Monday, 15 October 2007
I finished the Mayor's Cup kayak race.
Hi Jonathan and Lisa
I did not think I could finish. My boat was not working correctly and it wanted to go to the right every time I paddled. Many times I wanted to quit, at least three times.
Because of my friends, I was able to finish the race. Muriel and I were laughing on the way home. I owned none of gears I used. I borrowed your courage. I borrowed a great wing paddle and waterproof radio from Philippe Castagner. He is sick with the throat infection. I hope he gets well and sings for us. I borrowed the light boat from Joe Glickman. I borrowed the car we used from Keryn Lowry, a great nanny pro. I thank Raymond Fusco, the US Coast Guard and all those racers. I especially thank Cathy Hough of Massartre being understanding and supportive.
The night before the race, I decided to do my Jedi trick; make bread. I learned to make yeast bread that takes two stages. The first stage takes 14 hours for the yeast to change flour into more nutritious and protein dough. Yeast is what makes kimchi, bread, and delicious things. Why is this my Jedi trick? When I am mindful of rising dough, it frees me of my own anxiety. My troubles are in this case the kayak race. If I finish, I make bread. If I don't finish, I still make bread. Life goes on.
So, I made 30% wheat yeast dough and started the night before. Today, I folded it and let it rise another 4 hours and then bake for 1 1/2 hours. My home fills with the most delicious smell; baking bread. One day, we will make bread together.
Back to the race, it started as soon as I launched my boat. I paddle on the sea and this is different because it is partly a river; the great Hudson. My friend, Joe gave me lots of good advises. Just out of the gate, a big wave smacked me and I almost went over. I was ready to brace and scull out if I have to. I could hear racers oohing.
Right from the start, the boat wanted to go right and I would adjust it tapping wire. The wire controls rudder like fish fin. It helps you to right or left. After the race, I checked the rudder and the right wire was stuck. I think there may be rust or dirt letting it slide easily. The boat is designed so you can't get into the tail section.
I had difficult time paddling to the George Washington Bridge. Also, my forward strokes were off, perhaps because of the boat. It took me a long time to reach the bridge. I did see the forward group of the fast kayakers. They drove like a pack train whooshing by. They made a video, I am not the part of the pack but the first lone kayaker on their right in this video.
See the video
You could see my paddling is small not large like these other kayakers. That means trouble because I don't have enough power. But the water was flowing with me fast and I did not realize it.
After the Spuyten rotary bridge, the water went flat. Not even half way, I realized I was not going to make it. I worked with wire and the rudder. I had to grasp my paddle so that I can balance the boat going right. It took me awhile to reach half way point.
I almost quit then. I stopped at Peter J Sharp Boathouse and excused myself to restroom. I ate a few nutrient bars and taped the rudder so that I paddle without it. I set a new goal. If I can make it to Hell Gate, I can quit. I don't expect any miracle.
There are 10 bridges between the boathouse to Hell Gate. I paddled a bit and the boat being so light, without rudder, it was just going every direction. By now, I was one of the last paddlers and the Coast Guard stayed right behind me. They stayed all throughout to finish and saw how hard I struggled. I had to un-tape my rudder because I was not going straight. After awhile, I spotted a small rock on the side. I got close to it and got off. It must have been 5 feet by 2.5 feet. I used it to free rudder. I got back in and started again. The Coast Guard asked me some questions which I deflected and asked for "1 second". They were patient.
It took forever to pass 10 bridges. I resigned having to keep tapping left wire to correct boat course. I did remember Joe's comment about bumps. I learned how to use bumps to go fast. The water was already changing. I reached the 155th street, then the 110th and I was getting close to Hell Gate. Anything beyond Hell Gate is bonus and living on borrowed time. My muscles were clamping especially index fingers for I grabbed paddle hard. As I took rest between strokes, I noticed people on these bridges. Some were looking at me with curiosity. Suddenly, I became an accidental tourist on the water looking at people on land.
I said to myself at this point. I am not going to make it. I am not going to win anything. I have already impressed myself. I might as well take time and enjoy myself failing. Every bridge I passed, I kept saying BONUS.
I did reach Hell Gate. Different from the other day when I looked it from the walk, it was menacing. Water was boiling and chops were big. They were not particularly threatening. Just go with flow which I did. I slapped water with my paddle to find balancing moments with bracing. The water now was moving with me not against me like before. The Coast Guard helped to check a motor boat making wakes next to me.
