Last Saturday marked the 7th Cape Cod Bay Challenge, a 34 mile, 10-12 hour paddle marathon. It was our first time participating. In some ways it was exactly what we expected, and in other ways it was so much more. We have been thinking about this paddle since last fall and actually training for it since we registered in April. The reason we were all out there was to support the kids that Christopher’s Haven exists to help. They have helped over 300 kids from 42 countries. All of them were terminal when they arrived, and they have only lost 10 kids in 10 years.
The day finally arrived to put our Riding Bumps training program to the test. After an early morning parking glitch, we got off to a little bit of a late start-5:30 am. I was already at the back of the pack and the paddle hadn’t officially started yet…oh oh. It was rather chilly for mid August, and there was already some wind. That wind helped us for the first half hour, and we cranked along. Then we left the relative shelter of the harbor and the wind and chop started pounding us from the side. Hours upon hours of paddling on the left side took a toll.
For the first couple of miles I kept saying to myself “do you think it’s too late to turn around?” I was nervous about the 3.5 mph pace that we were committing to upon registering, and in the first hour we were closer to 4.5 mph. It was a pace I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was all the way at the back of the pack and pretty much all out from the beginning. It was just a matter of time…
There is a lead boat setting the pace and course, and we are all lemmings. There are approximately 10 “paddle captains” who have successfully completed the paddle several times and are guides and herding dogs, cheerleaders, sentencers (determining who needs to get in the boats when), and all around badasses (in the best way)! They set the edges of the pack keeping everyone from drifting too far left or right, and they keep the back as close to the rest of the pack as possible. There is no man, or woman, left behind. The paddle captains bring up the rear ensuring that there are no stragglers. They provide inspiration and encouragement to everyone out there and somehow know the right things to say at the right time to keep paddlers from going to their individual “dark places.”
Being at the back of the pack it is pretty much impossible to pause for anything…even to grab a bite of a protein bar. In our training, we practiced what to eat and drink, but in our paddles we actually had time for a quick snack or to grab the hose from the hydration pack to get a drink. I only needed to reach into the front pocket of my pack, and couldn’t even manage to make that happen without risking falling behind.
After three hours, and despite feeling like I had my own personal cheerleader in Ned, it was clear that I needed a break…I needed to eat something. When given the option to take that break, the offer sounded too good to refuse. But getting in the boat was a dangerous thing…what if I don’t ever get out of the boat? Those three hours flew by! I had crazy pain in my shoulder, but other than that didn’t feel bad at all. I just needed to eat something. The energy stores were waning fast. So the Zodiac picked me up and told me I could hang with them for a while and go back out. That is what I fully intended to do. We decided that when the group took a break they would bring me to the front of the pack and drop me off there. It was a great plan. Then the “yacht” offered me a ride. I didn’t want to get on the pretty boat, despite rumors of comfy couches and a nice bathroom. I was happy in the big raft. But it occurred to me that maybe I should free up the raft in case they needed to pick someone else up. So I made the transfer.
Once you got on the nice boat, it wasn’t easy to get off…logistically it was doable, though not the easiest thing. But it was quite plush, we were very comfy, there was an amazing crew, and a wonderful little group of paddlers already getting a lift. For a stint the conditions calmed down…the wind had dropped and the swells with it. You could actually paddle on both sides, though it was still favoring the left. I looked out and knew that I could give it a go in those conditions. When the group stopped for lunch we thought about joining back in, but the wind and swell had started to pick up again, and on the boat we stayed.
I learned a lot about the people on the boat that I never would have been able to learn grinding it out on the water. It was also a really interesting perspective to watch the paddle from. Everyone had their own thing going on…their own way of dealing with the pain. They spent the better part of 9 hours paddling on the left side in conditions that made the simple act of staying on your board a feat of strength.
When we had a fin sighting, things got really exciting! Our boat followed the fin for quite a distance to figure out what it was and whether or not we had a shark situation out there. We even had a boat rodeo up in the front. Not a shark, just a goofy Mola Mola.
We were all able to get off the boat to join the group for the last 3.5 miles. By this point, we had turned a corner and the wind was mostly at our backs. After being on the boat for so long it was incredibly difficult to stand on the board. It was like the first time paddling. Thankfully that went away after a few minutes.
Mark absolutely killed it out there! It was pretty cool to watch. He looked so strong as he kept plugging away. I could not have done what they all did on that day.
As the land grew closer, there were a lot of emotions. There was celebrating, tears, whoops, and lots of smiles! We had an amazing group of people waiting on land to welcome us back. And it’s that support and love that makes this event so special.
The after party is first class, with abundant food, great raffle items, reps showing off their wares, and a very nice recognition ceremony welcoming new paddlers to the family, remembering returning paddlers, and honoring all of the support people and volunteers who make the event possible. In the end, we raised approximately $75,000 to help Christopher’s Haven, and that’s what it is all about! The rest is just bonus.
Tags: endurance paddling, paddle marathon, cape cod bay challenge, long distance paddles,paddleboard training, paddle board training, riding bumps training program, sup training, training for paddle boarding, training for paddleboarding