A cold, wet morning in Ducktown couldn’t dampen the spirits of the 125 paddlers participating in the 7th annual Ocoee Race hosted by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club. This incredible volunteer run event allows athletes to test themselves against one of the nations most iconic pieces of whitewater and raise money for a great cause, the Chattanooga chapter of Team River Runner.
Racers start at 1 minute intervals, only delayed by the arrival of commercial raft traffic or groups of private boaters. Allowing paddlers to race in multiple classes meant there would be 168 scheduled starts that the TVCC volunteers would be releasing at 1 minute intervals over the next 3 hours. Speaking of volunteers, every major rapid had safety volunteers in place to pick up the pieces in the event of a spill and the finish line was well manned too. TVCC’s incredible volunteer activation for this event underlines the clubs strength and leadership.
I’ve had a frustrating history competing in this event. In 2013 I thought I knew the Ocoee River well enough but I didn’t and ended up 2nd. I managed to put the pieces together over the next year thanks to local legends, Terry Smith and Dave Levitt who graciously shared their extensive river knowledge with me, despite knowing I’d be competing against them. In 2014 it all came together with a narrow victory over Levitt, so it was with some pressure I came into this year in defense of my title.
The wet weather had added a little additional flow which would help in the shallows but also change the configuration of many of the wave trains. Right from the start I found myself having to slightly modify my plan and slide out wider to the shoulders of the wave trains. Despite a little too much water breaking over the bow of my Dagger Greenboat, I made it the “Doldrums” in good time and hammered across the flats as hard as I could. At “Surprise” rapid I had some significant raft traffic that took me off line and later I was so thankful to get to Tablesaw where I would be able to take a break for a few seconds. I was pretty tanked and the push to the finish line hurt. But the result was good … a new course record time of 28’58” and the overall race win just ahead of Terry Smith.
But now to do it all over again. I had signed up to race short boat too, so jumped in the new Pyranha 9RL and hammered again although it really didn’t feel particularly good, finishing in 31’ 25” and 2nd place in the class, behind my competitor, friend and mentor Dave Levitt.
This race is incredibly well run and I’m deeply thankful to the TVCC and their team of volunteers that host this race and fund raiser. It takes a huge effort to put on an event of this scale, especially on the nations busiest commercial river. Congratulations TVCC and see you next year.