Big East River X
40 km canoe race
'Bent and I have done long adventure race paddling legs using kayak paddles and we've paddled for hours with canoe paddles on wilderness trips. Today was the first time we brought those things together and tried a long race with canoe paddles.
The Big East River X is the little brother of the Muskoka River X, the longest single day paddling race in the world. The race course is an out-and-back that starts in downtown Huntsville, travels west to Lake Vernon and goes upstream on the Big East River to the turn-around point at Arrowhead Provincial Park.
It's always interesting to do a race with specialists in a sport. We had fun looking at the wide range of watercraft and checking out their gadgets and tricks.
We started at 8 a.m. and the water was churning from the wakes of all the canoes. It would have been easy to tip.
The solo boats started 5 minutes after the canoes so we got to see some beautiful paddlers go by.
Once we got on the river, the challenge was to make our way upstream in the most efficient way possible. At first, there wasn't much current but after awhile, it became important to aim for the insides of curves and other eddies while avoiding the need to do too much steering around obstacles like sandbars or fallen trees. Marathon canoeists steer by changing sides at the right time without using J strokes. We tried to adapt our style a little but we don't have those skills. Also, we don't have nice small-bladed carbon paddles like the real racers do.
There are many different categories and it's not always obvious which category a canoe belongs to. There are 3 canoe types - Pro, Stock and Recreational - based on canoe design and dimensions. Within each type, there are Male, Female and Coed categories. And then there are all the different types of kayaks and SUPs!
We were in the C2 Stock category, which meant that we had a medium fast canoe. On our way upstream, we were leapfrogging another couple in a canoe that looked similar to ours so we figured we were in the same category, which gave all four of us some competitive fun. They asked whether it was our first time racing, which must have been obvious because we were debating our strategies as we went. They had more experience and we watched what they were doing. They passed us when we stopped to spray mosquito repellent. There wasn't any time for stopping in this race, which was too bad because I had to pee for 4.5 of the 5 hours.
Because it's an out-and-back course, we got to see the top paddlers coming toward us. Wow! The first kayak set a new course record of 3:35 for 40 km. The fastest Pro canoe finished 20 minutes behind him and was paddled beautifully by a couple in their 60s.
When we reached the turnaround, we were ahead of our friendly rivals so we paddled hard on the first downstream section. Now we were looking for the fastest current, often on the outsides of the bends although as the current became weaker, we would aim for the middle of the river or just try to cut corners. The field had spread out so we were mostly alone at this point although I caught a glimpse of the canoe behind us a couple of times and they seemed to be gaining.
For the last 2 hours of the race, we paddled hard and imagined the other canoe to be just behind us. This took me well beyond my comfort zone and by the time we crossed the finish line, I was totally spent. For a few minutes in the final kilometres, I seriously wondered, "Is this some weird female heart attack symptom or is it just a sore shoulder/chest?" (I convinced myself it was the latter - and it was.) I was a bit shaky when I hit dry land; there were others in the same, um, boat.
After 5 hours of hard paddling, we finished ahead of our rivals by less than 3 minutes. We had a great chat with them afterward, took each other's photos by the water etc.
We ended up 3rd of 5 boats in the Coed C2 Stock category. The winner was 45 minutes ahead of us and second place was 26 minutes ahead so it wasn't remotely close.
Everyone was friendly and the race was fun and well-organized. Their next event is a new 24-hr paddling race in mid-June based on the idea of 24-hr mountain bike races. The main camp will be set up by the water in downtown Huntsville and paddlers will do 12 km loops. FB is racing. I wish I could!