A hand powered Seventy48: Troy Nebeker
The familiar blue light has been a constant late night companion. Strings of texts going back and fourth - What are you eating? Are you going all the way through? Dang. 70 miles is a long way. Sandwiched between jokes of soiling the wet suit and getting lost in Davey Jones locker there was an undercurrent of seriousness.
70 miles in 48 hours. That is a chunk to think about. And of course the more you think about it, the more it makes complete sense and then you start the “what if” session. What if I could do it in 36 hours? Or maybe 24? Hmm. And the gears start turning.
Will readily admit to struggling with sane logic most of the time.
The craft of choice for this adventure was a Bark 16ft prone paddle board. 20.5 inches wide and lightning fast in the right hands. Joe has built boards for the best in the world. And to see them make it look effortless - well, its intoxicating. Once you give it a go, there is no turning back.
While not super fast or world class. The phone call was easy to make.
Joe! Am thinking about doing this thing. What is the next step?
How much do you weigh?
Depends on if Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream is on sale or not.
Joe: How tall are you?
Joe: Okay! Let’s make a board. Send me your graphics and paint ideas!
Me: Time to start saving some dollars quick!
For those of you who are freaking out about specs and tweaky conversations about materials and carbon weaves and why didn’t you ask more questions!!!
The answer is simple. Joe is a craftsman. He builds boards. I don’t.
Before we move on from here, there is one small note to keep in mind. When you decide to have a custom board made - make sure your significant other knows about it, is psyched about it and it doesn’t just magically appear one day. (You are welcome.)
PACKING AND REPACKING
Prone offers a unique challenge. There is limited deck space. So the kitchen sink, over prep mindset needs to be turned off. Only the essentials will make the final trip, and of course a few mini snickers.
Having never done anything like this before - the trial and error journey was a long one. The biggest challenge was weight and height of the bags. Once you load your board, the center of gravity and how it reacts when you change positions is quickly noticeable. It also changes how easily you can flip the board back over when you go in the water.
In the end there was 1 bag on the front of the board and 2 small bags on the back. All locked down tight with zero movement. Had plenty of food and water, a puffy and bivy but lacked heat and a little comfort for the dark hours. (Major mistake.)
BOARDS UP. LET'S GO!
It was super fun to talk with Dean through this whole process. He worked with Daniel and the crew at R2AK to bring to seventy 48 to life. And to be honest - I don’t know how they pulled it off. Everything from start to finish was fantastic.
We loaded in roughly 3/4 of a mile down from the start. It gave us a chance to have clear dock space and a slower pace to make sure everything was just right. Once in the water and paddling toward the start - everything started to feel very real.
Wow. So many people! Faces that came to life from the screens of social and actually shook hands, smiled and joked. This was the first time we were all in one place with only one thing left to do.
When the horn went off, I made sure to hang back just a bit. Sitting just a water level with lots of flying paddles and oars - didn’t want the race to be over because of one to the face.
Slowly jumping into the mix - it was the start of and adventure of a life time.
Out into the harbor we went.
GANGSTER RACCOONS AND HAND DRYERS
By the time we entered Colvos passage, everyone had found their rhythm. Familiar faces were all around. Estelle, Dan, Chris, Lance and Shauna were all within lines of sight. And way off in the distance Dean and Karl were cranking away. When you are surrounded by friends who all share the love for paddling - I can’t speak for them - but there was a deep sense of happiness and joy with every stroke.
It was easy to get lost in the colors of sunset. Purples, oranges, blues that were on the edge of turning black. Looking over to the left I could see Shauna slow down for a second to put her jacket on. It is a vivid memory for two reasons. First - we talked a number of times about training and how it was going. To see her jamming away and looking so strong - it was awesome.
The second reason this moment digs deeper, is it was the first hint of cold. In one of the bags, there was a trusty wind breaker. The plan was to use it on Blake Island to keep the chill off - but it seemed smart to layer over the wetsuit now. It worked like a champ with the exception of the sleeves. They weren’t tight or meant for prone paddling. Mental note to fix that on Blake.
Snacking on a quick bite, Alex Vaughn came out of the dusk and we shared a welcome break and chat about strategy. As we pushed off into the fading light - this was the first piece of unknown - and I was very thankful for Alex and the company.
Marine Traffic this is M/V Kitsap checking in, over.
Be advised of several small craft at the mouth of Colvos crossing to Blake.
Will do. Kitsap, out.
Leaving the safety of Colvos passage was like merging onto the freeway. We were instantly greeted with 2 to 3 ft swell and wind coming right at us. Was very happy to be low to the water and out of the washing machine - but with one advantage comes one disadvantage - was getting drenched. Every other wave would wash up and over. The channel went quick - but the effects took their toll.
