Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Team Kayak Lake Mead - Everglades Challenge 2006

Druce on Highland Point with one foot on a WWII anti-ship mine.
Druce Finlay on Highland Point with one foot on a WWII anti-ship mine.

I have done about 20 expedition length adventure races that have included trekking, kayaking, horse riding, white water rafting, glacier travel, mountaineering, jungles, deserts, and who knows what else, but this would be my first expedition race with kayaking as the sole discipline.
The Everglades Challenge (The EC) is a 300 mile expedition style adventure race for small boat craft. The course is from Ft. De Soto on Tampa Bay to Key Largo in the Florida Keys. There are three checkpoints; Placida (CP1), Chokoloskee (CP2), and Flamingo (CP3). There are six classes of boat. There are two classes of paddle craft boat, Class 1 is with and Class 2 is without downwind sail. In addition, there are four classes of sailboat, which I know very little about. The race always starts the first Saturday of March promptly at 7 AM.

This map will give you an idea of the course. Actually this map shows our course in 2011. In 2011, we took 1st Place in Class 2 and beat all but 8 of the sail boats; a far cry from what you'll read about in this post. As of this writing of this report, we have also done the challenge in 2013 and 2014.

View Everglades Challenge 2011 in a larger map

In 2006, Team Kayak Lake Mead was myself and Druce Finlay, father and son. We entered Class 2, paddle craft without a downwind sail. We didn't even take a rudder. This is our short story.

We barely knew what we were doing that first year except to know that we had to paddle a long ways south, from Tampa Bay to Flamingo, and then paddle east across Florida Bay to Key Largo. We probably came in near dead last. I can't even remember.

In 2006, Druce wasn't all that excited about paddling 300 miles. I guess he did it to humor me. Now as of this writing, he has finished five Everglades Challenges and one Yukon River Quest and many, many adventure races with long, long, kayaking sections. He has become a paddling machine.

Day 1: On the passage to CP1, we went outside, that is to say out on the Gulf of Mexico rather than taking the intercoastal waterway, which is the inside route. While riding the down swells, we were reading speeds of 13 mph on our GPS, yeah!. That sounds pretty fast and it is, however with one thing or another due to our inexperience mostly, it took us over 15 hours to go the 68 miles to CP1.

Days 2 and 3: The passage from Placida to CP2 at Chokoloskee was long and uneventful, sunny and hot. Well, it wasn't that uneventful, I lost my PFD (personal flotation device) and I lost one of our GPS units (the other one had already stopped working), and oh yeah - we were slow, very slow.

At about the halfway point in the race, we had somehow managed to have no working GPS devices. So, the rest of the way to the finish, we would navigate with map and compass. If you're interested in map and compass techniques; here is Kayak Lake Mead's entire Map & Compass Course.

I had started the race off with a one week old horrible, nasty spider bite that wouldn't heal. My lymph gland went into overtime during the race. By the time we got to CP2 on Monday afternoon, I had a black stripe up my arm, and I was stumbling around with a fever.

That night, I could not lift a spoon with my arms in order to eat. I laid on my belly sipping my soup directly from the bowl. Nothing glorious going on here, laying on my belly trying to eat, but this is typical of adventure racing, you push yourself to the utmost, to near oblivion. You do whatever it takes to reach the finish line.

Day 4: That night in the wee hours of the morning, the fever broke and the infection seemed under control. But the next day, I would only be able to paddle about 5 miles before needing to beach up and nap. That day, we would only make about 30 miles.

But it wasn't all dreary. At or near Highland Point, we found a WWII anti-ship mine; yup, for real. I don't know why, but I jumped on it a few times to... well I actually don't know why I would jump on an unexploded mine. Something is awfully wrong with me at times.

Day 5: The tide was out when we started our day around 1 AM. It was way out. We pulled our boat about a mile across the mud flats before we could find deep enough water to start paddling again.

On Cape Sable, the point where our route would change from a "long ways south" to east, while relieving myself, I heard some rustling in the bushes behind me. It was a Sponge Bob helium balloon caught on a bush. We tied it off to the rear of our kayak and paddled all the way in to Key Largo with it. Once in our motel room, and to our eternal joy, we discovered that we could stay up all night watching a Sponge Bob marathon, which we did while drinking our obligatory finish line rum & cokes.

We arrived at CP3, about 265 miles into the race, on Wednesday afternoon.

It would take us 36 hours to do the last 35 miles; weak from fever, both of us worn out from the brutal effort, paddling straight into sustained headwinds of 25 knots or so, a split lip from sunburn which screamed, meaning I screamed, whenever salt water splashed on my lip, which happened constantly since we were heading directly into the wind and smashing through one wave after another. Sitting in the front seat, our boat smashing head long into each wave, each wave would douse me. Sitting in the back seat, Druce would get doused from the spray off of each of my paddle strokes.

But in the end, we were happy - very, very happy when we pulled up on the finish beach near midnight on Day 6 after having paddled 300 miles.

We paddled an Eddyline Whisper CL, 18' by 28", and paddled with Epic Mid Wings. We were entered as a Class 2 kayak, expedition paddle craft with no sail. Druce sat in the rear seat steering the boat the whole race, after 300 miles he was a certified expert at performing the stern draw.

See our photo album of the EC 2006.


  1. Great read!!! Very well written, almost like being there!! Absolutely blows my mind! Not counting this year, how many Everglades Challenges have you competed in and was there any one of them in particular that made you second guess competing in the race? I remember reading your last race report, 2013, and the experience you had while exhausted and kayaking in the middle of the night and this 2006 report with the spider bite infection, exhaustion, sunburn, fatigue...ever a time where you and Druce looked at each other and said "never again"? Or does that competitive impulse just override all the obstacles?

    1. Druce and I have completed four challenges altogether. 2006 was our first and 2013 was our fourth one. We never have second guessed our being there, sometimes you might think never again but you keep that down and to yourself (like when you don't throw up in public) and never share that feeling. For me and I think I can say this for Druce as well, it is not the competitive impulse that keeps us coming back. Although for myself I like being in a fight. Rather, it is the knowing - that when it's over - the feeling of complete contentedness is like nothing else experienced. We both know that, it is solidly imprinted in our psyches.

  2. IronBob, I always read other WaterTribers' accounts, hoping to glean knowledge from others. The one thing I consistently see is that determination trumps misfortune and mistakes. You and Druce epitomize that. Thanks for posting.

    1. Misfortunes and mistakes are subcategories of adventures. They are a given. They are going to happen. More thinking on this later, but perhaps they, misfortunes and mistakes, are what make an adventure fun.

  3. Hahaha! I just read your reply to Mike Bean. I love your statement that "sometimes you might think never again but you keep that down and to yourself (like when you don't throw up in public) and never share that feeling." That's dead-on!

  4. I like it, very good! Seriously, jumping on a anti ship mine??? Can't wait for more! I knew you guys were hardcore the moment we met, of course, sharing your pizza helped!


    1. Yeah, that was a good pizza! The mine: I wish I had better pictures and/or had marked its location. I didn't have the tech thing going on so much back then. Obviously jumping up and down on it was pretty stupid. Every time I go out the door, I am told to be careful and every time I answer, "safety is my middle name", which is kind of an inside joke.