“Oh wait, I almost forgot something,” declared race director Clay Myers-Bowman as we lined up at the start just before he set us loose in the second annual Hillsdale Challenge Adventure Race. With that, he opened a plastic storage tub and handed out full-sized bricks to each team. “Each team must carry a brick with them throughout the race and return it to us in one piece after you cross the finish line.” What? Now I’ve known Clay for a while now, well enough, at least, to not place him in the category of mentally-altered race directors that require, say, a racer to spend eight hours running, biking, and paddling around Oklahoma City in 90+ degree heat with a brick strapped to his back. A story which I sure must have related to him at one point or another, didn’t I?
No time to debate that now; with bricks stuffed into backpacks, tied to hydration packs, strapped around waists, or simply carried by hand, Clay sounded the start of the race and we were off. The race started with a sprint across a field where volunteers were waiting to hand us our first map and set of instructions. I grabbed the map and instructions and read as we ran back toward the starting line where it looked like we’d kick off the race with a paddling leg.
I quickly grabbed a kayak while Chad grabbed PFDs and paddles and we ran to the beach with half a dozen other teams. It only took one step into the water to realize that the lake was still cold; 60 degrees to be exact. We walked out a few steps, debated who should sit in the front and who should sit in the back, decided on putting Chad in the caboose, and launched ourselves onto the lake. Our forward progress lasted about 50 feet at which point all the teams ran into the floating barrier that separated the beach swim area from the rest of the lake. Getting an inflatable kayak, loaded down with 350 lbs of semi-lean and mean adventure racers, up and over a floating piece of plastic pipe is no easy feat. I tried paddling myself over, then pulling myself over, and finally getting my feet and the tip of the canoe over before leveraging the rest of me over the top with my hands. Chad ran into similar issues and after a minute or so of struggling we were finally free of the barrier.
Our forward progress once again lasted about 50 feet before we inexplicably turned hard to the right. We corrected, started paddling, and again – a few strokes later the nose of the canoe took a 90 degree right turn. Frustrated, we continued to correct only to find ourselves going off course and losing ground every half dozen strokes. We’re by no means expert paddlers but in general paddling is a leg where we can keep up with most of the teams out there, even gaining ground in many races. The variable in this particular case was our position in the boat. In the past I’ve usually paddled from the back while Chad paddles from the front. Perhaps some small differential in our paddling stroke counter balance each other in such a way that they mesh well when I’m in the back not so well (at least not without practice) when I’m in the front. I suppose it’s kind of like my kids in the double jogger. In general one prefers the left side and one prefers the right side. If one should decide that, just for a day, they want to ride on the other side of the stroller the environmental harmony is thrown out of balance and before you know it the jogger is making a 180 degree turn toward home. Long story short: don’t mess with the Fung Shui of the kayak.
At any rate, we kept paddling and correcting, all the while fighting the mini whitecaps that were splashing over the hull of the kayak leaving us both sitting in gallons of cold water. By the time we hit the first checkpoint in the middle of the dam, we were in roughly 10th or 11th place and had a kayak full of water.