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a group of people cross country skiing in the snow

Told by Capital SUP paddler Daniel Rapp

It was dark when we arrived at Hale’s Bar Marina & Resort in Guild Tennessee. Fielding and I just concluded a nine-hour drive with a pit stop at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Bristol. We were ready to get settled into a floating cabin for the weekend, but a last minute cancellation and little to no cell phone service left us in floating cabin limbo. Nonetheless, we met up with the Capital SUP crew and split up into one-bedroom cabins. Somehow, between Harold A (Scotty Scott) and Fielding, and with no due process, I was selected to stay with Kevin and Lindsay. I’m unsure, but this was likely due to Kevin having the black death cough. I was welcomed aboard and spent the first night on the fold-out couch which Lindsay kindly wrapped with fresh linens.

a boat is docked next to a body of water

Hales Bar & Marina “Chattajack finish line”

The following day, Chattajack Eve, I rolled off the couch, literally, and quietly sat on the rear deck watching the sunrise. This would be the last the sun would shine during our stay and was my first look at the Tennessee River without the darkness.  It was a crisp fall morning and flocks of turkey vultures soared overhead. The white underside of their wingtips were easily noticeable as they passed overhead and later converged on the peak of the haunted Hale’s Bar Dam building. The goal for the day was to spend more time on the 14’x24” One Edge SUP that I rented earlier in the week from Capital SUP, select a fin, and drop off the board at the start line in Chattanooga. Ordinarily, I would just focus on a few short efforts and limit my paddling until race day. However, I only had fifteen minutes on the board and needed to try and familiarize myself with its narrowness. After thirty minutes on calm flat waters, I was relatively sure which fin I was going to use and slightly more familiar with the board.

a view of a city

Chattajack Basecamp

It was mid-day when we loaded boards and made the forty-minute trip into downtown Chattanooga. The basecamp area wasn’t too crowded when we arrived. There was the typical pre-race day vendor presence and the not so typical boat-towed SUP foiler hovering around the waterway. We offloaded boards, secured them to the ground with tent stakes & rope (forecast 30+mph wind gusts), and registered. I caught up with some old friends and we walked to dinner a few blocks away. It was a nice change of pace to sit down and share a meal with the Capital SUP crew. We laughed and smiled a lot and soaked up a little downtown culture before returning to Hale’s Bar.

Oh, what a night! As forecasted, the wind and rain started. With each gust of wind, the floating cabin, which was sandwiched on two sides by docks, would rhythmically slam against the boards as waves of heavy rain pelted the tin roof. Fielding, the acting dock master, made some adjustments to the anchor lines in the attempt to control the rocking. At first, this seemed to help, but it was no match for the increasing wind speeds. At this point, I was just excited that we had our own cabin and no more fold-out couch.

It was dark and rainy race morning when we departed for Chattanooga on the shuttle bus.  There were distinct sounds of carbon paddles clanking together when we loaded and the bus windows were fogged with condensation from the heat blasting from the floor registers. The mood was a cross between early rising chit-chatters and the quiet I’m-still-trying-to-sleep type. I could see the silhouette of the bridge at the race start line in the background as we arrived at basecamp.

I was ready to race. I was confident in my clothing choice and nutrition. However, I was uncertain how I would handle the board given the change in conditions. There was a stiff headwind with considerable texture and chop to the water. At thirty minutes until start time racers started lining up to enter the water. It seemed unnecessary to be in the water too early, so I stalled and entered the water with fifteen minutes until race start.  I entered the water and paddled upstream past the start line. I vaguely heard a four-minute warning and proceeded downstream to the start line. The wind was pushing us upstream, but the current under the bridge span was drawing us the opposite direction. So I was unable to stay at the start line without back paddling and possibly falling in the water.  Just as I turned and faced upstream, there was a vague audible sound and some confusion. Then I heard someone say, “I guess that was the start.” Nearly everyone under the span was facing the wrong way and quickly about-faced and started the race.

a group of people cross country skiing

Draft train. Strategy matters!

There was the sound of bagpipes in the background as we charged down the Tennessee River. I was tracking left of center when I joined up with Joe Ward. The Starboard lead group containing Larry Cain had already established a large gap as the chase group with Fielding and Jeremy Whitted pushed straight up the center.  I drafted Joe as he pushed to the north and hugged the shoreline with no followers. Hugging the shoreline appeared to be a strong tactical move as we were able to link up with the Fielding and Jeremy Witted group which now had a few more paddlers in the group. I was able to maintain contact with the group for over ten miles. At which point, I was unhitched from the draft train when I could no longer match Whitted’s zig-zag paddling style.  I immediately picked up another train for a mile or two but became unhitched while reluctantly fixing my GPS which had stopped. This left me in the dreaded “no man’s land”.

I pushed hard for the next fifteen miles and worked mostly solo, but was able to link up with two disorganized draft trains. The wind and chop around this point felt more like the Chesapeake. There were mostly one and two-man groups at this point. With around five miles to go, female paddler Sey Chelle passed me, and soon after I linked up with a draft train including Matt Jones. This was a welcomed relief from miles of solo paddling. I detached from Matt’s group, and found myself, paddling next to Sey Chelle, who appeared to be suffering from hypothermic conditions. The two of us paddled alongside one another for the final few miles of the race until we rounded Hale’s Bar Dam building and separated. I crossed the finish line and closed the 2017 race season.

As Fielding and I refueled for the nine-hour return trip home, we ate breakfast with Mad Jack, Chester, and One pounder (locals with deep southern drawls recalling their youth) at the Anchor Inn, just minutes from our stay at the floating cabins. We mostly just smiled and laughed as they poked fun at each other in broken one-syllable words, but I was unexpectedly thankful for year’s worth of similar moments. I completed this year’s race in 5:30, 24th place, but somehow it seems as if the small moments continue to overshadow the race itself. Congratulations to all who finished this year’s hypothermic edition and see y’all next year.

Chattjack Photos:

Dianne Blankenbaker

Lawson Whitaker

Shawna Del Valle

Deb Stipa 

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