This is my first race report ever so bare with me, but it had to be done because this race was begging for it. Soggy Bottom Boys 2017 SPROUTE (Spring Route) 8 hour adventure race on Saturday, April 8 in York River State Park, Williamsburg, VA, was by far the most adventurous I have had in my short 3.5 years of racing. I have raced side by side with Mark Montague and competed in the races he has directed as well, over the past few years. He has become a very good friend and is an excellent race director. None of the events that unfolded during this race are in any way a reflection of him or his style of directing. Be warned this is a lengthy read….
The race had a chilly 37* start at 8am in York River State Park with a short 3 cp prologue. The prologue took about 20 minutes covering 1.74 miles. After completing the prologue, I returned to the S/F area, turned in that passport and transitioned to bike. From York River State Park we were to bike to Croaker Landing. I hopped on my bike and headed out of the park on the road. I continued on the road for about 6.75 miles (and ~ 28 mins) to Croaker landing to transition to the paddle.
So here is where the story starts to get interesting and it’s really the part most people want to hear. Up until now everything was going as planned and it was shaping up to be a good race. Got into the the TA, checked in with the race director, punched my cp and carried my kayak to the water.
Now to add a little background/detail here….I am by far not a paddler. I’m okay, maybe even good, but definitely not great at it. In fact, Mark and Dave (best friend of Mark, great friend of mine, volunteer at this event) have spent quite a few different times over the past few years working with me on my paddling. They are both excellent paddlers and I tried to absorb everything I could from them thru lessons and when we would paddle together in races. For this race, Mark had offered to let me use his kayak since it would already be at the landing from setting the cps. My alternative was my own kayak that I had actually purchased from Mark last year, but his kayak would be faster so I took him up on the offer, even though I had never used it before. (Remember the never try anything new during a race rule….)
Got the kayak in the water and headed out. Time check was 9:02. My initial plan was to not go after the optional 2 cps in Morris Bay (Lower right hand corner of the map). Again I’m not a great paddler and always try and calculate whether the paddle is doable for me. But when I started out in to the river, I thought maybe I should give it a shot. I was really hoping to clear the course today. I knew the park pretty well that the mountain biking and O-course where set up in and I felt I may be able to use that to my advantage if the paddle took longer then expected.
So off I went, heading across York River to Morris Bay. At this time, conditions on the river where not bad and I was comfortable paddling. Some slight waves, what you probably would expect on a river this size, and a light breeze. There was a tandem kayak with 2 guys in it ahead of me and a big green canoe coming up a little ways off to the left of me. As I started to approach the middle of the River, conditions started taking a turn for the worse. It seemed like all of a sudden the wind had picked up and now those little waves were moderate waves. I was actually starting to feel a little nausea from the waves. It was at this point, I was starting to consider turning back toward shore and just following the shore line down to the take out point and not get the optional cps. I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the conditions and fighting the waves and water coming in to the boat was not worth the cps for me.
Just as I was beginning to turn back to the shore, I hear someone yelling. I glance around but nothing catches my attention. I have lost site of the canoe but can still see the 2 guys in the tandem and there is one other solo kayak way off to the side and everybody seems okay. Then comes a second yell, that is very distinctly a cry for help. Looking over to my left, between the cresting and falling of the waves I catch site of the canoe flipped over and 3 people in the water. At this point the conditions are continuing to go down hill and the waves are getting bigger. Without even thinking, I turn my kayak toward the canoe and paddle as hard as I can against the waves and the tide to get to them. The tandem kayak has also seen the canoe and they too were heading towards them. By the time I reached the canoe, the guys in the tandem had pulled up alongside of it and the guy in the back had ahold of the female who was struggling with an asthma attack from being hit with the cold water temps.
She seemed to be struggling to get her inhaler to work (i was told later that it had filled with water when the canoe had capsized and when she initially tried to use it she got an intake of river water.) I offered to give her my inhaler but by that time the guy in the tandem kayak had pulled her up on to the deck of the his tandem and she seemed to have gotten her’s working and they were already taking off to get her back to the landing.
So here I was, with white caping waves and pretty moderate winds, with two guys in the water holding on to their canoe. First thought of course was to get these guys out of the water as soon as possible. The water temp was reported to be around 50* at that time and the air temp was around 40* by this time. So I basically said okay guys how do you want to do this. Initially the guys wanted to try and tow the boat and there was some discussion as to whether we should head for Morris Bay or the landing. (While the guys were discussing what we should do, I pulled my phone out to call my husband who was volunteering at the landing to tell him or whoever was still there not to leave because the other boat was coming in with the lady with asthma. He had already left the landing and was back at the state park, so he suggested I call Dave, who was still at the landing. So got off the phone with him, tried to reach Dave, got some guy named Bill. Poor Bill, I couldn’t hear him and he sounded like Dave so I was yelling in to the phone until I realized it was not Dave and then I just hung up.) Now during this whole phone conversation, where to go discussion, we are all trying to stay afloat in the bad conditions and I was have to paddle as much as possible to fight the waves and keep as close to the guys as possible.
