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The WaterTribe NC Challenge started off on a beautiful morning with a picturesque sunrise and calm, flat waters.  The scene was set: racers were readying their boats with last-minute items, on-lookers were anxiously awaiting the Le Mans style start, and the mosquitoes were feasting on the adrenaline-filled veins of all the beach goers.  Cedar Island was a-buzz with excitement for sure.  It began with a single exclamation: GO!

The course started at Cedar Island, turned up the Neuse River, then down the Harlowe Canal into the Newport River and into Taylor Creek to Beaufort.  From Beaufort, the course headed behind Harkers Island and up the Core Sound back to Cedar Island.  There were two races running concurrently – the North Carolina Challenge (100 miles) and the North Carolina Ultra Marathon (50 miles).  The weather forecast was quite foreboding with 15-20 mph headwinds slated for the majority of the race, changing direction at the approximate times racers would reach the scheduled heading changes.  There was a cold front moving in at the exact time no one would want it.

Clockwise headwinds
While some tore off into the water with the speed of an Olympic bobsled team, others took to the water with ease making sure they didn’t get caught up in the rush. With a few paddle strokes, we all rounded the jetty for the Cedar Island ferry terminal, and we were in open water right away. Dave and I found ourselves paddling at a speed faster than we anticipated starting. It was going well. We even remarked to each other that perhaps we should pace ourselves a bit more since we knew the winds weren’t favorable for the majority of the race course.

Then we turned up the Neuse River. The winds hit us in the face from the beginning. Everyone immediately slowed. The 1-2 foot waves were interspersed with occasional 3 footers, and it immediately became apparent that maintaining the prescribed pace was not going to be easy. But we tried. Hard. Really hard. In fact, we found that paddling too hard put us in a position where we would surf over the first wave and punch through the next one. We realized that slowing down a bit actually allowed us to cruise over the waves generally, but that detracted further from the original plan. We were already behind our “schedule”. Check out the video posted by fellow WaterTriber, Jollyroger of the winds on the Neuse

After about 6 hours of non-stop paddling, and about 19 miles into the race (a considerably slower pace than previously anticipated), we were able to beach the boats and take a break. We were hardly able to get out of our boats. We rolled out of our boats and laid on the beach trying to regain some strength and ease the pain. As we took our first break a fellow WaterTribe racer pulled up on the same beach. His name was Captain Jack Otter. He also was visibly tired and rolled out of his boat. As we all commiserated, time wore on and the winds were slowly increasing. So, back to the water we returned. We played a game of leapfrog with Captain Jack Otter for the remained of the day, meeting him in similar resting locations, all telling the same story of hard winds, rogue waves, and sore muscles.

As we crossed the mouth of Core Creek we watched a storm cell begin to form over Minnesott Beach that was sending lightning strikes well outside the cell. This was the beginning of cold front we were dreading. We decided to beach and get a better feel for the cell before we continued on. We were close to the Harlowe Canal, and our anticipation was that we would finally gain cover from the wind once we got into the canal. We had about 4 miles to go and we were still paddling against 15 mph headwinds. As we entered the mouth of the canal we soon realized that the respite we once counted on was still a long way off. It was here we figured out that at every turn, the wind began to change direction. As we paddled our counterclockwise course, we realized that we were paddling against clockwise headwinds.

Self-inflicted wounds
It was on the first beach we reached along the Harlowe Canal that I turned to Dave and told him that given the current state of my body and the forecast of continuing headwinds for the next 24 hours, I didn’t think I would be able to make it to the finish in Cedar Island. I had blisters in places on my hands that I’ve never had blisters. I had blisters on my feet. On my feet. I had been pushing on my foot pegs so hard for so long while wearing paddling booties (instead of hard sole shoes) that I turned my foot pegs into meat grinders. My back and shoulders had also suffered enough from my over-zealous ambitions, and Dave was feeling the same. He agreed that given the forecast and our state of pain, the idea of paddling the unprotected waters of the Core Sound did not sound like it was going to be fun at all. It was time to find an out. We called our families and they mobilized to get our car to the first Check Point in Beaufort – the ending of the North Carolina Ultra Marathon and the 50 mile mark. But we still had almost 20 miles to go.

The last “Hurrah”
As we exited the Harlowe Canal we paddled into the open waters of the Newport River. A lighter 10 mph wind kept the beam seas large enough to be a pain, but not unmanageable. Then, out of nowhere a cold front with a vengeance came up from our rear and turned the winds 110 degrees and the temp dropped 15 degrees in a matter of seconds. All I remember was turning around and yelling at Dave over the winds to follow me. We changed course 90 degrees and made a beeline paddling with everything we had toward a small island in the middle of the river with which I was somewhat familiar. The wind and the waves were frantic. We took several waves over our shoulders and it was almost impossible to hold our course. Capsizing was not an option, but it was so dark we couldn’t see the waves or brace ourselves. When we finally made it to the island we ran our boats into the marsh grass as far as possible and held on. The island was flooded and high ground was nowhere to be found. Dave grabbed handfuls of marsh grass and hunkered down. I shoved my paddle into the mud and wrapped my arms around it and hunkered down as well. We were in the thick of the single nastiest storm in which I had ever been fully exposed. Lightning strikes all around, 30 mph winds with recorded 38 mph gusts, and waves now coming out of the North. We used the marsh grass on the flooded island to break the waves, but we were still fully exposed. For 30-45 minutes we held on. Half way through the storm we looked up and saw a boat with full running lights heading straight at us. At first we thought we were about to get hit, but then we realized it was a fellow WaterTriber – Yakmandu. The three of us weathered the remainder of the storm together holding on dearly to the marsh for protection. (Check out a local weather station recording of the storm on

Once the storm passed we decided to get the heck out of our exposed location and chart a course to Check Point 1 which was only a mile or two away. We crossed the ICW, paddled under the Beaufort Bridge, and into Taylor Creek to CP1. The wind had already begun to change direction and was now coming out of the North West as was previously forecast. The landing was bittersweet. There were paddlers that were continuing despite the conditions (Captain Jack Otter was there and was continuing) and others who had finished by choice or otherwise. We knew we had made the right choice, but still questioned whether we could make it to the end. We made it in 16 hours and 8 minutes.

We watched the remainder of the race on the web. We tracked those who were similar in pace to ourselves. There was approximately 40 miles remaining for the NCC. Captain Jack Otter, our most similar comparison, took almost another 24 hours to complete the remainder of the Challenge. We made the right choice.

Ready. Set. Again?
We didn’t paddle this challenge for pride or proof that we could do it. But we really wanted to finish it nonetheless. Dave and I still talk daily and ask each other if we should have continued on. The reality is that between our timing with wind changes and overzealous ambitions we ended up in a situation where we were not going to be able to finish. I still have blisters on my hands and feet. The memories are still fresh, Dave still can’t feel two of his toes, and yet somehow we still question. And already we are planning our return for next year.
This is an adventure. I think we may be hooked.

Race stats
R4 and Fishpoo stats

Total distance paddled: 47.7 miles
Average moving speed: 3.0 mph
Area covered: 296 square miles
Total time: 16.1 hours
Fishpoo and R4 C1K rank at CP1 (NCUM): 7/8 (landed at the same time)

NCC stats

Total boats entered and started: 42
Total boats DNF: 14
Class 1 Kayak entered and started: 24
Class 1 Kayak DNF: 9
C1K Average time to complete CP1 (NCUM – 50 miles): 20.7 hours
C1K Average time to complete NCC: 32.9 hours