River race

I’ve always been a solo traveller. Whether walking, running, cross-country skiing or paddling, I typically prefer being out in nature alone with my thoughts. As the English novelist and journalist Will Self once said, “I walk in order to somatically medicate myself against the psychosis of contemporary urban living.” Ditto, for me, for other forms of outdoor activity. So I was a little surprised to find myself signed up for this past weekend’s Jock River Race, a 12.5-kilometre paddle into the village of Richmond southwest of Ottawa — and the first organized race I’ve done, of any kind, since childhood. It was an opportunity to get to know the local paddling community a little better, and to try a river I had never been on before, with a shuttle back to my van at the starting line. It was also, to be frank, a good excuse to go paddling.

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A record 135 people registered for this year’s race, which started in 1972 as a whitewater race on the lower Jock River, which flows into the Rideau River just north of Manotick, and in 2000 moved to its current location on the calmer waters of the upper Jock. The vast majority were in canoes and kayaks, including some competitive paddlers but mostly recreational participants. There were only two other paddleboarders this year (one of whom was kind enough to take the below picture of me as participants assembled on the riverbank near the starting line).

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The current was fairly fast (albeit with a nasty headwind in places) and the four sets of Class I rapids were fun to navigate. I tumbled in once after failing to make a tight turn around some rocks and getting pushed into some low-hanging branches, but had changed into my wetsuit for the race — and it was easy to hop back onto my board for the final stretch. I also jumped in to grab a runaway paddle after a pair of canoeists had capsized, and then saw their canoe floating toward me unattended. Standing waist-deep on the edge of a small island, I was able to grab the canoe and, with the help of two other racers, get it to the shore, where the aforementioned capsizers had caught up and, presumably, could get back into their boat to finish the race.

My final time was a respectable 1:26:14 — well back of the half-dozen or so sub-one-hour finishers. But even with my rescue-assist-stop, it was fast enough to win the SUP category (although in previous years, it should be noted, paddleboarders have done the race in about 75 minutes).

The Jock River Race was extremely well organized by local paddling enthusiasts (one of whom, I was told, holds the solo canoe record for epic Yukon River Quest) and is supported by local businesses, who provided chilli and soup at the finish line. Not a bad way to kick start my late-in-life racing career, though I will likely soon return to my solo padding ways.

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