Thursday, September 15, 2011

the big paddle

     With a clear weather forecast, we headed out for the 50-mile Windy City Waterman Stand Up for Charity Paddle early in the morning on September 11th.  Check out the photos and captions, then I'll give you the play-by-play at the end...
We launched just at sunrise, a few minutes after 6am.  This is Dimitry gliding across the early morning glass.
Here's a shot of the Harrison-Dever Crib with the Chicago skyline about 3-miles away behind it.  It was approaching noon when we made it to the Crib, about 20 miles into the paddle.  This marked the beginning of the toughest part of the day, paddling into headwind and chop for 10 miles to the South Shore Turnaround.

There was no stopping on the South leg - with the wind on the nose, any rest would have meant giving up headway as you drifted back towards the city.  Once I finally hit the waypoint, I sat down and took a minute to shoot this photo.  See that grey smudge in the middle of the frame?  That the Chicago skyline, now 10 miles distant.
I didn't take any more pics or video on the way back up, but our ground crew was ready with their  cameras as we rounded the breakwall and came into Greenwood beach.

The Lake even graced me with a little wave to ride in on...  What can I say, she likes me.

"We made it!"

Our landing party was all smiles, and I was too.    Once we got back on land both Dimitry and I were dizzy with reverse-seasickness.  Our bodies had adjusted to the motion of the boards after paddling all day and now standing on solid ground threw off our equilibriums.  Funny.
Alfonso was struttin' his Windy City Waterman t-shirt.  I still have a few left, so if you want one email me.  All proceeds from the t-shirt sales go straight to our two awesome charities!   
Dimitry and I cooled off with a quick dip...
... then we loaded up the boards as the full moon rose and headed to our favorite joint for a big burger.  Oh, you know that tasted soooooooo good.
     If I had to sum up the day in a phrase, it would be, "Everything worked."  Not very dramatic, I know.  I should probably make up some reality-tv BS to make it all sound harrowing, but that's just not how it went down, and I'm happy to say so.  

     Don't get me wrong, it's not that it wasn't hard... it was.  The section on the south shore was killer.  It took me about three hours to do that ten miles and it was the longest paddle of my life.  With 20 miles already behind me, I was seriously fatigued, my hands were starting to blister, my knees were hurting and my feet were tingling.  I had to dig deep for each paddle stroke and the only thing that kept me from plopping down on my butt was the thought that if I stopped paddling I would begin drifting backwards and have to paddle that same water AGAIN!  Besides that, I knew that once I hit the turnaround waypoint I'd have the wind at my back for the rest of the day, and when I did hit it, it felt really good.

     And if "Everything Worked" on Sunday, it was the efforts of the whole summer that got me there.  All the training, everything I learned about fitness and nutrition, all the hours spent on the board working on agility and balance... all of it came together to get me to my goal.  Every aspect of my skill as a paddleboarder was tested on Sunday.  There were upwind stretches that demanded power, downwind sections where catching bumps and surfing was critical.  There was side chop and chaotic boat wake that had the board bucking like a wild pony, testing my balance and focus.  There was the sheer distance, challenging my endurance.  Still, I was happy and optimistic every bit of the way because I had done it all in my training.

     The one thing I hadn't done in training was actually paddle that far, or for that duration of time.  Of course I believed that I could do it, but there were other factors to consider, like nutrition.  I had been using Infinit Nutrition, a powder that you mix with water and drink during whatever activity you're doing.  Infinit is custom formulated for you by a nutritionist specifically for you and your activity.  I had been using my blend for a month or so with good results, but I had never used it as my food for a whole day of non-stop paddling.  I was a little worried about bonking, so I loaded my drybag with a bunch of Cliff Bars just in case.  There was no need... the Infinit worked fantastically and I was energized and feeling good all day.  This stuff really works!  If you're an endurance athlete in any sport, I definitely recommend it (and they are not a sponsor... That's just the testimonial of a happy customer).

     Still, even with all my training and good results with the Infinit, by the end of the day I was crushed.  And I mean, CRUSHED.  Everything hurt.  I was feeling dizzy with the reverse-seasickness.  At dinner I was even talking slowly, my mind and mouth taking their sweet time forming words and sentences.  Sheer exhaustion.  But to my shock, I woke up Monday morning feeling fantastic.  I was a little sore in my legs and shoulders, but not any more than I would be the day after a big workout or windsurf day.  I guess my training was on target, and I immediately started thinking of the possibilities of doing even bigger paddles.  The future is looking bright... so many adventures ahead!

     So, I guess that's it.  It's been an amazing summer.  I've learned a ton.  I've pushed myself and achieved a significant goal in my fitness and skill on the water.  I've met a TON of amazing people.  I raised a bunch of money for some great charities.  I'd say that the Windy City Waterman project has been an overwhelming success.  I'm really looking forward to next year, and another chance to grow this amazing sport.  I already have some ideas formulating for a Windy City Waterman event that is more inclusive, getting people of all skill levels out on the water.  I'll keep you posted as things come together, but if anyone has any ideas or wants to help, email me and let me know.

     Before I go, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who stepped up to sponsor and help this summer.  First and foremost, Charlie at Pacific Boardsports and Naish International for boards and paddles.  Al and Sue at Lake Effect Marketing for building the WCW website.  The whole crew at Windward Boarshop.  Gary at Paddleboard Specialists.  Kaenon Sunglasses, Headhunter Sunblock, Moosejaw and everyone who donated prizes for our raffle.  And THANKS to all of you who have read the blog, offered advice and encouragement, and especially to those of you who told me, "Damn, you're crazy."  That meant a lot.  I'll still be paddling until the water freezes, so get out your wetsuit and come join me.  See you on the water.  

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