The Allatoona Run - Fifty Five Hours in Review
It may be shocking to read, but when I set out to do The Lanier Lap, I would not consider myself a paddler. My primary strength in adventurer racing has always been that I seem to do fairly well at everything BUT the paddling portions, and for the latter I just do what I can to get through it quickly. In fact, in planning The ‘Toona Run, I realized that it would be seven times longer than I had ever paddled continuously by myself. Which is kind of nuts in and of itself. Separately, there was an issue with training. Looking at it in the beginning of the year and as a potential project for the year, I was already behind on training. In order to get up to speed, I felt I needed to begin training ideally rolling into Winter 2018 at the latest, and here it was mid-January at the time. I figured if I was to have any chance, I needed to be on the water already. But given that I wasn’t a paddler per se, I did not have cold-weather paddling gear. It was 20F outside and getting wet in that requires more than a cotton AC/DC hoodie if you want to live. Embarrassingly, I did not know the difference between a wet suit and a dry suit, much less which thickness of neoprene would be suitable for what temperatures and for how long. It was going to be a quick learning process, and I would have to tap into my mountaineering clothing supply to make ends meet while I got up to speed on equipment. Before I had proper gloves and booties, my hands and toes were screaming at me every time I got on the water. But beyond that my torso and legs were really only protected from the splashing and sprinkles of water coming off of the paddle. The danger, of course, was that taking a spill in the water would spell disaster.
Thankfully, this period passed after a few weeks and all of my cold-weather paddling apparel came in. I was finally paddling in clothing that I trusted falling into the lake in, though I never had to—until of course my Epic V10 surfski arrived (more on this amazing boat in a future post). Capable of going a full mile per hour faster on average than my touring kayak (an already fast boat in its own right), the V10 is a tiger shark in the water. But like a shark, you have to keep moving to live—when it slows to a stop it becomes unstable and there’s a lot of balance required to stay upright. The steep learning curve continued.
A week before The ‘Toona Run, I was paddling with my good friend Ron Sanders, who has been a regular training partner for The Lanier Lap. As we rounded the tip of a peninsula stretching into the lake, my V10’s carbon fiber rudder hit an underwater rock dead on. Everything stopped suddenly and I lurched forward in the surfski, barely maintaining my comfortably dry state. After an expletive, I looked over to Ron and said, “Dude, there goes my rudder.” We got back to the car, and I inspected the damage. It wasn’t catastrophic, but it wasn’t pretty either. To maintain its amazing glide in the water, the V10 only has two parts that extend into the water. The first—the valve responsible for bailing water out of the footwell—only does so when in operation. At all other points it tucks away fairly flush to the underside of the surfski. The second—the rudder—is only out of the the water when an unfortunate paddler is going into it. In my case, this is thankfully a rare occurrence. However, this also means that the damaged rudder would become a source of drag for the duration of The ‘Toona Run if I did not find a solution pronto. Thankfully, Bruce Poacher at Epic Kayaks was able to get a replacement rudder to me the day before the event. Alas, I was in luck!
This would not be the last of my last-minute gear issues, though. Waterproofing my electronics and other vital equipment was also a concern. All my smaller drybags had proven to be anything but waterproof lately as multiple long, wet workouts ended with me stranded waiting on my car key to dry out. Thanks to a recent win at the Atlanta Adventure Challenge though, I was taken care of—I had chosen as part of the champion team’s spoils two brand new dry bags. As long as they did not get punctured, I would be okay.
Lastly, there was food to settle on. While I had been practicing the ketogenic diet for the past few months (don’t ask, it’s stupid but it works for me in some niche circumstances), I would be switching back to carbs—the jet fuel of calories—for The ‘Toona Run. Waterproofing the snacks would be a concern, and I had to account for the fact that I’d be eating at least two meals while on the water. The food I packed would be the primary source of weight, and traditionally surfskis are not used for paddling expeditions. Weight in the bungees behind the paddler add significant tipsiness to it, which has to be compensated by one’s core muscles, which will fatigue over the course of the paddle. Remounting the surfski also becomes more difficult. This is a lesson that I would learn first-hand in the first few miles of the The ‘Toona Run.
Map and Planned Paddling Schedule
Friday, april 26th, 4:20PM
<tracking for The ‘Toona Run begins>
While unstrapping the V10 surfski from my roof rack, a wind gust began to pick it up and twist it off as I hurredly jumped up to stabilize it. If it had come crashing down, this paddle may have never started!
