Once Saturday, June 30th slipped into the 10 day view on the weather forecast, everyone’s eyes were peeled. Would it really be 120 degrees? Would we have head-high swell or nothing? How about wind? I know I wasn’t the only one obsessively refreshing 12 different surf reports/ wind reports/ weather reports. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered until we arrived at the finish line (HQ for registration), climbed over the dune and looked at the ocean. The surface was glassy. The waves were beautiful. The race was on. The mercury was rising.
Choose Your Own Adventure
This is the point where the race paths started to disperse. This is where you got to choose your own adventure. Play along: Which board would you like to race?
What distance would you like to go?
a) 10 miles
b) 13 miles
Which wildlife would you like to see during your race?
a) Sea turtles
Choose your hazard:
a) Fishing line
b) Shrimp boat
c) Fellow paddler
Choose your hydration method:
b) Cooler taped to the board
c) Salt pills
Before rounding the last buoy would you like to:
a) Get on your knees instead of your butt
b) Stand up
c) Throw up
Coming in to the finish would you like to:
a) Surf in
b) Swim in
c) Be fished out
Your post-race routine includes:
a) A beer
b) An ice pack
c) A barf bag
d) A trip to urgent care
e) b, c & d
Well, can you guess my race?
The Drive to the Start Line
I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack on the drive from the finish to the start. Two miles into the drive, I said “This already seems far.” Karen Wilson, super triathlete said “YOU CAN DO THIS KATIE.” I kept saying “HOLY SHIT JESUS CHRIST” in front of Nikki, the race organizer, and Liam, her son. I’m glad he’s not really talking yet. Once we got to the start, Gordon carried my board over the dune for me, which prompted Guy to say “Jeeze Katie, you have board caddies everywhere.” Yes. Yes I do. Gordon said that my post on Facebook about just trying inspired him to do it. Gordon telling me that inspired me to go through with my plan to do it.
Because I was the only racer with a cooler taped to my board, I had to have help getting in. Marissa took the other end of my board. Getting out through the surf was tough. The cooler was a handicap at this point. But it saved my life.
Eventually I got out to my very own chase boat. It was the race chase boat, but because it would be with me the whole race, I thought of it as mine. I got to my feet and paddled for about two miles. Then I fell off. Then I thought “I can’t do this.” I got on my knees, which sucked. It is so much harder to paddle on my knees.
An Angel Appears in the
I sat on my butt and assumed the position I would have for the next 8 or 11 miles, however far this thing really was. I canoe-paddled the rest of the way. This worked well in that the water kept washing over me. It didn’t work so well in that I have a really painful sunburn on the inside of my legs. Once I sat and started motoring, I saw my friend Sharna come back to paddle with me. She wasn’t that far ahead, but she was far enough ahead that she gave up some significant ground to come back. She paddled 10.5 or 13.5 miles (however far this thing was). She stayed with me the whole race. That’s a real friend.
Every time I stopped and yelled “DANGLE!” (because my feet were falling asleep) she stopped. The second I sucked my camelback dry and needed to refill, she stopped. We had picnics on our boards.
Sharks. What about sharks.
Apparently there were 20+ sharks chasing the shrimp boat not too far from us. I would not have cared if there were sharks. I would have said “Sharks, please eat me so this is all over.” Honestly, though, I didn’t feel that bad once I was just paddling. Once I stopped freaking out and calmed down, I was good. I didn’t feel bad until later.
Lifeboat or Paddle “Race”?
At one point, I looked at Sharna and said “Well, if people can survive in lifeboats for 40 days, I’m sure we can do this.” Jeremy, the boat driver, said we were much more fun than last year’s group in the back. He also said he didn’t think I would make it and I was doing a lot better than he expected. This was the 3rd Onslow Bay Challenge, and they'd never had everyone finish. I wanted to change that. "SHARNA," I hollered, "WE'RE BREAKING RECORDS FROM HERE IN THE BACK!"
The End is Near
Once we reached the second pier, the end seemed in sight. Then the orange buouy popped up on the horizon. It did not, unfortunately, keep growing at the speed with which we were paddling. The whole time I was nearing the end, I though “I really hope people are cheering, because I feel like this is a monumental accomplishment.” I knew in my heart that it was for me, but sometimes, you come in from a race and everyone is just sort of milling around. I wanted some motherfreaking cheers, dang it.
From the Buoy to the Finish
Jason, from Carolina PadleBoard Co., and April were sitting on their boards out by the chase boats when we reached the last turn. They were hooting and screaming their heads off for us. I got off my butt and on to my knees so I could surf the rest in.
Sharna saw a sea turtle and almost fell off. That was one of the best parts of the race. We're almost in, almost done, and Sharna's yelling "I SAW A TURTLE! I SAW ONE!" I yell "WHERE WHERE!" "IT DOVE! IT'S GONE! HOLY CRAP HOW AM I GOING TO SURF THESE WAVES!" I surfed in (on my knees, but I caught the waves, they didn’t catch me). Sharna fell in. Guy caught my board. April caught Sharna. People cheered!
We crossed the finish line.
A Monumentally Stupid Thing to Do
The heat index on Saturday was about 110-115. I had never paddled 10 miles (my longest was 9), let alone in the ocean. Especially in the heat. I am starting to see why ironmen competitors start the race and keep going. You get it in your head that you’re going to do it. I’m glad I had my cooler. It saved my life. I think I drank 250 oz of water and gatorade during the race. So, I peed like a racehorse all day and I never dehydrated, but I did overheat and my salts and sugars got all whacked out. I can still feel the effects today (Monday). I’m still really tired and I still feel a little queasy.
After the race, my friends carried my stuff over the dune. I will pack lighter next year. We went to a restaurant so they could eat. Guy and Patty iced my head and ankles and fed me cherries. Lexy drove me home, which was good, because I would have wrecked and died. April took Lexy home. My husband took me to Urgent Care. At the Urgent Care, the nurse barely disguised her contempt at my account of how I ended up there. The doctor pronounced me fine, but told me to stay inside for the next four days and not to do it again. I’m complying.
I’m Glad I Did It
I’ve never been a super athlete. Until I took up paddleboarding there was no physical activity that made me want to push myself to my limit or beyond. I would recreate for a while and stop. I can ride my bike 25 miles and walk 10 miles. I can carry my own golf clubs for 18 holes. I just don't enjoy any of it that much. I love paddleboarding. I’m lucky I didn’t die. I've learned my lesson about the heat. I’m glad I have such wonderful friends and a husband who helped me reach my goal and then took care of me when it nearly killed me. But I’m glad I made it. I’m glad I didn’t quit. P.S. Thank you so much to all of the volunteers, boat drivers, and friends. You rock. And we raised money for Surfer's Healing, a great cause! It was worth it!