2017 Race recap by John Batson
Take a minute to read this inspiring trip report that John P. Batson put together describing his experience in the 2017 Chattajack. Physical and mental fortitude at its finest! (Side Note: John made a commitment in 2017 to train hard in standup paddling. He logged over 1,500 miles. His accomplishment at the 2017 Chattajack speaks for itself. Amazing how far he came in a year and he's crushing it yet again in 2018 so far. Oh, and he's rad haha!
In his words….
A day to remember...This was my first Chattajack.
Walking down to the base camp that morning the cold, dark, rain could have set a negative tone. However, the buzz of hundreds of paddlers and Pink Floyd blasting really pumped me up. There were a few key thoughts I would try to remember during the race. The first- "embrace the nerves"...Paddling is not new for me, but racing especially at this level was very new. I'm usually a nervous wreck before any race. "Embracing the nerves" and Floyd seemed to work. The bagpipes at the race start further boosted my mood. My second thought was "start strong". It has been something I have really worked on this year at smaller races. It worked. I kept Larry and Bart in sight and never looked back.
At some point Larry looked over and said "who is that...John?" We had finally met the day before. I said "yeah hey coach!" Then a thought went through my head...Holy shit I'm up here with Larry and Bart. Larry said "alright let's work together"...10 minutes lead and alternate drafting. A sense of calm went through my body. We've done this before in the Paddle Monster training. Let's go! Well, I suck at drafting. In particular after I led the train. I simply could not draft. If we had drone footage of our train with me in the back it would have looked like a dog wagging its tail going down the river. As the miles added up I would gladly take the lead simply because paddling strong I knew, drafting was for the most part stressing me out. I am happy to report somewhere around mile 20 I was starting to draft better. When I was able to find the sweet spot, I frequently said "thank the holy Lord" and was able to really get my heart rate down quick...another goal learned on Paddle Monster.
When we hit mile 20 I was not sure what was going to happen. I had not paddled beyond that distance in the past. I was starting to get cold. I was wiggling fingers and toes during strokes. I drank a good bit up until that point and was sucking down gels so that was good. Despite that, cramping set in. I practice sports medicine and frequently help cover football games on Friday nights. I started to think about all the kids we have to help off the field with cramps. Once they cramp they are usually done. I got nervous this might be then end for me as well. I really had to keep positive. The interesting thing was when one abdominal section stopped cramping another would start. We went around the entire 6 pack I think, alternating until the end of the race. It made me think how one of those 1970's ab jiggling machines would feel.
Mile 25 I had a new problem come up...my vision got foggy. For a moment I thought wow, I'm going down. This is how dying starts. But my mood was overall pretty good. In fact, I smiled looking down at the map taped on my board thinking "a lot of good that is doing me, I can't see a damn thing." So, I pressed on with a new fog in the air. This resolved about 2 hours after the race. I asked a med school friend now ophthalmologist what the hell happened to my eyes. His conclusion was severe dryness. I'm not sure he fully grasped what we were in out there. There was nothing dry about it! Reading up I think it was probably some signs of early hypothermia. Regardless, it has resolved...
I took the lead in the last of our train gang. Something told me that might be my last hurrah. I was spent emotionally, mentally and physically. Larry and Bart looked like well oiled machines when they passed the final time. I fell back about 3-4 board lengths at some point. I'd been there before in races, where those ahead just start to drift away. I was determined to not let this happen. There is a great poem "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. The theme is life is not easy, don't you stop, don't you sit down. Worth the read if you have a chance...So that thought with my mom yelling was repeated in my head- "Don't you stop, don't you sit down". I narrowed the gap.
I always paddle hard at the end so I figured the Chattajack would be no different. My last thought was "finish strong"! Rounding the last turn with the crowd shouting and cow bells ringing I went hard. I lasted about 20-30 yards. The wall was hit, the fuel tank was empty. Cruise control was all I had left.
What a race. One of the best days of my life. Next time I'll wear booties...my only regret. Great job everyone and thanks coach!