Friday, April 26th, 6:56pm
Well I’ve been at it for three hours now and maybe two of that was actually paddling. I started off in a 30 mph crosswind with 2 to 3 foot swells. With the extra 40 pounds I have on my very narrow surf ski, I tipped and had to recover three times in the 1st mile of paddling. Once I warmed up, got into the groove, and figured out how to balance the weight I’ve been doing all right. The coves are fairly calm and the wind is expected to die down steadily approaching midnight. For now, I’m coming up on the end of stage 1. Or as I like call it—the prologue.
The wind was something else during this paddle start was something else. It blew my RailRiders Adventure Cap right off my head. Turning around to retrieve it marked the second time I capsized.
Friday, April 26th, 8:44pm
Second stop now for dinner. My whole plan for the first half of this is to eat the heaviest food, get my waterline a little lower on the surf ski so I’m not as top-heavy. The advantage of this being a shoreline paddle is of course I don’t have to remount in deep water, especially with the top mounted cargo. I’m a bit behind schedule because the wind was against me 80% of the time up to this point. Thankfully, it is dying down ahead of schedule. The wetsuit is going on to prepare for the chilly night. It’s going to be in the upper 40s, and being soaking wet the entire time tends to sap one of their heat.
Saturday, April 27th, 6:56am
Well the sun is finally coming up and I’ve been shivering uncontrollably probably for the last three hours. You know those times when you are about to fall asleep while driving and you realize it and shake yourself awake in terror? Yeah, that was me over and over again since midnight. Except instead of running off the road I would capsized in water I wasn’t prepared to enter. On the plus side, I found an amazing beach to have my cream cheese and sockeye salmon bagel on. We do fancy breakfasts here. And the beach even has a rope swing.
This was my first long rest break. The sun was all too inviting after a night of stops where I began shivering mere minutes after I stopped paddling.
Saturday, April 27th, 10:24am
Stage three is kicking my lats. 😩
It’s true. I knew that due to it’s length, this stage would be very tough mentally, but it was also the point where fatigue degraded my paddling form and that, in turn, destroyed muscles that were barely hanging on to begin with.
Saturday, April 27th, 12:30pm
I’ve just passed the northernmost point of the lake (and the end of stage 3). Heading home now. But first, a little celebration food…
Saturday, April 27th, 5:36pm
Stage 4 complete. Having dinner at a waterfront restaurant with Daniel and Shanna, my awesome support crew!
This was one of the better parts of the trip. I was incredibly sore and exhausted going into this meal, but left feeling restored! It meant a ton to have my support crew there and a warm meal made all the difference.
Saturday, April 27th, 9:48pm
Halfway through stage 5, taking a nap.
Even recharged from the hot meal, I knew after the previous night’s fight with sleeplessness that I would not be able to stay awake again. At our dinner, we strategized for a place to meet and camp so that I could get some sleep before continuing on. This nap took me from 10pm to 3am, due to my sleeping through the 4-hour alarm (UGH!).
Sunday, April 28th, 7:07am
Good morning #2!
I got some sleep last night on a small island with some really irate (nesting) Canadian geese, and started up again at 3am.
Been going hard for the past 4 hours and will probably continue pressing the pedal to the floor while I still have the glass. May only be an hour or so more though before the motorboats ruin it.
One last thing—after consulting with Daniel about it, I decided to go paddle the inlet north of Red Top Mountain State Park before picking back up where I left off on the way to the finish. The back story is I missed the turn into it during night #1 because there’s a Marina directly in front of it with a line of breakwater directly in front of it. Stupid place to put a marina but what do I know. This will be a 3 hour detour or so.
Sunday, April 28th, 8:15am
2nd breakfast this morning was left dockside for me by lake angel Amy Murphy! She heard about The ‘Toona Run and generously offered to help!
This was the second moment of my paddle where I felt truly sated on the food front. Macaroni and cheese! So good.
Sunday, April 28th, 1:24pm
Ran out of water, took entirely too long to refill. Dehydrated, caloric deficiency as well despite my eating hourly. Sleepy. Back muscles screaming at me. Pace is now belabored. Closed eyes for a minute, my rudder crashed through an underwater rock, breaking off a piece of it and bending its center-post to the point of inoperability. With some work, it is now repaired and I can continue. I’m FINALLY heading back south again to get to Red Top Mountain State Park and resuming my southerly journey after this make-up stretch. I feel this section is going to end up running two hours long, and that doesn’t bode well for the last two stages of The ‘Toona Run.
