It was one of those days. You know the days. You’ve had them yourself. A period when plans change so rapidly the calendar groans in agony, and your body can no longer allow itself to get into a mental groove for fear of simply going “mental”. And so it was with us; after plans changed for 397,631th time, at around 9:00 pm Friday night, Julie and I decided to not only go to the Fish Lake Race, but also go from the race directly to MI for a few days of camping and playing on Lake Michigan. Now when this happens, the pessimist says “there’s no way we can make it”, but the optimist says “it will only take a few hours to pack, set up the trailer, transfer the kayak racks between vehicles, prepare food, etc.”. We, on the other hand, had no time to listen to either one but launched into an all-out light-speed effort, roughly comparable to the effort expended at D-Day but in a much shorter time period, to make this final plan a reality knowing all the while Saturday morning was going to dawn far before we were ready. And so it did; as the alarms went off Saturday morning, my body and my brain were fighting over who told this numbskull to get up on such little sleep. But up we got and we actually managed to get on the road at a semi-reasonable time.
Our travels were pretty smooth, other than the irritability that comes with being under-slept and over-stressed, just looking forwards to the adrenaline rush generated by tormenting my body in a race. We arrived under the assumption (having mistakenly read the schedule for last year’s event) that we had a couple of hours until the kayak race; the stress was still on once I was informed that this year the “pro” racers were going out first, and they were holding up the race for my arrival! A fellow cyclist once told me that I was “fast on the road, but slow in the locker room”; now the pressure was on to get our rig parked, unpack, and get set up for both the race and our sales table without antagonizing the rest of the participants. We got it done, I managed to down half a Cliff Bar, and it was time to get on the water and await the blast of the air horn marking 30 seconds before the lighting of the cannon – or at least a “Saturday Night Special” version of a cannon (essentially a vertical tube attached to a base, filled with Pyrodex, and ignited with cannon fuse, it created a blast that about turned us over in our boats and sent all kinds of critters fleeing for miles around)…
Emily Howard has done an outstanding job hosting the Fish Lake Race these past couple of years. Tall, blonde, and with a kind heart and an engaging personality, Emily does an outstanding job of making everyone feel welcome to this delightful community event. The Fish Lake Race, or more properly the Mill Creek Community Lions Club Paddlefest Canoe Race, is located roughly in the United States, about halfway between La Porte (French for “Petticoat Junction”) and Walkerton (French for “Mayberry”). It appears the entire community comes to the event (plus a few other communities), and there are vendors, fire trucks and a fire department trailer serving as a fire safety information center, a sheriff (played by Andy Griffith), a band, food, and just a lot of delightful people. I’m not sure the vendors really sell much, but everyone seems to enjoy the environment. And they’ve been very welcoming to our USCA folks, as well as to Julie and me (allowing us to set up our Stellar boat table).
The race itself is our only lake race in the Indiana circuit, other than the Ride the Wave Regatta on Lake Michigan. Fish lake is kind of like Lake Michigan, except that you can see the other side. Short, at 4.17 miles (by Deb Kanost’s GPS; I showed 4.3 miles, but I circled around a few times waiting for Bill Kanost to catch up so I could ask him where the next buoy was located on Lower Fish Lake), it’s actually pretty intense. At that distance there’s no backing off for a long-distance cruise before powering it up at the end; you pretty much have to hammer it the whole way. And there’s a lot of suck water to contend with, so there are plenty of challenges for all. The course actually extends across three lakes. It starts in the channel between Upper Fish Lake and Lower Fish Lake. Racers charge out into Upper Fish Lake, circling a buoy on the far side of the lake, then head to the south east end of the lake where a channel leads into a smaller lake/large pond. Last year we had to circle a pontoon boat in the pond and pick up a piece of pirate treasure; this year the pirates were apparently still on vacation in Florida so we just circled a buoy and returned to Upper Fish Lake and then into the channel between Upper and Lower Fish Lakes heading into Lower Fish Lake. In Lower Fish Lake there were three buoys, roughly marking the perimeter of the lake, that paddlers had to circle before heading back into the channel between Upper and Lower Fish Lakes for the finish. Going through the channel 3 times gave the spectators a lot of opportunities to view the racers and to cheer them on.
USCA turnout this year was limited; ever-faithful Roger Crisp showed up to take care of primary timing functions, with my lovely wife Julie assisting him. On the water Bill Kanost, Deb Kanost, Lori Blaylock, and I made up the merry band of “pro” racers. Bill, having been fooled into thinking I wasn’t actually going to show at this race, brought along his new Crosier canoe for its first race in his hands, while Deb commandeered the Razor to compete against Lori in her S18S (Lori’s first race in this boat as well). A couple of guys in plastic boats opted to join in the “pro” race just for grins. Technically, the race is only divided into kayak and canoe classes, so Deb and Lori were officially competing against me while Bill was in a class of his own. The reality was that Bill and I formed an internal race while Deb and Lori slugged it out between them. And what a race it was between Deb and Lori! These two are usually in their own classes, but this time they were both in Sea Kayak-class boats and had to fight to the finish, with Deb just taking Lori by a boat length or two at the finish. Great job by both of these ladies! Somehow both Kanost’s seem to have great success making that Razor go. Meanwhile, Bill made me feel good at the start as I passed him when he said “That boat can’t be that fast!” J Bill’s canoe is the same one Mike Davis uses to great effect, but with a different paddling style Bill actually does better with his wife’s canoe (the one he usually races). He was having a harder time than usual making it run in the shallower water of this race, and Bill is typically the master of the shallows. Nevertheless, Bill devastated the field of canoes and everyone ended up with a medal and a prize. Except the guys in the plastic kayaks… Emily said our group is kind of like a family; probably a dysfunctional family, but it does feel that way and it’s always great to have these “reunions”!
Speaking of plastic kayaks, the turnout for the recreational race, SUP race, and fun paddle was exceptional. It was great to see so many people out on the water and having fun! Julie and I really enjoy this festival and all of these races, and we were very pleased we ended up being able to make the races again this year. Aside from the race and activities, one of the best parts was just enjoying time visiting with friends. If you haven’t spent time hanging around Roger Crisp, you should. Aside from entertaining people with his “sparkling personality”, Roger spends a lot of time watching how people paddle. Filtered through years of experience and know-how, he has a lot of good information and advice. If you’re a new paddler, listening to Roger will help you improve significantly. If you’re an experienced paddler, listening to Roger will help you improve significantly. Not to mention you’ll hear some great stories along the way! J Many thanks to Roger for his excellent help!
Four of the attached photos are of our USCA racers coming into the finish; the other photo is of Julie, Emily, and me by our truck after the race. Brian Stewart, who photographs the race each year setting up a cannon-sized camera on a tripod on top of his Native Watercraft kayak, took the photos of our racers. His boat looks like a little pirate ship with that camera, but he takes superb photos. Many thanks to Brian for his excellent work! And many thanks to Emily for her hard work in creating such an excellent event!