Sunday, May 4, 2008

2008 Snake River Canoe Race

Winners of Pro Boat-Al Rudquist and Devin Arenz
Winners Open Racing (Male)-Brett Arenz and Ed Arenz

Winner of Open Racing (Female)- Micki Rayman and Donna Mundahl (not present)
Winners of Open Racing (Mixed)-Steve Peterson and Julie Boehrer


May 3rd, 2008

Mora, Minnesota

My alarm went off at 0445 this morning and I immediately got up out of bed, anxious to look out my window to see what the weather had done over night. There was the possibility of snow, but when I looked out my living room window I could see my neighbors outside light reflecting off the wet pavement. So far so good!

I turned on the weather channel and the temperature was 40 degrees and it said it was sprinkling out. Not good! I walked over to the window and put my face against the window and sure enough it was raining. The rain was supposed to move out with the high temperatures around 53 degrees, but there was going to be very strong NW winds all morning.

I made my coffee and oatmeal before getting dressed for the race. I had made a check list last night and got everything together. The reason I made a list was once I got to the finish line at the Kanabec History Center in Mora I would then take a shuttle to the start and I wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.

I was on the road a little after 6 am. Mora is about 60 miles from my house. The rain had ceased and now that there was some day light the day didn’t look that bad. My spirits began to brighten as I saw a sliver of the sun peeking through the clouds. The outside temperature on my Suburban went back and forth between 39 and 40 degrees. The wind was blowing very strong and was rocking my Suburban as I drove north on Highway 47. I had to pull over and tighten down one of the ropes that was securing my C-1 to the roof rack.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road this morning. I pulled into the History Center area to park, but first I stopped by the canoe trailer to unload my C-1. I placed my C-1 on the rack of the trailer and the volunteers tied the canoe down. I knew from experience that the way they were securing my canoe to the trailer that it wasn't going to work. I knew my canoe would be moving back and forth from the wind and it would cause damage to the gunwales. When I pushed sideways on the canoe that’s exactly what it did. I got two short pieces of rope out of my Suburban and secured both the bow and stern to keep them from moving at all. I asked them if anyone was watching the canoes at the other end and I was told there was. My concern is my canoe weighs around twenty pounds and with the very strong winds my canoe could potentially become a kite without a rope.

I was told where to park my vehicle. I was one of the early arrivers like I normally am so the area wasn’t filled with many vehicles, yet.

I got my check list out and made sure I had everything that I planned to take with me to the starting area. I have one larger dry bag that has one complete change of warm clothes that I take with me every time I go for a paddle in the early season. I had another smaller dry bag that I would put the clothes I would shed just prior to the race. I then had another stuff sack where I put my water bottle, food, etc to carry to the start for convenience sake. The stuff sack would then go into the dry bag. I carried my two paddles and my PFD went with my C-1.

Earlier I had seen the registration table when I pulled in the lot, but after I got all my stuff together I couldn’t find where they had moved it. While I walked over to the building where they were having a pre-race breakfast I ran into some people who I hadn’t seen in a while and briefly spoke with them.

Since I couldn’t find the registration table I figured they had moved it to the start where I’ve always known it to be in the past. I walked over to one of the buses that was parked and got inside. It was almost full. Actually when I got on I heard the driver tell someone over the radio that he was going to leave now. A couple more people got on before we could get on our way. Pretty good timing on my part!

The start is about 12 to 13 miles away by road. I heard the bus driver ask if anyone knew how much rain they got last night and a guy near me said, over one inch. I’ve never paddled this river in such high water, so I was concerned about the large standing waves that I was certain to encounter on this race. As I recall, this race has the most white water of all the races in Minnesota that I’ve ever done. When I got off the bus I could see several canoes on the north side of the road, but I didn’t see mine. One of the volunteers was there and asked me what type of canoe I had and I said a C-1, racing, he replied…yes, and he pointed me in the right direction.

My canoe was safely down in the vegetation closer to the river completely out of the wind. I went over and threw my gear inside, then walked to the top of the bridge to get a look at the high water in the river. It was overflowing its banks. It appeared it was going to be a fast, exciting race. The high water caused the race committee to get permission to move the registration table and a place to put the canoes on private property to the east side of the river.

I went over to the table to get my canoe number since I had pre-registered. My number was Y231. The letter in front of the number designates the class. I asked the volunteer how many people had pre-registered and she said 117 and they had 12 pay this morning for 129. I later found out that there were a total of 164 entries.

I walked around and talked to several other people who had arrived at the start. There was music playing over the speaker system. One of the volunteers began making announcements over the loud speaker.

He mentioned that this race was a tribute to Bob Lindig who recently passed away. Bob Lindig was one of the founders and promoters of this race. The volunteer said last night when they were preparing for this race the water level was at 5.5 feet on the gauge and it’s now 6.5 feet and still rising. A few days ago the race committee was expecting the water level to be about 6.0 foot. They said there wouldn’t be any rocks, but there would be standing waves of about two feet in some of the rapids.

