And Now we are Three !!!

I couldn’t believe it.  Here we were in the middle of the Ten Thousand Islands using a route very few people use and we run into another Watertriber.  Stripbuilder had started on the outside like us and after fighting the winds, decided to attempt getting to CP2 on the inside.  He made that decision without the benefit of a chart, with a route marked on it like mine.  Talk about guts.  I think he was just as glad to see us as we were to see him.  I mean if we were going to end up lost, at least it would be a little easier to handle having company.  Getting lost in a bunch of mangroves, in the middle of the night, a long way from civilization, can be a little unsettling.  Having another human to talk to and help in the problem solving helps keep the panic in check.  If I lived closer to the Ten Thousand Islands, I think I would have a training evolution that consisted of someone taking me while I am blind folded and dropping me and my kayak off at undisclosed location.  All I would have is a chart, compass, and my camping gear.  Essentially, I would be lost and my goal would be to find my way back to the pickup point.  The more you practice being lost, the more confident you become that you can get yourself out of it.

Everytime I have paddled alone through the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades I have found it to be quite a spiritual experience.  For whatever reason, I feel very close to God during those times and am just taken back by the beauty of the place.  Lots of time to reflect on things… How I am living my life?  Who I am as a person.  Now all those feelings and thoughts happen during the daytime.  Night in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades is a whole other world.  First, the place is dark, and I mean real dark.  If you don’t have much of a moon it can be so dark you cannot make out the horizon, shapes and objects.  You better have a good head lamp or bow light if you don’t want to run into something or feel like you are paddling in a black abyss.  Second, there are not a lot of good objects you can take navigation bearings off of.  One clump of mangroves looks just like another clump of mangroves so you hope you can see the stars.  You also have problems getting an idea of distance.  Basically, your spacial awareness and situational awareness goes to pot.  Third, there is not a lot of places you can stop and just wait until the morning.  Lots of mangroves, but not a lot of solid ground that is accessible, so you are confined to your boat.  I know one Watertriber who, after seeing too many green flying monkies, (basically so tired he is hallucinating!) drove his bow into the mangroves and then weaved his arms and paddle into them to keep him from flipping while he slept.  Worked for him but probably not for most.  Especially with all the talk of pythons.  Who wants to wake up thinking that the squeeze feeling they are experiencing is not a hug from someone, but a big ol’ snake!

So, it was great to have another boat with us and the other great thing was that we had a full moon with no overcast clouds.  No clouds means I can see stars and stars mean I now have some navigation references.  As we started paddling through the mangroves, I was still worried about the outgoing tide and concerned that we would have enough water to make it to CP2.  It would really stink to be stuck on a mud bank at night waiting for a tide shift.  Just ring the dinner bell for the mosquitoes.  Shoot, they would have a smorgasbord to choose from.  Hmmm, Riverslayer didn’t taste too good, let’s try Whale!  Oh, and then there is Stripbuilder for dessert.  The first hour was a little stressful but with time I started to get more confidence in the route itself and my ability to navigate it.  There were only two areas where the water got real skinny so it seemed like we had hit the top part of an outgoing tide versus the bottom part.  It was a great feeling to start seeing the light from the airport beacon at Everglades City flash across the night sky.  With each stroke it got closer and closer and we knew we were closer to being at CP2.

Getting to CP2 is an event in itself.  Everytime I have come into this checkpoint I have to force the thought out of my mind that the airport is the finish.  When I am coming into this checkpoint I am usually very tired after a long day and I want the day to be done.  The airport is the first sign of civilization and usually the bar next to the airport is rocking so there is music, laughter and the smell of food in the air.  The problem is that the check point is another 2.5 miles south at the island of Chokoloskee.  The other problem with this checkpoint is that it has a big mud flat in front of it.  You come in at a low tide and you have about 200 yards of mud crawling to get to the lockbox with the check-in sheet.  Oh, by the way, you not only have to get  your body through the mud, but you also have to get your boat through it.  It is nasty and good luck if you try to walk in it.  We got lucky.  Since we were arriving at the top half of the out going tide the mud flat was not that large.  We had arrived at CP2 !!!

As I looked at the checkin sheet in the lock box I noticed that Jungle Jim had made it too but Salty Frog had not.  Then I saw Jungle Jim’s kayak.  That shocked me!  As I had indicated before, both these guys are very fast and they had left CP1 eight hours earlier than us.  I was able to get a little cell service and called Lisa.  It was good to hear her voice.  I always feel better after talking to her.  She either makes me laugh, helps me see that something is not as bad as I think, and/or re-charges my confidence that I will be successful.  She indicated that Jungle Jim was still at CP2 and had a hotel room, a fresh cooked hamburger, a cold coke, and fries for me.  Man did that sound good and my mouth was watering.  A cold coke– ahhhhhhhhhh.   But there was a problem.  What would I tell my two new paddling partners who were setting their tents up next to the road and getting ready to cook some dehydrated meals?  “Hey guys, sorry the bugs are biting but I am going to go get a nice hot shower, bunk in an air conditioned hotel room, and have a great meal.  Sucks to be you!”  Nope, just couldn’t do that.  I found some flat ground somewhat off the road, fixed a dehydrated meal and got that meal in Jim’s room out of my head.  Now that meal didn’t go to waste.  Salty Fog came in a little later than us and Jungle Jim gave it to him.  All things work out in the end.

Oh Will This Gamble Pay Off ????

