Downwind Training: The Flatwater Solution

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Sparks Lake with South Sister (Oregon)

I celebrated my 69th birthday with a day of training, contemplation, gratitude and so much beauty. The training was unusual, in a way, but some of the most valuable I have had for down wind conditions that could get gnarly. In August my Starboard Freeride 12’2″ X 30 and my KIALOA paddle will carry me the classic run from Viento to Hood River and I hope the wind is strong and the day is sunny! My first adventure in the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge was in 2013 and I was hooked. (story here) I want to be ready to enjoy every moment of the experience when I am back on the mighty Columbia.

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Early morning at Elk Lake

What follows in this article is an odd set of insights and lessons I gained from paddling 4 uniquely different Oregon alpine lakes in one day. It started out at 8 am at Elk Lake. By 10 am the wind cranks up in this volcano rimmed jewel, but it was mirror calm when I headed out to circumnavigate its 4 miles including every little bay, nook and cranny at 8 am.

In this flatwater goodness I observed two things that can improve my skills for down wind action.

  • Legs – every paddle stroke that had excellent body rotation and synchronization between the catch, pull and driving forward force of my legs gave terrific acceleration. Timing and technique
  • Eyes closed – All alone on this huge body of water I was brave enough to try 6 paddle strokes per side for 3 sets repeated dozens of times. Wow! Balance and feel for how I was moving over the water was an eye-opener (LOL, eyes were shut!) Charging down wind in wind and waves requires solid balance and feel for how the board and water interact. This was so much fun.

I grabbed a breakfast burrito then headed over to nearby Hosmer Lake for a sweet three mile exploration to gurgling waterfalls and crystal clear water. The wind had picked up some by the time I got there. On this, just the second time unloading my board from the car I did make a mental note to really use my body correctly in the awkward motion of high reach, lift and lower. After all, a 69 year old body does not respond well to injury from lifting.

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Early morning Hosmer Lake (Oregon)

The wind was hard in my face leaving the boat launch area but reading the water I saw the far shoreline was protected and calm. In my journey to get to the calm I learned something else, sound can really impact my cadence and speed.

Even though the wind was in my face, my distance tracker app told me later that I hit 6 mph while the effort was perceived as simply fun. The tick-tick-tick of choppy wind waves hitting my bow and tapping along under my board gave me energy. I paddled the 3/4 mile to the calm in what would have been a speed interval, if I had thought of it like that. Instead the sound of the water made the experience pure fun.

  • Adrenaline and a sense of play makes the effort easier. Maybe that is why the 8 mile Viento down wind run exhilarates so well

I meandered off to the right hand fork of Hosmer, climbed a volcanic rocky area to gaze on gurgling lava tubes feeding a flower-filled grotto. Heading back to the boat ramp the water grasses and lilies caught my attention, fish darting and beauty everywhere.

  • Insight – I am blissful on the water – how about you! Ocean girl at heart, all water has its compelling call.
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Devil’s Lake with snow in June – brrrr water

Loading up my board again I was off the 30 acre Devil’s Lake. I almost skipped it. There were 30 cars at the easiest launch area so I had to park where a steep bank tested my strength and balance carrying a 12’2″ board through the trees and scree. Once in the lake my feet nearly froze off from the snow-melt water. The lake is so shallow that I had to walk about 100 yards to depth enough to paddle.

  • Know you water and wear appropriate gear. My frozen feet situation was mild and quickly over, but it made me think about knowing local conditions. I had forgotten that Elk Lake was practically swim-able whereas small Devil’s Lake was icy. The day was sunny – but water has its own characteristics.

Getting out of Devil’s Lake, carrying the board about 1/4 mile to my car and loading it up again reminded me to protect back and shoulders, use legs to lift – and yes – do some weight training.

Next stop was Sparks Lake. It is about a 1 mile drive in to the launch area, on a rutted, deep holes, washboard, dusty, rocky road. Once there I saw it was packed in both the launch and the parking area. The only spot I could put my car was easily 1/2 mile away. I left my precious board alone among some trees by the launch and went to park the car and walk back. Would my board be there when I got back (yes).

sparks-2I love this lake and never tire of winding around the rocks, the deeps, the shallows and taking the same photo every time I go. Peeking through rough-carved lava and spotting South Sister and Mt Bachelor never gets old.

By this time with all the loading and unloading, more walking than I had planned on and 9 miles of paddling completed in 3 lakes in about 3 hours, I needed a strategy to make this last adventure fun.  My lower back was a little tweaky and my lats had had a good workout.

It was time to focus on engaging a body rotation and abs engagement during the paddling. Paying attention to keeping my shoulder relaxed- not hunched up toward my ears-  and shoulder blades “down on my back” Helped with getting a clean catch. Rotating with awareness and taking the blade out of the water soon enough took my attention away from fatigue.

  • Insight: When fatigue starts to set in we can focus on what part of our body is most tired and engage in a different way.
  • Something as simple as enjoying the feel of water lapping on bare toes can power us through a choppy, windy area.

Happy birthday to me! It is overwhelming to imagine that this time next year I will be 70. A new decade, and not getting any younger ever again. Except in my mind. Playful, youthful water fun is available. I commit to playing attention – and training as smart as possible. If you have any suggestions – send them my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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