After a week and a half of training it was finally time to put on the bib and race the Narrows. With more than a 170 entries the energy at put-in was vibrant, and as we made our way down to the starting eddy the river was overflowing with nervous chatter, nervous laughs, nervous “Good lucks”, and probably a couple of nervous organizers. The Green puts a test on even the most skilled paddlers, and there were plenty of “virgins”, ready to race the river for the first time. Jason Hale insisted on the theme of the year “Love thy self” in his speech to the competitors at the put-in, urging us to remember that we are all a part of the whitewater community, and to embrace eachother, the spectators and the river. And I have to admit, watching the immense whitewater community one by one race down a steep river, cheering eachother on, sharing the carnage stories, entering the world of the shady Calcutta, sharing the beers along the shores of the river afterwards, I was proud of myself for having raced, and I was proud of everybody else. Including the hundreds of spectators that hiked miles to get in there to cheers us on. I think a lot of competitors would have had a hard time resisting the urge to eddy out before Gorilla for a breather, instead, hearing the roar from the crowd as you come into Flying Squirrel just makes you stroke harder, giving it all. There is a lot of companionship and love for the rivers in “them Hills” in North Carolina.
The Green race is by far the most challenging race I have ever raced. From day one I had the lines down on the big rapids, but it was always a little rock in a random rapid, or a misplaced stroke that made me slow down in the class three that caused problems. It was still rapid number two, one of the easiest ones on the race, that caused me to lose in the short boat class. You either have to be very very fit to win, or very very local. Mike Dawson (NZ) paddled smoothly to victory, baffling the crowd and fellow paddlers with the ease he managed to push through the bottom half of the course, where most others were gasping for air. After all, you encounter the biggest rapids on the river after 3 minutes of racing. That is a hard one, as you are so tired when you enter them that a mishap is not likely to be corrected. Adrienne Levknecht, “Lady of the Green” showed her local skills and left the rest of us behind in both categories. I love her for the attitude, and I love her for the shittalking, and beeing beaten by a bad-ass just makes me even more keen on coming back next year and try harder. Katrina von Wiijk from Canada showed awesome spirit as she lined up for her race, having had a hard week on the Green. A meeting with Gorilla had put 27 stitches in her face, a mishap in Go left had seen her swim out of it in training. I could tell she was nervous at put-in, but only showed it with a bright smile, and as I reached over and hugged her we wished eachother Good Lines and Good Times. She did awesome and aced the race, ending up in 3rd in the long boat category. Atta Girl!
I had four runs in the long boat before raceday, and I definitely should have had some more. In my third practice I aced Gorilla and decided to go back up and run it again, Shane B was on shore and needed content for his blog updates. And content he got.. but that is a different story. My only comment on that carnage is that we are all in between swims, we all crash and burn, but what defines you as a person, or even as a kayaker, is whether you get back up on that horse or not.
But, all in all, what made me lose the long boat category was an unnecessary piton that put my feet underneath the bulkhead. I survived Gorilla with a combat roll that would have made my first instructor proud, as I had no hipsnap and no secondary stability since my feet were totally straight and stuck. It was all in the mind, as I was simply not going to go over Gorilla trapped in my kayak, upside down. I am very grateful to the Green for letting me roll up on the lip of the drop so I did not take my face off on the rocks in the landing. But I knew I was beat at that point. Call me a bad ass for running it in that condition; I say a stupid one, and the descision was made in a split second as I came through “Chiefs”. I remember thinking “ I can still make it!”.
A competitive mind is hard to shut down in the middle of the heat. But enough was enough. The adrenaline I had at the bottom of Gorilla equalled running the Rio Baker the first time, running Medio Palguin waterfall first time, and definitely equalled running Big Boy on the Ravenfork those years back. Hence I stopped in the eddy and got help to get my feet out. The safety guys looked puzzeled as I had them hold my kayak, but I still laugh as I recall Tommy just smiling and telling me that this would not affect my time at all. Right. I guess he saw how annoyed I was for having to give up, but even then and there I appreciated his good energy. As I got to the bottom I was immensly dissappointed for about 30 seconds, then I shook it off in time for meeting Katrina, bouncing of energy giving me a hug and telling me I was awesome. Then we agreed on both being awesome, just in time for Chelsey to give me a swig of rum in between timekeeping, and spectators patting me friendly on the back. Mike Dawson experienced strangers walking up to him giving him their jackets to stay warm between the runs, and we are both just blown away with how friendly, warm, open minded and awesome the people of the Green are. You guys rock.
I had entered the Iron woman category along with Adrienne, and walked back up to my short boat run. Lovely Cranky was in the starting eddy sending me off with a bright smile, and I felt good about racing again, eventhough I swerved a lot in the short boat , not quite controlling it after having paddled the long boat for the past five days. Fun times! It went a lot better, but again some simple mistakes put me 30 seconds behind Adrienne. Gotta train harder to beat the Lady of the Green!
What a race. What a crowd. What an athmosphere. What a party! I will be coming back to the Green for ever and ever, and I will do my best in styling the racelines like the locals next time. And one thing is for sure, I will definitely make sure I am better prepared for the raging party on saturday night!
Thanks to LVM, John, Chelsea, Jason, Cranky, Woody, Shane, Adrienne, Tommy, Nate and everybody else that makes the Greenrace into what it is. And Daniel, you were absolutely right eight years ago. You told me that once I would race the Green, there is no turning back. RIP.
Thanks to Shane Benedict for photos.