With our stomachs full, our water bottle topped off, and our visits to the nice clean bathroom complete we left the marina at Marco Island.  The current was still running strong but we were paddling strong so we were making pretty speed.  The wind had picked up quite a bit but Big Marco River wasn’t that far and it gave us a lot of protection from the wind.  This was about the time that I gave up on any hope of sailing.  I beached my boat and took down my mast, lee board and big sail.  Both Rod and myself left our PAS sails stored on the deck. This sail is a smaller sail, but it is pretty easy to deploy and store.  In my wildest dreams I would have never predicted that my sail equipment would stay stored for most of trip.  The paddle down Big Marco River wasn’t that bad but as we entered into Coon Key Pass we started to get a taste of what the wind was going to be like on the outside.  The wind was strong and out of the south.  Not what we were looking for.  In the past I have always gone to Check Point 2 (CP2) from Marco Island by entering the Gulf of Mexico at Coon Key, paddling the roughly 14 miles to Indian Key and then taking Indian Key Pass to Chokoloskee Bay.  Once in Chokoloskee Bay, you have a couple of options to get to CP2 depending on the tide.  For a Watertriber who is covering 50 plus miles a day, 4 miles is not that big of a deal — unless, of course, Ms. Gulf Of Mexico is upset and all pissed off.  If that is the case, those 14 miles become the longest miles you have ever paddled.  The area this 14 miles parallels is called the Ten Thousand Islands, and for a very good reason.  If you look at a chart, it looks like there are ten thousand Islands in this area and it is a maze to get through.  This picture might give you a feel of what someone is trying to navigate through.  This navigation challenge is why everyone normally goes on the outside and travels through Indian Key Pass to get to Chokoloskee Bay.

As with most things in life, there is always someone out there who might have just found a different way to do something.  You just have to find that person.  Well, I had always wondered if there was a way to go from Big Marco River to Chokoloskee Bay on the inside of the Ten Thousand Island.  On the charts it just didn’t look possible, but I got lucky.  I not only found two Watertribers who knew of a way through the inside, but one of them had actually paddled it.  My wife thinks I am the ultimate Boy Scout in that I am always trying to prepare for a worst case scenario.  I personally think it is the military training coming out in me.  In the military, you are taught to always have a contingency plan because no plan survives first contact with the enemy.  So prior to the start of the UFC, I was able to get a chart with a route shown with a magic marker. This chart, along with Google Earth and several late nights, gave me some confidence that a route did exist IF, and I do mean IF, the tides were right.  With a low tide it was highly doubtful you could make it through the area.

As we approached Coon Key, I didn’t have a good feeling about the condition of the Gulf.  At the same time, I didn’t have enough confidence in the inside route to suggest to Rod that we change our plans from the outside route.  I just kept thinking that the Everglades Challenge had taken place for years, and in all those years, only two people knew about the inside route and only one person had actually paddle it.  If it was as good as it appeared, then lots of other Watertribers would have already taken it.

The lee side of Coon Key wasn’t half bad but as we rounded the key and headed south, Ms. Gulf of Mexico unleashed her anger on us.   My only thought was, “Oh my, we will be working HAAARRRDDD today!”  The winds were so strong we were left with no choice but to island-hop paddle.  This meant changing our course to the closest island that was in roughly the same direction we needed to head, burning all sorts of energy due to how hard we were paddling, and then resting up in the lee of the island to build our reserve to repeat the process with the next island.  It was slow and hard going.  I felt like it was Tampa Bay all over again but instead of 7 miles to cover, we had 14 miles.  I am a firm believer that in these events you must have the fortitude to stick to your plan.   I also believe there comes a point where you have to say your plan isn’t the best plan.  I think I reached that point at Dismal Key Pass.  I wonder if the person who named that pass had a similar day as we were having when he or she named it.  Between waves and wind gusts, I was able to look at the map and saw a marked channel just south of Panther Key that lead into the inside of the Ten Thousand Islands.  I also saw that Panther Key was the next big island in front of us.  I had also reached the point where I was ready to attempt the inside route.  “Time for a meeting!” I scream to Rod.  We made it to Panther Key where I brought out the chart and put on my best case to convince Rod that we needed to go down Panther Key Pass and attempt the inside route to get to CP2.  We both knew that the deadline for getting to CP1 had been extended, but the deadline to get to CP2 had not.  We really needed to get to CP2 today. Now I really think Rod wanted to just keep slogging it out with the wind and keep on the outside because we knew the route.  Ultimately he gave in to my suggestion and we headed around Panther Key and into Panther Key Pass.  It took us about an hour to get into the narrows of Panther Key Pass where the paddling got a lot better.  We had protection from the wind which was great!  Funny though, how once the main cause of whatever problem you have is gone, you start to rethink your decision.  Now in the pass with the wind and waves at bay, I was in serious rethink mode.  It is getting dark.  We are going to be navigating where there are no real bearing markers through the Ten Thousand Islands, following a route that I have never been on and the navigation is all on me.  And it looks like the tide is going out.  There may not be enough water to get through. What have I gotten us into?!

I think the strength of any relationship is forged in the world of conflict.  I firmly believe that if you look at any successful relationship you will find a long history of successful conflict resolution.  Well, Rod and I were going to have our first test.  Rod is the type of guy that once he starts on a plan, that is the plan.  He will drop dead in exhaustion attempting to accomplish the plan.  Which is kind of amazing that I got him to change our route in the first place.  Now that we had changed our original plans, I wanted to explore the possibility of changing it again.  I wanted to make sure he understood all the risks that we were taking and now was the time to change our plans if we were going to change them again.  “Hey!  Time for ANOTHER meeting!”  (Gulp! I was waiting for an emotional explosion.)  Rod’s reaction at this point told me a lot about the individual I was paddling with.  I could tell my latest request had really pissed him off, but he didn’t explode.  He stopped, listened to my points and my concerns, and then responded with, “The inside route is our plan now AND WE ARE STICKING TO IT!!!!!”  Wherein I responded, “OK.”  Now, the next 30 minutes of paddling in silence was awkward, to say the least, but that didn’t last long.  I knew right then that not only did I have one strong paddler with me, but I also had one heck of a person to paddle with.  As we paddled down the channel, and just before entering Faka Union Bay, we saw this  kayaker.  It is getting dark, we are in the middle of the Ten Thousand Islands, miles from any civilization, who in their right mind would be paddling a kayak now?  A Watertriber of course!  “Hey! I’m Stripbuilder, who the heck are you and what are you doing back here?”

