Well, I’m not a kayak racer, and I don’t have a racing kayak. I’m just a random guy seeing what he can do in his Hurricane Santee 120 Sport Recreational Kayak. This kayak isn’t designed to go fast like most of the other kayaks and SUP racers I was lined up with in Chattanooga this past Saturday. You see, in my continuing battle against passive mental health and boredom, I entered a 31-mile kayak race, with a non-racing kayak.
At #43 on my Bucket List, and at #9 on my Stupid-Shit-That-Eric-Does List, I present to you, The Chattajack 31. I successfully completed a 31-mile kayak race from downtown Chattanooga to Nickajack Lake. If you’re going to do something brand new, go big with it, and make it memorable for yourself.
I had kayaked a few times in my life before the summer of 2017. One Saturday during that summer, I was invited by some of my coworkers to go kayaking below the dam at Center Hill. Not having a kayak of my own, I rented a green plastic kayak from the nearby outfitter. I enjoyed the kayaking and wanted to go again but I didn’t like that green kayak. One of my coworkers had one of the Hurricane Santees that looked a lot better than the kayak I was using. So, after some online research, I ordered myself a Santee 120 Sport and spent the rest of that summer, and this summer, playing in my kayak.
My kayak: Santee 120 Sport
Before last Saturday, I had never kayaked more than 23 miles in one day. I usually kayaked at Center Hill above the dam, or maybe up and down the river at Horseshoe Bend. Sometime over the kayak-dreaming cold months of last winter, I decided to see what I could do in my kayak and I registered for the Chattajack 31.
I have often attempted things I had no business attempting. I have failed miserably at a lot of them, I’ve finished in last place several times, sometimes I have done okay, and randomly I do well. But I’ve always done them with that Bouldin flair, with that Bouldin (and Jones!) gusto and panache! I was in a “race” on Saturday, with 458 other racers from 41 states, Canada, and a few other countries and I raced, I paddled like Hell, but my primary goal was to just officially finish the race, last place be damned! And Last Place it was, sort of.
To “officially” finish the race, there were elapsed times at certain cut-offs that I needed to beat. I had to complete the first ten miles in 2.5 hours, the first 23 miles in 6 hours, and the entire 31 miles to Nickajack Lake in 8.5 hours. I only looked once at my watch hidden beneath the drenched skirt of my kayak. That was just after the first cut-off, when no one stopped me for being too slow. I looked at my watch to see that I had beaten that first 2.5-hour cut-off by a few minutes. I kept paddling. All freaking day.
My goal, for basic self-satisfaction, was to officially finish the race within the allotted 8.5 hours. If I could do it within eight hours I would have been happy with myself. The temperature throughout the race was great, staying in the mid-50’s for maybe all of the race, with occasional sprinkles of rain. But that damn headwind and the waves it produced made it feel like we were rowing out into the sea, or at least into the Gulf of Mexico. At many points along the river, there were waves breaking!
After the last aid station at mile 27 (which I didn’t stop at), I got noticeably tired, and on numerous occasions I caught myself only casually paddling. Then I would snap out of it, take a deep breath, and attempt to paddle harder. Though my harder paddle was still fairly slow, I officially finished the race and received my medal. My chip time was 7:49:38. By more than ten minutes, I finished the race happy :^)
Out of 459 racers that started the race, 439 of us finished, and I placed 393rd. Of the 74 kayak racers, I finished 67th. Out of the 48 male kayakers who finished the race, I finished 48th. Last Place, though ahead of the four male kayakers who didn’t officially finish the race. The winning male kayaker had a time of 4:38:20. Maybe I’ll get a racing kayak for Christmas and see how close I can get to his time next year. Who’s with me? Check it out: