LAUREL HIGHLANDS DOUBLE-HEADER
Finding new challenges keeps the pursuit of achievement refreshing. Once such challenge just came together with the possibility of competing in a double-header by combining the whitewater focused Cheat Canyon race on a Friday evening with the Youghness Monster 25 mile race the very next day, all in or close to the Laurel Highlands region of PA.
The Cheat Canyon race is an event I have long wanted to attend, but every time I put it on my schedule, something would pop up. A year from now, the Cheat River would be hosting the 2020 ICF Wildwater World Cups and the Cheat Canyon race will be one of the race courses. I have hopes of racing in 2020 as an open or masters athlete, so getting a little course knowledge would be an important part of my preparation. The 2019 edition would be a mass start race, bringing together nearly 200 athletes to race down 11 miles of class 4-ish whitewater. It would also give me a chance to get a bunch of our Pyranha 12R creek racing kayaks on the river and go head to head with other manufacturers efforts, including a few prototypes.
Having never seen the river, my strategy was simple. Get out front – Avoid the mass start chaos – Follow someone with local knowledge – Stay out front. And that’s pretty much how it panned out. The start was fairly orderly and I was able to mark my closest competition paddling a prototype from another manufacturer. The rapids turned out to be pretty fun with nothing too hard, but a clean line and finding the energy was important to stretching the boats apart. Predictably, the second half of the race became the most important as youth and enthusiasm started giving way to old age and experience. I was able to start picking off racers in much faster composite race boats while also extending my lead on my marked competition, to finish 15th overall and ahead of everyone in my class. A good result for the Pyranha 12R and a good start to the long weekend ahead.
Examining my heart rate data from the Cheat Canyon Race, it was clear I had raced well and below my threshold pace. Hopefully I hadn’t done too much damage for the much longer race the next day.
For some great pictures from the event, click here.
The Youghness Monster is a 25 mile race down the Youghiogheny River from Connellsville to West Newton. The river would have some current and even some small rapids, but its deep nature would make it ideal for my Epic V14 surfski. The unique aspect of this race is the starting procedure. You have an hour to start your race, at which time you run across a timing mat to your boat, hop in and go. Not knowing who your competition was or how fast they would be going, added a fun and unusual dynamic.
After reviewing the start list, it was clear the competition would come down to Epic Kayaks, Bruce Poacher, local Joe White and myself. I had planned to mark Joe, but once the course opened, he seemed in no hurry to go. However, Bruce had been the first to his kayak as soon as the course opened. What to do? I decided to go, pushing off the beach about 3 minutes behind Bruce, leaving Joe still standing on the beach.
I could feel the tightness in my back and shoulders from the previous days effort but soon loosened up as I settled in for the 3 hours ahead. I could see Bruce Poacher a long way ahead but could see that gap slowly closing as we moved downstream thru come fun small rapids. At almost exactly the hour mark, I caught Bruce. The effort had been significant but measured as I kept my fingers crossed I had saved enough for the remaining 2 hours of racing ahead. For the next hour Bruce and I worked together enjoying each others wakes, chatting and speculating about what Joe was doing behind us. Towards the end of the second hour, it was clear that Bruce was in some distress and when we choose a different line thru a small rapid, the distance between us started to grow. The line had broken. With less than an hour to go, I settled in and kept the effort controlled while pushing home for the finish line. I felt remarkably comfortable until just 2km to go when the helpful current seemed to vanish and the fatigue started to wash over me. But it was enough to win the event in a new course record, with Bruce Poacher in 2nd and Joe White in 3rd. Complete results can be found here.