He recommended that everyone wear their PFD because of the fast, cold water. They also recommended everyone have a change of clothing due to the higher risk of hypothermia. He also advised everyone that they should know their limit on their canoeing ability and for them to determine if they should attempt to race today because the race committee wants to see them to come back next year.

The volunteer said the course record was most likely going to be broken today.Then I heard him say a change from previous years where the solo canoes and the kayak class would be the first ones to go today at 0930 am. Normally, these two classes are the last to go so they have to maneuver around the slower recreational canoeist and at the same time trying to pick a line through the rapids. After doing the race today this was a very wise move otherwise every solo canoeist would have been swimming in the cold water. There wouldn’t be any way to make any drastic change in directions while going through the standing waves.

This race is put on by the Snake River Canoe Club and it’s the 27th Annual running of it. The race starts at the Hinckly Road Bridge on County Road 3 that is east of Highway 65. The race is approximately 25 km long with a mean gradient of five feet per mile. Normally the rapids are all Class I. The winning time is usually around 2 hours with an overall average finishing time around 3 hours.

The race begins at 0930 am with 6 canoes or kayaks at a time that are sent off in one minute intervals. What normally takes place is for those who want to warm up on the water they put their canoe or kayak in the water upstream of the bridge and then paddle upstream. The announcer is telling the canoes or kayaks when it’s time to move up to an available rope with a ring that is hanging from the bridge. The stern paddler grabs a hold of the rope. He reminds the bow paddler not to grab the rope otherwise they will be pointing in the wrong direction. I don’t know if you see the problems a solo canoeist or kayak has with this method especially with the fast current.

I got on the water about 0910 am. I went up a ways upstream and saw Dan Cruser and Dan Shaffer in an aluminum canoe. Coming back downstream I saw Gerg Zophy hanging onto a tree branch waiting his turn to line-up. I continued downstream, and then turned back upstream since it was just a little too early to go grab the rope. As soon as I turned upstream I heard the announcer tell the solo canoes and kayaks to begin lining up. I wanted to time my holding onto the rope and keep it to a minimum, if possible. I can see the potential problem!

I headed for the rope that on the left side of the river and of course that is where the faster current was flowing. Greg Zophy was heading to the rope just to my right. I missed the rope the first time because of the current and there was no way I wanted to lean over and grab it. I would have gone over for sure if I had done that. I now had to back paddle while looking forward. It seemed like I was standing still in the fast moving current. I continued to look downstream and I saw Greg Zophy grab his rope. It appeared momentarily he had a slight problem but then quickly recovered. He was lucky, not like the three people to his right who already went over into the water and were now floating downstream with either their kayak or canoe.

I now was able to grab the rope, but the current slowly began to move my canoe perpendicular to the shore. Ten seconds earlier and I would have been able to start the race at an angle, not the best start. When I was crosswise in the current I had to let go of the rope otherwise I would be the fourth person in the water. There was a lady in a kayak who I heard say she was just going to go and she went pass me. Well, she got a one minute penalty, but maybe that’s better than swimming. I later passed her and I think she was wearing a dry suit.

Once I got out of my canoe that was now facing upstream I heard the gun go off. One of the volunteers came down and assisted me. He told me just to start in the second wave. I turned my canoe around so I was now facing in the correct direction. The volunteer held onto the stern of my canoe while I waited for the gun to start the second heat.

The gun went off and I began my first race in four years. The water was fast and there was an aluminum canoe to my right. We were paddling side by side around a couple bends, but then my canoe was pushed into theirs by the current and their wake. I told then not to worry about me and backed off. I dropped back behind them because of the swift current until I could make a move and get around them. This upper section of the river was narrow and I knew it would widen up.

I saw Gerg Zophy in his C-1 and one of the kayakers was behind him up ahead. I got around the aluminum canoe and passed the lady (that didn’t hold onto the rope) in the kayak after a few minutes. I was making ground on Greg as well as the kayaker. I saw the kayaker over take Greg, but I wasn’t gaining any more ground on Greg.

I was getting a feel for the fast current and I found that I couldn’t go under any branches like I do sometimes do in slower moving water. I found that the current was moving so fast and in different directions and I wasn’t able to maneuver as quickly as I wanted when I got close to shore.

There were several long rapids in this race. This was the first race that I’ve encountered that many long rapids with large standing waves in my C-1. I spoke to some racers afterwards and they believed the largest standing waves were approaching two and a half feet if not three feet. I’ll tell you what when I was sitting in the seat of my J-193 C-1 those waves were looking very big!

There was one kayaker who would catch me and then he would pass me on the first couple rapids, because all I could do in the standing waves was brace and float on through. I would end up catching him before the next set of rapids, then he would pass me up, again.

