Length of the Lake 100KM race: One minute DOES Matter!!!
With its consistent winds funneled from the north, and provincial parks lining the west side of the lake, Okanagan screams, ‘RACE ME’!
Penticton Racing Canoe Club answered the call with the creation of the Length of the Lake canoe and kayak race. The race starts in the town of Vernon on the northern point and ends in Penticton, 100 KM to the south. There are five legs to race, ranging from 15 to 25 KM in distance. Most teams do the race relay style, swapping out teammates at the 4 checkpoints along the course. Some teams opt to tandem with two teams leap-frogging their way through the course. The die-hard paddlers iron it, racing the entire 100 KM non-stop.
Brandon and I, of course, would accept nothing but the Iron Division.
At 7:30AM 18 boats lined the sandy shore of Kinsmen Beach in Vernon. Eight OC 6’s, four OC 2’s, one OC 1, one tandem surf ski, and four solo kayaks racing in the iron division, floated with their sterns lined up along the beach. Paddlers sat still in their crafts with their muscles tense and faces stern with concentration, ready to launch their boats into the race with powerful strokes of their paddle blades the instant the starting horn blared.
All the racers, but Brandon.
The other solos, Jimmy Zimmerman and Roger Dunn were both paddling Huki S1X surf skis. I knew they were there, but they were not my focus. Lined up next to my 21 foot long, 28-pound Thunderbolt was my husband in a shorter, heavier, wider Seda Glider. He had chosen the boat for its comfort. But, I knew the boat would hold him back and the weight and dimensions would wear him down. If I was ever to beat my husband in a race, this was my chance.
“HOOONK”!!! The race was on!
Jimmy took off at a sprint, chasing down an OC 6 and falling comfortably into their draft. Roger, who had come from California for the race, paddled to my left trying to catch a ride with an OC2. But, behind me was the only thing that mattered. Brandon sat in his bright yellow Seda Glider on the beach. He was non-challantly attaching his drink tube to his life vest and setting his GPS.
“In a race this long, an extra minute on the beach doesn’t matter”. I heard him say to an onlooker on the beach. One minute after the rest of us launched, Brandon began to race.
It was 15 KM to checkpoint (CP) 1 located at Fintry Provincial Park. I held a comfortable pace, a pace I felt I could maintain for the 10 hours of paddling I had ahead of me. There was a slight breeze from the north. The wind was warm, and I paddled comfortably in a short sleeve polypro shirt. My GPS fluttered between 6.5 and 6.8 mph. My speed was faster than I had anticipated, so I focused on long, relaxed strokes.
I could not make out Brandon’s form in the mass of OC 6’s around me. As I approached CP 1 an hour and a half later, I watched Jimmy make the 90-degree turn by the beach and looked at my watch, noting the time. When I reached the buoy my watch told me he was about four minutes ahead of me. With a glance over my shoulder, I found Brandon paddling side by side with Roger, their wing paddle blades standing out amidst a sea of single blades. From their location, I guessed they were probably three minutes behind me.
In the Length of the Lake, paddlers competing in the Iron division are required to check-in at each CP, but are not required to stop or get out of their boats. That was part of the reason why Brandon and I had opted to race our more comfortable decked kayaks, versus surf skis. Our endless quest to find the ultimate in comfort consumes us every ultra. To sit in a kayak, not lose time by getting out, and at the same time, not loose speed to the distraction of cramping legs and an aching butt is our ultimate goal. Brandon and I had customized our boats with pee systems, and homemade seats and steering systems.
24 KM later I arrived at Bear Creek Provincial Park, CP2. Brandon and I had matched our speed stroke for stroke to the second checkpoint. He was still exactly three minutes behind me as I called my race number to an event volunteer, shouting to be heard over the roar of rowdy crews and racers stoked to cheer-on a solo. As the noon hour approached, the wind began to pick-up, and the waves did the same. Somewhere between CP2 and CP3 in Peachland, Brandon dropped off behind me. The mango blur of his kayak was no longer visible in a quick glance over my shoulder. In view or not, I felt his presence and knew he would be strong until the end. At CP3 I was surprised to find the knowledge that he was now 5 minutes behind me somewhat depressed me.
