The Hawkesbury Classic has been run & endured for another year, with more than 450 paddlers completing the journey down the 111km course from Windsor to Brooklyn.
The 'Hawkesbury Weekend' really begins early Saturday as you pack all of your gear up for the 90 minute drive west to the start, and for me this year was complicated somewhat by also being an exhibiting sponsor.
Unlike fellow sponsor Matt Blundell from Pro Kayaks who had a huge selection on hand for any last minute gear requirements, I decided to bring out the EK marquee & a couple of boats as eye candy. It was an energy-saving tactic really, but still made the lead up to the race a little more hectic than last year.
If you could bottle the vibe at the preliminaries to this race you'd be onto something. There is a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the competitors & land crew, and the cheery volunteers who run you through scrutineering make the whole process of getting yourself sorted for the event simple & good humoured.
I had my Mum, Suzanne, with me again to crew, and Owen Walton & Colin Sheringham once again helped me out with moving the boat around to marshalling & the start.
My lesson from last year's race was to try & push it when the tide was going my way, so this year I was determined to go as fast & hard as I could from the start to take advantage of what should quickly develop into a favourable ebb tide.
From the gun I targeted the fast guys in their dedicated flat water racers, but they were too quick off the mark for me to even draft, so I had to make do plugging into the head current & a gentle head wind for what I hoped would be an hour or so.
My little honesty box on the foredeck was telling me a few things that I didn't want to hear. First off I was working hard, about 10% over & above the rate I do on our brisk training paddle on Thursday mornings. Second I wasn't going very fast! Either I was suddenly crap or the tide was flooding way longer than the tide tables had indicated. The words of paddling mate Bob Turner came back to me - 'they're always wrong, don't plan around them, just paddle what's in front of you!'
Despite the brutality of busting it through this contrary stage, it's always the highlight of my race. The slower starters from the Brooklyn or Bust line up in front of you & one by one you slide past and have a quick chat. The absolute funniest thing I have seen in five races, was Captain Hook, Tinkerbell & Smee in a triple Canadian Canoe, in full Disney kit. Jolly Rogers flying, they were punting their ship down the Hawkesbury fast enough for a pair of elite SUP guys to get a mighty ride on their not unsubstantial wash. So you had the delightful juxtaposition of three jesters having a ball in their fancy dress, being tailed by two paddlers who looked like they really meant business. Probably sums up what the Classic is all about.
I had my first micro break at the 20km mark, a tough couple of hours where my average speed was just below the rate I needed to break 11 hours. The tide then began to swing as the sun set & I had a red hot go all the way to the 58km stop at Wiseman's Ferry.
With the tide still running I wasn't going to mess around, so jumped out, switched my water bladder (thanks Greg & Rowley), put on my Endurance jacket, popped a Neurofen and headed off. My entry into the Ayrton Senna pit stop award, 5mins 56 seconds!
From Wiseman's I had 42km to go in 4hrs 40mins, just behind where I wanted to be, and even though at that point I was on for a 10.30 time, I new the bad tide was coming....
I figured I could grind out 24km in the last 3 hours of the full flood tide, based on what last year's opposing tides did to my boat speed. With this in mind I set myself to get to the 76km mark by 1am, which after my mini rest, meant throwing everything at the next hour and a half.
At the 8 hour mark I was 1.5km short of 76km, and that effectively, was that. I grunted it out for the next three hours but realistically only a series of ocean runners were going to give me the little push I needed to get back ahead of the game.
In the last little stretch the tide quite inexplicably seemed to return (or the Red Bull kicked in), and for a brief time I was half a chance of running down my 2012 time, but again it wasn't to be, crossing the line at Brooklyn in 11:10.
Unlike last year when I could see the little errors I made that cost me, this year (with the exception of paddling 400m further due to two navigation boogles), I followed my plan and finished the race well stuffed. Last year I got out of the boat feeling pretty rosy, not so this time, completely buggered! My trace comparing the two races shows that I worked way harder to acheive more-or-less the same time, and a few guys I consider to be yardsticks had also gone slower this year than they had managed in 2012.
I suppose that's probably why it's a bit useless comparing one Hawkesbury to another, the tides & when they kick is really what it's all about. Such a demanding event to analyse & plan around, and then physically and mentally to execute, but you still need a little bit of good fortune to really nail it.
My trace of the race is HERE.
Among my paddling mates there were some brilliant efforts. Anne Moore & her paddling partner Jack Ward smashed the previous record for Long Rec doubles by more than 20 minutes, blazing down the course in 9:44. When you consider that Anne also broke a longstanding record on her own last year (even though it was bettered on the night), she is building quite a Hawkesbury resume.
|Anne relaxing before her & paddle partner Jack gouged a path down the river
Mum was there at the end with a cup of hot soup, sneaking into the 'officials only' bit at the finish again to cheer me home, after following me down the river in the dark of the night. What a lady!
|Finished & looking a hundred dollars!
Next year....?? If I'm going in it, I'm going in a boat that can mow down a few of those guys & girls in their Flashes & Sonics. I reckon it has to be an easier race if you're out there for a shorter time..!
Well done to everyone who took part, it's hard to imagine another 'everyman' event like this, anywhere, that requires such commitment to complete. Just fantastic.