Thursday, July 16, 2009

Log Canoe Adventure

Last weekend I skipped training to visit my daughter and her husband on the Maryland Eastern Shore. C&F are avid sailors, and they were participating in a log canoe regatta. A log canoe is a long, thin, sleek boat with sails. (The three sails have names, based on their positions, but since I’m sort of out of my element here, I’ll just call them all sails.) The boats were originally raced by oystermen, and the one C&F crew with was built in 1902. Imagine still riding a bike that old!

Preparing for the log canoe race seemed a lot like preparing for a triathlon. There was gear to gather – boat shoes, gloves, hats, suntan lotion, course maps, bailing buckets, and duct tape. The tape is apparently some sort of talisman – the Silver Heel does not leave the dock without it. The race was set to start at 10 a.m., but we arrived at the launch site by 8:30 a.m. C&F and the other crew members (about a dozen in all) hoisted the two masts into place and adjusted the sails. Each canoe is identified by a number, which never changes because it’s printed on a sail, and the color of the crew’s shirts. The SH folks wore red.

About 9:15 a.m., the canoes were towed to the starting line by the “chase” boats – so named because they follow the canoes on the course and are at the ready to assist when necessary. I rode with F and some other spectators in the chase boat for the SH. C’s assigned spot was the very rear tip of the canoe, jutting out over the water. (She's the tiny spot on the right side of the above photo.) Saturday was very windy, and there were white caps on the river – not ideal conditions for the race. In fact, one team decided they didn’t have enough experienced crew to handle the rough weather and stayed at the dock.

The 10-minute warning sounded. At the 5-minute warning, the six canoes jockeyed for position, wanting to be as close to the starting line as possible without crossing it before the race officially began. Having next to nil knowledge about the course, I couldn’t tell where the canoes were supposed to go or who was ahead. It looked like the SH was leading, but then the other canoes all turned toward an orange buoy. Someone in our chase boat soon figured out the Heel was off course, but race rules forbid communicating such information to the crew in the canoe. We could only watch until they discovered their mistake and re-adjusted their course.

The SH tried to make up lost time as she rounded the next buoy. Strategically positioned on long boards placed perpendicular to the sides of the canoe, the crew scrambled from one board/side to the other as they tacked. From the chase boat we saw the canoe nearly capsize several times. Then someone fell overboard, and the canoe went down. The race was over for the SH.

The chase boat anchored close by and we began the long process of gathering the heavy, wet sails into the boat, along with other miscellaneous equipment. Then the canoe was turned right-side-up and bailed out. Once the masts were laid flat along the length of the canoe, the chase boat towed it back to the dock. Some of the crew rode on the SH and some rode in the chase boat. Luckily, only one person was hurt – a sprained knee. We later learned several of the other canoes also had capsized. Everyone spread their sails out to dry and got ready to race again the next day.

The weather was better Sunday, and two shorter races were held. The SH did all right in the first race and was running third in the second race when, again, she capsized. If this regatta had given a “bottoms up” prize, the SH certainly would have won it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Swimming with the Masters

Recently I joined a Masters Swim program at UR. I’ve thought about doing this for years but never did because I didn’t think I could keep up with the other swimmers. The UR program, however, emphasized that all levels of ability were welcome, and I figured maybe my triathlon experience had improved my swimming, so I signed up. The class meets three times a week, but I only attend on Monday evenings and Wednesday mornings. I’m in the “baby lane,” of course, but I usually can keep up with my fellow swimmers there.

In other group swims I’ve done I’ve struggled with the drills. Remarkably, in this class, I can actually do at least some of them. On Monday, we did a drill where we kicked while on our back with our hands together in the air at a 90 degree angle from our body. To my surprise, I didn’t find this as difficult as some of the other, accomplished swimmers did. Today we tossed a small medicine ball back and forth for 30 seconds at a time while remaining vertical in the water and kicking our legs. It was challenging, but my partner and I did it.

The best thing we’ve done so far, though, is diving. At the end of today’s swim, we took our marks on the side of the pool and then dived in as though we were starting a race. It’s been years and years, and a few more years, since I’d done any diving, and I wasn’t sure I’d remember how. I had unpleasant visions of hitting the water with a gigantic plop. However, I sprang off the side, sliced into the water, and glided to the top. Then I did it twice more because it was so much fun.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hy-Vee Olympic, Take 2

Last November, perhaps after a visit to the Breezy Hills Winery in Minden, Iowa, my sister and I decided to do the Hy-Vee Triathlon again. We named our team “Wash-Dry-Put Away,” our assigned tasks for doing dishes on the farm. All winter and spring, I diligently worked on improving my swimming and JB trained on her bike. JJ, however, was preoccupied with moving to a new house and then she hurt her foot, so she withdrew from the team in April. Not wanting to abandon the race, I decided to take her place as the runner. I kept meaning to concentrate more on that phase of my training, but I never quite succeeded.

Race day arrived, a pleasant summer morning with no rain in the forecast. Thankfully, the oppressive heat of the preceding week was gone, and it was actually chilly as we gathered at 5 a.m. From the beach, the buoy marking the turning point of the 1500 meter course seemed very far away.

My swim wave went off at 6:36 a.m. The water temperature was in the low 80s – too warm for the wet suit I’d carefully packed. Once I got started, I felt more confident than last year. I was disappointed, then, to discover when I finished that my time was three minutes slower than last year (when I’d stopped to rest at almost every buoy, but had worn a wet suit).

As I entered the transition area, I took off my foggy goggles and headed toward the person I thought was JB. I realized my mistake just as I started to hand the timing chip to a surprised stranger.

This year’s bike course had more hills than last year’s, and the first half required riding into the wind. JB, who rides a heavy, hybrid bike, had worried she’d have to walk her bike up the biggest hills. I assured her doing so would be okay, but she wasn’t looking forward to her part of the race. However, after her husband gave her some tips on proper gear-shifting technique, she rode up all the hills and actually enjoyed the second half of the ride.

Then it was my turn again. The run course had more hills this year, too. The 10K course was an “out and back,” and on the return, I ran with a young woman from Chicago. I enjoyed having a companion, as there were not many runners still on the course, and we encouraged each other to finish strong. My time was what I’d realistically predicted.

Our total team time was about 20 minutes slower than last year when JJ was the runner, but both JB and I were just happy to have finished. We had some post-race Blue Bunny ice cream, collected our gear, and departed. Before the race, JB had said she wasn’t doing it again next year, but on the way from Des Moines to her house, she was already reconsidering. Maybe Santa will bring her a new road bike!