The Seventy48 is a human powered paddling race on Puget Sound hosted by the NW Maritime Center which also puts on the Race to Alaska. The course is 70 miles from Tacoma to Port Townsend – in 48 hours. Read about my experience in attempting both the 2018 and 2019 races.
I started the first annual 2018 Seventy48 race knowing I may not finish it. Unlike many of my students and fellow local paddlers who were doing the race, I hadn’t put in the long distance paddles prior. As a SUP instructor, I was definitely paddling but not not anything long distance, mostly teaching SUP surfing, tidal rapids classes and my basic 101 classes.
When I had a day off, in my mind I needed to rest my shoulders. I was also hitting the gym 1-3 days per week to help build my shoulders so this gave me less time to rest the shoulders.
For many, not finishing the race after nearly a year of training would be a bummer.
For me – not a big deal. I had never done anything like it before and don’t have an endurance racing background. Thus I saw it as a learning experience and would try again the next year.
And coming back from a bout with pulmonary edema in 2016, I hadn’t gained enough confidence pre-race to push my pulmonary boundaries, so wasn’t ready enough in that department. Another year of training and recovery would give me the confidence and tools to succeed in 2019, or 2020.
Mistakes And Lessons Learned..
Seventy miles isn’t a Sprint Race – Here in Seattle, we have a strong SUP race scene with weekly 1.5-3m sprint races to courses throughout the year up to 6 and 13 miles. Many of us doing the 7048 joked that the race has expanded how we see distance. 6 miles used to sound like a lot, but now sounds like warm-up!
But as a result of not doing long distance practice runs and so many short races – I paddled the first 6.5 miles to the check-point and north up the Colvos like a madman, but not saving enough energy to continue further. I wondered why I was passing stronger paddler friends pre-checkpoint, but later found out as they passed me while snoozing on Blake.
Fuel Lessons – Test Before Race – I invested in using Hammer products for fuel and recovery. I read a lot about the benefits, talked to their people and mine, and did test both the Perpetuem and Recoverlite lightly before the race for paddles and gym workouts. The Hammer reps also suggested Endurance BCAA+, Endurolytes Extreme and Anti-Fatigue caps, plus gels and/or bars. Never having used that stuff before I didn’t use the full selection until race day.
Following their directions, I popped 2 caps of BCAA, E-Extreme and the Anti Fatigue caps 2hrs prior to race time, then just after race start, 2 Perpetuem Solids and water to wash it down. Then each again every hour with water in shorter periods. Per my above paragraph, I paddled like never before using a high cadence stroke to Owens Beach and northwards up the Colvos. I felt like I was on coke (haven’t tried) but was super charged, stoked and nearly didn’t stop paddling for about 10 miles. While I felt good, I was trashed the next morning on Blake, feeling like I had just paddled 70 miles.
Take Breaks – Add Layers Sooner – Don’t Throw out Essential Gear – Given my total stoke above, I didn’t want to stop. I started out with a long sleeve polyester shirt, 2XU compression tights, NRS Desperado booties and my vest PFD on, plus a hat for the sun. That worked great until the sun began to hit the horizon. I knew it was getting cooler, but I didn’t care, i was firing!
I was in the middle of the Colvos using rivers of current to use any advantage forward. I didn’t want to paddle to shore to add layers. Then the sun dropped over the horizon and it got dark and colder. I added my neoprene gloves and a hood but nothing else.
For those that know me, I get cold. I’m on blood thinners for my pulmonary edema issue and these always make me colder than those around me. I’m the guy with the puffy OR jacket on when everyone else is in t-shirts. I did bring my O’Neil 4/3mm wetsuit, but was so stoked moving so well I didn’t put it on soon enough.
I also tossed out my NRS 1.5mm neoprene jacket at the start thinking it was too much bulk. Bad idea. I should’ve started by adding the jacket then replacing it with my 4/3 at or just after sunset. I was hoping my compression tights would act like paddling pants but I don’t believe I was getting any insulation there.
Also at the start, I threw out my TEVA sandals (why would I need shoes until PT?), a pair of warm polypro socks and a thin poly pro shirt. The thinking was less bulk or weight.
Not knowing, I was getting cold on the north end of the Colvos. After dark, I did pull over just south of Southworth. By then I felt putting on my 4/3mm suit. But on a wet beach in the dark that didn’t sound very fun. So I added an OR rain shell and rain pant plus a hooded neoprene vest. This helped but the 4/3mm was the best solution. Throwing down more fuel and a gel pack, I started out again.
Crossing to Blake – Too Late to Recover – The crossing to Blake was fun, weird large wind waves, some up to waist + high coming from the NE. Figured they were wind waves and current. I love rough water, so was having fun with those. With Blake in sight, I was stoked to take a break. Almost across the bumps, I began to feel a bit nauseous. I do get sea sick strangely so figured paddling the bumps at night could’ve thrown me off a bit.
Another paddler was coming up on my side, later finding out it was fellow Ballard paddler Alan Lamp. He noticed I was slurring my words and didn’t look right. Somehow my nav light had burned out. Sometime after, I fell in. Not having a full suit on make me feel like a dork. I went downhill quickly after that. The new flood current kept us off Blake for awhile taking longer to get there. In my mind, I was done with the race. I felt depleted, cold, sick.