Hammer Nutrition

My first Watertribe event was the 67 mile Ultramarathon.  Prior to this event, I had done several long distance biking events and a couple of half Ironman triathlons, so I felt I had a pretty good understanding of how to fuel for this event.  I think it was 9 hours into the Ultramarathon that I “bonkered.”  I was lucky that I was able to get to an island and had some idea of what to eat to get my body and my mind back into the game.  I did lose some time sitting on that island but I was able to get back into the race and finish it.  I had experienced bonkering before, but in each of those events I didn’t have a fueling plan and was just fueling as I felt the need.  In the Ultramarathon, I had a fueling plan and had trained with it but never longer than 6 hours.  This experience taught me that figuring out a fuel protocol for these long duration endurance events is a lot more complicated than one thinks. When you think about it, it makes sense.  You are really changing your body chemistry and whatever you are putting into your body has to fit into the chemical reaction going on.  As I get older, I have found that it is even more important to understand.  That point was driven home to me a couple of years ago while training for a marathon.  It was a long training run, in the heat, and I wasn’t taking any electrolyte supplements.  I had never before, so why now?  Unfortunately, I finished the run in a condition where my lower muscles went into spasms that were so bad my wife was ready to rush me to the hospital. Again, I was lucky in that I was able to get enough fluids and electrolytes into my system that things got better.  Otherwise, my wife was going to override my stubborn objections, and haul me to the hospital.  There is a tremendous amount of information and products out there and at first I thought I could figure it out myself. What I found was that the more I read, and the more folks I talked to, the more confused I got.  One person said this product and fueling protocol was the best, and then someone else would have a protocol that was completely different.  What I didn’t know then was that all the folks I talked to were probably correct in that they had found a fueling protocol that worked best for their particular body.  It didn’t mean that it would work for my body chemistry.  So I needed a protocol to start off with that would get 80% there and then fine tune it with my training paddles.  I also wanted a protocol that had some experience and data to support it.  That is when I turned to Hammer Nutrition. Why Hammer Nutrition?  Three reasons.  The first was that they are one of the few companies out there that has experience with multi-day, long endurance events.  In fact, a lot of their initial research came from supporting the multi-day bike race called Race Across America.  The second was that their products seemed to be made from high quality ingredients and each product seemed to be targeted for a certain benefit.  I have always struggled with a product that supposedly does it all.  I figure a product that attempts to address all aspects the body is experiencing might help some, but not very well.  The third reason was the ability to discuss fueling problems with their staff who are also endurance athletes.  This came in real handy around day 13 of the UFC.  I was having problems with energy and slowing down my weight loss.  This is a picture of me and man I really didn’t  look good.  My wife left this staging area crying because of the condition I was in.  I was also having problems staying awake from 7-9 in the morning.  Sleep paddling is what I call it.  It was like my blood sugar just dropped off the chart.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open and my head up but I was still paddling.  Talk about the power of muscle memory.  This paddle state is not a lot of fun when you are paddling with a very strong paddler who is a morning person.  Ohhhh but the night will come and the tables will be reversed.  Rod being the tough guy he is resorted to slapping himself during one of these periods.  (I thought about offering to do it for him but figured he wouldn’t take me up on it.)  Lisa, being the supportive wife that she is, got on the phone to Hammer Nutrition and explained the problems I was having.  Now, when I call Hammer, I usually get one of the athletes on staff who are very knowledgable and very good.  My wife, on the other hand, gets through to Steve Born!  The guys resume is chock full of long distance events and he has been inducted into the Ultra Cycling Hall of Fame.  He spent 45 minutes on the phone with her giving her several suggested changes to both my fueling protocol and the food I was eating.  These changes were one of the many things that contributed to me finishing the UFC.  Thanks Steve!!  For the UFC, I used about every one of Hammer’s products.  This is me packing for the UFC.  Hard to believe that even consuming all this stuff I was loosing weight.  The one thing that I did in this event that I hadn’t done in previous events is really hit the vitamin supplements.  In an event such as the UFC your body is really consuming the reserves (body fat, minerals, etc.) it has stored up.  In fact, part of the challenge of a participant in this event is to start off with enough reserves, but not too much, that with what you are consuming, your body will have enough to finish the event.  Then there are the things your body  doesn’t have the capability to store, but requires. You better be taking those in or your body will punish you.  This is a picture of what I called my fueling station.  I usually ate and drank something every 15 minutes.  You will notice that there are two rows of holes.  These helped me know what I had taken last.  When you are fatigued you must have a simple way of keeping track of stuff and this is what worked for me.

It has been two months since completing the UFC.  As I look back on what I put my body through, I am pretty amazed that my body did not have more problems recovering.  I am not a doctor, but I really think it was due to the fueling and supplement protocol I used both during the event and post event.  I am now back training for a marathon and a long distance open water swim and find that my energy level is almost back to normal.  As I stated before, I think every athlete has to find what works for them but for me, the Hammer Nutrition products and staff worked.

I am a Night Person Ohhhh Geee You are a Morning Person !!!!!

