Editor’s Note: This is one in series of first-person posts recounting individual paddler experiences of this year’s Chattajack 31 endurance race in the Tennessee River Gorge. It’s from Scott Ide of Boston, MA, who paddled CJ with his wife Mary Kay in their OC2. Photos by Diane Blakenbaker , CrossSup, Deb S. Action Photo
Chattajack 2017: Scott and Mary Kay Ide
I’m mostly an outrigger and flatwater canoe guy with a growing interest in prone. My #SmallButMighty wife, Mary Kay, paddles outrigger, flatwater canoe and SUP. Together, with my nine year old daughter, Jura, we are #TeamIde. I wanted my daughter, known as Little Caesar, to race Chattajack, but knew that this was not the year. Even in our yellow two-person outrigger canoe, 32 miles is a long race and living in New England means the drive is 2,000 miles round trip. So, Mary Kay and I registered in the wee hours of Monday, May 1st and planned our return as a mixed OC2 team.
In early September, Mary Kay and I paddled “The 90 Miler” Adirondack Canoe Classic with two friends in our four-person canoe. Despite heavy rain and chilly temps, we had a terrific outing. A week later, I paddled the 80 km “Sprint” distance at Muskoka River X in solo open canoe. By late September, I had both a solid endurance base for Chattajack and was completely miserable for OC2 practices with my lovely wife. Fellow OC2 paddling couple Jennifer and Barrett Hoard refer to these moments as “having a team meeting”. Love and good technique prevailed as the Small But Mighty spouse and I got in a few solid long training runs on our local lake. We were even joined by Hobo Squad superstar Tracy Cullinane on her 12’6”.
Mild panic descended on the Ide household about ten days before Chattajack. There was an ongoing musty odor in the basement, increased deadlines at work, flu-like symptoms, and childcare arrangements with an overlay of “Chattaguilt”. We managed to leave Massachusetts on a rainy Wednesday evening. Our racked OC2 was accompanied by three paddleboards expertly secured by Hobo Squad founder, Patrick Broemmel. Patrick makes a stout 12’6” SUP sandwich on unlimited board bread bound with NRS straps and seasoned with sliced pool noodles. The thousand-mile drive was uneventful with Mary Kay calling out route changes to avoid jams and picking the best rest areas. We got an escort by Wanda Canoe Club’s Linda Lensch for the last hundred miles. We missed the welcoming party at Chattanooga Brewing Company, but had a tasty late night* dinner at the bar with our friends before heading to the hotel. *It should be noted that 9:45PM is late night for Team Ide.
The Friday before Chattajack was lovely – the sun was shining and the Fribergs were hosting with the support of dozens of volunteers. A smiling Gregg Behlman found us in the lot and artfully unpacked the paddleboard sandwich. Mary Kay and I brought our boat on to the grassy hill where we were greeted by friends, some of which we had met in the same spot in 2016. Mary Kay made more new friends in that way she does. We caught up to our Boston Outrigger teammate, Nessa King who had just returned from dragonboat World’s in China. The river was lively with foil board action, an unlimited OC6 practice along with other canoes, surfskis and SUPs. We watched Dan Michaluk paddle stock prone like a rocket. High winds were in the forecast, so canoes were staked down. We met highly respected dad / daughter flatwater paddlers Bruce Barton & Rebecca Davis as they set up their OC2 and I started to daydream about when I would be able to race Chattajack with my daughter. Then we shuttled with Hamilton Plaza and Carmen Molini – two of the most kind and fun paddlers on the east coast. We returned to stand on line behind the Cook family and were entertained by Jason Hjelseth and visiting witches. The volunteers processed us with efficiency and grace.
