Capital Adventures ~ Chattajack

2016 Chattajack 31

Told by: Mary “Air Mare” Howser

In May, Brian Meyer posted in our race training group message that registration was open for Chattajack. A 31 (…or is it 32?) mile flat water paddle race through the Tennessee River Gorge. For once I had to think about it. Really think about it..I’ve been a mid-distance runner for 8 years and said I’d NEVER run a marathon. I get distracted too easily. I’m just getting a handle at racing 6-milers, let alone 4 times that distance, I don’t like flatwater races…

And then he texted, “Sign up for Chattajack right now!”. So I did.

…and immediately curled into a ball on my couch.

With coaching from Goose and Meyer, the Capital SUP crew and I have been training hard on and off the water ever since. As the days, weeks, and quickly months went by, that gut wrenching feeling slowly disappeared. Soon enough race weekend was upon us!

Thursday 6:18 AM: I woke up to multiple calls from the boys. I groggly picked up the phone when Schmidt called. “What are you doing!?” Shoot..I slept through my alarm! I grabbed all my bags and darted over to Paddle Palace where Captains’ Goose, ZBrah, and Schmidt were waiting to take off. We quickly started our journey to Chattanooga, TN with a loaded up SUP trailer and a packed 10-passenger RV named “The Leprechaun”. After a pretty uneventful, and extremely comfortable 11 hour drive we arrived at Hales Bar Marina. The finish line for Chattajack, and our home for the weekend. A few of us stopped at the bar for dinner, chatted with some really nice locals, and hit the hay early.

Friday: Race Check-In.

This is when it was starting to sink in that we would be paddling a realllyyy long time in some not-so-warm conditions. It rained real hard the night before and when we woke up the wind was hauling and there were whitecaps in the river. Not quite the flatwater conditions we were promised, but I for one was excited for the possibility of some downwind paddling!  

We loaded up our home and headed along the river to the race check-in/start line in Chattanooga. Once there, we demoed One Wheels, watched the one wheel hurdle jump, got our boards waxed from OnItPro, and had a great time chatting and getting advice from Chattajack veterans. We didn’t hang out long as the wind was blowing pretty hard. We soon piled back in our home, got our gear and race nutrition situated, carb-loaded at Mellow Mushroom, and prepped for the challenge ahead.

Saturday: RACE DAY!!!

Race day was cold. Probably in the 40s at the start. We reluctantly left our layers, jackets, and miscellaneous gear with our super supportive cheerleader, Emily Ward, did a last minute visit to the port-a-johns, and hit the water with 400 or so water crafts.

chattajack  As we were waiting for the gun to go off the current was pushing us backwards and a lot of the racers were facing the wrong way. l needed to pee, but decided to hold off since it was probably just nerves. All of a sudden the gun went off and several of us were facing the wrong direction! I flipped my board around as I watched a huge mass of boards charging down the river.

As I hammered to catch up with the crowd, Lindsay Cook was off to my right. I knew I had to get near her to draft. As I maneuvered my board towards her through the chop, I kept getting farther and farther away. I wasn’t too worried since I knew I had some leeway on time to catch up to her. I settled into a good pace along side a few paddlers. Michaela Carpenter who was riding a 14’ was among them. We chatted for a few miles.

By mile 4, the bladder pains were getting hard to handle. All the tips on how to “relieve yourself” during Chattajack could not prepare me for that moment. I was so reluctant to do it. With Michaela’s encouragement, I shut my eyes, made some uncomfortable facial expressions, and just let it go. I looked down and pee was spraying out of my galaxy-themed pants for a good minute. Laughter soon followed. What a weird sensation. I was so so relieved!

After shedding some discomfort, I really wanted to catch up to Lindsay Cook to get a 12’6” draft train going and could see her neon pink hat off in the distance. I kept focusing on it, picking up the pace, and digging, but once I caught up to her it wasn’t Lindsay. She was nowhere to be found. I kept trucking along, kicking myself for not keeping with her earlier.

Chattajack was quite the whirlwind experience! A fast first 3-4 miles with a strong current, a little flat water for sometime, I caught a few bumps for a small stretch (while simultaneously doing a happy dance), and then a lot of off and on headwind. Race conditions weren’t the worst I’ve dealt with (hate you, sidechop), but no past race can compare to dealing with headwinds, 20-25mph gusts, and stand still walls for that long of a time. Quite the mental game.

Mile 19 to me was the hardest part. It was a big open stretch at Raccoon Mountain with a killer cheering section including a few cowbells (thanks guys), but that wind was so powerful. You would start to trick yourself, or at least I did–Just gotta get around this next bend and the wind won’t be so bad.

I’m not sure how I got through miles 20-25. Still a big ol’ blurr.

Mile 26.2: Just completed a marathon, whoot, whoot!

Mile 27-29: Probably cursed out Brian for encouraging me to sign up while simultaneously trying to keep my hat on.

As I hit close to mile 30, I caught up to a man I was paddling with in the beginning of the race, “Are We There Yet” guy. It was a relief to see a somewhat familiar face. He had a speaker blasting mostly rock music, but every now and then a monotoned woman’s voice would interrupt with mile split information. This is when I realized we were finally getting close to the finish. Despite all the struggle, I had a brief thought that the scenery has been so beautiful and I didn’t want the race to be over just yet.

chattajack That thought soon passed. My right shoulder joint started to click from so many C-strokes. I tried to focus my energy on perfecting my stroke so it wouldn’t hurt so bad. As we rounded another bend, “Are We There Yet” pointed out the huge abandoned damn, the white light at the end of the tunnel. This was the final turning point before we would see the finish. I did a modified (read: poor form) pivot turn as I turned along the building and headed for the docks. I could hear my awesome teammates screaming among the cheering crowd as we sprinted through the Hobo Finish Line Sprint.

It was so surreal to finally think it was over after seven hours and 26 minutes on the water. I savored that chocolate milk at the finish and immediately thought, “I’m driving the bus next year–so not doing that again!”

After having a few days to reflect and recover, I’m entertaining the idea of tackling the Tennessee Gorge again in 2017. It was certainly an experience I will never forget.

Kudos to everyone that tackled the 5th Annual Chattajack 31–you all are beasts!! Much thanks to the Capital SUP community for the supportive, encouraging atmosphere, and for continuously pushing each other out of our comfort zones. To the amazing volunteers and race directors, thank you for all your hard work planning such a well executed and safe event despite mother nature’s plans.

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