Thanks to Alan Lamp – We got to the group site on the east side of Blake. Allen thankfully watched over me as I wasn’t in good shape. Suddenly my poor choices for removing my socks, a poly pro shirt and sandals came to light. Again felt like a dork – I taught my students to be prepared, test your gear and the route and fuel. But here I was not having done that and wasted and hypothermic on the beach, at 12:20 at night. I put on my 4/3mm for lack of other dry warm gear then put my 2 puffy coats over and a fleece hat.
Alan helped me get situated, gave me a pair of his trusty wool socks and a pepperoni stick. I pulled my gear out, set up my pad, bivy and then shoved all my chemical heat warmers in my bivy. I was definitely chilled. I had thought of the kayak guide I wrote about a few months prior who died from hypothermia while on a job in the Sierras from lack of clothing and cold temps. Was I that bad or? I ate two Perpetuem Solids for fuel then huddled in my bivy to warm up and sleep. I had brought at stove and freeze dried food but didn’t think to fire it up – I was toast.
My 2-3am i woke up and felt warm and knew I would survive the night. I noticed a bright light off shore, and it was the race support boat. I could’ve talked to them and got hot chocolate when I landed but was too out of it to notice. Paddlers and rowers around me began to stir to head north on the ebb. The night sky was amazing, and I saw a few satellites and a falling star.
During the night, I began to get bad leg cramps. I’ve been getting these in the past year mostly in the leg where I had clots in years prior. And this night, both legs were locking up and I felt a lot of pain yet didn’t want to curse as I was surrounded by tents from other paddlers. A guy was snoring on my right. I rubbed and breathed the cramps out as best as I could. I started taking magnesium pills recently but no help that night.
By 4-5am the sunrise over the city was amazing and with all the activity around me, I felt energized to pack up, fuel up and hit the road (water) again. The light and the distant city reminded me of my years of kayaking to Blake with friends back in the day. I was one of the last 3 or so off that side of the island.
Rescue – Bail Out – I paddled towards Restoration Point (SE Bainbridge) in choppy messy stuff with a stiff NW wind – everything against me. I often sit and kayak paddle style which I did halfway across to save energy. I crossed over the fault line of the Restoration Point then towards Blakely Rocks etc.. By then the race support boat was watching me.
I noticed that I had very little progress north of the point. Those damn mansions behind me never got further away. I watched the ferry honk at a 4 person crew team then soon thereafter, the support boat came alongside. I told them I was done. They pulled me out, gave me a blanket and hot water to drink and were super patient to wait for me in Eagle Harbor to contact my partner for a pick-up. They left, Christy got me about an hour later and we went home and slept. Then back to PT later that night to watch friends arrive finishing the race!
You’ll Be Surprised who Bailed Out
Later on I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only one that bailed out. One of the paddlers who designed the race had to bail for an injured shoulder. A local top prone paddler left for also getting too cold as well as a top kayaker who chose a slower kayak than he should’ve had.
‘Blake is Where Paddlers Go to Die”
Our friend Harry who has finished the race twice stated that Blake is where paddlers go thinking they’ll take a little break but then usually end up staying too long – losing momentum, time and even getting cold.
Several who stopped there had similar experiences. In 2019, I was feeling too good to stop at Blake but later took a few hours off north of Wing Point on Bainbridge Island. It was 2am and I was literally falling asleep on my board! I wanted to take a power nap but 2-3 hours later felt that I had lost momentum, was a bit chilled and began to lose interest. I mustered, and at early dawn, got underway again.
Summary of Lessons Learned –
- Always test all your food/fuel, hydration gear, and equipment on long distance paddles prior to the race. Get the kinks out before go time.
- Don’t throw essential gear out in hopes of paddling lighter or with less packing bulk. I chose a lighter bivy for a better warmer version.
- Definitely go on some sizable paddles prior to the race, increasing miles as you go. These will not only build your endurance but allow you to test your gear and food/fuel needs.
- Bring good gear. I was using a cheap Sol Bivy (no top closure) when I had a nice OR bivy at home. Left the summer sleeping bag thinking my puffy coats/pants would suffice. They did ok, but the bag would’ve been an additional warmth option. And it was cold Monday night with a marine moisture layer added.
- 1 Person tent or pup-tent / tarp option over your bivy keeps wind and dew off thus keeping your warmer. Easy to pack too.
- If you’re not an elite racer, take your time on an endurance race paddling at your level, you’ll eventually get there. Hit 3.5 knots and you’ll get there in 48 hours no problem.
- Work with friends to strategize a plan to help each other get there. I noticed at the start a group of 4 Canadian SUPs were doing a draft train. As they passed me, I wondered why all us Seattle racers weren’t working with each other in that way.
- Pay attention to your inner temp. Start to add layers before you get cold. This was a big mistake for me.
- Clothing – For night paddling in early June, my 5/4mm suit would’ve been my best since I get cold. Or a warmer better 4/3mm. I brought a cheaper one as it was lighter. Dress for what works for you in those conditions. Many got cold or bailed out due to poor clothing choices in the race.
In 2019, I made it a few more miles (50 miles total) to Point No Point. Much better than 2018. 20 miles to go and I was out due to a searing pain between my shoulder blades and lower back. I couldn’t sit or stand. But I was fine with it. I saw lots of cool beaches I’d go back to on a slower day! And I turned 50, so for me it was 50/24. I’m done with the race, choosing in the future to get back to my passion for SUP touring!
(Note in video, they hyperthermia I referred to was from the night before on Blake)