The only thing good that can come from a frenzied morning is…a darn good paddle race! And such was the morning of July 29th, at least for the organizers, vendors, and volunteers that made the Mill Creek / Fish Lake festival & race such a success. The ever sweet and delightful Emily Howard was running like a champ trying to keep everything rolling smoothly. She and her husband – upon hearing that no boat rental places were interested in bringing boats the event – actually brought their own collection of recreational boats (along with those of a friend) and set up their own boat rentals! Meanwhile, various local and friendly vendors – typically home businesses plus one Lions food trailer – set up their own tents on the grounds, offering both shade and unique offerings for festival-goers. Music, food, and fun punctuated the event. Even our own Wendy Brinson set up a booth where she displayed her beautiful and fascinating stained glass creations. There were stained glass sailboat scenes, birds, butterflies, and a map of Indiana with all the counties shown as a different color. Even a kaleidoscope of stained glass that was incredibly cool! (Find her at Downriver Glass online Etsy.)
Julie and I also set up a tent (courtesy of Lori Blaylock) and displayed a few boats and an SUP. This is where Julie and I had our frenzied morning. For me it was trying to get the car unloaded and the booth set up, while also preparing for a race. For Julie it was getting the booth set up, running the booth, and overseeing the timing of all the races. Thankfully she had some good help, including our prodigal Hoosier Betsy Arnold, back at an Indiana race for the first time in years (at least as a Hoosier). Speaking of Betsy, we had some names and faces reappear at this event that we haven’t seen for quite a while: Betsy for one, but also Buzz Lail, who performed a remarkable race demo with his prone paddleboard.
The Fish Lake Races are unique on our circuit, in that they’re not only on lakes (unlike our other races, which are either on rivers or a really, really big lake – i.e. Lake Michigan), but they’re short, which doesn’t translate into easy! With only 4 miles of paddling, it’s pretty much a long sprint the whole way. And there are characters like Bill Kanost who won’t give a guy a break… Lining up in the channel running between Upper Fish Lake and Lower Fish Lake, our “expert” group sat awaiting the cannon. And waited. Until we got word that a couple from Missouri was running behind getting a C-2 into the action. So we relaxed a bit while this couple came to the line. Young, fit, and athletic, they were unfortunately no match for experience and treachery. And slippery boats. It seems that they had signed up for “Expert” class, but they appeared on the scene with a rental canoe and plastic paddles. And limited experience. They did make it in after opting to complete only the first half of the race course.
At any rate, when the cannon roared (the first test of the race was managing to stay in your boat at the ground-shaking roar of the start cannon) our motley crew of mixed classes charged down the channel and out into the vast expanses of Upper Fish Lake, making time towards a distant red buoy. The order of the day was to round this buoy, head towards the southeast end of the lake into Mud Lake, round a buoy and return along the shore of Upper Fish Lake back to the channel. Then it was off to Lower Fish Lake for another buoy hunt, rounding three buoys in a triangular formation before heading back to the channel for the finish.
Bill Kanost and I led the charge to the first buoy, closely shadowed by Paul Kane. I knew Bill could out turn me in that little ICF trainer he paddles, so it was imperative that I arrive ahead of Bill and block him into the outside of the turn. So far so good… Then it was off to Mud Lake, where the deep water benefited my ski until we got to the channel into Mud Lake, but Bill largely stayed put and made use of my wake to retain energy for his later push. Coming out of Mud Lake I made a potentially critical mistake of bypassing the closer channel through the water plants, thinking there was another channel just past it. Unfortunately, I had to take the long way around the water plant assortment. I was certain Bill would grab that closer channel and take the lead, but he stayed put, content to suck lots of draft. I tried to lose him with some brush as we approached the channel between Upper and Lower Fish Lakes, but my plans were foiled by a fisherman taking up lots of shore space. This wasn’t looking good – Bill is a master of the shallows, and we were heading into shallower waters. I led through the channel, but once we got out on Lower Fish Lake Bill pulled out to the side where he found some faster water and started passing me. In my favor was his failure to see the side buoy until he was a risk of passing it, requiring a course correction at the last minute that bought me some distance, but not enough. I did, however, close the gap and sat in Bill’s wake to the next buoy. The dreaded next buoy. Here’s where Bill got me two years ago, and he did it again this year. Out-turning me, Bill managed to put on a few boat lengths. The water got a little deeper and I started closing distance again, but then we hit another buoy turn, Bill gained, I started to close, and then we got to the channel where it was shallow and all hope was lost. Bill popped that little boat of his and took off, taking me by 22 seconds. Good race and good competition!
