and surviving a kayak race (barely)  

We popped out on the other side of the denali highway and had to make a decision on direction.  South would take us back to known territory but north seemed a bit like backtracking all the way to fairbanks.  Turns out we had some pertinent paperwork to take care of for the boat and fairbanks was the best bet for both cell/wifi coverage and finding a bank for notary/transferring money etc.  North it was.

Pulled into Fairbanks and drove most of the town trying to find a place to camp and get the lay of the land.  Didnt find much close in, so we pulled into a city park on the river to allow karma to stretch her legs and roll in the grass.  As soon as she got out a guy was stoked.  “Sup Dawg” he said, “here for the race then?”

We were clearly puzzled…but after a few questions we learned we had pulled into the starting point of a SUP paddle event with dogs and for dogs.

We hung out for a while and discussed joining in, trying to figure out if we could rent an SUP, how we’d shuttle the van back and forth and the potential of drawing straws for which of us would paddle while the other served as support vehicle.  In the end, no SUPs were available and we were mostly focused on a shower, so we moved on.  Hit the hockey rink (which not only allowed a nice shower, but they gave us the referee’s room, which meant we got to shower together!  What luxury!!). 

Once clean we headed back to the river… figured we could at least cheer the entrants on from the start and join them at the bar to celebrate their finish.  Its for charity after all.  But upon pulling back up to the park we see various other rafts, canoes and kayaks along the shore planning to join in the fun.  Thats a different story.  We made sure there was still time to join in and ran to the van to unfold a kayak.  We set the kayak up, i climbed in and we coerced karma inside with me to see if she could fit.

It was tight and less than comfortable…but why not??

I was a last second entry but made it into the race, no time for a bibb number and no thoughts to such trivial factors as what the course was, how long the paddle was, or having a flotation device.  We paddled out with the others, enjoying a bit of sunshine and taking in the fun of all the other paddlers and their dogs… and it eventually dawned on me to ask the boat beside me how long this float would take.  maybe 1.5 or 2 hours was the response.  “Um, what??”

My mind went white for a second.  Karma fit in the boat sitting in between my legs, but wasn’t exactly comfortable and certainly couldn’t lay down or shift positions.  I cant remember the last time karma sat in one place/position for 5minutes or more…and knew full well 1.5 hours wasn’t going to be a fun ride for her (for either of us).  I decided to give up on the slow, leisurely float and start paddling with more fury to try and get through this as fast/painless as possible.  Who knows…maybe we can win this thing, to boot! ;)

About 25 minutes in the dog starts getting shifty.  She was clearly uncomfortable and was trying her best to reposition her back legs, but theres simply no room for either of us to move.  Luckily she’s lunging her weight forward/backward in the direction of the boat, so we don’t seem to be at any risk of turning over, but I’m getting really concerned about her comfort and how long we have to go.

Im looking to the shore up ahead to see if theres a place to pull over for her to stretch her legs but take note that the current is ripping pretty well in this area and the shoreline on both sides is steep and rocky.  No option for pulling ashore or climbing out.  Apparently Karma’s assessment was the opposite of mine, because without warning (or reason) she tried to lunge out the left hand side of the kayak.  Sadly, karma doesn’t lunge well these days, and with her back legs mostly trapped inside the boat the result was tipping us over most of the way and her front end dragging in the water.

I tried quickly to pull her in, almost lost the paddle and quickly realized we only had one direction to go…and it was going to involve getting wet.  At this point it was all in, so to make sure she didn’t get stuck 1/2 in the boat i pulled it all the way over and rolled the kayak.

HOLY $*&#! that water’s cold.  Took my breath completely out of me and I suddenly realized I looked around to find karma, grab the boat and paddle that the current was far stronger than it seemed in the boat.  “Are you okay?” others are yelling, but i can barely get enough breath to paddle much less to yell back.  I try to wave an “okay” sign, but realize anyone not trained in scuba probably had no idea what that meant… and honestly i went yet sure we were okay.


The current was ripping us downstream far faster than we were making our way to the edge and i saw what looked to be the only hope.  an outcropping of a few rocks that i could at least grab onto rather than everything after that was more like a shear wall.  I saw hard to get in front of karma, pushed the boat as best i could to shore on an angle upstream, then grabbed the dog and swam to shore hanging onto her.  Boat and paddle be damned, as long as i could get her safely to shore.

We made it, and i was able to grab the boat before it sed by, but the water was almost over waste deep and thick mud at the bottom.  Karma couldn’t get a leg up and had no where to relax… my stress level no better know than a few moments ago.  I grab a branch to try and secure the boat to the shore and then try corralling the dog who is now freaking out a bit and trying to swim up or downstream.  I know if the current grabs her theres no way ill be able to get her again.

I try in vain several times treading water or teetering on a submerged rock against the current while trying to hoist the dog onto a rock.  I finally mange to get her onto a platform and catch my first good breath.  Most of the boats have now passed… somehow most thinking were just fine.  A few others shouted out to make sure were okay or for our bibb number.  “Argh…never got one” was my only possible response.

We tried a few times to climb the steep slopes, despite not knowing where they lead or where in town i might find myself (barefoot and freezing with an exhausted dog), but all were a miserable failure.  I worked to flip the kayak over and lift it out of the water to empty it out but the weight of the water filling the boat was immense.  I tried a few times to put the dog in the kayak, at least keeping her warm and considered swimming along side the boat downstream to a better exit point, but at this point i can barely feel my legs and certainly don’t know that i can even keep hold on the boat, much less do so with any control.

We’re both pretty scared, completely spent and absolutely frozen at this point… but i decide to make one last attempt to get both of us in the boat before simply deciding to sit us both on karma’s rock and wait hoping for  boat to come by before we go hypothermic.  The attempt takes several tries, the best of which was aborted when a fishing boat came flying downstream and sent us both back into the water from their wake, but we eventually are both back in the boat.  I tried to make sure karma was actually sitting in my lap and had maximum room, but still couldn’t really shift her weight and i knew we had a long way to go and are both now sitting in the frigid water filling the bottom of the boat.

Didn’t matter… we were both thrilled to be back n the water and no struggling on the shore.  The river hadn’t won, at least yet.  We paddled on, trying to make up as much time as possible but also trying to stay upright.  As we get further downstream karma is full on leaning over the left die of the boat, but at least she’s still and i find om leaning equally as far over the other way to keep us upright.  Im trusting she wont shift her weight again the other way and were both eyeing every sandy shop and dock as thought we might opt to jump out and take our chances without the boat.

In the end, we made it through.  Pulled into the bar with only a giant bird raft somewhere behind us and thrilled that we wouldn’t be making the nightly news.  I could just see the headline.  “Big man in a tiny kayak shuts down fairbanks SUP dog race by drowning himself and dog at midpoint”  or maybe only slightly better “fairbanks fire department called for river rescue of idiot and his 90year old dog.

On the upside.  The bar had a nice spread of food, there was a charity auction for the local animal shelter, and for this elf us who entered the race…free wine.  I may have started with a couple shots of something stronger and warmer.