The Everglades Challenge 2013 is done, results are at http://www.watertribe.com/Events/ChallengeResults.aspx. I had a good run and was pleased to be the first solo class 2 (racing kayaks and canoes, no sail) to finish, and also led the class 1 (expedition kayaks/canoes with 1 meter sails).
Although my watertribe name is “KayakVagabond”, after the event a few people surprised me by calling me “Random Animal”. Apparently this was coined by the highly skilled and competitive “IronBob”, who along with “TheJuice” finished first in their class in a double. I dueled with them frequently during the race. Apparently “Random Animal” is a reference to someone new who shows up at an event and goes hard. Hmmm — although I am much more deliberate than random, there’s worse things I have been called…. :^)
My boat and body held up just fine, although I was quick to arrange for a full massage soon after the race. Even with the massage, my lats and back muscles went into “rigamortis” a few days later and only recently have I felt like paddling again. I lost six pounds during the race even though I was eating Perpetuem every 15 minutes.
Following is a bit of a teaser, along with a video, photo album, and some of my initial impressions. Please check back soon for a detailed write-up of each day, as I’m off to teach at the Pagaia Symposium in Spain later this week.
“Highest” Moment: Paddling the Everglades coast at night, the reassurance of small campfires burning on a few remote islands, under an undiminished sky free from city lights. The milky way was a glowing ribbon overhead and the Southern Cross graced the horizon. I navigated by following the stars, assisted by the GPS. The night was so beautiful that I shook off the need for sleep and paddled through the night. I was rewarded with experiencing the moonrise, and later the sunrise from the water. Carter Johnson (endurance kayaker) said that one of the reasons that he loves an event like this is that it shoves you out of your comfortable routine, and puts you into fantastic and unusual situations. I cannot agree more.
“Lowest” Moment: On day 2 I was charging on the outside (Gulf) near Naples, heading for Marco Island. The waves were lumpy but not unpleasant as darkness fell. Suddenly the wind came up, a strong on-shore breeze blowing at 20-30mph with stronger gusts. Soon the tops of the waves were blown-off by the wind, and the surf was overhead; it was no longer safe to continue. Throwing braces at night, in a loaded kayak, when you can’t see, isn’t much fun at all. Going further offshore didn’t help, my only option was a surf landing. I retracted the rudder, picked the best spot for a stealth camp, and headed in. The waves were steep and overhead, so I rode in sideways (bongo slide), while high-bracing into the face of the breakers. Upon leaping out, the next wave filled the cockpit with water and sand. I portaged the gear and the kayak into the mangroves, cleaned up my kayak, and found a micro-site not much larger than my outstretched arms to setup my Hubba tent. It was snug and comfortable, and protected from the cold roar of the wind, but my paddling day was cut seriously short — I had intended to paddle well past midnight.
Best Wildlife Moment: I had to go far offshore at Wiggins Pass due to the large rollers that were streaming into the inlet. Just past the turbulence, a dolphin’s fin surfaced only yards away from me, and then the dolphin launched into a full Marineland style somersault — completely clearing the water!!!
Worst Wildlife Moment: While crossing shallow Florida Bay at night, under exceptionally calm conditions, I spooked a manatee (a true random animal) as I rudely ran across its back. The resultant explosion from its tail was a depth-charge that rocked my kayak, and the roar of the wake as the terrified animal sped off in the shallows sent my heart racing. It’s not terribly rare for these gentle animals to capsize a kayaker in this way; most Florida kayakers have a manatee story or two. I slowed for a few moments, cautiously using my headlamp to sweep the water, but soon it was back to “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”…
Most Surreal Moment: The final leg to Florida bay is only 35 miles, but some Watertribers will tell you that once you reach it, you are really only at the halfway point. The shallow water is fraught with serpentine channels that are tricky to navigate and the temperamental bay kicks up into a wild, steep chop. During my night crossing the wind completely died. All sensory input was lost. With the water so still, and with my vision focused on a beacon miles away, there was no sense of forward motion. It felt like I was on my kayak machine at home, motionless. At times it even felt like I was moving backwards.
Many thanks to Watertribe, the organizers and the race/checkpoint captains! Watertribers themselves are a colorful, eclectic bunch, with some of the most tenacious, cunning and generous competitors that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. If a Watertribe event is on your bucket list, I urge you to give it a go. As “Chief” says, just getting to the starting line is a victory in itself.
Please view my Everglades Challenge Gallery Images.