By WILLIAM PAINE
For The Patriot
Last Friday evening, the boy and I loaded our paddle boards into the family van in preparation for a race set to occur the next morning at the Rock House Marina.
By stacking our 14-foot paddle boards one on top of the other, we can transport both of our watercraft inside the vehicle … mostly.
The front tips of both boards pressed against the windshield, but the back ends still extended a foot past the rear doors forcing them partially open. A bungy cord kept the doors from banging around.
James Patrick Hudson Paine, (A.K.A. the boy), and I were planning to use this paddle board contest as training for the upcoming 5th Annual Gusto Event with GRAPeJAM, which will also take place on Saturday June 25, 2022, also at the Rock House Marina.
GRAPeJAM stands for the Greater Pulaski Junior Appalachian Musicians. As in year’s past, GRAPeJAM will receive a check made possible by the generosity of the Gusto’s corporate sponsors. GRAPeJAM will then play a few tunes for those gathered for the Gusto.
This year’s race sponsors are: the Glenn Insurance Agency, MOVA Technologies, Foothills Chiropractic, the Travis Team, First Community Bank, the Gilmer, Sadler, Ingram, Sutherland & Hutton Law Firm and Rocky Acres Property Mgmt.
By 10:30 Saturday May 21, race organizer Michael Valach told the ten paddle boarders and one kayaker lined up on Peak Creek to get ready for the start. At the signal, all competitors began whipping their paddles to and fro, so as to scoot over the water as fast as humanly possible.
Brian Hartman, winner of the second annual Gusto paddle board race, took the lead early, but instead of rounding the first buoy and heading up Peak Creek, he continued toward Claytor Lake.
After realizing his mistake, Hartman corrected his course and headed upstream, but not before I was able to take advantage of his blunder and take the lead. This was quite invigorating, as I’d never before been in the lead of any previous paddle board race … including my own!
It didn’t last.
Hartman caught me across from Conrad Brother’s Marina and powered past me. I tried to ride his tail for a while, so as to draft behind his wake but I just couldn’t manage to keep up with him. This wasn’t totally unexpected. Brian Hartman has participated in all four previous Gusto paddle board races and his bested my efforts every time.
Besides, I was still in second place and if I kept steadily paddling with no let ups maybe I could finish in second … or maybe Hartman would drop out for some reason (maybe a cramp?) and I’d win this thing outright!
About a mile upstream, I nearly ran over a 4-foot-long rattle snake that was making its way across the creek. Then I crossed under the Old Route 100 bridge.
Another quarter mile upstream and the creek crosses under Interstate 81, where several tons of steel and rubber pass high overhead producing an eerie echo of the traffic at river level.
Past the bridge is a shallow section which gets deeper the closer it gets to the large rock wall forming the far border of the creek.
At this point, I didn’t know where anyone else was except race leader Brian Hartman, who, despite my best efforts, has extended his lead on me by a few more yards. The last I checked, I had some distance on the nearest racer behind me, but I really couldn’t tell. Turning around and looking back is a good way to lose time and waste energy and maybe even fall off your board so why bother?
The other thing is, I was already paddling as fast as I could, so all I could really do was to keep up a steady pace and hope it was enough to keep those behind from catching me.
Further upstream, Peak Creek takes on a wilder appearance. Steep heavily forested embankments rising on each side of the stream and there are no more structures of any kind. The current, which is flowing against you, becomes more noticeable and rock formations beneath the surface become more visible as the creek’s depth decreases.
About two and a half miles upstream, a bright orange buoy marked the halfway point for the five-mile race. Three competitors, including the kayaker, chose to compete in the two-mile race, which extends to the bridge before directing racers back to the Rock House.
As I approached the buoy, I became very aware of another paddle boarder who was drafting off of my board. As in bicycling, drafting makes it easier going for the boarder following close behind. He’d been close behind me for about a mile before we made the turn at the buoy.
Starting downstream, I paddled as hard as I could, but somehow this dude managed to paddle faster and I found myself drafting off of his wake.
That worked … until it didn’t and my fellow competitor, whose name is Chris Pohowsky, began pulling away. I couldn’t do a thing about it, except keep paddling and hope I could hang onto third place.
Then Powhowsky drafted off of Hartman until finally edging ahead of him about a half mile from the finish.
As I paddled the final quarter mile, I became ever more aware of another racer only a few yards behind me. The thought of coming in fourth instead of third place, after paddling as hard as I could for the last hour, began to cause me much distress. This prompted me to paddle furiously so that I nearly lost my balance and fell in. But I didn’t and managed to hold on to third.
I’ve come in third place in four paddle board races now and I can live with that. The boy, A.K.A. James Patrick Hudson Paine, came in 7th place, which was also fine, as seven is his favorite number.
Alice Angel, finished 8th but first in the women’s competition. Alice also won the Fastest Female Award in last year’s 4th Annual Gusto.
Chris Pohowosky, a rolfer from Blacksburg, won last Saturday’s paddle board race (rolfers specialize in deep tissue massage).
“That was a really fun race,” said Pohowosky. “Thanks for the awesome racing. It was super inspiring to have people out there to suffer with. So thank you. I liked it. I liked it a lot.”
“Good race as always,” said second place finisher Brian Hartman. “I look forward to doing the Gusto on June 25. See you there!”
Unlike years past, the Gusto will be held at the Rock House Marina on Peak Creek. The previous Gusto paddle board races were held at Gatewood Park.
In essence, this Gusto will be held downstream of the original and this time, those attending can enjoy a sit-down meal afterwards and listen to some music, too.