The bed at CP1 was so nice but that bed sure delayed my mental acceptance of waking up in a tent.  Since I had a paddling buddy I mentally pushed aside my grips and focused on getting ready for another day’s paddle. Rod wanted me to wake him at 5:00. We had set a time we wanted to be on the water ready to go and then set our wake up times based on quickly we individually got ready. Rod definitely got more sleep than myself during the UFC due to our differences in getting ready to camp and getting ready to paddle for the day. I will go into the differences in a later post. The other difference that became apparent right off the bat is that Rod is a morning person and I am a night person. Not only does my body function better at night but mentally I enjoy operating at night. Everyone knows that morning people wake up with all sorts of energy and like to talk a lot in the morning.  You know the type… Hey, how are you doing? What a wonderful day! What is the weather? How did you sleep? Hey! Hey! Hey!)  Night people on the other hand wake up with a low energy level and are like, Grrrrrrrr………..Leave me alone until I wake up……..Where is the green tea……………..Grrrrrrr!! Thankfully when you are packing there is not a lot of down time to carry on a conversation but when you are paddling that is a different story. Ahhhh, but when you are paddling you can get so far apart you cannot carry on a conversation. Since we spent 25 morning together, we obviously found a way to manage this difference.

The paddle down to Marco Island was a nice paddle. We were in a protective waterway and it is always pretty watching the sun come up.  Even though it was early in the morning the wind was already starting to blow and was blowing from the South. Just where we didn’t want it to blow from but as long as we were in the waterway it wouldn’t effect us. As we entered the channel around Marco Island I got my first insight into one of Rod’s fueling strategies for the UFC. Stopping at places to eat.  “Hey in Marco lets stop somewhere and get a breakfast sandwich.”  My response?  “DO WHAT?”  Finding and stopping at places for anything in a kayak or canoe is a big deal.  First of all, the places are usually off your course which means energy and time spent getting to them.  Second, finding a place when you are two feet off the water is not that easy. I mean we are not carrying a 100 page waterway guide that lists all the facilities at different locations.  And third, who wants two foul-smelling watermen who look like homeless people sitting next to them in a restaurant. So this strategy was the furthest thing from my game plan. Not so with my buddy Rod but I thought I would humor him knowing full well we would not find any places. “Ok sure, if we find a place not too far off our course we can stop.”

Little did I know that those words unleashed a restaurant water hound dog the likes I had never seen. Rod starts to paddle to every boat anchored asking them about places on the waterway that serve food. Have you ever seen those shows with a hound dog that has his nose to the ground zigzagging all over the place following the scent. Well that was Rod all over the waterway. Now mind you, we were making progress around Marco, but he was going back and forth across the channel. Sure enough he identifies a place.  It is right on our way and they serve the best breakfast sandwiches on Marco Island. About this time I am wishing I hadn’t consumed the bottle of ensure and oatmeal bar when I got up. Little did I know that my body probably could have used not only the breakfast sandwich I was going to eat but probably two bottles of ensure and two oatmeal bars.

The tidal currents around Marco Island are pretty strong  and we had a good one going when we were docking at the Marina with the sandwich shop. I had put my amas, sail mast, and sail up in the morning hoping that there would be a chance of sailing. All this gear made for a bunch of stuff to get in the way when I was  docking. On a beach landing this gear is not a big deal but docking on a marina dock is problematic. Chaos is an understatement for my docking at Marco. Here Rod who had no sail gear up docks just as pretty as you please and I come in with lines everywhere, sail flapping, and amass crashing into the dock. For those Navy types it was ” Ding Ding……Ding Ding, now hear this — now hear this.  Capt. Crunch arriving.” Nice way to impress my new paddling buddy.

Once docked we got our water bottles, Rod took off to find a bathroom and order the sandwiches. As I was putting my full water bottles in my boat I noticed something odd. Why does my deck look different? Oh Geeeeee….. my $450.00 GPS was gone and not in it’s holder. I had clipped it in the holder and wrapped the lanyard around the holder but it was GONE. The monetary value was one thing, but that GPS had all my routes electronically loaded in it and we were on the verge of entering the Ten Thousand Islands. Not Good! Not Good At All!!!!!! After a few seconds of an adrenaline rush, I remember that one of the reasons that GPS was so expensive was that it floated. So I dropped a piece of wood in the water and watched what direction the current took it. Ok, I have a direction, now some high ground. I went to a hand rail on the dock and got as high as a could and looked down range. Low and behold, I saw this little object bouncing up and down with the wave sets. There it is and it is tracking towards some boats that are docked. Now image what is going through Rod’s mind as he sits in the breakfast sandwich shop watching me through the window. Here is his new paddle partner running down the dock, stripping off his gear, and jumping on and off boats tied to the dock.  He must have been thinking something along the lines of, “Oh boy, did I team up with a strange one. Maybe I can dump him at CP2?” Well I finally got the GPS and I was able to get it without jumping into the water. Sweet!! Oh, and it was still working, no leaks. I collected my gear off the dock and headed to the sandwich shop. Of course Rod was finished and ready to go but I was going to sit down, eat my sandwich and collect my thoughts. What a morning.  My wish now is that the day would get a little better. I wish……………..

No! No! Not Gordon Pass!

Mariners have a love hate relationship with passes (some call them inlets).  Love in the sense they are the opening to calm and safe harbors when it is rough and nasty in the open waters. Hate in the sense that they usually have swift currents flowing through them, the breakwaters are usually made out of very big rocks, and the openings are usually narrow. This introduces all sorts of interesting boat handling situations when the winds and waves are 90 degrees to the opening.  Even a wave that is traveling towards the open is not great. I don’t know who came up with the phrase, “Wishing you fair winds and following seas,” but I for one don’t care for a following sea. A following sea at times can be a difficult sea to handle.