I can’t comment on events happening further back in the race, except to say that the racing was tight. Guy and Sonja Gilman ran their C2 hard, coming in just a bit behind Paul Kane. Following them were Larry Swift, Roger Crisp, and Brent Ernsberger, all three of whom finished within 22 seconds of each other. Roger’s return to stardom has been most remarkable. He went from last to mid-pack in just 3 races, after being out of the racing scene for years! Now he can gain acclaim for more than just good looks… Deb Kanost and Lori Blaylock followed just about a minute behind the Sea Kayak men and were only 43 seconds apart. We had two other entries join our “expert” class – the couple from Missouri and a local C1 paddler, both of whom came in a bit further back. Sue Douglas joined in the festivities as well, but opted to paddle Novice/Recreational, winning her class as noted below.*
Having an SUP that remained unsoiled by racing, I lost my will to resist and I joined Buzz Lail and two other paddlers in competing in the SUP / prone paddle board competition. This was a much shorter race: go from the channel and follow the shore to Mud Lake, go around the buoy, and come back the same way. Being a novice at SUP, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had a slick board, a good paddle, and a bit of canoeing experience. It worked out pretty well. Buzz Lail charged out to an immediate and substantial lead with his prone paddle board and held that lead for about 1/4 of the race. The other two paddlers on more stable boards (but draggier) jumped out ahead of me. But soon physics came into play and I gradually passed them up then caught up with Buzz. I got a little worried in going around Buzz because we were running side by side and it was looking like I might whack his hand with my paddle – not a cool thing to do. But I managed to get off to the side a bit and make a clean break. It was pretty smooth sailing from there on out. Except that the timers were unaware of the shortened nature of this race and told me to keep going after I passed the finish line! Thankfully it was corrected before I was sent out on a lonely buoy-hunting vigil… Back in the race, eventually one of the other SUP paddlers got past Buzz, but Buzz kept the third SUP paddler at bay. All that using only his hands! I have to confess this SUP race was a heck of a lot of fun! I haven’t been that thrilled with SUP paddling previously but I think I finally “connected” with this board. I may be doing this a bit more…
Buzz Lail later added that it was, “good to see y’all; prone boards belong on big water. I was pleased with the outcome. Clinton took a channel I missed to pass me. Can’t see the weeds lying down. Thanks, Buzz”
One of the coolest things to happen after the races was getting Betsy Arnold out on the new Stellar SUP. Her back surgery won’t allow her to sit in a kayak, so she hasn’t been on the water for quite some time. But we now have photo evidence that she once again rejoined the ranks of the paddler world!
Lots of other cool things took place at the event including a decent sized Novice/Recreational race of 11 kayaks and one C2 plus 26 Fun Paddlers in kayaks. Everyone was as friendly and nice on and off the water as they could be.
Many thanks to Emily Howard and her staff for a great event! And many thanks to my wife (Julie), Betsy, and the staff that helped launch and time the races. Also kudos to Sue Douglas for taking over the job as “official race photographer!” Great job by all! As a side note, this event may be a USCA points race next year.
“Expert” Class Canoe & Kayak Races
Bill Kanost 37:09
Steven Horney 37:31
Paul Kane 40:01
Brent Ernsberger 43:16
Larry Swift 43:31
Roger Crisp 43:38
Debbie Kanost 44:06
Lori Blaylock 44:49
Guy & Sonja Gilman 40:57
Lisa McKeever & Joe Degenhasdt 1:09:32 (Partial Course**)
Michael Beach 1:01:53
“Expert” SUP Class
Steven Horney 24:31
Clinton Worthington 28:57
Buzz Lail 31:08 (Prone SUP)
Brian Lauder 34:59
“Novice” Canoe & Kayak Race
Two kayakers finished the Partial Course with the buoy turn as follows:
Barb Berby (Emily’s Mom!) 39:14
Jennifer Lambert 39:23
*Sue Douglas won the Novice Class Kayak with a time of 29:25 (Partial Course** shared with 4 other paddlers including pair paddling C2 who also missed the buoy turn).
**Partial Course denotes Upper Fish Lake and Mud Lake