Taming the Wildcat!
The Wildcat hissed and snarled, occasionally taking a swipe with its paw, but I managed to make it through the gauntlet – though not unscathed. And I loved every minute of it!
Friends don’t let friends take long, skinny boats down the Wildcat, but I guess that explains my standing among this crew of misfit paddlers. Although now that I think about, there were a few who questioned my sanity… For long and skinny works for supermodels; but for winding, rocky, shallow creeks with a stout current: not so much. But it was oh so much fun!
The morning started way too early, particularly for those of us facing 2hr + drives, and if were not for Roger’s sparking personality I would have been sorely tempted to crawl back under the covers and dream of bashing my boat on rocks. But I pulled what’s left of this old body out of bed and made my way west to bash my boat against rocks for real. Running a touch behind, I figured they would have already headed out on the shuttle, but they were still there awaiting my arrival. So now it was “game on” trying to get my gear ready as fast as possible. A friend I used to bike with said I was “fast on the road, but slow in the locker room”; so getting ready fast takes some serious effort for me. But alas I got it mostly together, and off we headed to the take out, preparing for a morning of fun and games on one of our wildest paddling venues in the Indiana USCA race schedule.
We had 5 C1’s, one downriver boat, my surf ski, Matt’s sea Kayak, two rec kayaks, and the ubiquitous aluminum C2 of George and Hilman. Water levels were a bit on the low side, so I knew this would be an interesting ride, with parts described by some as “irrigated rock gardens” – an apt description. Roger got us started in sort of a convoluted drifting start, which was the best that could be done under the circumstances with the strong current and shallow water. I pulled to the lead, because you always want to look good at the start, but it wasn’t long before Ted and his magic downriver boat came flying by, sort of levitating on the top of the water. That RPM, at least with Ted at the helm, is sort of a “cheater boat” on these waters. It drafts so little the he just flew across shallows that ground out some of us. Naturally Bill came along shortly thereafter, coming after Ted in hot pursuit. No such luck this race; Ted was back in his element, and no hot shot C1 paddler was going to take his glory from him.
As for me, I kept in mind a Rogerism (appropriate, since this was Roger’s race): you’re faster with the open side of the boat up! Being that we were navigating through seemingly never ending rock gardens, I took a lot of care to pick my way through, avoiding the classic “hard rock swim”. For some reason the song “Pin Ball Wizard” kept running through my mind as I bounced of some rocks and slipped between others… Slow and methodical left me watching Tom Thomas pass me up, followed by Skeet Craig, and then Matt Conrad. Matt and I were actually running pretty close for a while. He passed me up, then I drafted him a ways, then I passed him back up and took the lead. Naturally at an inopportune time; it was shortly thereafter that we hit a tight corner with fast current. I chose to go to the outside, as the inside looked pretty shallow; little did I know a large tree was lurking just under the surface, and I slammed it full broadside, rolling me out of the boat (Rollin’ on the River…). Score 1 for the Wildcat! Remounting my ski and not fully settled, I was knocked out again, and this time the current was too strong for a second try; I had to walk/swim with the current until I could get to the side of the creek and remount. Score 2 for Wildcat! My race was pretty much over from a speed perspective, but I was definitely getting more “value” out of the race than most. I think I also took the swim award. Meanwhile, Matt Conrad had taken the inside corner and gone merrily on his way, not to be seen again until the finish.
Challenges in the last part of the race mostly amounted to selecting the best line through the shallows; choose wrongly and you were walking your boat. This I experienced 3 times; sometimes I’m a slow learner. On the plus side I think I sanded the bottom of my boat to a smoother finish more than once. As I was out taking my boat for a walk, along came Terry Howard and our two recreational paddlers, Kyle and Vicki. I would jump out ahead, ground out, and they would catch up. Rinse and repeat. Just before the finish, Terry and I both ground out trying different passageways, but Kyle blew on through and stayed ahead to the finish. At lunch following the race, Kyle said one of his best memories of the race was knowing he beat a racing surf ski in his plastic kayak… Terry Howard also finished just ahead of me, with Terry Pontius, Vicki, and the George/Hilman team followed us in shortly thereafter.
At the finish we had the wonderful surprise of having Betsy Arnold there to greet us. She’s not back paddling yet, but she promises to be paddling soon and hopefully racing next year. Following the end of the race and the awards announcements, we continued the classic tradition of singing Happy Birthday to Roger Crisp, who just turned 81(!) Then it was off to Christo’s for a meal and some good post-race fellowship with Roger, Julie Birge (who did our timing for us – Thank you Julie!), Betsy, Kyle, Vicki, Ted, and myself. I needed to see just a bit more of Lafayette, so I went to the wrong Christos, but a call from Betsy got me back on the straight and narrow.
I think we all had lots of fun, everyone survived, and now we have more stories to tell our grandkids about the time we tamed the Wildcat. Many thanks to Roger and Julie for a wonderful race!
Ted Beatty 1st 1:21:16
Steve Horney 2nd 1:41:16
K1 Sea Kayak Man
Matt Conrad 1st 1:36:22
Bill Kanost 1st 1: 28:00
Tom Thomas 2nd 1:29:52
Skeet Craig 3rd 1:31:19
Terry Howard 4th 1:40:40
Terry Pontius 5th 1:42:41,
Geoge Tinsley / Hillman Culp Jr. 1st 1:55:01
Kyle 1st 1:40:35
Vicki 2nd 1:49:19
All photos courtesy of Julie Birge