Hitting the beach on Blake island - people where everywhere - it was wonderful. Safety in numbers. But there was one small problem. I had the shakes so bad that unloading and unpacking became somewhat of a chore. Managed to get everything to a near by picnic table and just stood there. Trying to will some warmth into my thought process.
Blake is a fully set up camping destination, complete with nice bathrooms, quarter showers and electric hand driers. The push button kind that delivered warm bursts of heaven. Thankful for this memory - I shook my way into the dark in search of warm.
A few steps before the door the sound of laughter and the whir of heat, 20 seconds at a time was filling the air.
Once inside, was surrounded by friendly faces and laughter. It was warm and amazing. Out of the wetsuit and into the puffy jacket and winter tights. My hope was to warm up, dry off and get a little rest. The next 45 min was spent drying out my wetsuit and other kit.
Finally stepped back out into the night with only the occasional shake and renewed optimism. Walked back to my sprawl on the picnic table, climbed into the bivy sack and pretended it was comfortable.
Pretty much, tossed and turned and shook. It was difficult to find any kind of comfort. And to top it off, I poked my head out after hearing a little rustling - and was eye to paw with a raccoon. He had my beef jerky bag. We exchanged looks and I swear he smiled and then bolted. Total gangster.
Zero progress was made in the sleep and get warm department. Figured if I was going to be cold it was better to be moving forward. So started to pack up. Skinny’d back into the wetsuit, layered over it with a rash guard and my windbreaker. A quick pause to cut the sleeves off to make for better paddling, and it was time to go.
When your board isn’t loaded with stuff - it is light and easy. But loaded? Getting it into the water takes consideration and planning. After a quick ask for help - it was back to paddling. Moving forward and pushing away cold thoughts for ones of finishing and seeing family in Port Townsend.
Somewhere along the shores of Bainbridge the sun was waking up. It was still hours before sunrise - but the beauty of nautical sunrise is emotional. Sitting in the waves and colors, thinking of my family, friends and all the encouragement from complete strangers. It was raw and humbling. At that moment I was so incredibly thankful to be healthy and able. I closed my eyes to relish in the movement of the water and the complete silence of the night.
Even thinking about it now makes me want to run toward water and also turn away so as not to spoil the memory.
CHOICE WORDS FOR CURRENTS
With the sun quickly lighting the sky - my hope was that warmth wasn’t too far behind. The original forecast was promising and during the planning phase of things, my 2ml spring suit was a logical choice. Now, hours in and frustratingly cold - that will have turned out to be a critical error in judgment. The sun brought very little warmth hidden behind overcast skies and breeze.
Keep moving forward, was the echo in my head. Just keep pushing. Looking around I had no idea where I was. Always keep the shore to my left, but after awhile things started to look the same. There were occasional craft that would sneak into view. Friends of the sea, and fellow competitors. I’d follow them until they were too small to see any more.
The currents were mean. Really mean. And reading them at eye level can be a little tricky. Could feel my speed change with almost every stroke. 2 forward, 1 back. It became maddening.
As a matter of principle - I try to keep my words fairly clean. Don’t always succeed and dang did I blow it.
Drunk sailors would have blushed. @#$#%#$%@#$% you currents! You @#$#$#$%#$%#$ suck @#$!#%!$#%$%#$%#$%.#$%#$@%#$%#$%#$
I blame it on the cold. Sorry mom.
Shaking from the inside out forced another stop. The tide was low and the beach was easy to see. Getting to the sand I put my hand down into the water and grabbed the bottom. Working on getting energy to sit up, so as not to fall over and get even more wet.
Not quiet sure how I managed to get the board up the beach just a bit. Once satisfied that it was safe from any incoming waves or tide, I turned to the row of houses.
Quiet as could be. Not a soul around. At this point, it seemed completely logical to be a lizard. Rocks retain heat. Therefore - lay on rocks. It didn’t work.
Stumbling down the row of houses, a big deck stood out from the rest. Up the steps to see if anyone was home.
Standing on the top step just at the edge of the deck, my hope was to look friendly and not wet, and insane. Some how that actually worked and the slider opened.
“You look like you need some help.” - His name is Brian. A kind smile and a soothing voice of a stranger who you know will end up being a new friend.
He quickly pulled up a chair just inside the door, and had me sit down. Managing my name between shakes and shivers - I told him about the race and how I found myself sitting there. He offered hot tea and waited patiently as my body calmed down a bit.
The tea was warm. Could feel it working. Slowing getting back to my normal self. Was very thankful that Brain was home.
