Tuesday 28 October 2014

Lightning, Martians & Dead Sheep, the 2014 Hawkesbury Classic.

What an experience it was, without a doubt the most interesting & challenging night out on the river of all of the six Classics I've now completed. Only now that my hands have unfurled from the Hawkesbury Classic competitor's position, bent awfully around the approximate width of a carbon paddle shaft, am I able to pen a few words about Saturday night's race.

From the first checkpoint there were lightning strikes all around, but thankfully nowhere too close. How do I know? I applied the old adage of counting to the clap after the strike, using my cadence as a measure; I think the closest anything high voltage got to me was 7 paddle strokes.
Hanging out with Mum under the EK tent.
One massive strike far to the east sent a chorus of oooohs from the pack in which I was furiously duelling, but it was so far ahead of us that the only people in the firing line were the record setting K4 crew, and they were going too fast to get hit.
Rob Mark & I all smiles at marshalling.
The fork lightning storm ended with a brief deluge at about the 30km mark, to be replaced as the dark descended by an amazing sheet lightning storm which illuminated the entire world, a blessing as the moon was busy shining brightly on Bolivia.

Somewhere around 85km, I watched ball lightning bouncing around in a cloud out to sea, but that was almost the same time the bright bioluminescent algae dancing around my paddle shaft morphed into tiny aliens, so I stand to be corrected on whether that was there, or not. I was shaken out of my chat to the martians by a severely bloated dead sheep, which I unwittingly jabbed hard with my paddle as it drifted into my ski in the darkness. Don't even ask why I only smelt the poor creature after I'd poked it.
First stroke of the evening.
The race for me was simple, beat the sh*t out of the one & the one in eleven hours. I paddled my V10, because I knew it would get me down faster as long as I could deal with the exposure.

A scorching day greeted us at Windsor for the start, where the objective was to get registered, and get under a tree. We all managed that to some extent, but the forecast of an unseasonably high minimum temperature made most of us adjust our dress plan down. I even contemplated starting in my smugglers.
Rob having a Nana nap.
The first three hours of the race were pretty hectic, an ebb tide & a close and fast series of packs had me running slightly harder than I had planned, but I was quite cheery when I'd done 33km,or 1/3 of the journey, after 3 hours. So quickly did the tide turn however, that I pulled over & harangued a couple of blokes having a rest into pulling all of the weed off my (weedless) rudder. 'Sorry mate, it's clean' was the reply, much to my chagrin.
There is always an uptide battle in the Hawkesbury, and this year it was an unbroken four hours during which I managed only 32km. It's soul destroying, because the effort levels required to go even 5% faster into the tide are a lot more than 5% extra effort.

I stopped to change into warmer pants at Wiseman's after 60km, then took off to do the last 40, hopefully within the 4:12 I'd left myself to get under 10:30. I had a brief stop at a houseboat to get my drinking tube unkinked, whereby one of blokes on board cracked me a beer & handed it over. I'll call him Shhhhimon, because he was shhhpeaking the least amount of shhhhit. I took a swig to be polite, then backed out into the darkness, while all six of them loudly debated why any dumb bastard would row a f#%cking canoe down a f#%cking river in the middle of the f#%cking night. On reflection they weren't being entirely unreasonable.

Slowly the tide swung as the river widened out, my pace picked up & I began to claw back that dastardly AVG SPEED reading on my GPS which is the one & only truth of your Hawkesbury campaign. I was busy bathing myself in hubris at the 100% navigation job I'd done in the dark, when I noticed Checkpoint 'O' far away on the left bank. Bugger, I'm on the wrong side, I swung left to shout out my number only for them all to yell in chorus 'TURN RIGHT!' Bugger, I wasn't on the wrong side, I'd just added 600m to my race by going to the optional Spencer checkpoint. If I ever crew the Classic, I'm going to stand at checkpoint 'O' for while so I can yell out 'TURN RIGHT', and then listen to the swearing.

Loudly & enthusiastically admonishing myself, I turned the big bend, drank my special 'final hour' concentrated caffeinated drink, and took off for the finish. Whistling along the second-to-last stretch, I heard the familiar whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a faster craft looming beside me, and like a gift from Gough I had a fast-finishing SLR2 to draft home. I must have nudged these hard-paddling, very generous blokes about 10 times as I surged when they eased, apologising only to hear 'no worries' 'it's alright' barked back every time. 

The island at Milson's Passage loomed, followed by the lights of the finish, and having edged past my hairy godfathers in the double as we entered the final stretch, they rightly powered past me right at the end to pip me by a few seconds. It was great to finish 100km still racing hard.
Finished, another one down, and maybe the last one!
My Mum Suzanne was there again, the bestest land crew you could hope for & entertainment for my faux landcrew, Owen Walton & Colin Sheringham. My final time of 10:27 was, for once, 3 minutes under what I'd figured I was capable of. My trace of the race is HERE.

Rob Mercer & Mark Hempel also had a great race, powering down the course in 9:40, running Mark's meticulous plan almost to the minute. Rob has written his own account of the race will be posted here later this week.
Rob & Mark firing past the first checkpoint.
Finally, I asked friends & colleagues to sponsor my paddle, as a tribute to the late Barry Davison, a victim of the blood & bone cancer that the Arrow Foundation tirelessly works to stem. I'm pleased to say that through their generosity, we raised over $2000 for the cause. To Lyall & my old club mates at the Randwick Petersham Legends, David, Paul, Bryce, Scotty, Graeme, Steven, Jason, Paul, Singhy, John, Tim, Greg, Dino, Ian, Selim, Emma, Mick, Peter, Rollo, cuzzy Haden, Rod & Greg Davison (Barry's sons), Tiernan, Jess & the team from Wentwest, Groucho from CE Chapman Lawyers, Suzie @ Popink, Harry from Promotional IT Solutions, Birger & his team at James Harvest Sportswear, Rosemary & the guys at Bottles of Australia, and Hamish Solomons from Kingsgrove Sports Centre, I thank you for your support.
The 100km stare.....

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