In addition to the current and a breakwater made out of big rocks, Gordon Pass has two  characteristics which make it even more interesting. The first is that it only has one breakwater and that is on the south side.  This is great if you have a south wind blowing, but hang on if you have a west or even worse a north/northwest wind. The waves from these winds come into the pass bounce off the breakwater and create a confused sea in the inlet. Then you add current from an incoming or an outgoing tide and now things are real interesting. The second characteristic is that the north side of the pass has a long shallow area that causes the waves to standup and break when they are passing through it. Gee what fun. If you don’t get dumped in the breaking waves, you get a second chance of getting dumped dealing with the confused seas, and then you might get the opportunity to fight a stiff out going tide. If you do get dumped, you hope you and your boat don’t get crushed against the rocks and good luck finding you gear that gets taken out with the current. Oh and the beach just around the breakwater is private property. The rumor among the tribe is that the owner is a big Hollywood producer “The Force Be With You” that has guards who will highly encourage you to get off the beach. Ok, so lots of potential bad but If you make it through the pass you have some very nice calm waters and access to a waterway that is protected. The great part of this waterway is it goes all the way to Marco Island. GitUrDun and myself went through Gordon Pass in the 2007 EC during the daylight and it was scary exciting. I will never forget leaning back trying to keep the bow of my kayak from sinking into the backside of one of the braking waves and telling my boat “Keep your bow up and no turning!!! We don’t want to get broadside to this wave.”   Funny why I talk to my boat. Like the boat can hear me or do what I tell it. I mean it is an inanimate object but I know more than a few Watertribers who talk to their boats when things are getting hairy. GitUrDun and myself made it through the pass but it took a couple of minutes sitting in the calm water to catch our breaths and let the heart rate get back to normal.

Unfortunately the situation Riverslayer and I found ourselves in is that we could either go into Gordon Pass and find a nice campsite or spend another three hours paddling down to Marco Island. There we would face entering Capri Pass in the dark early morning hours, tired as all get out after paddling roughly 20 hours, and no guarantee that things would be any better at that pass. Capri Pass doesn’t have any breakwaters but does have plenty of shallow shoals and a serious current. Gordon Pass, here we come!  I needed a little excitement to wake me up anyway. You know sometimes the stars line up and everything falls into place perfectly. For Rod and myself that is what happened when we got to Gordon Pass. The wind died down to a gentle breeze, which meant no breaking waves and maybe no bugs, and we entered the pass just as the tide shifted to an incoming tide. The current was pushing us into the pass. Sweet!!! We just cruised into the pass talking about finding a campsite and how far east this big Hollywood producer’s land goes.

Finding a camp site at night is a little interesting in that you seem to lose your depth perception. A sand beach will look like a white wall or what looks like a sand beach is really a bunch or oyster shells. Or you cannot find any sand beach and it is just one long stretch of mangrove-covered bank. One thing that is guaranteed to happen is no matter what campsite you ultimately land at there will be one within a half of a mile of you that will be a far better campsite than the one you chose. It always happens which is why sometimes you will go a couple of miles looking for a site. Well not tonight, we were too tired. The first island that we came to had a lot of oyster shells on it but it did have a strip about 8 feet wide and 20 feet long that had sand over the oyster shells. Big enough for two tents so it would do. As we were setting up camp I noticed that Rod seemed to be setting his camp up in stealth mode. (Low profile so as to blend into the surroundings. We usually do this when we really are not supposed to be camping at the spot.) I know this was the first night we had camped together but I had to ask why he was settling his tent up that way. Come to find out he had forgotten to pack his tent poles so he was jury-rigging his tent for the night. This is a picture of Rod in his tent. Hmmmm comfyyyyyyy! By the way, he is in there sleeping. Not for me, I set my tent up with its poles. We both slept well that night even with the oyster shells, tent with no poles and no comfortable bed.

So you are Riverslayer

Riverslayer!!!!! (aka Rod Price.)  Prior to the UFC I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times but we had never met in person. We had tried to meet up for a training paddle on the St. Mary’s River but things didn’t work out and I ended up doing it myself. I knew that he was a very accomplished competitive paddler who had not only completed the Yukon 1000, but also won it. For whatever reason, we did not run into each other at the start of the UFC or at the captain’s meeting. His boat wasn’t a Kruger but it looked very similar to a Kruger Sea Wind so I figured we would have about the same speed. Heck, I don’t like crossing Boca Grande pass anyway so having company for the crossing would be great.   “Nice to meet you in person. Sure we can paddle the pass together.” I figured that after the pass we would go our separate ways which meant I really didn’t need to worry about whether we would be compatible as paddling partners.

As I mentioned in other posts, I don’t like Boca Grande Pass. I don’t fear it. I just don’t like it. The currents are strong, the waves can build fast, you are exposed to a big fetch of water, and did I mention the men in gray suits? (Sharks) I know that sharks are always present in salt water and that we are not their top food choice. That is all nice to know but I have also witnessed first hand a big dark shadow emerge from the water’s depth of Boca Grande and cut a large tarpon in half in one swift attack. The men in gray suits do live in these waters and they are big and nasty. I know that sharks are just as plentiful and just as big in Tampa Bay, but the thought of sharks doesn’t really cross my mind when paddling and swimming in Tampa Bay. Having Rod to talk to while crossing the pass was a welcome break from thinking about jaws emerging from the depths and thinking my boat was a fiberglass twinkie, with me as the soft inside. In addition to having Rod to talk to, the other nice thing about this crossing was that the winds were building and they were from the north-east. Yes!!!! I will be able to put my sail up.

