Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Upstream World Pukeathon Part 1

Well, its been a long time since I updated the blog.  Work has been super busy, but now I'm back to writing papers so for a break I'm gonna try to update with some entries I have been wanting to do for a while.  The first entry is about a race that I did a month ago.  The race is really one of my favorite, although I have never done well in it and it usually make me want to puke both during and afterwards.  So, on August 22nd I headed out from Hershey to Western PA, Ohiopyle on the Youghiogheny.

Ohiopyle is a cool little town..........sometimes.  It sits on the Lower Yough, which is one of the more heavily rafted rivers on the East Coast, so in summer the word zoo doesn't even begin to describe the river or the town. You need launch permits to run the river and its just hard to get up any speed if you are paddling a wildwater boat.  So, typically I avoid Ohiopyle in the summer.  This weekend is the exception, although this is probably the worst weekend of all.  August 22nd was the annual "Over the Falls Race and Festival", in which hundreds (it feels like thousands, possibly millions) of lemmings in kayaks take the one day a year opportunity to plunge off of Ohiopyle Falls.  And thousands, possibly millions, of gawping tourists stand long the banks watching them, taking pictures and videoing the carnage.  I realize that I am being pretty judgmental here and I shouldn't be, but I've never been a waterfall guy (I prefer to be in contact with the water), or a roller coaster guy or anything like that.  A lot of the folks running the Falls are great paddlers, a lot better than me, but a lot probably should also work on forward paddling and turning before dropping off of a significant vertical.  I think its interesting that hundreds of people will sign up for a race in order to drop off of a waterfall, but that the sign up for a race that is at the same site at the same time, but requires a huge effort and not a small amount of physical fitness and skill even to finish attracts maybe a 10th of those people.  Maybe that's a condemnation of the paddling community in the US, or of society as a whole, or maybe its just me.  I like that the race that I did was the smaller race - I've always tried to do things a bit differently and this is part of that, and part of why I paddle wildwater mostly.

So I've done a good job of not introducing this race at all.  It is the "Upstream World Championships", or the Ohiopyle Upstream Race.  This race has been around for many years, often run informally and raced only by locals.  It is a right of passage for many of the folks working for the local rafting companies.  I first did the race in the early 2000's, when Greg Akins was running it.  Back then I knew most of the folks racing and there were a bunch of wildwater boats.  I never did that well as attaining (that's what Americans call paddling upstream for non-US readers (all none of you)) is not my strong suite (is anything?). I didn't race again until last year, when I showed up after a summer of writing three major grants, not exercising, eating poorly and spending a lot of nights sleeping on a fold out bed in my office.  My "tapering" for the race consisted of going out to Frostburg for the week, paddling every day, so that by the time race day came along I was absolutely exhausted.  I did check out the course beforehand and thought there would be no problem, but the river level was changed for the lemmings to run the Falls. In the race I was awful, and couldn't make the first attainment.  I had to walk back up for a ways, and it was a real low point for me.  I was the only person not to make the whole race course, I was embarrassed and just disgusted that I could be that bad.  I vowed to be better next year, and here I was, at next year.
The "Upstream Race" is kind of a misnomer, as not all of the race is upstream.  The start and finish are at the same point, the gauge at the put-in.  There is a small downstream portion to the bottom of the Entrance Rapid where a downriver boat has a clear advantage over any other kind of boat.  Then we turn around two rocks at the bottom of the rapid and make our way back up, whatever way we can get up.  This year I decided to take the completely opposite approach to last year, heading out on the day of the race and not doing a practice run.  The major difference between this year and last year, though, over 8 months of training.  I was thinking it would make a difference.  In retrospect (where its always easy to see how you should have done it) not doing a practice run was a mistake, in fact it was really freakin' stupid.  I've paddled Entrance on the Lower Yough probably 50 times, but only two of those times have come in the past 6 years, and one of those times was when I had to walk back up last year.  But, I figured it was a mass start race so I could just follow folks and then pass them at the end, or at least try to pass them at the end.  And I was wrong......

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