New to canoe
Who knew that the 2014 National Canoe and Kayak Championships were happening this weekend, and just down the road from us at Lock Haven? Joanna has always observed that I lack a flare for the obvious; and perhaps she is right, as I did not regard as unusual all the fancy canoes and kayaks atop cars driving around town this past week. It wasn’t until Saturday morning, when I took an alternate route home after picking up my usual infusion of coffee, that I noticed the hubbub on the north side of the Susquehanna at Dunnstown. Having completed afternoon chores, and gotten the floors vacuumed and the laundry hung out, we took ourselves to town to walk among modern outrigger canoes (OC1 class, outrigger canoe, one paddler) as well as more traditional C4 craft (open canoe, four paddlers). All of the activity stood in dramatic contrast to that which I experienced at an event sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association and which occurred at this very same venue, last year on Labor Day. This canoe and kayak event was quiet, there was no engine exhaust hanging on the air, and the action was of a very different sort. Neither Joanna nor I had ever been to a canoe race and didn’t know what to expect. This experience taught us that canoe racing is very much like attending a 10k road race or half-marathon, there is a bit of excitement at the start, surely lots at the end, and in between, well let’s just say that a canoe race isn’t all that exciting during the in between. Getting ready for and anticipating the start was quite exciting. There was lots of hurried activity along the river as teams readied individuals and their boats for the upcoming event. Equipment was checked and double checked while the paddlers scurried about to secure a PFD, a whistle, and a full-to-the-brim camel pack. Just how, I wondered, could a camel pack figure in a canoe race? Officials announced 15 minutes to start, 10 minutes to start, and then 5 minutes until race time … all racers in the water and to the start line. How exciting. The racers were given a 1 minute warning and told that the start gun could sound at anytime during the remaining 60 seconds. Excitement soared, tensions increased, and then increased more until the blast of the gun broke the unbearable silence. They were off. We watched paddles splash and teams cheer as the boats disappeared into the distance and around a bend in the river. And they were gone. I turned to the fellow next to me and asked, When will they be back? About an hour, he said knowingly, perhaps a bit more. So that explained the camel packs; it was warm, the sun was high in the sky, and the paddlers would be getting an aerobic workout for the next hour or more; they would need to keep hydrated. So Joanna and I walked across the bridge which connects Dunnstown to the city of Lock Haven. We sat in the shade and looked at our watches. We waited for what seemed an awfully long time until, in an instant, we were able to make out a flash of paddles about a mile up river. It was the first of the C4s returning home. We ran for the bridge and waited for the boats to pass underneath. After the last of the class had finished we decided to wait for the first of the OC1 paddlers to round the bend, pass under the bridge, and finish. When they did, we walked back to Dunnstown and among the competitors, their boats, and equipment. We were astonished (from a census of just a few license plates) by the distances folks had traveled to attend this national event.