Cabbage Key was the first shallow area after the pass where we could pull over and rig up the sails. Rod only had a PAS sail while I on the other hand had a PAS sail and my big sail. I figure this was where we would separate since I had so much more sail area. I decided to leave two reefs in the sail figuring that the wind would continue to build.  Rod indicated that we would see if he could keep up with me with just his PAS sail and paddling. The sail down Pine Island Sound was outstanding but I also noticed that the winds were shifting. Instead of being out of the north east they were coming out of the east. Not a problem.  That is until I got to the end of Pine Island Sound where the fun for the day ended. I had to head east and directly into the wind. Oh gee, back to hard paddling, head on waves, and slow forward movement.

After an hour of battling the winds I started to look for a wind break off of Sanibel Island. Sure enough there was a deep cut that followed the shoreline that would offer some shelter from the wind. The question would be could I get over the wide shallow bank in front of the cut. I decided to go for it. Anyone that has paddled a boat in shallow water knows that it is like paddling in jello and it kills your speed. Well I was in jello land and man was it thick jello. As long as I was not running aground and getting closer to a wind break I felt it was worth it. It was about this time that I got some insight in to just how strong of a paddler Rod was. He had not only kept me in striking distance coming down Pine Island Sound, but he was powering his was way through the wind heading for the same point of land I was. He wasn’t paddling to the cut as I was, but was paddling a direct course right into the wind. I made it to the cut and paddled around to the point of land where low and behold I found Rod. He had already landed and was getting a lunch snack. This was the first of many situations where I got to see what a top ranked competitive paddler was capable of doing. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a way I can tie a rope to his stern when he isn’t looking.

After a short lunch break we started heading south again through San Carlos Bay. The winds had died some and I could have let out both of my reefs but I decided to leave them in to see if our speeds would be the same. Rod was able to draft off me so hey why not travel together for a while and see how it goes. The trip down the coast was really pretty nice. The winds had died down but there was enough wind to sail and the seas were fairly calm. Little did I know that this day was going to be my longest day sailing for the entire UFC. After this day, sailing was going to be just a twinkle in my eye. It was dark and well into the night by the time we got near Gordon’s pass and we were both feeling tired from the day. My plan for the UFC was to paddle 15 hours a day and get 6 hours of sleep each night. For the Everglades Challenge I normally plan on paddling until I see the green flying monkeys. Then I  pull over and get some rest. Not my plan for the UFC. It is just too long of a race to go into sleep deprivation every day. So why not go through Gordon’s pass and find a place to camp for the night. Heyyyyyyy, wait a minute, wasn’t Gordon’s pass the pass that GitUrDun and I went through where we had all sorts of excitement? Lots of rocks, a massive tricky current, a big shoal with breaking waves, and……………

A Bathroom, A Shower, Oh My My A Bed !!!

One of the nice things about staying at CP1 is that there is a bathroom, a shower with hot water and a bunk house with four bunks. I have never had a problem with getting into the bathroom, and I have always been able to get a shower with hot water. Don’t know how big the hot water tank is there but it has to be a big one with the number of showers that occur. Everybody has some quirk about them and cleaning up before going to sleep is one of mine. Thus a shower is special treat for me

Now the bunk house is another story. I have never been able to use a bed in the bunk house. It is first come first serve and the silly fast, steam comes off their wake boys get those. Figuring that Jungle Jim and Salty Frog would be in the bunk house I went to visit. Sure enough they were there but low and behold a Watertriber in one of the other bunks was packing to leave. Geeeh everyone else is staying here for the night and this brave soul has decided to cross the ugly Boca Grande Pass.  (Did I mention that I don’t like this pass?) He is sailing a catamaran but still the sun is starting to set. Hmmm I can try to talk this guy out of it or let him go and have his bunk.  “,Hey can I help you take your bags down to your boat?” Who am I to judge what this guy can or cannot do? I mean he got to CP1 before I did.

After getting my sleeping arrangement taken care of I grabbed some hot dogs (with buns!!) potato salad and baked beans. No dehydrated meal tonight and man did it taste good. The sun was starting to set and I figured the flying teeth would be coming out shortly. So I went down to my boat with my repair kit to see what I could do about fixing my PAS sail. Watertribers are an interesting bunch.  Very competitive on the race course but at the same time very giving in helping another Watertriber. Well a Watertriber who goes by the name PaddleCarver, who is a legend in his own right since he has done 7 Watertribe challenges, asked me what my problem was. I explained to him about the shackle and before I knew it he had a bolt and nut that solved my problem. That bolt and nut worked for the entire UFC.  Thanks PaddleCarver!

My water bottles and water bladders are filled. I had a dinner of fresh cooked hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans. A hot shower , and a bed in the bunk house. Ahhhhhh man what more could I ask for. This is how this event is supposed to be, not like the first day.  Sleep came fast and so did the 4:30 AM alarm. As I walked down to my boat I noticed that both Jungle Jim and Salty Frog’s boats were gone. They had talked about leaving around 1:00 in the morning which means they were crossing the pass in the dark. That is just plain spooky but some folks feel that is the best time to do it. As I was packing I heard someone say “coffee or hot chocolate?”  Wow!! Where did that come from? It was Paula Martel, “PaddleDancer” who Chief had somehow talked into being the race director for this year’s race. Obviously she didn’t know what she was getting herself into or she would have run for the hills when he asked. Paula not only did a great job running the race this year but she was extremely helpful in providing little comforts to the racers. Paula, thanks for all that you did in the race.