So, they were in favor of Morris Bay while I was gearing to go to the landing where I knew help was. Having thrown my throw bag to one of the guys when I had arrived, he tied it to the partially submerged canoe to see if there was any chance I could pull it and them towards the landing. NOT happening!! What was happening was, all of use getting pulled further North in the water. I said nope not gonna happen, time to ditch the canoe, it’s not worth it, we need to get you guys out of the water.
After some discussion back and forth between the 2 guys, the one finally convinced the other to leave the canoe (I know, kind of crazy that this was even a discussion but in the heat of the moment it’s hard to think reasonably sometimes.) The one guy throws me his pack, asking me to make sure it makes it back to shore because it has his keys and everything in it, so I strap it down on the deck of the kayak. As the other guy tries to leave the canoe to hang on to my kayak he becomes tangled in the throw line and can not get untangled from it. Now a little bit of panic is starting to set in. They are starting to drift further North and I am struggling to control my own boat in the wind and waves and they have been in the water at least 15-20 minutes at this point. I think this is when I really realized that the situation has gone from bad to worse and we need help. While the two guys work to untangle the one from the throw line ( all while hanging on to their canoe) I pull my phone out again and call Mark. Thru a barely audible conversation I make out that Mark knows what is going on and he is working to get help to us. (Later I found out that that Dave and another volunteer could see us a little from shore and when they realized that we were struggling out there, they had gone to the park ranger and told him to call for help.)
At this point, both guys have left the canoe, gotten untangled and are now hanging on to the back of my kayak. I am trying to paddle as hard as I can and I realize we are sitting ducks, we aren’t going anywhere. So we moved one guy to the front of the kayak and left the other in the back hoping to distribute the weight better. Even with all of us trying to work together we still were not match for the white capped waves and wind. It was pure craziness. I remember repeating a few times, I’m not moving. I’m not going anywhere. At this point our situation really hit home. the guy in the hold to the back of the kayak requested I call 911 because he was unsure how much longer he could last. So I did.
Now we wait. The guy holding on to the front of the kayak is doing his best to help me watch waves and move the kayak around to keep me from capsizing. He was amazing at staying very calm and we passed the time trying to have light conversation and keep the guy in the back of the kayak talking and alert. We learned a little bit about each other and discussed our AR histories. Mark calls and reassures us that help is on the way, I let him know that we are hanging on as best as we can. The guy in the front of my boat is doing well but unfortunately the other gentleman is beginning to really struggle. he stated a few times he was having a hard time.
Eventually, we begin to see action on at the landing, multiple sets of flashing lights. We continue to wait. Then we start to wonder what is taking them so long to get to us. It feels like they have been at the landing for a while but nobody has come out to where we are. Then my phone rings and it is one of the rescue crews calling to confirm our location. He states that they are near by and that a helicopter will be arriving shortly to hover over our location for the boat to find us. What we didn’t know until later, was that the tandem kayak with the lady who was having an asthma attack had also capsized on the way back to the landing and the rescuers had rescued them by boat and were not fully aware that we were still out there waiting for help. They thought that they had already saved the 3 people who were floating in the water. It wasn’t until after the rescuers called me that they realized there was another boat still out there and we were the original ones to make the call.
Finally we hear and then see the helicopter approaching and then hover above us. Just in time, for the guy holding in the back seems to be struggling more and more as time passes. Then we see the rescue boat coming our direction. This is when things once again take a turn for the worse. I’m not sure if it was the waves getting worse on their own or the rescue boat causing the waves to peak higher, but all of a sudden my boat capsizes. My legs, I realize are stuck in the cockpit because it is very very narrow and I have my pack between my legs. As the boat approaches, I am struggling to keep my head up and get my legs out from under the boat. I find i have to pinch my bag between my legs to make enough room for everything to slip out of the boat. While I am trying to do that the rescue boat pulls up beside me and one of the rescuers starts pulling on my life vest trying to pull me in the boat not realizing I am trying to still get my legs out of the boat. Everybody seems to be shouting back and forth. The one guy and I are yelling to the rescuers to get the other guy on board first because he was the worst off. The rescuer pulling on me is yelling at me to drop my pack, not realizing that was/had helped me get my legs out of the kayak. I yell at him that I can’t drop my pack, reach down grab it and throw it in to the boat as he is pulling me on board. They had also gotten the one guy on board, so that just left the guy who was holding on to the front of my kayak still in the water. They throw him a rope and 3 guys are yelling at him to grab the rope. Finally the guy in the water yells something like, “Shut up, I can hear you. You all do not need to yell at me at once, one person talk at a time.” The guy in the water tries to explain to the rescuers that he needs to get his bag off of my kayak because it has all of his stuff in it. Of course the rescuers only care about rescuing people and not objects ( as they should) but the guy manages to get to the kayak and get his bag off of it and get in the boat.