I was exhausted. I thought I will quit at the South Sea Port. With the boat problem, it was a miracle I came this far. I kept looking for visual cues of fast flowing ripples. I zig zag. I remembered a comment about the UN building and I used fast flowing current near the embankment. It was fast and I did not paddle but floated resting and stretching drinking water before my muscles start clamping Once muscles start clamping, it gets worse and an accident will happen. I don't know what kind of accident. But with like 5 knots fast flowing water and an exhausted paddler, anything can happen.
Water expands and contracts through turns. Large bodies of water were mixing. Some parts of the river go up and some go down. I want to be on the way down.
I see the Williamburg Bridge I used to live by. It is nothing like the bridge I know. It has transformed itself and looks massive and metallic. A bridge acts like a wing and shears winds downward and upward. This creates turbulences around the bridge.
I am already full of bonuses. The bridges are so beautiful. Passing the Manhattan bridge which I bicycle over and the Brooklyn bridge which was built by the father and son who graduated from my school, I thought about you. I became emotional. Fighting overwhelming feelings, I passed the South Sea port. I don't know but I got little courage and thought I may be able to finish the race.
I paddled on around the Staten Island ferry terminal carefully for these ships are huge and towering. As soon as I rounded the end of the Manhattan Island, the wind and waves picked up high and strong.
I kept going nervously. Waves were big and choppy. At few spots I noticed I was too close to the wall . I started out into the wave. Again I thought about people helping me along the way when I was just a beginning kayaker this year in May.
Then back into the Hudson river, I could see the marina. No problem I said. I was wrong. I sighted the marina I thought finishing line but it was further. In addition, the tide was going against; fast and furious.
At one point, I was paddling and look at the wall of the Battery Park promenade. After some minute or two, I looked. I was at the same spot. I was paddling hard and I did not make an inch of progress.
Wow, this is a breaking point. My hope and fate are in balance. Then water pushed me to right. The broken rudder did not matter any more at this point. Again it pulled to the right and got jammed permanently.
I ended in this little alcove with water churning around me like a whirlpool. The Coast Guard was getting really nervous because the tiny marina was tight and current was hard.
I spent some minutes orienting my boat and see how it reacts to my paddling. I adjusted paddle position so one side is longer. Washing machine waves and I hula dance. Then I went back into the current diagonally. I figured I can't go forward but will diagonally. My gamble worked. I am still a long way since water was moving fast. I had quarter of a mile but at 7 knots, it is like going a mile and half. It felt like that.
Then I felt. I fall here or in the middle of the river. I fall. What difference does it make? I reckoned. So, I took myself way out away and away from the wall and current . As I did that, waves were bigger but not faster. More hula dancing. I threw a quick glance at the wall. Around the wall of the Battery Park walk, the water looked like jet stream.
I was tired. Then, I said "back to the basics" and focused on using legs and torso. I focused on forward strokes. I gave up finishing the race. I gave it up for singular focus on forward stokes. I still had to go diagonally or zig zag.
As I got closer to the marina, I heard cheers. I blocked it out of my mind and keep paddling; leg first, dip paddle full, start rotation, think exit of blade around an axis, and keep that silent space between you and paddle.
A thought entered my mind. Relax. So I listened. I slapped the water with my paddle; check check. I start forward stroke. I don't know but menacing waves become bit friendlier. More relaxed hula dancing. It took forever to line myself along the marina since I could not go straight due to fast flow river.
Waves got even choppier as I got close. I saw a catamalan parallel to the marina working hard motoring up. I went up to it so it blocks waves and break water surface evenly so I can gain precious inches. I kept eye level with the catamalan and cheering crowd. Nervous catamalan man asked where I am going. I answered "to the party" and then took the cue and veered off surfing two large waves into the mouth of the marina. The band was playing.
A small commotion was ready to receive me. The Coast Guard radioed to check me after the Herculean effort; slow paddling indicates problems; hypothermia or heat exhaustion. My heart was in aerobic range of 165 and 142 per minute.
My father and Muriel were there. He was hoarse from encouraging everyone for the last three hours. He enjoyed himself so much.
Still here in my comfortable kitchen thinking just yesterday, I went through a whirlpool of emotions. This is what I remember; people and especially you, Jonathan. Thinking of you gave me hearty boost.
Hang in there. We can make some bread and swim in the lake soon and have fun. Sometimes, in a race like yesterday, I see my whole life flashing by. Longer the flashing, the better I think.
I include my yeast bread in making here shortly.