As I continued packing I noticed that Cwolf had made it in. I really enjoyed paddling with him last year and was hoping to do some paddling with him again. Throughout the years I have learned that it is really hard to predict how someone will react to long periods of pain and discomfort. You hear folks talk about what they did in the military or other organizations or some other athletic events but that is no guarantee they can handle an expedition endurance event. So I am very hesitant on joining up with someone unless I know them and have been through some stuff with them. The last leg of last year’s EC was a tough one and Cwolf was great through it. Unfortunately for me I was packed and ready to go when Cwolf was just starting to pack. The longer I wait on the ramp, the more the winds will start to build, and the bigger the waves will get in the pass. Cwolf told me to go and not wait. He would catchup. Hmmmm. Then I hear this voice. “Hey you heading out? I am Riverslayer and I am doing the UFC ………………….

My Wife – What a Trooper

I have mentioned in some of my previous posts about the importance of having a good support system at home. I really cannot over emphasize the importance of this factor. There are enough mental challenges out on the course that worrying about the home front is not an additional mental issue a competitor needs. Home front support is a critical success factor to completing any long distance endurance event.

Before the UFC I already knew that my wife was pretty tough and I had a high confidence that she could handle just about anything. Shoot, she lives with me which means she is constantly living with adventures and challenges. I really don’t think I could be in a relationship with a woman that wasn’t strong. The wonderful thing about my wife is that she is also a very caring person who is always worrying and doing things for others. I think this trait causes folks that don’t know her to misjudge how mentally tough she can be in difficult situations.

After the UFC I gained a whole new level of respect for how mentally strong she is. A lot happened both to her and at home while I was gone. All of which she did not disclose to me out of concern that it would affect my ability to complete the UFC. All I had to do was worry about myself and paddle. She, on the other hand, had to worry about supporting me at the check points and dealing with all that was happening on the home front. For whatever reason, during the time I was away it seemed like all heck broke loose on the home front. I will not go into all the things but let’s just to say there was a second UFC taking place at the Whale home front. At each check point she would meet me with a smile, encouragement and assistance in helping me get ready for the next leg of the trip. All the while in her mind she was dealing with a bunch of issues and I never knew it. Sebastian is a good example of what I am talking about. She packed all the my stage boxes into the vehicle, got our two teenage boys off to school, drove across the state to meet me, picked up a bunch of fresh food for Rod and I for dinner, helped me repair my rudder in the dark with flying teeth (aka mosquitos and no-see-ums) having us as dinner, and helped me pack. Since we were several miles from a hotel, and it was very late into the night, I chose to sleep at the checkpoint on the ground. Oh poor me! She, on the other hand, instead of stopping at a hotel which is what I thought was going to happen, drove back across the state because she had to be home in the morning to deal with an issue. She was spending about the same amount of hours awake as I was. I will never forget coming into Cedar Key. Rod and I were still some distance from the shore but we could start seeing people walking along a road. Rod stated that he could not see anyone at the beach where we would land and was wondering if anyone would be there to greet us. Without hesitation I said, “Lisa will be there, I can guarantee that.” She was not only there, but was the first person to get on the beach to wave us in.

So how did I thank her? Of course there are both the private and public statements. There are the cards and flowers. There are the nice dinners out. And then there is that  store with those little blue bags whose name is “TIFFANY.” Oh the emotions that little blue bag can bring on. Well this is what Lisa saw one morning when she went to get her coffee cup. She earned it big time. I feel pretty blessed to be able to share her space. 

Yes The Winds Are From The North But Why So Strong ? Really !!!

Yes the winds were from the north which was a welcome relief from the previous day’s wind direction that was directly in my face. When I am using my sail and starting out I usually put a double reef in the sail unless the winds are really light. I am a firm believer in the concept of reefing early and reefing a lot. This morning the winds were blowing pretty good so I left the double reef in and found I was making pretty good speed without a lot of sail adjusting. I started to have thoughts of “Hey, maybe this event is going to be fun after all. Yesterday was a pain day and now I am going to have the winds at my back the rest of the event. That has happened in past years why not this year?” Oh how foolish!!!

Blackburn Bridge is a swing bridge that is at the end of Little Sarasota Bay and allows folks to get on to Casey Key. This bridge is a low one and required me to either drop my mast or request a bridge opening. Since most bridges have a fixed time schedule when you can request an opening, I don’t like to waste time waiting for a bridge opening. This means I have had to develop the ability to lower and raise my mast while still in my boat. As I approached the bridge I saw another Watertriber beached next to the bridge so I decided to go ahead and pay him a visit. I needed to take a “biological break” anyway. In other words, I needed to go to the bathroom.

As I pulled my boat up I noticed that this Watertriber had his hand wrapped. Turns out he had busted his oar lock and in the process of repairing the oar lock he had cut his hand. Apparently it was a bad cut and he felt it needed stitches. He was trying to decided whether to try and get someone to take him to a clinic now or wait until he got to CP1. This is another situation I wonder how many rookies think about when entering one of these events. Knowing first aid is important but having the ability to look at a wound on your own body and treat it without freaking out or passing out is very important. If you are alone, which is most of the time, it is all up to you to doctor yourself. This Watertriber had done just that and now was in problem solving mode for the long haul. Nothing I could do so I took down my mast, got under the bridge, and then put my mast and sail back up.

