My 2011 Blackburn Challenge
started with this promising
sunrise enjoyed while paddling to Gloucester High School where sign-in takes
Instead of arriving by automobile
and dealing with the associated logistical problems, I decided to keep things
simple and paddled my boat to and from the event.
This was made possible by camping at the
Cape Ann Camp Site in West Gloucester on the road to Wingaersheek Beach. The campground has been in operation since 1949.
For me, it was a novelty to awaken in my tent, or perhaps with the heat wave we've been experiencing, I should say
"sweat lodge", and walk my boat to the campground's boat launch on
the Jones River.
Like most participants, I was anticipating a morning of
glaring sun and temperatures quickly rising into the 90's.
Lots of sun protection had been slathered on
and extra drinking water was onboard.
However, as we all headed to the start area following registration,
skies had darkened and raindrops were falling.
Additionally, a welcome breeze was stirring.
With ominous looking clouds to the west, I was concerned the
start might be delayed.
disappeared when the loudspeaker came to life and began calling boat classes to
the start line.
At 8:25 my class began
heading up the Annisquam River and our 2011 Blackburn Challenge was
Soon, I would have the question
answered for another year: Do I still have what it takes to propel my boat
approximately 20 miles around outer Cape Ann within the 6 hour timeframe
As we approached the mouth of the Annisquam River, 2 or 3
claps of thunder were heard behind us and this resulted in a short burst of
speed (and a little graveyard humor) in hopes of staying ahead of any
While we pushed on towards Halibut Point the storm,
thankfully, veered off to the south and not another peep was heard.
Upon rounding Andrew's Point we looked across Sandy Bay to
Straitsmouth Gap and the grand view of Thacher Island's twin lighthouses.
Still no hot sun, and a pleasant breeze was
now keeping everyone cool and collected.
After calling out our boat numbers at the halfway point, we
prepared for the toughest part of the event (in my opinion).
Though I've never run the Boston Marathon, I
suspect the 5 mile stretch between Milk Island and Eastern Point might be akin
the that event's Heartbreak Hill.
is where a participant's mettle is put to the test.
It's a long slog to say the least.
It was during this section that, despite a
fresh breeze, I began to enter the doldrums.
My cadence was falling off and other boats, previously behind, were now
Then I heard a 6-woman
outrigger canoe approaching and the vocal instructions from the boat’s coxswain
to the crew were hard to ignore.
cadence was exactly what I needed, and I decided to try my best to keep
paddling alongside them.
brought me back to life and gave me something to focus on all the way to
Eastern Point at which time their speed exceeded what I could continue to match.
Once around the Dog Bar Breakwater the finish line, just 2
miles away, is within sight.
when the sun finally emerged from the clouds and things began to heat up.
Boat wakes from every direction required
frequent course corrections and my arms were feeling like boiled spaghetti.
It was during this stretch run that one
errant and floating beer bottle was scooped from the water while on the
It was sort of like shooting a
basketball from mid-court in an empty gymnasium and having it pass through the
rim touching nothing but net!
Then, after what seemed to be an eternity, I was passing
between the Greasy Pole and the timing boat to the spot where my boat’s bow
kissed the sand on Pavilion Beach.
Following this line of boats that finished before me brought me to the
food tent, the Ipswich Ale tapmobile, and other participants with whom Blackburn
Challenge exploits could be shared...
So, at least for one more year the question has been
answered in the affirmative!
Oh yeah, almost forgot some trashy tidbits. To call yesterday’s paddle a trash patrol
would be quite a stretch. However, in
addition to the swooped beer bottle were several pieces of trash recovered
while enroute to the start line…
Then this morning, after a good night’s sleep in my tent, I
awoke to 2 choices for breakfast: freeze-dried scrambled eggs or a short drive
to Jim’s Bagel and Bake Shop.
my bagel, coffee, Sunday paper and I were enjoying each other’s company while
parked along Stacy Boulevard as the Blynman Canal drawbridge opened and closed
It was while sitting
there, I saw the gentleman wearing a black NASA T-shirt pulling a 4-wheeled
wagon along the sidewalk.
He stopped at
each trash receptacle and fished any redeemable containers from within.
Was he perhaps a laid-off Shuttle worker?
Only 10 minutes later, along came a
contractor’s pick-up truck with a crew of 2 men emptying the same
Perfect timing by the
A little later, I’m back at the campground and notice
a true recycler going through the trash dumpster and pulling out a considerable
amount of recyclable containers. He was
placing these into the adjacent and well-marked recycling bins. I’m thinking, perhaps folks were busy and
didn’t have the time to recycle. Then I
remember, this is a campground where folks come to escape time
constraints. If they can’t bring
themselves to recycle here, it’s not likely they ever will and that begs
another question: Would the Native Americans find us worthy of inheriting the
land they once revered?