I've said it before and those of you who have run a marathon know it's true: 26.2 miles is a long way and a lot can go wrong over the course of that mileage.
So when you're talking 32 miles on the water, you know that holds true...tenfold.
Chattajack is a 31-mile standup paddle board race in Chattanooga, TN. (Because of the currents etc, the race is really 31-33 miles. This year Matt's GPS clocked in at 32.) Matt completed it for the first time last year and totally loved it; last year they didn't have much current but they did have mild, beautiful weather. He finished well ahead of his goal.
|An aerial photo of the racers on the river this year.
|This Floridian was NOT READY.
|In line for packet pickup.
Matt opted to race in the 12'6" division this year; there were fewer men in that division and that meant fewer people to draft off of. Matt had used social media pre-race to find people to draft, and spent some time race morning frantically looking for the one guy he thought he'd want to draft with. No luck.
|Matt prepping his board (in the foreground) under the spotlights before sunrise.
|Cold, but humoring me with a photo.
|This is like playing Where's Waldo! Below is a better picture of Matt's pre-race-face.
|This draft train was cool - there was 8 guys or so in it! Matt wasn't one of them though because they're on 14' boards.
|Matt is that tiny speck!
|Mile 10.7: Suck Creek. He's still smiling at this point!
|The view at Raccoon Mountain.
|RIGHT on the water! I don't know why more spectators didn't climb down to the pier.
Finally, Matt appeared, and he had a friend in tow! A fellow 12'6"er, Karl, had caught up to him around mile 16 and they had formed a little draft train. I was able to call out to him and get photos; then I ran up the embankment, jumped in my car, sped down the road a few hundred meters, and hopped back out to cheer him on again just as he passed by the second viewing spot.
|You can just barely see Matt and Karl across the water.
Matt's cousin Nikki texted that she was at the finish, and I gave her a rough estimate of Matt's finishing time. Then Quack and I went to meet her at mile 31 (32): Hale's Bar.
This was when things got hairy. The wind, which had been bad the entire morning, was whipping around us and the finish line sprint, which goes alongside the pier, was full of choppy waves and currents going in all different directions. As racers began to come in, we noticed how hard it was for them to stay upright. Matt's estimated finish time came and went, and he was nowhere in sight. I had no service at the pier, so I couldn't check on where he was.
All I knew was that he was really late, and I was getting scared.
When he finally came around the last corner and into the final sprint, he fell off his board. Matt never falls. I was so worried; I knew if he felt fine but had fallen he'd be pissed, but I was sure something was wrong. Matt doesn't fall.
|Post-fall, soaking wet and just ready to be done.
I ran down the pier and encouraged him. He was back up and just single-mindedly paddling to the finish - not fast, not sprinting, but steadily.
Finally, he looked up. I waved at him. He waved back.
He made his way over to us and I could see he was shaking uncontrollably. He was soaking wet and the wind hadn't died down at all. His fingers weren't quite working as he tried to remove his bib, open his chocolate milk, etc.
Quack and Nikki's husband Robert carried his board back to the car and I put an arm around his waist and literally held him upright and pushed him forward as we made our way back to the car. We wrapped him in his towel and as many dry shirts as we could.
|We managed a cheer-team picture before we loaded him into the car.
He fell asleep on the short drive back. He wouldn't stop shivering.
Luckily, once he had a hot shower and we got some food in him, he seemed to recover. But this was honestly the scariest moment of my married life. I really thought he was hypothermic. (We learned later than at least one racer had been rescued from a bank after he had rolled his surf-ski and was too cold and weak to continue - he was pre-hypothermic.)
|Warm, dry clothes and a burrito...this is post-race heaven.
|Waiting for awards to be announced.
|Here's the beginning of the post-race newsletter. The Facebook page is fully of hilarious "I-survived-Chattajack-2016" stories.
|Jeremy, Karl, and Matt!
|One telling response on the "Is everyone okay?" post on the race's FB page. Those finishing after the time limit legit don't get medals.
|With my winner!
|A close up of the award.
|The day after the race we went to Rock City to take some photos...but I'll write about that later.
All in all, it was an intense weekend. I'm so grateful to Quack for his hospitality, and I'm really proud of Matt's fellow racers, including the other CGT race-team members Murray, Mark, and Meg (who took 2nd place in her division). I know we'll be back next year; I liken this race to BDR, and I know Matt is ready to totally own that river and get his redemption without all that wind!