Our conversation turned to a bit of life stuff as the second cup of tea took hold. I ask Brian how long he had lived there. He smiled and said - Oh, this isn’t my place. A good friend of mine let me stay for a bit. What a great friend I said.
Brian turned a bit and looked out the window. I just finished up treatments for Leukemia and am here resting and taking some time. I lost my wife 4 years ago to cancer. And it has been a bit of a rough patch.
(If you are wondering why this section is called Angels. A bit of brief history might help to make sense of it. In 2013 my wife had breast cancer and right on the heals of that lymphoma. A double dose. We were surrounded by wonderful family, friends and community. Monster and Sea was created to give back and help families dealing with cancer.)
It took a while to process what he was saying. Having been in so many houses now with the words cancer as part of the conversation - it literally made the hair on my neck stand up. A random stretch of beach, in the middle of a paddle race, freezing and needing help and the only one home is Brian.
After leaving Brians beach - I had a warm belly of tea, a hot water filled bottle down the back of my wetsuit, and renewed energy from a moment in time that will sit with me forever.
Keep moving forward. Those familiar words, were back and paddling toward Kingston The media boat pulled up to say hello!
Love this crew. They were awesome. Always full of smiles and very welcome encouragement. We talked about Presidents point (which in my frozen state I has thought was Point No Point.) They gently informed me that I wasn’t quite there yet.
After seeing the video feeds - the exchange about Presidents point was funny. I definitely didn’t like that president. (please don’t read anything political into it. Am solely referring to the point and the currents and the difficulty getting around it.)
Off went the boat, and forward. Just keep moving forward.
By now, all the competitors are well into sleep deprivation. It has a way of playing tricks on your mind. The prone is great, you have a chin pad on the front, so you can give your neck a break. I loaded mine up with two so it created a small space of comfort in the form of being able to lay my face on it. And at this moment it felt like my favorite pillow.
I nodded off. And fear was the alarm clock back to reality. Rolling into the water was a legitimate worry at this point. So, I pulled over again. Scrambled up the beach and crawled between two pieces of drift wood. Out like a light.
Not sure how long the cat nap was but it was just what the doctor ordered. Ate a peanut butter and avocado sandwich. Chugged down some warm water and got back after it.
I think I am going to make it! Rolled around in the thought soup. Never wanted to get to far ahead of myself - but could see the finishing dock in my head. Pulling that ticket would be so sweet.
Finally got to Point No Point. The beach was lined with kayaks, rowing shells and SUPs.Chris! Lance! Oh man am I glad to see you guys!
We sat on the beach talking about the next section. The home stretch. In my head I was thinking - Gotta make this. Spending another night out in the changing weather would be rough. Gotta give this everything and get in.
Outwardly though - was nervous but thankful to be setting out with Chris and Lance. The plan was to get there together.
THE DEVIL IS ACTUALLY COLD
Just around corner of Point No Point the water was calm. Beautiful and clean. The kind of water that hasn’t shown its face since Colvos passage. It was fuel for the mental engine.
The sky was big and looking over at Chris and Lance gliding along semi glassy water - it was stunning.
Just over to the left sat a big sort of naked looking bluff. We were paddling toward it with the hopes of jumping into some current that would take us toward the channel into Port Townsend.
Chris and Lance headed toward shore for a quick refuel and tape. Knowing that they would catch me, I kept pointed toward the bridge. But the weather had a mind of its own.
The wind kicked in, and old friend the @%#&*@^ current came back to visit.
Keep moving forward.
Pig piled on top of all that - the temp started to drop. My face was close to the board and as I would breath, it was cold enough that shapes would form on the deck. They looked like cartoon ghosts. Funny ones, mean ones, faces looking back at me. Writing it sounds silly, but they were there. And it was cold. Really cold.
The bridge didn’t feel like it was getting any closer. I took a drink of water and was planning to eat a bit more food. Keep the fuel tank full.
Puked. And started to shake worse than before.
The cold was starting to take over the decision making process.
In the distance I could see the media boat. Please, please, stay where you are. And I paddled toward it. Sort of a half hearted paddle, with everything I had left. Floating and holding on for dear life to the swim board - I remember a few things. The kind voices of crew asking me several times: Are you sure you want to call it. And my friend Chris pulling up saying I will stay with you and we can paddle in together.
Felt very loved in that moment.
The time had come. Couldn’t out run the cold any longer.
I am sure. Call it in.
There is something about the water and the people it attracts. Kind hearts, determination and the willingness to give freely and protect others.
Am so very fortunate to be part of this community and want to thank the crew at Seventy48 for brining this race to life, plucking me from the water and creating an adventure that will be etched into the walls of my memory forever.