I may miss Game of Thrones. 😳
This is the moment I was regretting my surge in the wee hours of the morning. It appeared the hard, long push combined with not refilling my water soon enough put me in a bonked state. Combine that with the rudder mishap and I was demoralized. At this point, I was in “just get back on track” mode. It seemed like forever, but I made it back to Red Top Mountain State Park, and the excitement there in the form of big chaotic water was enough to wake me into action.
Sunday, April 28th, 3:53pm (update by Shanna)
Update from Joshua in the field: he came through a crazy busy marina about 20 min ago near Red Top Mountain State Park, and there was no way for him to stay out of the s**t-show of speed boats zipping super close by him and creating monster waves slamming into each other all around him. He dodged the 4 foot swells on the surfski as best he could but of course caught one sidelong that dumped him into the water.
There being nowhere safe to paddle, there was also nowhere safe to reboard the surfski. Holding a dry bag in one hand and his paddle in the other—and again battling the swells (this time treading water and towing the surfski), he made his way around a dock hoping for a calm spot. Nope. Eventually after what he said felt like dropping a 5K in the middle of his paddle, he was able to reboard and work his way through the maelstrom and past it to shore.
He called me from a rock. Slurring his words from exhaustion, he told me the story and updated the timing for my paddle with him tonight. Looks like he'll be another 5 hours or so til he gets to me. I'll paddle the last four miles with him to the finish line.
The 'Toona Run had some mess to sling at Josh, but we all know he's a badass and that if anyone can work through this kind of hardship, he can!!!
It’s true, I was slurring my speech. I was just kind of sleepy after all the action. That said, once I got back into the water and started paddling again, it was back into the chaos and my energy levels spiked to match the occasion. Despite having bonked the last time I did it, I rode the wave of energy and hammered down for the next 6 hours, averaging 6mph while moving!
Sunday, April 28th, 10:01pm
I am joined in the last 3 miles by Shanna, who had ribs awaiting me as I pulled up! 😍😍😍
Not just any ribs. Ribs from my favorite race-food restaurant. And salad and rolls and pasta. It was sublime. We then began to head out in the night. It being a Sunday and after dark, we had the rest of the lake to ourselves. The chaos from the day became a mirrored plane that we effortlessly glided across. The pace was leisurely, and calm. It was my victory lap.
Sunday, April 28th, 11:55pm
It is done!
Shoreline Paddling Tactics
It’s a bit technical/math nerdish, but there’s a thing called The Coastline Paradox, which basically accounts for the difficult problem of estimating distances of coastlines. When taken to the extreme (sub-atomic vertices), the distance of a shoreline approaches infinity! So…in order to actually finish a shoreline circumnavigation, there has to be some play that allows for straight line routes. This is where the 50 meter rule comes in. Here is how it is used to paddle infinity and beyond (as well as a couple of other tactics employed):
50m rule: Straight lining the L-shaped shore.
Pythagorean Theorem at work here. As long as the base of the L is within 50m of the shore, taking a direct line to the point at the top of the L is the shortest route.
50m rule: V-lining the small cove
If the tip of the V is within 50m of the tip of a small symmetric cove, you’ll be within 50m of the sides.
50m rule: C-curving a concave shore
A less exaggerated version of V-lining the small cove, C-curving a concave shore is a way of reducing paddle distance by taking “the inside track”.
Raging the narrow-inlet U-turn
Because a U-turn generally kills all momentum (glide), aggressively accelerating back up to speed means trimming the period during which you do not benefit from glide.
Capturing boaters’ wake
At points where the wake from motorboats run parallel to the shoreline, paddling in a zig-zag pattern avoids being hit sidelong by the wake and allows you to surf the wake that approaches from behind.
Strava is for weenies/triathletes, and is unsafe.
Anything over 6 hours and it’s likely to crash at some point. When you are out for that long, losing any portion of it makes you want to burn someone at the stake. Beacon (the paid for safety feature from Strava) crashed as well during the paddle. Worse still, it appeared to me as if it were still working fine. A week later, Strava has not responded to Shanna and my emails about both of these issues. When they put out a safety feature “to give our loved ones peace of mind” because “if something were to happen to you, they’d be able to see your GPS location,” it is absolutely irresponsible to completely ignore any reports of it crashing. This was maybe the most disturbing experience from the paddle. Had I not had my Garmin InReach recording my progress as well, Strava’s unreliability would have undermined the endeavor completely.
Fish are cats.
