I never get used to the feeling of the “what now?” syndrome I suffer from every year. Currently sitting at Lake Chatuge in Georgia with my good friend and training partner Brad McMillan, we are both jittery and restless trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.
I just spent 9 weeks paddling every day. Starting up in West Virginia video boating on the Gauley River, it has all culminated into the Green River Narrows Race, which concluded two days ago. Ultimately, I know what comes next as I make my annual pilgrimage to Atlanta to sell Christmas trees and make some money to get through the long winter, but maybe not so long this year, but more on that soon enough.
Mostly what I want to write about at the moment is the race everyone talks about year after year, and ultimately the only thing that is occupying the space in my brain still. And of course after experiencing it for myself, I now know why. Admittedly, until recent history I would find myself spending much of my time in a play boat and not a race boat.
I suppose the race training actually started for me video boating on the Gauley this year. Chasing boats down the river every day and getting ahead to get the shot of the customers coming through the big 5 on the Gauley. This is a fantastic way to get a feel for your boat and really deal with being lactic paddling through pushy water. About 2-3 days a week I was paddling 9 miles if not more chasing boats, the rest of the time I occupied myself with runs down a low water New River, which pushing through those flats will do a great job for endurance as well. Oh and I forgot, the occasional play boat run in the new Project X.
It was about 3 weeks ago we migrated back south to the Green River to start the real race training on the Narrow’s themselves. The river was only releasing on weekends so for the most part we split our time between there and the Ocoee and Lake Chatuge. We also spent some time at the Russell Fork River for a few training runs and a race run providing a great litmus for race mentality before the Green Race.
But truly there is no preparation for the spectacle that is the Green Race. You hear it year after year that there is nothing else that compares to this race or event anywhere in the world. I agree. Day after day as the race neared, the pitted feeling I would have in my stomach would become more apparent and the more I realized that it was almost game time and either the training to survive would either pay off or it would not. 9 weeks of training, for 5-6 minutes of pain and glory. But if you’re fast even less than that.
My goals for the race were simple. I wanted smooth controlled lines and wanted to post a time. That was all. And for all but the very first rapid, I did just that. Frankenstein proved to me that the nerves were still a controlling factor and after finally getting through that first dodgy line I had a conversation with myself, slowed myself down and remembered I wanted control. The boogie between Frankenstein and Boof or Consequence proved to be important to me, as I needed that moment of calm, slow my heart rate and re-focus. By the time I regained clarity there it was, everything everybody told you about, the wall of spectators.
I came into Go Left a little slow but I was fine with that, this would be the determining factor in how the rest of my race would go. I came over the log, spotted my landing and greased it! The crowd cheered and this is when it started to become apparent they were there for your support as well as everyone else’s. The vibe was an unbelievable and empowering positive force. I have never felt a crowd presence like this before; nothing was distinct, despite you being able to hear people yell your name. The lines into Gorilla were smooth and before I knew it I was a flying squirrel and sitting above The Notch.
My line was a bit right, but nothing I couldn’t correct, and at this point you realize you are about to fly over one of the sickest rapids in the world. It’s amazing how everything went quiet for me above The Notch and through the pad and out through the flume. There is an almost immediate feeling of relief as you realize you are below the scariest sequence of rapids to go fast through, and then you here the crowd again. I looked up; screamed back at them gave a quick pump of the fist and raced on down the slides where you still need to keep your game face on.
At this point I was so lactic and just struggled to keep the boat on line but managed to have decent lines. The sounds of the crowd have diminished and you feel alone again. I raced down Rapid Transit and came flying through the bottom and the boat planed out and I came into the finish line fast. It was over. The feeling you have at the top and the one you have at the bottom are so different. I sat there for about five minutes depleted, but not enough to not enjoy the company of another first time racer, both of us just absolutely blown away by what we put ourselves through.
This was the largest emotional roller coaster I have ever experienced for a kayak competition. It’s terrifying, it’s fun, it’s bonding and it absolutely beats the hell out of most any other kayak competition. This year I was merely a competitor of myself struggling through all of the learning curves, but next year I will be back to improve and be a competitor against the other racers. My goals have shifted again and I look forward to the new challenges next year will bring me.
I wanted to thank a few people in conclusion; Brad McMillan, by training partner and friend; my mom, no need for explanation; John Gordon, for doing all of the boat repair and giving us a place to crash between crashes on the river; Trent, Daniel and Chris for giving us a place to stay in Ashville; all of the sponsor help, thank you for the gear to keep me safe; and finally all the people and friends lining the shores yelling and screaming and being supportive, that was truly awesome!