The Inland Paddler: T-Minus Eight Days and Counting
If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been kind of Chatta-obsessed here at the Mullet. And with reason. This is the biggie. Our Inland Molokai to Oahu. Instead of bumps and tradewinds, we will slog 32 miles on flat water that might be torn up by intermittent headwinds, stern wheelers or cigarette boats, socked in with Death Fog, pushed by a current from an upstream dam release (or most likely not) or smooth as the most beautiful but boring glass you have ever seen.
And that’s not to mention the Weeds from Hell.
If you are a ChattaNewbie, and you listen to only one piece of advice, make sure you do not give in to the temptation to “short cut” through the weeds at about Mile 27. If you do, you will be plunged into a rift in the Space/Time Continuum and we are likely to never see you again. And that would be tragic because the race after party is super fun.
Here is another bit of advice, or intel really. When you see that you have reached Mile 29 or so, do not tell yourself you are almost finished. Here’s why: those last three miles will be the longest three miles of your life. In fact, I would recommend just taking off your Garmin or Suunto or whatever, or turning you Speedcoach around so you cannot see it. Do this so you don’t fixate on the mileage readout and what it is doing or not doing. Time really is standing still.
You are in the ChattaVortex.
Numbers and mileage and pace no longer compute.
Stay calm, stay present. Have a snack.
When you finally see the big edifice that is the Hales Bar dam (it looks like a big building, not really a dam) heed this warning:
Accept this. Do not stare at the dam. Avert your eyes. Look at the pretty leaves. Look at the nose of your board. Look at your wrinkled toes. Channel your Inner Dory and tell yourself to just keep paddling, just keep paddling.
Have another snack.
But DO NOT STARE AT THE DAM.
Remember what happened to the Nazis who stared at the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark?”
Okay, it’s not quite like that. But it might make you wish you would burst into flames if it meant ending your suffering. At the very least, focusing on the immovable dam will make an already miserable last three miles even more so. How is that even possible?
IT JUST IS.
ChattaVeteran and Chattanooga resident Dottie Hodges has likened it to this bit from the Monty Python boys:
It is EXACTLY like that.
Now, before you start questioning your judgement or sanity and rueing the day you signed up for this, consider the other end of the river – the start.
You will be on the river, near sunrise, looking at the skyline of one of the most beautiful of Southern cities, with hundreds of your paddle ohana. You will be ushered onto the river in a style not duplicated in any other race I have ever been in. If tradition holds, your start will be signaled by water cannons from a fire department boat. How cool is that?
Starts are usually where I experience the most anxiety in races, but at Chattajack, it’s different. You will feel an instant sense of camaraderie, of brother and sisterhood. You will realize that you ARE doing this. And it is great. It is what you have been training for all summer. In those first moments on the river, in the crush of the chop produced by you and your fellow paddlers, you will realize you have just been inducted into a fantastic club.
And you will know you are a waterman.
If you can, put the panic and the worry about making that 10-mile cut off in time out of your head for at least a few minutes and relish in that moment. Trust me, it will be one you will replay over and over again in your mind days and weeks after the race.
Moments and feelings like that are the reason I keep coming back to this race. That and the people.
Our paddle family is special and nowhere is that more evident than at Chattajack. My Facebook feed and messages have been lit up in the last two weeks by comments from friends who all say they look forward more to seeing everyone than actually racing.
For me, I get to spend four days with my Georgia and Tennessee crew that shared a place and supported each other at the Carolina Cup way back in April. I haven’t seen them since.
One of those folks moved all the way across the world to her homeland of New Zealand but she managed to get back just for Chattajack. Another is coming all the way from Arizona to paddle CJ prone, after just having raced six-man OC in the great Molokai Hoe. Another has just suffered losses in her family that remind me of mine last year. We’ll be racing together in the OC-2 and I promise, we will be epic!
Then there my peeps from the Carolinas, Washington, Florida, Alabama, Washington, DC, Canada, and all over. I will be so busy hugging necks I’ll likely forget about the pain that is about to come and I certainly won’t be worrying if I am trained enough. We are all in this together.
That is what we call ChattaMagic.
My Hawaii downwinder friends always seem amazed that we willfully do a 32 mile flatwater race. Some of them, who are the masters of Maliko, are truly in awe of the Chattajackers. I’ve heard several even say they couldn’t do it. Well, it is this love for paddling and love for each other and for a shared challenge and experience that gets us down the river. (And yes, I have no doubt that they could do it! I wish they would come and be a part of it!!)
Big, big kudos are due to Ben and Kim Friberg who have crafted an experience that is unique in the paddling world. Were it not for their vision, their care, and their love for this sport and the people who do it, this would not be the experience that it is. Race directors and organizers everywhere could learn a lot from these two.
So, my fellow Chattajackers, rest, taper, enjoy the anticipation. You are trained. You are ready. You will rock it.
Just don’t look at the dam!