As I continued south the winds kept getting stronger and started making it tough to de-power my sail. I couldn’t reef any more sail so I was left with trying to dump the wind out of the sail. This worked while I was in the ditch around Venice but once I cleared the ditch things started to get a little out of control. At one point I had to let the sail out completely which must have looked strange from the shore. Here comes this vessel with the trailing edge, not the leading edge,  of the sail leading the way. This just wasn’t going to work so I beached to take my sail down and put up my smaller PAS sail. I had mentioned in my previous post about veterans giving tips while on the launch beach. Well, a Watertriber who goes by the tribe name Whitecaps had dropped two suggestions to me at the start that I didn’t pick up on and boy did I pay the price. This was the first one. While on the beach he suggested that I go ahead and assemble my PAS sail and just leave it on the deck stowed. I was worried about having too much stuff on my deck so I didn’t do it. Well as I am assembling my PAS sail a big gust of wind hit me and the partially assembled sail. This in turn created a mild level of chaos with the sail flapping, my boat starting to drift, and knocking a shackle pin out of my hand. Funny how sometimes things go into slow motion. I watched this shackle pin slowly fly through the air with my hand trying to catch up and ultimately dropping into the water.  %$#&*—–$%#*&&——%$#@&. Gee, I though I left those words on the last merchant vessel I was on.

One of the things you learn in these events is that stuff happens and getting pissed off and mad doesn’t solve anything. Might make you feel better in the short run but it doesn’t solve the problem. After thinking about it I found I could hold the sail together with my hands and set it in my lap in the cockpit. This allowed the sail to act as a downwind sail and I could control it with my hands. The critical issue to the success of this solution would be could I hold this sail for four plus hours to get to CP1. Lucky for me I was able to do just that. This is a video of me at CP1 that Bob Howell (the guy in the light blue shirt) made. You will notice that I am rubbing my hands trying to get the blood circulating in them and hopefully make them feel better. 

On arriving at CP1 I was shocked to see Jungle Jim. As I indicate in my post about the start, Jungle Jim is just plain silly fast. Steam comes off his wake but here he was at CP1. Then I saw Salty Frog. He is another one who is just plain silly fast. As I started to walk around CP1 I ran into more and more Watertribers who were just hanging out at CP1 due to the weather. Apparently a very experienced and seasoned kayaker had left a couple hours earlier and had tried to cross Boca Grande Pass. Apparently it was so rough that he was swamped, ended up not being able to self rescue and swam with his boat to a small island. In his call to CP1 he indicated that the swim wasn’t bad and that he was going to spend the night at the island to see if things would calm down. Since it was still daylight when I got into CP1 I did have thoughts of just checking in at CP1, filling up my water bottles and pressing on , which meant crossing Boca Grande Pass ( I don’t like this pass at all). After talking to a couple of folks, seeing that there were hot dogs, potato salad, and baked beans at CP1, and did I mention I didn’t like Boca Grande Pass, I decided that I was going to join the club and let the weather settle down some. Now all I had to do was find a spot to set up camp that would be a little quiet. I hate to say it, but I think you have to snore like a bear to be a Watertriber because everyone seems to do it.

First Morning – I Am A Grumpy Old Bear

Our minds are pretty amazing. They provide us some strong feelings anytime we encounter something which is painful or unpleasant. These feelings generally cause us to take actions to make the thing that is causing us the unpleasant feelings to go away. A lot of positives have come about because of this aspect of our behavior. A lot of inventions have came about out of actions to make a task easier and less difficult. These feelings can also cause actions such as avoiding and quitting. Unfortunately in an endurance event avoiding or quitting will not help an individual reach their goal of completing the event. This is where mental toughness comes into play. For me the first morning of any Watertribe event is a real test of mental toughness and the first morning of the UFC was no different. I slept very soundly through the night. In fact so soundly I missed hearing a major storm that came through the night. Glad I have a great tent because I didn’t hear a thing and the tent withstood the winds just fine. Nothing like waking up with one side of the tent being pushed down from the winds and rain. I guess I was a little tired. As I indicated in my past post I had worked at getting my mind accustomed to waking up early and at various times so when the alarm went off at 4:30AM it really didn’t bother me. What did bother me was realizing that I was sleeping in a tent on the ground versus a nice bedroom and in a very comfortable bed. That I was having to go out in some wet, windy conditions and walk around on a ground covered with these little seed balls with sharp points versus stepping on a nice carpeted floor and walking to a nice clean bathroom. That I was having to put on cold, wet, clammy paddle clothes versus nice clean crisp clothes. That I was having to break down and pack a bunch of wet gear into a wet boat, versus just getting up, going into the kitchen, grabbing a yogurt out of the refrigerator, getting a nice cup of hot green tea out of the Keurig and jumping into a clean dry vehicle. Oh and then there is the muscle soreness, aches, and pains from the previous days paddle. You know, I don’t remember hearing a peep from the camp of those three teenagers as I was getting up. I can only imagine the conversation they were whispering.   “Psst, hey, you know that scary guy that came in last night?  Well listen to him now. Don’t say a word and don’t make a sound, we REALLY don’t want to upset him. He sounds like a bear and a grumpy one at that. I hope he leaves SOON.” Another amazing thing about our minds is that our minds can adjust and start to accept that an unpleasant situation is the new normal and the feelings to take action to make it go away are not there. Some Watertribe veterans take the week before an event and do a trip that has some light paddling and camping in it. They call it climatizing their minds. Since I am still working I have never had the time to be able to do that so my first morning is like jumping into cold water. It usually takes me three mornings to get to the point where my mind realizes this is the new norm and just accepts it. Funny, on fun trips this is not the case and my first morning is normally kind of nice. I guess the difference is not having to paddle 15 plus hours and getting more than 4 hours of sleep. Well I got everything packed, drank an Ensure and ate an oatmeal cookie, and got into the boat. The positive for the day was that now the winds were coming from the north which meant I could actually use my sails. Wow what a relief. The other positive was that Lisa let me know that Chief had relaxed the deadline for CP1 due to the weather. I had only covered 33 miles the first day which meant I was 7 miles behind the minimum 40 miles I needed to cover each day. I was also 37 miles from CP1 which meant I needed to work hard today……….