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By Amy Graves,
Bend Oregon Outrigger
The Length of the Lake Ultra-Paddle is an Outrigger relay race held on Lake Okanagan. It's a 100km race held annually at the end of September done as a relay of five legs. It is hosted by Canada's Penticton Outrigger Canoe Club, and it starts in Vernon, BC and ends about 66 miles away in Penticton.
The OC-6 race is designed to be co-ed, and there are no divisions for all women or men. I am guessing that it is simply too difficult to get a minimum of 12 men or women to do this race so mixing it up makes it easier.
Well, we in the northwest decided to get an all women's team together. It took convincing women from Oregon, Washington, California, Canada and Hawaii to form a team.
We were assured a tail wind. The worst we could expect would be a flat day, which would make the race long, boring and grueling. All week long the forecast had been promising, beautiful weather and a nice northern wind. Even the night before the race at orientation, we were assured the weather was cooperating. Although in hind sight, I do think she looked a bit shifty as she announced this.
The day of the race began at 4am as we forced down some food and packed what we'd need for the long day ahead. We borrowed an Advantage from the Vernon Canoe Club and looked longingly at the other Mirages on the starting line. The race started at 6am with a chilly breeze that seemed suspiciously in our face. And we were off!
The race is divided up into 5 legs. Leg 1 was about 10 miles, leg 2 about 15 miles, leg 3 another 15 miles, leg 4 about 12.5 miles, and leg 5 was 10 miles. I was lucky enough to stroke legs 1, 3 and 5.
So that breeze at the start? Yeah, it turned into quite a little head wind, and only foreshadowed what was to come. But our adrenaline was up, and the day was young, so we were optimistic. We had some local Bend boys in a 2-man behind us. Every time they got a little cocky and thought they could pass us, they swooped out and realized how much wind we were breaking for them. Our ama popped a couple of times, and our steerswoman, Meg Chun of KIALOA Paddles, later said it was some of the craziest water she'd ever seen, swirling around like a washing machine.
We made the exchange at the beach in Fintry; 6 girls jumped out and 6 jumped in. As we slopped to the shore, we eyed each other warily, no doubt all thinking the same thing. "We have to do that again? And again?" So we changed, ate and jumped in our three shuttle cars that took us to the next take out.
More quickly than I could imagine, we were making another beach exchange and heading out for our second leg. This one was 15 miles and the winds had picked up. It was unbelievable, a serious head wind. The waves were breaking over the bow, I was air paddling more than once, and the wind was howling in my ears so I could barely hear a thing. Time became an intangible thing. I was beginning to feel raw in some unpleasant places and was drinking too much Canadian lake water to be healthy. I think it’s the water that makes Canadians think up these crazy ideas. "How hard could it be?" is the slogan for this race. Well, I'll tell you how hard!
Three hours, 20 minutes and some fantastic blisters later we arrived in Peachland. Never was I so happy so see a place. Our teammates on shore thought we had been lost at sea, but in fact, we had passed co-ed boats. At this point, more than half the field had to pull out of the race because they failed to meet minimum time requirements. One boat had been swamped and apparently were awaiting rescue at a lake-front house while enjoying tea and cookies.
So again, we changed, ate ridiculous amounts of food, jumped into the shuttle cars and were off for our last leg. There were rumors on shore that the wind had changed direction, but the chop out on the water didn't give us much hope. Our girls were done with their second leg way too fast, and next thing I knew, I was back in seat one dreading the last leg of the race. I knew that at the end, it was my job to finish the race by jumping onto shore and running up the beach to kiss the giant Roald Dahl-style peach in Penticton to officially end our race. I warned my crew that my legs may not hold me up when it was time to run.
The last leg was a dream. It was a side wind so we couldn't exactly surf, not that the Advantage would have surfed anyway, but it was so much better than the wicked headwind of the third leg. It went by quickly. Amazingly enough, I had the energy to do a decent sprint up the beach to kiss the peach. In total our race took over 11 hours, and we came in fourth against all co-ed teams, some of which had fresh paddlers at every stage.
Mahalos to Vernon for lending us your boat and Penticton for hosting this crazy race.


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