Race day starts in the dark with a stompy march from the hotel to Ross’s Landing in neoprene booties. It’s raining. I’m not wearing either of the two rain jackets that I packed for fear of feeling like a steamed dumpling during the race. I am wearing my NRS 0.5 mil neoprene pants covered by Patagonia board shorts that have an inner lining to reduce chaffing. Another benefit of these shorts is that when I wear them over my tight neoprene pants, I look less like Gru from Despicable Me. Mary Kay has her Chattapad seat & leg comfort augmentation system. Duct tape is passed around and our craft is dressed out. Margo tells great stories and we talk “Boston” with the Bittenbenders as the sun comes up. The saxophone version of the National Anthem raises the hair on the back of my neck (the back of my neck that is wet because it’s still raining).
The first wave of paddlers enter the Tennessee River and start. We watch Larry Cain sprint away from the line and hundreds of SUPs follow. It’s an amazing sight. I’m equally as impressed by the prone paddlers and the handful of open tandem canoes working through the wash. Then it’s our time to take to the water. The current was intimidating under the bridge and our OC2 slides diagonally, waiting for the start. There’s a delay and we have a brief but rather vocal “team meeting” as our ama lightly touches a surfski.
We start! The wash bumps up and swirls with current going against wind and the rain still falling. How did all our stand up friends stay on their boards through this? Mary Kay called changes from seat two and I steer from the front. I ask her to leave me paddling on the ama (left) side for about fifty strokes as she changed at-will and we make our way through the chaotic water.
I’m told that the water temperature was 68o degrees Fahrenheit. The air temp dropped from the 50os to about 41o and the rain cycled on and off. It was gray out. These were New England conditions, but with warmer water. We enjoyed an unusually strong current for the first third of the race maintaining speeds over our typical flatwater paddling practices.
It wasn’t long before the fastest OC2’s were paddling away and we settled into the middle of the mixed outriggers where we would stay until Hales Bar. For a few miles we kept pace with Sara Jordan in her OC1 and I smiled when Hype yelled to her from shore. I took Hammer Perpetuem solids from a cigar tube and munched on them when Mary Kay encouraged me to eat. She’s the voice of the boat most of the time. We spent much of the race with Cowboy Mark who took long powerful strokes in his OC1. Around twelve miles in, we started passing SUPs and prones. Words of encouragement were exchanged with Tracee Lyn, Tracy Cullinane and Jason Geiger. Mark Preece nodded and Gregg Behlman smiled. Around mile twenty seven we passed a serious draft train that snaked down the Gorge. Mary Kay kept calling HUT religiously, but was getting quiet. I could hear periodic shivering noises from seat two that might be called the 2017 Chattajack Chatter. I was warm enough, but less vigorous. We needed to get moving. I told Mary Kay that I was taking food, would be missing many strokes to do so and that “it was going to suck”. The Small But Mighty spouse grunted through 30 seconds of paddling on her own while I squirreled away an entire package of magic jellybeans. With two miles to go, Cowboy Mark said his goodbyes and took a wide line to catch his OC1 competition. I was fired up and started digging. Mary Kay held strong. Our sprint finish was exciting but not as effective as last year. We were done and delighted, finishing under five hours. I banished my wife to the truck to get warm then I rolled onto the dock like a sea lion. A young Bittenbender and fellow volunteer helped me carry our OC2 off the water. We had good cheer in a floating finish line shack, exchanging stories with Laura Kavaliauskaite, Tim Coveney, Roxane Robinson and the rest of the Hobo Squad. The last paddlers were cheered in while boards and boats were re-racked.
Afterglow and the Journey Home
At the awards ceremony, our friends were honored for achieving top three and we were inspired, yet again. The board sandwich and OC2 stayed put through high winds on the drive homeward. We were lucky enough to find shelter when gusts reached 40 mph with driving rain. After a thousand miles, we pulled into our driveway to be greeted by Patrick and Laura for the board shuffle. We hugged and kissed Jura, telling her the wild tales of our adventure. Mary Kay declared our race a grand success and I had to agree. There was already talk of bringing an additional canoe next year. I excused myself to the basement to vacuum up storm water. Then I couldn’t help wondering, would be ok to give out Hammer products to Halloween trick or treaters?