversity.  But this additional dynamic really just adds to the intrigue. It creates an anticipation like any good build up to a climax. It’s a necessary setup for the script.    

  • Buzz--You can’t argue with buzz.  Call it je ne sais quoi or whatever you like, but it’s here in spades and it raises stocks through the roof.  

  • Inland--The fact is that paddlesports, be it: SUP, OC, Surfski, etc are often seen as synonymous with ocean conditions, but the reality is that many paddlers are not from the coast.  The ocean requires a special skill set that can only be refined by repeatedly being on the ocean. An inland challenge such as the Chattajack is a race that coastal and inland paddlers can do alike.  It levels the playing field where otherwise coastal paddlers would have home-field advantage as well as referee bias.



This year marks the first time I’ve been on the sidelines instead of participating in the Chattajack race. Being on the dry side for a change was eye-opening.  Generally watching a long kayak race is about as exciting as watching snail ballet, but this was different.  The “race” is clearly not just about who finishes first, but rather, who can overcome a war of attrition.  The Cjack is more of a question than an answer, and the question is: “what are you made of”?  Whether you were a top-contender or out on your first dance down the gorge it asks the same question, just in a different way.  I stood at the finishing sprint hollering and heckling racers and friends trying to elicit a smile or a laugh without success.  They all shared the same facial expression.  At the risk of trivializing war, they all looked like they had just returned from an intense psychically draining front for days on end, where their focus had been razor honed and stretched far beyond the limits of what they assumed was capable.  Without exception, every single competitor came in with a thousand-yard stare on gaunt, pallid faces.  I helped a young strapping college lad lift his uber light boat because he could not lift his half (someone else had the front half)--which probably weighed no more than 10 lbs.  I witnessed tears, frustration, exaltation, exhaustion, and a host of other displays that ultimately define the very core of who we are as humans.  It was like seeing every competitor, friend or stranger strip away every facade of who they were externally and expose themselves for what they are on the inside. No superficiality. Every outside layer removed to expose their most intimate core. What they are made of…

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman


In this way, the race is nothing more than a catalyst.  The real show is watching paddlers pass by or finish in their most raw state.  In a way, this is art in it’s truest form. I have gratitude to have been both a competitor and then later, a spectator.  I think it gave me the gift of understanding the language.  To be able to interpret in some way what each individual was experiencing.  


To all those who completed the event regardless of your time, you’re all veterans now,  You’ve all seen “action” and deserve a certain amount of respect.  



First Timers

First Timers

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish