I raced in the Rivanna River kayak race last Saturday and had a wonderful time.
The race organizers did a great job of coordinating a well-run event and the volunteers were outstanding.
I arrived plenty early to drop my boat at the starting line and then drove to the finish line/takeout to try to catch a shuttle back to the start. This year, a new outfitter in town, The Rivanna River Company, provided a complimentary shuttle with their bus which made life extraordinarily convenient.
There was another guy at the put-in with a Cobra Viper, my buddy Dave with his Epic V7, and several other fast boats so I knew the competition would be fierce this year. Organizers reported a record number of ~70 racers and with that many competitors, you never know what is going to happen.
The starting horn sounded and I got off to a fairly good start. A few boats were out ahead of me and I was able to pass them fairly quickly. All except for one, Dave S. in his Epic V7.
I paced behind Dave for a short while and then saw an opportunity to make my move to get in front of him about a quarter of a mile into the race. I passed him fairly easily but heard him file in behind me and I knew he was close.
We approached a bend in the river less than 1 mile into the race, and I thought Dave’s bow was at or ahead of my stern and we followed the main current where a tree was protruding from the left bank of the river. Rather than use my rudder to make a quick adjustment to the right and possibly bump into Dave, I decided to cut as tightly as I could to the tree and stay as tight into the bend as I could.
That was a mistake for a couple reasons.
First, my boat hit and branch that was just under water which forced me into another branch that hit me in the left shoulder and chest. While either one of these would normally have been recoverable events, combined they caused me to lose balance and I overturned. I thought my race was over.
The second reason the decision to cut it close to the tree was a bad decision was the fact that Dave wasn’t actually just behind me. He had split river right, so unbeknownst to me, I had plenty of room to maneuver around the tree. I should have spun my my head around to know for sure where Dave was.
After I overturned, I was able to quickly get to some shallower water and when I looked up, Dave was paddling back up river to check on me to make sure I was OK. I yelled at him that I was OK that he should turn around and keep racing but he kept coming back upstream. I yelled at him again, “Go, go set a record,” and he said, “no, I can’t leave you.”
I quickly flipped my boat over to try to drain out as much water as I could and watched as least 5 or 6 boats pass me. I jumped back in my Viper telling Dave, “I’m fine, go, go!” At that point he turned back downriver and started racing again.
It took me another 10 or 20 seconds to get my boat turned around and start downriver again, but I probably lost at least 90 seconds in total and now had an inch or so of water in the bottom of the boat which represented a great deal of extra weight.
I realized quickly I had two choices. Paddle leisurely knowing I was defeated or start racing again to see if I could catch up to the front pack.
I decided to continue racing.
Much to my surprise, I was able to catch up to and pass most of the other paddlers. All of them, in fact, except Dave.
I kept him in sight for the rest of the race and tried as hard as I could to catch up to him just to see if I could do it, but I had decided that if I caught him, there was no way I was going to pass him. His selfless act in helping me earned him the right to win this race if it came down to just the two of us. I was able to close in on him but wasn’t able to entirely close the gap.
When I crossed the finish line, Dave was already there and I gave him a high five and thanked him for his help and concern. He finished in 52:47 and I finished in 53:41, a little less than 1 minute behind him. The next closest time was just under 58 minutes so even with my mishap and Dave’s sacrifice, we pretty much smoked everyone else.
I don’t think I ever felt so good or had as much fun in a river race! Adversity threw itself at me and I was able to quickly recover and overcome.
I also know that I have the best paddling partner possible for the James River Rundown and I predict right now, if we complete that 100-mile race together, we will have exactly the same time as we cross the finish line together.