Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon Recap

I got my patch.  (And my 18.5 mile sticker.) I earned my very own patch. And Maria earned her patch. We conquered the Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon together.

My first canoe patch!
I grew up in a canoeing family. My dad has many, many of these patches. That is one of the reasons this patch means so much to me. We canoed Boundary Waters on the US side. We canoed Quetico on the Canadian side. We canoed on vacations in Wisconsin. Here are just a few of the memories that I have about canoeing as a youth:

  • Watching my brother and his friend canoe into a waterfall thinking they would be shot out just like on the cartoons. Oops. Foiled by physics again.
  • Having a competition to see whose intestinal system could be stopped up the longest on a trip and losing by a day to my brother's friend. 
  • Being mocked by my nephew about how I couldn't portage/canoe because I was a girl until he lifted my pack. Boom.
  • Being in the canoe when my other brother stood up to show off to his now wife and have the canoe tip over.
  • Wearing rockin' flannel button downs, Converse All Stars and out of control naturally occurring BHS (big hair syndrome). There are pictures. Awwe yeeaaah.
I paint a lovely picture. My memories are fond and humorous. That is why when Maria asked if anybody wanted to do the Canoe Marathon with her I thought, "Why not?" Neither of us had been in a canoe for 20 years or something, so why not do 18.5 miles in one shot. My parents were not doing it this year so I asked to borrow the canoe. Thankfully, we tried the canoe out for about an hour the day before the race so we were definitely ready. 
Our faithful steed
There was talk about postponing the race because it had rained so much during the week. The river was very high, and the current was strong.(These actually helped us) We had to sign a waiver that asked if we were prepared to handle such situations appropriately, like swimming to shore, bailing on the canoe and helping others in need. Sure, why not?

Canoe dropped off. When we came back, every spot was taken.
We were supposed to arrive early enough to put our canoe at the start, drive down to the finish, park at a lot, take two shuttle buses back to the start and be ready an hour before our time to go. We did all of them except we arrived at the start at our time to go. And we didn't know what to do exactly because we hadn't done it before. When we left our canoe to park, there were 20 crafts in the starting area and when we started the race there almost double. After accidentally cutting in front of some kayaks, we were waved through the start (because we were late) and off we went.

Pre-race selfie
It was a beautiful day. The current helped us move along as we had some zig and zag. I would find myself only paddling on one side because I got distracted. We didn't have a particular rhythm. Go forward. Our goal was to enjoy our time, to eat chocolate to stave the h-anger (peanut butter m&ms to the rescue) and to finish.

And to take Chewbacca on a ride.

At the start of the race we worried about the warnings. About a half a mile in a man in a single kayak tried to pass us on the left in a narrow portion and hit a branch that was reaching out into the water. He got stuck and was grunting/gasping for help. We tried to back pedal a bit to see how he was doing and, thankfully, another canoe was able to keep him afloat until help could rescue him. It was a grim image to the start of our race. 

I had a grand time. The day became warmer than we expected and both of us went to short sleeves with no sunscreen. I have a great tan line at my wrists because I wore my yoga gloves for most of the race. That's the handiest they have ever been. There was wind but since the river was windy we would have stretches where we would have to work hard and stretches we would could take it easy. The wind only caught us off guard once where we were pushed hard to the bank. It was a bit surprising, but we got a hold of ourselves and continued on.
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
We got passed a lot. People are serious out there. There was a canoeing couple in which the husband would grunt when it was time to switch sides. There was a couple rowing to a four count. The kayaks flew by. One set of guys told us to look out for another canoe and tell them they would have dresses waiting for them at the end. Long and flowy. A Boy Scout leader had bet his scout. We were able to pass on the message.
One of the things that really struck us while canoeing as runners and riders was the lack of communication in passing. As a runner or a biker, "On your left' is a common phrase. Boaters would just fly up past you without warning. Maria and I both had opportunities to smack another boat if we had not noticed as they came close unannounced. That became a little unnerving. Communication, please.

So in the end it took us just over 4 hours to paddle our way down. That's decent. Both of us had to go to the bathroom sometime along the way and we held it because trying to get out at a flooded bank and get back in seemed like a lost fight. Plenty of people did stop. When we got to the end I was pretty zonked, and we had to get the car and load the canoe. Loading the canoe again was brutal. We were both sun burned. Unloading the canoe at my parent's house was also brutal. Would I do the race again? Yes, but the conditions would be hard to beat: great company (Thanks Maria!), swift current, beautiful day and lots of peanut butter m&ms.

We did it! Post-race selfie!


  1. This looks like serious fun :) Great job ladies!

  2. What fun! I must do this with Steven! We canoed together last year and really enjoyed it. I will have to bring a good luck Chewie, too :)

    Interesting about lack of communication when passing. I wonder what is up with that! Seems even more crucial than runner saying it to another!

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