Halfway through the race, and I was in a bit of a lull, sore and tired and debating whether or not I wanted to erase the rest of my race calendar for the season. Where is Brandon, I brooded moodily? I thought he was teasing me, throwing the race to make me feel good about myself. I debated telling the volunteers at the next checkpoint to tell Brandon I wouldn’t be mad if he caught me. 40 KM to go, and I was downright lonely!
After CP3, the lake takes a 90 degree turn, forcing paddlers to take a course strait across the lake to the east shore then back to the west. This creates a strait line course through the abrupt turn in the lake and while this is the shortest route, it also put’s you sideways to the wind. The waves were a constant 1 – 2 foot now. Paddling a narrow, tippy decked kayak with a lifted seat to accommodate my ‘toilet’ was a bit precarious, and putting down my paddle to grab a bite of food was not an option. I had not eaten in a few hours. As I did my best to surf across the lake, the emptiness in my stomach consumed me. I was sure Brandon, with food easily accessible in his stable boat, and his knack at connecting waves to link together long, fast rides, was going way faster than me.
Slow or not, when I reached the cliffs on the east side of the lake, I was starving and knew I was facing a huge bonk if I didn’t get some food in me immediately.
I tucked behind the point in a protected eddy, stuffed three ibuprofen and half a PB&J sandwich in my mouth, then stretched my legs while I tried to swallow. My cheeks still bulging, I stuffed my drink tube in my mouth, and got back into the wind before Brandon caught me.
As I peeled back into the race, Brandon was shockingly close, just coming around the point. My urge for companionship fleeted, and I tore back into the surf with a vengeance.
Once I left the point, it was a strait shot to Summerland, and CP4. Crossing back to the west side of the lake, the wind was at my back, the waves were growing and my energy surged as I caught ride after ride, connected waves and holding speeds in the 8 and 9mph ranges for minutes on end.
Surf or no surf, 200 yard
s before Summerland Brandon caught me. “Are you eating”, he asked? I looked guiltily at my loving husband, thinking of my well-being while I was in a totally focused race-mode.
He knew the nature of my boat and seat made it difficult for me to eat or stretch in anything but calm water.
We rafted up and I ate enough to get me through the 10 miles we had to the finish. “I have to refill my Gatorade at this checkpoint”, he told me. “Give it all you’ve got, I’m gonna chase you down”!”
With that, he pushed me ahead, and we paddled into CP4. The crowd screamed their encouragement while I paddled by and Brandon hopped out of his boat and a volunteer filled his empty Gatorade bladder.
Paddling the final leg into Penticton, the surf was phenomenal. With two-foot waves and steady 15-mph tailwinds, the finish was in sight. I was weary. My muscles were fatigued and the long stretches in between bites of food had left me a little shaky. But, I surfed my heart out. Occasionally I glanced behind me looking for the mango blur of Brandon’s Seda in hot pursuit.
The finish grew close. No Brandon.
I paddled onto the beach while racers ran over to stabilize me so I could run up the sandy beach to a giant peach — a monument to Penticton’s roll as the epicenter of Peachdom in the Okanagan — the official finish. Why there was a giant orange peach on the beach I wasn’t sure, but I stumbled on trembling legs, high fiving hands that lined my path. I touched the peach to the roar of applause and turned around in time to see Brandon’s arrival. I threw a fist in the air and savored the victory.
We high fived as Brandon ran to the peach, both of us grinning. He laughed as he said, “I got chicked…by my wife!”
After he touched the peach, I looked at our recorded times,
Lesson learned, in a race like this, an extra minute DOES matter!!!
The overall race was won by two double surf skis tandeming the course in a time of 7 hours and 50 minutes.Jimmy Zimmerman was the winner of the Iron division with a time of 9 hours and 20 minutes.
Length of the Race is definitely a race worth doing! Beautiful scenery, great people, a fun and challenging course, and an awesome feast with killer schwag to top it off.
See you on the lake!