So what gear performed well, or didn’t, for me this year, my fifth Everglades Challenge.
The boat: As always, and perhaps even more so, my Sisson Arctic Raider performed brilliantly. In the 80km (50mph) gusts we experienced when the front hit us Thursday; in the pitch black, high breaking shoals we got caught in outside Big Carlos Pass; to the 25mph winds on the for’ad quarter all the way home on the last day, I gained new respect for the boat.
Greenland paddle: Still using a GP for the race, and loving it. Once again I used a paddle made by previous EC challenger StripBuilder—a beautifully laminated stick. It was particularly useful when we got caught by the breaking shoals off Big Carlos Pass and Thursday's front.
Pacific Action Sail (PAS): Another brilliant Kiwi product. Contrary to all the “wind-on-the-nose" stories, I did get a bit of sailing in this year. But be prepared when you have a front bearing 80km (50mph) winds. I didn’t get the sail down in time—the winds hit so quickly and I thought I’d have time to reach shelter. When the wind and rain hit, I immediately let both sheets go. I deliberately have the sheets a length that if I do have to let them go, the sail won’t flop over the bow of the boat and catapult me with trapped water. The wind was so strong I couldn’t bring in either of the released sheets, so I grabbed the knife on my PFD and cut the windward sheet. Only after slowly bringing the bow of the boat up into the wind could I furl the sail and lash it to the deck. Another trick to remember with your PAS is that when you're sailing direct down wind, never to let it oscillate—pull one sheet in a bit. It sounds as though this contributed to Dolphin Gal's capsize.
Knife: As mentioned above, I had to cut the windward sheet on my PAS in able to furl it. It’s the first time I’ve ever used my knife—a NRS Pilot Knife—“in anger”. It’s an EC rule to carry a knife on one’s PFD; and I surely appreciated that at the time. (Unfortunately, I lost the knife after the PAS incident, when I didn’t correctly click it back into its holster—another lesson learned. Thanks to KneadingWater for lending me his for the last leg of the race.) It also made me appreciate that I didn't have a folding knife, as I've previously used—one hand was on my paddle for bracing, the other for the knife.
SPOT tracking system: I lost mine half-way through Day 1. This year, folks seemed to have a few problems with their SPOTs, losing "transmission" during particularly stormy weather, or just crashing. I was loaned a new one (thanks, Etch) when I reached CP1, and never had a problem with that one. I still believe them to be great products. I've bought a replacement secondhand (yet never used) old version.
Sleeping system: Tried and trusted 1C (30F) discontinued REI synthetic sleeping bag and Exped DownMat 7. I still have the old bellows Exped, and like the bellows bag stuffed with dry clothes for a pillow. I am getting quite tempted by the Exped air pillow…
Tent: As always, my Macpac Microlight, which is not free-standing, but I can string up quite happily on a chickee. At 1.8kg (I have the older version; new is 1.6kg), heaps of solo room, and the inner pitches with the fly, I'll use no other.
Clothing: Kept it to a minimum. I wore a pair of ExOfficio boy shorts cut for underwear, with an old pair of Macpac cotton shorts over those. On top was either a long-sleeved REI SPF 50+ polyester shirt or an Icebreaker 200 Bodyfit Crew top. My paddling jacket is a Steve Gurney light racing jacket—sadly he doesn’t make then anymore. When it chilled down in the evenings, I put on a Mysterioso top. Every night I’d strip off and leave my clothes hanging on a nearby tree. There was a dew most evenings, and the fresh water helped a bit with the salt in the clothes.
Wet weather gear: Once again, my Reed Chillcheater Coverall cag was invaluable. When the front hit us Thursday at noon with stinging rain and 80km (50mph) winds—and the temperature dropped from 27C to 10C degrees (80F to 50F) in just half-an-hour—I threw the cag on over my PFD and made for CP3 in Flamingo. The cag was also measured to fit my ocean cockpit rim, offering double protection from the waves over the sprayskirt. I wore it again all the last chilly day (10C), from CP3 to the finish at Key Largo. When the winds hit 40km (25mph) on the nose I had to take it off and put my PFD over the top of it, as it was ballooning like a parachute and even with fierce paddling I couldn’t make headway!
Lighting system: The head lamp I used the most is the Underwater Kinetics 3AAA eLED Vizio Headlamp, which is excellent—light and comfy, and also has a red diffuse. For spotting camp sites in the pitch black I used a new Fenix HP10, which was very good.
GPS: My new Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx arrived two days before I left for the race. Loved it. And the batteries seemed to last for ever.
Food: I ate a lot this year! And I don’t think I lost any weight, which I normally do (dang!). I probably consumed around 10-12 energy bars a day, eating an entire bar every 90-120 minutes. But I needed the calories with all the headwinds and hard paddling experienced this year. And thankfully, even after nearly 19 hours of paddling on the first day (and then only two hours of “sleep”), I felt remarkably energetic the entire week. I discovered a few new bars I could eat one or two of every day: Cliff 20g protein Builder’s Chocolate Mint (YUM!), Cliff Bar Cool Mint Chocolate, Honey Stinger Protein Bar (sure packed a punch when needed!), and Hammer Chocolate Gel. Funnily, one of my favourite bars is still the Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey, bought in bulk from Costco. Sadly, I cannot eat Larabars anymore—the fruit content kills my gums after Day 1. And my dried mango always goes down a treat—a real energy boost. Every evening I’d down an Ensure Plus, now with 350 calories. For the first two evening dinners—at 0300 and 2200 hours respectively, I scoffed a tin of sardines in oil—fabulous. Every other evening we cooked up a freeze-dried (we ate at the new restaurant in Flamingo on the last night). I always try and buy a few Back Country Cuisines when I'm back in NZ, and they make a tasty change. Of the 6.87 kgs (15.5 lbs) of food I packed, I returned with 2.1kgs (4.6 lbs). So I can still get better… ;)
Personal health: I worked hard at this this year. In previous ECs, my derriere has suffered. This year, every morning, I lathered myself with Desitin. What a difference that made! I still had one abrasion—from the very wet of the first day—but it was limited pretty much to just that. After Day 2, my right heel cracked—I kept applying Desitin to that every morning, and the heel cleared up in a day. Every night, no matter what time I hit my pit, I cleaned myself down thoroughly with one extra large wet one and a couple of smaller wet ones. Then I’d coat myself with baby powder to dry up any excess moisture. I am convinced that going to bed with a dry body gave me time to dry out—even if for only a couple of hours. As usual, the tip of my right forefinger is numb—usually takes a month or so to repair itself. As always, I religiously used my SunPaws, from Hydraulics—anything to cut out the sun on the back of the hands. This year, I was not going to have my
lip crack on me again—I wore a full cover Kokatat Destination Baja sun hat. It was a pain in the butt whenever I wanted to sip from my drinking hose, or eat, or talk—having to clear away the Velcro and then use two hands to replace the Velcro when you’d done, but it sure did the trick in keeping my lips out of the sun. Next year I’m going to try a High Protection UV Buff—much easier to yank up and down.
Pre-race training: Bugger all, to put it mildly. I managed three longish paddles in January and February (which were my first since late September 2010), but was fairly consistent with 15-20 minutes of core exercises every other day. I should be shot. But, really, an EC is all mental. And that I am well prepared for.
Coming up: day-by-day blows of the race.