On the third set of rapids I could see Greg Zophy hugging the far right shore and I thought he may have had a slight problem, but I went that way anyways. I went passed a little point of land and after that there was an opening for a cut that went to the right. I didn’t want to take the cut since I didn’t know if there were any sweepers or if I would be able to get through. I tried to move to the left toward the center of the river, but the current continued to force me toward the cut where I didn’t want to go. I saw that the current was pushing me over a small piece of land that was about one foot below my canoe. I decided to step off the right side of my canoe to stop the canoe from being pushed into the cut. To my surprise, although I could see ground one foot below on the left side of my canoe, to my right it was about three to four feet deep and my right foot was slipping. I now have my left foot in the canoe and my right leg slipping on the slope while sticking my paddle into the ground to get my butt back in the seat of my canoe. I got back in the canoe without tipping, but with all that I had no choice but to take the cut and I didn’t have any problems. I should have just gone with the flow to begin with. Only my right leg up to my hip got wet and with that little experience I knew I didn’t want to experience my whole body in the water. The water was very cold.

During this little episode of me testing the water with my right leg, the aluminum canoe that I passed a few minutes into the race passed me up as well as the kayaker that would pass me in the earlier rapids. A few minutes later Dan Cruser and Dan Shaffer caught up with me in their aluminum canoe.

I was able to eventually pass the kayaker and the aluminum canoe again, but I wasn’t able to catch the two Dan’s. Later, Dan Cruser told me he was surprised I didn’t jump on their large stern wake when they went by me.

There were a few times when the strong winds would start to weather vane my canoe so I had to put in a pry to straighten my canoe out and of course that drastically slowed my forward progress. There was one time when a strong gust of wind caught the side of my canoe. I could feel the canoe skip or scoot a couple times over the top of the water. There is no control when that happens.

It was just after the second bridge that I encountered to the biggest standing waves. There was no going around them, only through them. Yes, there were several people watching the race from the bridge. How embarrassing it would have been to flip in front of all those people. I just put in another brace and on ward I went with no problems. In fact, I don’t think I got any water in the canoe from any of the standing waves, just a little water from the time when I put my right leg back out of the water at the third rapids.

Toward the last few rapids I was going a little bit more cautiously since I had made it that far without going over, no reason to go swimming now.

I knew I was getting close to the end because I could hear the PA system and then I saw the finish line. The finish was set up differently this year due to the high water. I began moving to the center of the river when I saw someone pointing for me to head into a little opening on the left. Well, I had to put on a strong lean on the canoe to get the canoe to angle into the small opening. Normally the racers continue pass the finish line in the main channel, then turn downstream and head back up to the take out point.

I felt good during the whole race. This was the first time I raced the entire race with a PFD on, but with the brisk wind I didn’t overheat. I found this race challenging in my C-1 racing canoe with the high water and the large standing waves.

The volunteers were at the waters edge helping the canoeist get their canoes onto shore. I grabbed mine right away and headed for my Suburban. My plan was to quickly change clothes, grab my camera and go back down to some take some pictures of the Pro Boat and open racing class as they came in.

I was up at my Suburban when Al Rudquist and Devin Arenz walked by with their canoe, so I knew most of the racers would be in shortly. I still went down and took some general pictures of the ending of the race.
After taking a few photos I went back up in the area where they were going to pass out the medals and this is also where the food tent was located.

Al Rudquist and Devin Arenz set a new course record of 1:38:37. The previous record was set in 1986 by Reggie Clark and Cary Bush with a time of 1:46:40. Back then the river course was the same as it’s now, but when the racers got to the current finish line they would have to portage 500 meters up to the Kanabec History Center to the old finish line. The portage was eliminated in about 1992.

I want to thank all the volunteers for putting on a great race race. It takes a lot of work and this is a very well run canoe race. I recommend everyone to give this race a try. It’s held every year on the first Saturday in May.

Winner of the Solo Canoe-Greg Zophy (above)

Me- 2nd Place in Solo Canoe

I spoke to Greg Zophy who won our solo class and I asked him how he liked the rapids. He said he just shut his eyes when he got to them. Greg took first place in the solo class with a time of 1:56:36 and I came in second with a time of 1:59:23.

I took some general photos before the start and at the end of the race. These can be seen on My PhotoBucket.
Snake River Canoe Race website:
Race Results:

Chuck Ryan

All rights reserved 2008

------------------------------------------------- has some actual photos from the race. Check them out to get a flavor of this year’s race. There are a couple photos of me, also. You will find me in:

Start: Photo #11-I’m in the back of the photo back paddling to the rope behind me.

5 K Point: Photo #4 and #8

CR 19 13 K Point: Photo #5

The winners of this race Devin Arenz and Al Rudquist are in photos 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, and 68 also has a link to my blog.

Me in the cornfield

When I got home after the canoe race I went for a bike ride for 21 miles. This morning, Sunday, 05-04-08, it was a beautiful day to paddle. The Rum River was up several more inches from last Friday. I met up with several of the racers on the Rum River. We were able to once again paddle in the cornfields. The last time I did that was in 2000. My total time paddling today was 4 hours and ten minutes.

Chuck Ryan


Norman's Notes said...

Thanks for sharing. Some year I will make it over. Family first.

Good read a nice pics.

Sarah's Blog said...

What is Greg Zophy's middle name?