A Few Things that I Learned on a 72km Paddle Day

The muscles are no longer sore, and that knot that had developed between my shoulder blades at 10am the morning of my marathon day paddle around Salt Spring Island has been untangled thanks to the care and nursing of my wife Jen. The bubble of happy kayaker slowly drains of air like a birthday balloon hiding behind the sofa a week after the big day. Land life settles in. Worries. How unfair is that? This time last week I was pondering my sanity at taking on a 72 km paddle with only a couple shorter days on the water to prepare in past months.

Letting it flow, and capturing lots of drinking water off the tarp in Clayoquot Sound.

Letting it flow, and capturing lots of drinking water off the tarp in Clayoquot Sound.

However unconditioned I may be I was excited at the prospect of viewing my home from the water and in an against-the-clock style. I am in no way an endurance extreme kayaker. I love the slower pace of paddling, the oneness with everything and the bobbing on the breathing of the earth. This time last week I had to excuse myself for a moment of wanting to do more, to accomplish a bigger paddle. To not get out so many times during the day and be truly at home within the bubble of my kayak seat. To make it so that I had all I needed, that land was an option for only extreme needs to get out and stretch between long crossings. Food, water, sports drink dry clothing, first aid kit, GPS, and iPod for distraction during duller periods on the water. It was all within my grasp and land, well I was determined to gain access to that current flow farther out in the channel with no popping in for a pee when the need arose.

Having made the spontaneous decision to the paddle I hit the internet for some advice and stumbled upon a good article written by Carter Johnson, a world-class endurance paddle racer and marathoner who in 2010 set the record time in the Yukon River Quest, a 700+ km marathon paddle event in a whopping time of 42 hours and 49 minutes. The article was on the subject of food (a personal passion) in marathon paddling. I figured this guy might know a thing or two and read it over. Much of it was simple common sense stuff that he broke down into before during and after the paddle. I took it to heart and with a few adjustments for my own comforts I created a program that I hoped would get me out and back again. It did. (I later read that Johnson’s success in the YRQ was partly due to what was found at the bottom of his kayak, several finished Red Bull cans and five hour energy drinks).

What did I learn from Mr. Johnson? First, hydration. I know, we all understand that our bodies are mostly water so it goes to figure that we should put some in during the day to replace what we lost. What I learned was to drink before I needed it. The day before in fact! Several glasses of water on Saturday for my Sunday event. Food of course was upped to a new level and more than I would normally gobble down. Pasta for lunch and double portions for dinner. I felt like a brickyard was forming in my stomach that evening but later the following day I would be grateful for that bloating. Muscles filled, skin and cells well hydrated I went to bed and attempted a fitful sleep.

The morning of the paddle, I had no time for the breakfast of champions and settled for apple juice, half a Vector bar (tastes like cardboard) and at the launch spot a good gulp of Gatorade/water. I had taken his advice again on not dumping too much on my system during the day by chopping up those tasty bars into one inch squares, easy to pop in my gob about every half out to forty-five minutes spreading out the calories all day long. Every fifteen minutes drinking a few sucks on the water tube or a few sips from the bottle leashed to my deck and riding on my spray deck with easy access. This was how I spent the day, watching my speed, watching the water and watching the clock to see when it was time to fuel up again.

The last thing I learned I didn’t take from Johnson’s article, but from my own personal need to well, pee while in motion. This was not going to be the usual Sunday kayaking day when I leisurely paddled the shoreline exploring nature and feeling good about myself. This was a workout day, an against the clock event to challenge myself after a long period of not. To get he best time posted as my personal best I would have to forego the luxury of shorelines and easy access to stepping out of the boat for a quickie by paddling further from shore and grabbing the peak flow of currents in my favour. For the first time in my decade and a half of kayaking I deployed the ‘pee bottle’!

Not knowing the in’s and out’s of this simple device (a reassigned red Nalgene bottle once used to carry red wine, note to self…write Pee Bottle on red Naglene) I gave it a go while riding the tidal currents down Stuart Channel on my early morning first leg headed south. I pulled my spray deck back, adjusted the stack of snack box and water bottles to give me room to move and undid the cap on the bottle. The next couple of minutes were a reminder of how many fishermen die each year due to standing up and urinating over the side of the boat. From the seated kayaker’s position the plumbing just doesn’t want to work. Oh, there was a need and a great desire to fill the bottle I tell ya, but it was a matter of shifting, bum lifting and center of gravity balance before I found optimal flow and maximum efficiency!

With that out-of-the-way, dumped and rinsed and my deck in place I paddled on happily but worried that the time it took to organize my bladder to bottle system would take more than it would had I just stopped ashore for a moment. Alas, there I was out in the middle later that day and again tempted the fates and imminent capsizing. I suppose the last thing in the list of things I learned on a 72 km non-stop paddling day was bladder control.

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