Many thanks to all who participated in this abbreviated season’s races! We missed out on a few of the classics, but still managed to get in most of our races. Saturday’s race at South Bend was a superb cap to the season. With temps in the 70’s and modest conditions all around, we really couldn’t have asked for better racing conditions, particularly in late September.
Matt Meersman offered plenty of racing options to all who attended, starting with a running race prior to the paddling races for all who were of such a mind as to rise extra early to run. Being of sound mind (at least for the moment), I bypassed this option, but 7 hearty participants put their legs to work in the morning – a record number for the run, I believe. Shortly after the run ended the real fun began: C1/K1 racing (along with a couple of rebellious C2’s). 15 participants in 13 boats took to the water for the morning race, with a nearly even mix of 7 kayaks and 6 canoes. And the competition was fierce!
No Bartons appeared for this race, but the Barton’s were represented by Danny Medina, an employee of the Barton farm. Danny showed up with a classic ICF boat (complete with wings), letting us know this could be an interesting race. Lining up on the water – or actually almost lining up on the water – we heard to command to “Go!”, and charged out at a furious pace. Several of us were still a little back in the pack when the command to start was given, so there were some challenges getting between other boats, but in short order things lined up pretty much as follows: Danny was in the lead, with Matt Meersman and myself side-by-side trying to work Danny’s wake. Meanwhile, Paul Kane was running hard to the side and even with the rest of us, even a little ahead at times, with Bill Kanost and Ted Beatty just a little back. As we moved closer to the downstream turn bridge, Paul fell back a little and I moved ahead of Matt to sit on Danny’s wake, with Matt riding my wake. Danny opted to take a wider line shortly before we got to the bridge, so went for the straighter line and pulled up even with Danny, but Danny pulled ahead just before the bridge. Going into the turn, Danny swung wide and I pulled inside of him (surprising me, with the wide turn radius of my ski), but Matt Meersman turned inside both of us. At this point Matt latched onto Danny’s wake, and I tagged onto Matt’s wake. Heading upstream, Danny stayed closer to the middle of the river, while Matt moved to the shore. I followed Matt and hung onto his wake for awhile, but eventually fell back a bit. I tried moving to different parts of the river to see if I could close the gap, but no such luck. But I stayed fairly close, which I found to be beneficial: Matt Meersman lives on this river, and I figured he knew the optimum sides of the river and cross-over points, so I basically followed his lead all the way to the island.
We were somewhat concerned about going around Kamm Island, because of the lower water levels, but water levels were up a bit during the morning races and most of us were able to get around the island successfully. I understand Danny had to get out at one point, and the tandem canoe team of Colleen and Paul got in a refreshing swim while circumnavigating the island, but everyone else went through okay. I watched Matt’s line, followed likewise, and for once in my history of this race I made it around without any issues. Some time was lost to Matt and Danny in the process, though, and my chances of catching up were slim – but I was hopeful. Meanwhile, I wondered what became of Bill Kanost; he’s usually among the front runners, and I hadn’t seen anything of Bill during the race. I got my answer about 1/4 – 1/2 mile from the finish when I heard the clunk of a paddle hitting the gunwales on a canoe behind me! Now I wasn’t about to go this far and give up easily, so I poured on the coals and kept Bill at bay, but only by 9 seconds. During the downstream run Matt Meersman was choosing his lines carefully and he caught up with Danny, creating a hard-core race for the finish. Danny prevailed, but Matt was only around 30 seconds behind him. We were impressed that Matt was running his C1 nearly as fast as a younger, strong paddler in an ICF boat, but we were even more impressed when Matt yanked a substantial weight (50 lbs?) out of his canoe! Paul Kane put in an exceptional performance this race, coming in behind Bill but ahead of Ted. Larry came in just behind Ted, followed by Brent, the Gilman C2, Matt Conrad, and the Colleen/Paul C2. Roger Crisp had anticipated running the 7.2 mile race, but citing the need for an rapid run to the facilities he decided that the 3 mile race was more his style. New racer Laurie Nathan raced the 3 mile distance in a recreational boat. Apparently he left being rather impressed by the performance of our racers and seeing the effect of technique on performance.
For the afternoon races, two C4 teams squared off: the hard core race boat of the Meersman’s with Matt, Danielle, Ted, and Kelly vs. the Wenonah C4 of the Gilmans, with Guy, Sonja, Colleen, and Danny running their boat. Oh – and I paddled SUP in my own 3 mile race, just for good measure. The C4’s had a pretty decent race; as they came in you could see the team in the Meersman boat was well synchronized and running that boat fast, and they prevailed. But what was surprising was that even after grounding out on the island and some other challenges, the Gilman boat was only about 1 minute behind. Matt later told me that water levels had dropped several inches between the morning and evening races, making it notably more challenging to get around the island.
Following the race, a number of us closed out the season with some fine food at the Crooked Ewe. A great way to end it, and many thanks to Matt, Danielle, and Matt’s mom (who helped with timing and registration) for putting on the St. Joe River Races!
Results to Follow