Scaredy cats, that is. Fish get real scared when they see the shadow of an 21ft surfski passing above them cast by a headlamp at night, and decide it’s time to turn into birds and scare the crap out of me when I’m trying to sleep-paddle (it’s a thing).
Canada geese don’t like campers.
In fact, in my experience, Canada geese don’t like anybody. I’m pretty sure they were only put on the endangered species list because they kept being irate with people who didn’t take their attitudes too kindly. So, it was for their own protection. But, fast fact: they aren’t on the endangered list anymore. And in the words of Drake Larsen to Atlantic magazine, they are "so yummy...good, lean, rich meat. I find they are similar to a good cut of beef." I’m not saying eat them if they give you lip. I’m just saying…they are so yummy. So so yummy.
47F and wet is colder than -47F and dry.
Even with the wetsuit top and shorts, Friday night was miserable. Yes, I opted for wetsuit shorts rather than pants, as weight was a major concern for the paddle. Thankfully, I don’t expect to need so much neoprene during The Lanier Lap, which is in June. Additionally, as I’ll be in an expedition kayak, weight will be less of a concern as well.
Food and friends truly are good for the soul.
Sometimes a warm meal and some familiar faces is enough to jar you back into action.
Fighting off sleepmonsters is REALLY difficult while paddling.
Hiking, running, and mountain biking are all wayyyy easier to do sleep deprived.
Allatoona is the most frequently visited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake in the nation.
This, of course, makes it like paddling open ocean given its snake-like shape, which forces one to be much closer to boaters than one would have to be on lakes with more open water.
Shouting at yourself in the night doesn’t wake you.
Especially when you are sleep-shouting.
Using smart shoreline paddling tactics shaves about 5% off of the estimated distance.
For example, for the last Strava section (where it didn’t crash), the estimated distance was 31.31mi, whereas the recorded distance was 29.71 travelled. Knowing and taking into account this ratio should make The Lanier Lap estimates more trustworthy.
By the Numbers
On the map, the planned distance for this paddle was 184.81mi.
Officially, I paddled 168.71mi paddled in 55 hours and 35 minutes.
My average speed was just over 3mph including breaks (12:45!) and sleep (4:30).
My average speed while moving was 4.4mph.
I was really surprised at the amount of time I spent taking breaks (for every 3 hours of paddling, 1 hour was spent breaking). In retrospect, given that I generally had to paddle ashore to get out of the surfski to eat, I think this is maybe not so bad. Additionally, about an hour of it was spent repairing the rudder, and another hour finding water to refill with. Both of these occurred because I had bonked pretty bad, and so I expect anyone wishing to challenge my time for The ‘Toona Run and avoiding these issues stands a better chance.
The other significant factor in timing was the average paddling speed. Pulling a U-turn in a narrow lake finger in a 21ft surfski is pretty involved. Even late in The ‘Toona Run, I was paddling at 5.5 to 6mph when following straight lines along the shore. For heavily-fingered lakes, I’m not 100% sure this is the fastest boat.
I’m quite interested to see how being able to eat from the Epic 18x kayak I’ll be using for The Lanier Lap rather than go ashore affects my rest time. Secondly, I’m hoping it’s 18ft length and hull shape allow for quicker turnarounds in the smaller fingers.
Wrists sore, likely from lower hand stabilizing paddle through stroke?
Lower back shutdown from fatigue from having to support itself. This likely will not be an issue during The Lanier Lap.
Supraspinatus, the rotator cuff muscle responsible for lifting the arm to the side.
Latissimus Dorsi, the rotator cuff muscle responsible for pulling the arm back while in a down position; this was worst on the left side, where for the last 10 hours of the paddle it was inflamed and I could feel it rolling over my bone structure when my paddling form degraded.
Rhomboid, the upper back muscle that pulls the shoulders back.
Wet suit rash in the front of my armpit. This likely will not be an issue during The Lanier Lap.
Paddling for nearly two hundred miles in a single push is not for the faint of heart. Truly, it takes a special kind of crazy person to commit to it and even crazier to follow through on it. It wasn’t always fun, but it was definitely rewarding.
I thought I knew a fair amount about Lake Allatoona, but the thing that I was most surprised by at the end of it was how little of Allatoona I had truly seen until The ‘Toona Run--the diversity of the lake was incredible! I love the looking glass a lake turns into in the morning. The sunset that takes with it the last of my day’s supply of awe and wonder. The love song of the mountains around it, that reflect myself as they do my whoops and shouts.