Rescue boat takes us back to a very action packed landing and they direct us to a waiting ambulance. The 3 of us pack into the ambulance with blasting heat and warm blankets. Finally, I feel like I can breathe a little. They start asking questions to make sure we are okay and are getting the one guy who was in the worst shape undressed and warmed up. There was one other guy in the ambulance who had been racing and after talking to him for a few minutes we realized that he was one of the guys that had been in the tandem kayak who had helped the woman with asthma. That’s when we learned that they too had capsized and needed rescuing. After warming up for a few minutes I asked if I could be released. Got outside, found my pack and started asking around for a ride back to the park. All I wanted to do that point was change my clothes and warm up. One of the race volunteers was getting ready to transport another co-ed team back to the park because they were not allowed to go out on the paddle, so I hopped in the car with them. My Polar watch noted that we had been out on the water for almost 2 hours and it stated I kayaked 9.38 miles.
Made it back to York River State Park, thanked my latest rescuers profusely and realized nobody knew where I was at, so I took off running for the S/F. Got to the S/F and immediately go up to Dave for a big hug and tell him I’m okay but I lost Mark’s boat. It really bothered me that Mark had trusted me with his boat that he loves so much and it was floating out in the river somewhere. Dave of course reassured me that it was just a boat and that wasn’t what was important. After talking to Dave for a few minutes I decided it was definitely time to change clothes, so I headed back to our camper van.
Got to the van and sat there with there heater running full blast for about 10 minutes before I moved. Got my clothes changed, decided I was warmed up and realized I still had 4.5 hours of racing left to do if I wanted too. Before I even really thought about what I was doing, I hopped out of the van grabbed my wet pack, shoved some food in my mouth and took off back to the S/F.
At the S/F I told Dave I was going back out and that I wanted to keep racing. He gave me a knowing smile and said check in at the TA. At this point I realized I had lost all my race maps and clue sheet in my map case in the river, I still had my passport though. They were able to give me all new maps and clue sheet. They even gave me new paddle maps which I politely tried to decline but the volunteer insisted and shoved them in my pack. I checked in at the TA (where they had to put my name back on the sheet because they had crossed me out assuming I was done for the day.) to get the O-course map. I took a few minutes to collect my thoughts and study the map and then I took off, yelling to Dave to tell my husband when he sees him that I’m okay and I’m still racing. At this point I had not talked to my husband since the distress call I made to him from the river.
I decided to complete the O-course clockwise from the S/F. No particular reason it just looked good at the time and honestly my brain was feeling very foggy from the morning events. Hit cps 9 and 10 with no issues. Continued on to cp 7 from 10 and about half way there I tripped over my own two feet on the trail and slide down the trail on my stomach a couple feet. I laid there for a couple minutes contemplating what the heck I was doing running around after what had happened that morning. But I got up and kept running on to cp 7. Hit cp 7 with no problems and moved on to cp 8. Dropped down to get 8 too soon and was in the wrong re-entrent. It took me about 10 minutes to realized my mistake and corrected myself but then I finally found cp 8. After those two incidences I managed to hit the rest of the cps spot on with no problems for a total of about 3 hours and 8.5 miles by the time I reached the TA area again. I was exhausted at this point and all the adrenaline from the morning had officially worn off and I was pushing myself to keep going.
I ran into my husband on the way back to the TA to check in from the O-course and we briefly hugged and he let men now that they had collected my paddle and Mark’s kayak from the river!! I was so excited. I had actually completely forgotten about my paddle in all the craziness, so that was a nice surprise. When I reached the TA Mark was there and I immediately went up to him and we hugged. I told him I was so worried about his kayak but they had found it. He of course, like Dave reassured me that the boat was not important, but I still was so relieved that they had found it. It weighed heavily on my mind while I was out running around on the O-course and had already decided that he could have my kayak for losing his.
Now I realized I have exactly an hour and half left to ride the John Blair mountain bike trail to collect the bike-O points. I knew that it was going to take me all of that time to do it too. So off I went to grab my bike and speed out of the TA. I was racing down the Backbone Trail when my maps starting blowing around on my map board because I didn’t have my map case to help hold everything in place. Eventually my maps blew off before I could grab them and I had to stop and go back to pick them up. When I jumped of the bike both my calves immediately cramped up. Yep you guessed it, with all the events of the day I had not paid attention to my eating and drinking and had done hardly any of either all day. I was in rough shape. It took my a few minutes before I could try and get back on the bike and then I realized I was struggling to pedal with the cramps. I biked on a little further and they seemed to ease but then they came back even worse and I knew my race had finally come to an end. I had 45 minutes left and was just getting to the John Blair trail head, with no clue how far I would have to ride before hitting the first cp. I decided it was time to head to the finish.
After checking in to the finish, I got an update on everybody from the paddling incident from this morning and learned that everybody was okay and had been released from the hospital and had already headed home. Now I felt like I could finally relax………
Thanks for reading ~ Mary Foster