As in the previous two years, I went to Florida for a paddling camp this spring. Unlike the past few years, I took hardly any photos. This year felt a lot more busy leading up to it (and since I’ve been back). Because I’ve been all these places a few times I felt like less of a tourist. I may also have been a bit burned out on writing and communicating and generally using my computer, so I didn’t spend much time taking photos or writing about the days. Sorry to those of you who like that kind of thing! Thanks to paddling buddy Chris for taking this photo, perhaps the only one proving I was there.
In retrospect though, it was a great 2(!!) weeks with many highlights:
This has been the warmest SK Fall in living memory, and probably the nicest I have had anywhere I’ve lived. Highs of 20 in September and October, lots of sunny days, no snow or frost to speak of even deep into November. Since the record cold for these months is something like -25 C, it feels like we dodged a bullet. I think Sask kids didn’t even need their snowsuits for Halloween this year! It means some winter sports folks are a bit bummed, but although it is pretty dark I have been paddling on the weekends, and no gloves or hats yet! It would have been great to have a fall paddling shot with golden leaves in the background, but they blew off in a storm weks ago. Instead you can enjoy this photo of single-shirt, no glove paddling in mid- November.
‘OCN’ is Opaskwayak Cree Nation, the reserve on the bank of the Saskatchewan River opposite the Pas in Manitoba (South of Flin Flon for those who feel disoriented.) A 6-hour drive from Saskatoon, just getting to the Pas is a northern adventure. I have heard about the canoe races there for years and always wanted to go. This year was the 50th anniversary of Treaty Days festival so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Treaty days are an amazing array of sport and cultural events: pow wow and jig dancing, trapper competitions, archery, axe throwing, running, biking, talent competitions, and… canoeing, of course!
The canoe race is about 2 hours of racing every day for 3 days, and placing is by sum of times over all the days. The course on days 1 and 3 is 4 laps around bouys on the river in front of the community centre. On day 3 there is one lap then a looooong slog upstream followed by a portage over to a lake and a finish on the lake beach.
The community is small but super friendly and involved in the events. People watched from all along the river bank, cheering and commenting on the action particularly at the bouy turns where a lot of jostling and re-positioning happens. As the first boat down the river containing a woman, we got some ‘you go girl!’ and ‘canoe-girl!’ (and in more romantic gestures I also got invited to the post-race party from what I like to think of as a feminist female-athlete admiring sports fan).
My racing partner Alex and I weren’t sure how things would go, since I don’t have a lot of experience in this type of boat, nor steering the boat from the stern (he has done this race at least 8 times over the years). We trained together in Saskatoon for the last 5 weeks or so, trying our best to train with faster teams. We are lucky in that some of North America’s fastest mixed teams paddle in Saskatoon, so we got beat down and passed and washed out many MANY times. It was a bit discouraging at the time and I certainly wasn’t feeling like a ‘big fish’.
However, I think the experience really honed our skills and fitness, and prepared us to hold on to a peleton of faster boats. We needed all those skills and experiences, and used them to hold onto some really strong men’s teams. At one point we did a strong pull and were in 3rd position, but our overall placing was 5th overall and first in the mixed division. In happy news, the band office kicks in prize money so there was a ‘winners envelope’ for being the first mixed boat, the 5th overall boat, and the 3rd boat from Saskatchewan. Yeeha!
This last weekend I drove 28 hours (round-trip) to Minneapolis to race the Women’s Round Robin. I had been looking forward to it since I did the mixed Round Robin last year. The format is really fun, involves a full day of sprinting with all these new people. You get to paddle in the front, back, and try to match up with a bunch of different styles and personalities. With my background in sprint racing and need to learn from new people, it is a really good fit. It is REALLY demanding mentally and physically, but a good challenge and a fun time with a great group of people (Minnesotans are seriously the best). When the event was announced back in March I could hardly wait, and I recruited and promoted and encouraged others to come out and do it.
When it came down to the end of June, most of my enthusiasm had evaporated. I just didn’t really want to go any more. I didn’t have any appetite to go to Saskatoon Pride, or the free jazz festival concerts, or other summer social things… let alone plan a big trip to do a very hard thing that would require digging deep to stay motivated and on my game. Luckily the clouds parted and one of my more organized team mates had room in her car to go down. I had to rally like a boss/gangsta/champ, but I showed up and performed reasonably. I wouldn’t say it was my ‘A game’, but overall not bad and I had a few really nice races. For the record, I don’t think my ‘A’ game (or ‘C’ game for that matter) would have changed the end result rankings; it is more about the quality of experience while being there. There were some good races but also loads of mistakes, and all the learning that comes along with that and makes the trip worthwhile. I do wish I’d been a little more sharp to pick up on more of that, but I’ll have other chances. There are lots of things for me to work on right now, and I don’t have to worry about getting bored.
