Chattajack Stories: Paddler’s Notebook: Team Green Dragon

Chattajack 2017: Jason Hjelseth and Theo Burn

Editor’s Note: This is another in series of first-person posts recounting individual paddler experiences of this year’s Chattajack 31 endurance race in the Tennessee River Gorge. It’s from Jason Hjelseth of Chattanooga, TN  who completed the race with Theo Burn in their OC2 “Green Dragon.” Photo Credits: Deb Action Photo, Cross Sup.

Chattajack 2017: Jason Hjelseth and Theo Burn

By Jason Hjelseth

This weekend was amazing!

Truly one I will remember for a lifetime!

Chattajack 2017… It was cold, and only got colder throughout the day… It was wet, and continued to be wet for most of the day… It was windy, and yep… you guessed it, that didn’t change for most of the day either…

That being said, any individual who got on or in a craft Saturday morning, paddling out in that wind and rain, you are officially a BADASS!!!! I don’t care if you had to pull out, made your goal, beat your goal, or are already counting down for the 2018 registration to go after it again! Great job to you all!

I have a couple stories to tell so bear with me…

First and foremost my amazingly strong wife Dawn: she worked so hard this year, putting herself out of her comfort zone, racing distances that wouldn’t have even been a thought until last years CJ Registration(we both volunteered). She was ready, and put in the work, but Mother Nature threw something at us that was not in our game plan. I am super proud of her for getting out there, if any of you knew how much Dawn HATES to be cold and then throw wet on top of it, she did me and herself proud by starting! Unfortunately, the early stages of hypothermia set in between Raccoon and Sullivan’s, she was dizzy and starting to nod off… She made the right decision, and chose to put her safety first! I am as proud of her as anyone with a finishers medal…even though you could see the hunger for next year in every one that caught her eye!

Chattajack 2017: Jason Hjelseth and Theo Burn

Second and equally impressive, my father Joel: This man is a BEAST!!! He fell in three times, was turned around at the start, suffered along with the rest of us, and came in 5th place, under 6:00 hours…. ON A 12’6″!!! AT 62!!! Seriously, I’m going to leave it there, or the rest of this will be a mush fest! I am so proud and thankful you went on this journey with me!

Third and final, Theo and I: Burrrrrrr!!!! just thinking of my own story sent a cold shiver down my spine!  Off the start, we went off like a rocket… or a Dragon… and blistered the first 15 miles at an over 8mph average! Then a batch of rain came in that was COLD… We held 7+ well over 20 miles… and then we got another blast of rain and the temps plummeted. At 23 my right side was seized, and I was paddling the best I could to keep up. We slowed to a mid 6 mph pace, and I was FREEZING!!! All of the sudden at about mile 27-28, we heard the ominous threat of “hut” being called behind us as we started to get closed in on. When the pack of four or so OC-2’s caught us, the competitive switch was flipped and a new surge ushered a 7+ mph average for the rest of the race. We finished third, and beat our goal time of 4:30 finishing at 4:24:59! I am super proud of us, the work we did to get there, and being part of Theo’s Belt Buckle year! (Ed Note: Paddler’s who complete five consecutive Chattajack races are awarded a very special, beautiful belt buckle.)

Chattajack 2017: Jason Hjelseth and Theo Burn

A huge thank you to all the volunteers who suffered this weekend along side us! You make this all possible, and you deserve a lot of credit for sticking it out in that crap too!

My deepest gratitude to both Ben and Kimberley Friberg for being some of the best, most amazing human beings on the planet! And for also running this little race called Chattajack! Love you both!

To all the people I met this year, it was great, I hope to see you all at future races! To those I didn’t get to connect with, I hope that we can connect in the future! You all did amazing out there!


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Lisa is managing editor of and is an avid paddler of all the things - including sup, SurfSki, outrigger canoe and prone, though she especially enjoys paddle surfing and downwinding. She is a former journalist with more than 30 years experience in print and broadcast journalism and in government communications. She is a six-time Chattajack finisher, racing both sup and OC2. When not paddling, she is an outdoor instructor.



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