St. Joe Race, South Bend, IN 9.23.17

Alas – another season of racing has come to a close.  But boy did it go out with a bang! near the end of September, the weather can be dicey for the St. Joe River Races – and usually it’s on the chillier side.  Not this time! With temps that moved well into the 80’s, comfortable water, and no power boats to speak of it was a perfect day to be on the water. Ironically, attendance was a bit low for this traditionally well-attended race, but for those who came Matt and Danielle Meersman put on quite an event.

Somewhere between O’Dark Thirty and the time when normal humanity begins to rise, certain ones of our tribe opted to open the festivities with a 5K run.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe sleeplessness.  Maybe trying to escape the tax man.  But for whatever the reason Matt Meersman, Ted Beatty, and Ken Stelter demonstrated their toughness and competitiveness on land as well as the water.  Matt Meersman proved to have the “fleetest feetest”, coming in a solid 1st, but the real race was between Ted Beatty and Ken Stelter.  Last year Ted edged out Ken by 1 second.  Ken came back this year with a vengeance, restoring his honor with a 26 second win over Ted.  Their match would now move to the water in a quest to dominate the biathlon challenge…

Water levels in the St. Joe this year were on the low side.  For the bulk of the course the impact was minimal, but Kamm Island would test the meddle of every paddler, requiring at least one portage across the very shallow section at the top of the island – and sometimes before.  I suspect Matt Meersman and Ted Beatty of a conspiracy on that point, but it may be tough to prove.

All the morning classes started together with the yelling of “go” by Danielle Meersman (the official timer for the course, aided by her mother-in-law).  Ted and I were matched up against each other in fast kayaks (downriver for Ted, surf ski for me) for the first time in a long while, and our competitive juiced flowed.  We ran side-by-side all the way downstream to the turn bridge, where Ted sprinted just ahead of me in an effort to get to the pylon first.  Without a rudder he turned wide and I was able to turn inside him with my ski, but then we started upriver…  Meanwhile, Matt Meersman wasn’t about to be left out. Paddling furiously, Matt stuck his C1 canoe between Ted and myself and stayed with us most of the way downstream. Heading upstream, Ted asserted his dominance and gradually put some distance between us.  Having to fiddle with my hydration system twice didn’t help, either, but there was no way for me to hang with that light-weight powerhouse in his “upriver” downriver kayak. Meanwhile Matt settled back about the same distance behind me that Ted was in front of me up to Kamm Island.

During the upstream trip Ted really hugged the shore.  I found that going a little farther out seemed to be more favorable for my ski.  I tried cutting over a little earlier to the opposite shore as we approached Kamm Island – a move Ted pulled on me as we raced canoes last year, but it didn’t have the same effect this time.  Heading into the channel around Kamm Island the water levels were shallow, but passable for most of the way if you knew where to go, but nearing the top I found myself running out of liquid support.  As I struggled to get out of my boat and get it hoisted on my shoulder, Matt’s C1 suddenly appeared; he knew the channel well and found a way to get over to a more favorable spot.  This wasn’t looking good, but I quickly moved my boat over to the other part of the channel, hopped in, and resumed paddling until I got to the point where even Matt had to bail.  I got out more quickly this time, but I couldn’t move as fast with my ski as Matt could with his C1.  By the time I got back in the river and paddling downstream Matt had moved to about half the distance between Ted and myself. Now I would have to work, but on the plus side the return trip was all downstream, where my ski really shines.  I paddled my heart out and gradually reduced the distances between us.  My speeds looked pretty good.  But these are some tough paddlers. Despite my best efforts, I ran out of course distance before I could quite catch Matt.  But that’s racing.  And what a fun time!

As for the biathlon challengers, Ted was too fast on the water for Ken, and his water time over the 3 mile distance (this part of the race was timed for the biathlon challenge) was sufficiently faster to give him the edge on the combined times.  Now to see if Ken will come back next year that much stronger on the water!

By far the biggest class at this year’s race was Sea Kayak, with Larry Swift, Matt Conrad, Deb Kanost, and Ken Stelter paddling in this class.  Larry Swift lived up to his name and managed to pull in a first place win in K1 Sea Kayak Man, followed by Matt Conrad and Ken Stelter.  I was concerned the heat might hinder Matt, but he paddled well and as always had a smile on his face and a great attitude!  Deb was alone in K1 Sea Kayak Woman, but she paddled hard and mixed it up with the men. Speaking of Deb, Bill Kanost was there in spirit and in flesh, but not in boat.  For some reason he wasn’t quite willing to endure a set back to the healing of a back injury for a race…  Paul Kane set aside his kayak paddle and joined Matt Meersman in C1 Man, putting in a great time. And Roger Crisp ran the 3 mile course in Sea Kayak, putting in a solid and competitive time.

I didn’t see the notice, but apparently a wooden boat convention was part of this race: Paul Kane paddled a strip-wood C1, while Roger Crisp, Larry Swift, and Ken Stelter paddled wood sea kayaks.  It was very cool to see the beautiful boats and their craftsmanship.

Competition in the afternoon races was “limited”.  Matt Meersman and Ted Beatty set out in C2 to earn their iron-man designations, while I paddled the short course in SUP.  We all had fun and definitely earned our post-race meals at The Crooked Ewe!

Many thanks to Matt and Danielle for a superb race and a great end to the race season!



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