Now I am back in Saskatoon with not a lot else going on for the summer but our busy (and productive) data collection. Summer is very short in Saskatoon so it is nice to make the most of it. I think I will race the Pas (Opaskwayak First Nation Annual Canoe Race), and I’m looking at joining the Rowing Club. The river is so low and slow it is a good year to learn to row a single, and I think the change would do me good.
This year I paddled Ski to Sea with a new-to-me racing partner, longtime veteran paddler Fiona Vincent from Regina. We have done a few races leading up to this and paddled together in Florida, but this race was the ‘big deal’. You can tell because Fiona stenciled our names onto the boat! We are both normally bow paddlers, so we were almost flipping coins to see who would go in the stern. Luckily for me, Fiona’s experience on rivers won out and I got to paddle in the bow like I did last year. Fiona also did the run from the road bike to the canoe, something I’ll need to get my butt in gear to do next time (note to self: prioritize knee rehab!). These choices paid off, and Fiona did a great job of steering us over the swirls down the river.
Reports were that the river was empty and we’d have to run, and if you’d been eating ice cream this winter then too bad for you (or too bad for me, in my case of frequent winter ice cream). However, there was good deep water to be had if you knew where to look – and you weren’t seduced by the idea of taking the shortest distance between two points. The longer route was often where the ribbon went, so that’s where we went too. The finish was a bit rough, we took a shallow route and spent the last of our arms trying to pop the boat. We had a bit of a messy exit from the canoe to the final portage, and I (embarrassingly) dropped the boat 6 inches before the finish line due to dreaded ‘claw hand’. Luckily, the biker already had the chip and was starting his leg.
Results were good, even better than last year which I was pretty happy with. On our mixed team of 5 sports, we were the highest ranking leg (although tied with the male kayaker). We beat the next women’s crew (local all-stars who know the river well) by 43 seconds and Boundary Bay by almost 6 minutes. We did 2:09 compared to under two hours last year – but we did this on a slow river with a longer run, and this year we ranked 18th out of all teams compared to last year’s 22nd. Full results here. The photos from the race can be found here, and there is also a cool video filmed by a quad-copter drone:
About 2 weeks ago paddling comrade Kenzie asked me to race with him in Manitoba. I hadn’t really been planning to go, but I was so thrilled to be asked that I looked into flights and rides and boat logistics and then said yes!
Graham found a great deal on a flight from Winnipeg to Saskatoon on Sunday night, so we grabbed it. My buddy Trevor offered to give me a ride there, since he was going anyway, and our boat was going to come in from Regina with Kenzie’s parents. It turned out I couldn’t get off work early enough on Friday (farm visit) to leave with Trevor so I got a flight to Winnipeg as well. It also turned out that since I am racing Ski to Sea with Kenzie’s mom Fiona later in the month and she was going to Winnipeg too, I raced both Saturday and Sunday with her. So the weekend was nothing like I planned, but ended up being really fun and great anyway. Going with the flow!
The water was super tough the first day, and we struggled a bit with a crummy water depth and twisty slow creek with lots of logs and sticks to hit. That race was in Selkirk on Cook’s Creek. The next day we had a 40 min warm up down the Assiniboine to the Red River (shout out Brown/Martineau rellies!) and then did a 10km race on the Red split over 3 laps around bouys. This race was a really interesting mass start, with 1 dragonboat, sprint C-2s, K-2s, K-1s and C-1s as well as a bunch of marathon boats. It was waves galore! Happily Fiona was driving and did a great job navigating the fray. We had a great race in the deeper, faster water and seemed to match up really well. I am looking forward to Ski to Sea, and ready to defend the Saskatchewan women’s title from last year.
March 18-25 I went to a marathon canoe camp in central Florida. Edith and I spent all day flying in either direction, and then spent 5 hours per day paddling the 6 days we were there. Paddling doesn’t take up all the time, so we also made some great dinners, did some yoga, and took naps. It was awesome! I really can’t imagine a more ideal vacation (maybe if Graham came along…) The wifi situation was really sub-standard, so I also had the bonus of hardly doing any work. Sweet!
Sometimes you just know its going to be the last one. Last weekend we went paddling at -4C. It was a bit miserable, but at least it was sunny. The ice froze on the boats and we pretty much knew we wouldn’t be back on the South Saskatchewan for a while. Now the river is all jammed up with ice floes and getting thicker every day. Hopefully we get to ski soon!