Wildcat Creek Race, Lafayette, IN 6.12.2021

Riding a Wildcat…

Gather ‘round and listen as Papa Steve relates the story of the time he tried to ride a wildcat.

Creek that is.

It all started as a fairly ordinary summer race day: warm, sunny, and me rather tired from a much-too early start on the day.  Aside from the failure of the shuttle bus to appear (and many thanks to Terry Pontius for shuttling us with his truck after it became obvious the bus forgot us), things were moving along well.  C1’s were well represented with Bill Kanost, Ted Beatty, Tom Thomas, Skeet Craig, and Terry Pontius.  The Gilmans opted for a C2 conveyance, while Brent brought a down river boat that, per his declaration, he despised.  Like an ugly and unloved dog, it still served him well in spite of the insults.  Also showing up to play in the shallow and fast moving creek were the aluminum C2 team of George Tinsley and Hilman Culp, Jr. And finally I opted to bring my 21 ft SEL surf ski to the party.  A saner individual might have opted for another form of paddle craft, but I like to be unique.  And create my own biathlon event. We did have one other paddler, as Matt Conrad added his Sea Kayak to the mix as the sole paddler in the afternoon race.

Following a few minutes on the creek to warm up creeky joints (somehow seems appropriate) and aging muscles, we floated down to the bridge until Roger Crisp yelled “Go!”, and off we went.  Bill and Ted both had their Wheaties that morning, and hit it hard in their ever present grudge match.  I matched them for a bit, then fell back slightly as I had eaten granola instead.  Hearing Bill’s canoe bonk a rock in the river ahead, I had some expectation that it would slow the duo a bit, but if so it was definitely momentary.  I, on the other hand, took on the rocks in style.  Grounding out on a rock in the same region that Bill smacked one, I had to get out of the boat to get unstuck.  That would put a serious damper on my race efforts, but there was still time.  Until just a short time later, in the next rock garden, I once again found myself raised up on solid ground – or rather rock.  Only this time I could see that the rushing waters would really mess with me if I tried to exit the boat, so I opted to use the paddle and fair amount of wriggling to free my ski.  So much for keeping up with the big dogs.  At this point Sonja and Guy came bursting onto the scene, and I just managed to keep ahead of them, but now I was behind Tom and Skeet, as well as Bill and Ted. Wildcat Creek racing was rapidly turning into Wildcat Creek touring. What I didn’t know was what the Creek still had in store for me.

Further down the course I came to a sharp, fast flowing bend in the creek with a log covering the outer 2/3rds of the bend.  Tom and Skeet had been washed into that zone and were in the process of extricating themselves as I came around the bend and found myself forced over next to the log. That wasn’t a problem.  But as I paddled past the log to get back onto the course, the rushing water forced my ski against an angled log sticking up out of the water, flipping me over and setting me up for swim #1.   Team Gilman, Terry, and Brent managed to get through the bend without getting pushed over while I worked my way to shore in an effort to get one of my now washed-off water shoes back on.  Tom graciously asked if I need help, but I told him I was fine and sent him on his way. 

Back in the race once again, I wished I had brought my GoPro camera; we had the most colorful lineup on the river ahead of me with Brent in a red shirt, Sonja and Terry in neon green shirts, and myself in orange. Tom and Skeet in the lead were in white shirts.    Gaining ground, I was encouraged that maybe my race wouldn’t end a completely dismal failure, but Wildcat had other ideas.  In another bend a rock shoved me over again (not sure what they had against me). This was a far more entertaining swim than the prior one; as I fell out I lost grip on my boat and watched it drift away faster than I could move towards it.  Sensing the water was fast and the ground was shallow and rocky, I knew it was best just to float out of it, so I laid on my back and let the PFD carry me through the rapids. I had doubted whether I wanted to wear the PFD in this warm weather, but I was glad I had it on here.  Soon my boat bumped against a log on the side of the creek and slowed enough that I could catch it.  But reentry was tricky; my hydration pack had floated out of my PFD but the tube was still attached to the PFD.  Trying to reenter the ski in a flowing creek with a paddle in one hand and a hydration pack floating and tangled around me would have made a most worthy YouTube video!  Eventually I managed to reenter the ski and just floated backwards down the creek for a while as I attempted to get my water shoes and hydration pack back into some sense of order.  I finally just decided to blow off the shoes and stick them under the bungees, and place the hydration pack in the cockpit.  But noting that my rudder would experience great angst if I were to impact a rock floating backwards, I got the contraption pointed properly on the creek. And we were off once again, no other racers in sight. 

You know how things tend to come in threes?  Swimming in Wildcat was no exception to the rule on Saturday, and so at some point I once again hit a rock or log and turned turtle.  Naturally while someone on shore was watching.  This time I was standing on a rock and preparing to reenter, but I noticed a log directly ahead of me and rocks located variously on either side.  Had I tried to reenter, I would have almost immediately hit something else.  So this became a bit of a maze to work myself out of, trying to step on rocks, push against the current, and guide my ski to a place where I could finally reenter.  Eventually breaking free, I continued the show for the spectator as two reentry attempts resulted in rolling out of my ski on the opposite side before I finally had success on the third try.  By this time George and Hilman passed me by, giving me opportunity to see and visit with all the racers on the course.  So I paddled with George and Hilman for a bit, moving ahead somewhat as we neared the end.  I still ground out one more time in the shallows and had to exit the boat to move it to deeper water, but that was fairly benign compared to the prior experiences. 

Experiencing Wildcat Creek this way certainly doesn’t give you the fastest times.  As Roger says, your best times come when the boat is right-side up. But I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery of Wildcat going forward, backward, sideways, upside down, and even – occasionally – right side up.  The waters were refreshing.  And my shoulder muscles, feeling some pain early in the race, seemed to rejuvenate every time I went for a swim.  I never even noticed the heat of the day.  Definitely a recommended way to travel!

Speaking of which, Matt Conrad apparently had his own adventures.  Pat Conrad says he had a great time, and went through one rapids going backwards and sideways!  Maybe Matt was just showing off his skills in the boat. J

As for the others, Bill and Ted had their classic match-up, where Ted leads the first half of the race before Bill put the hammer down and took the overall win.  Which netted him a beautiful Damascus knife created by Roger. Everyone else followed in the order shown below.  After the morning race we all wished Roger a happy birthday, complete with noise makers and funny hat for Roger.  And some relations brought in a delicious ice cream cake for the occasion!  Now that’s a great way to end a race on a hot day!

Many thanks for Roger and Julie Crisp for putting on this race, and to Terry for helping with shuttle duty and timing the afternoon race for Matt.  A great time was had by all!

Morning Race times

C-1 Man   1. Bill Kanost              1:21:47

                 2. Ted Beatty             1:23:46

                 3. Tom Thomas         1:27:55

                 4. Skeet Craig           1:28:59

                 5. Terry Pontius        1:34:00

C-2 Mixed   1.Sonja Gilman       1:32:16

                      Guy Gilman

C-2 Aluminum      1.Hilman Culp       1:39:07

                               George Tinsley

K-1 Down River    1. Brent Ernsburger     1:31:52

K-1 Open        1. Steve Horney      1:37:50


Afternoon Race times

K1 Sea Kayak

  1. Matt Conrad 1:35:09

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