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2003 Snake River Canoe Race Report

By Marsh Jones
May 7, 2003

Boom, boom, boom, boom… With all homage to Muddy Waters, the 22nd running of the Snake River Canoe Classic could be summed up like that. The water levels were about as low as you'd want to slither your royalex boat down the river on, but there were still a lot of aluminum and kevlar boats in use. Ah, the sound of aluminium (boomers) calling out the location of the next rock garden. Unlike the past few years, the weather was perfect for a canoe race: blue skies, light winds, temperature in the high 50s at the start.

The community of Mora does an incredible job of putting on the race, beginning with a great pre-race pancake feed at the Historical Society. One of the most enjoyable parts of the race is getting there early enough to have breakfast with the volunteers, learning some of the history of the event, and trying to understand how in 22 years, they have only lost one committee member! (I think fun is the word).

So, load the boat on the trailer, collect all the paddles, jackets, food, drink, drybag, sunscreen, partner, and on to the bus. Just like a ski race - except paddles aren't as pointy as ski poles and skis. The 15 minute ride to the start is a chance to catch up with people you haven't seen since last year or ski season, and a chance to let a newcomer ask questions from the more experienced.

Queue up in the registration line to register since I forgot to send in the form. Wait for the trailer to arrive with the boat. Unload a couple of boomers to get to mine. Adjust the footbrace since Kelly and I haven't been in the boat together since sometime last season and the last person in the stern is a lot taller than she is. Get everything stowed and secured. Say hi to all the people you haven't seen in days/weeks/months.

Wander over to the bridge to watch the first boats go off. Note that the first wave contains the frequent aluminum overall winners Luke Olen and Ryan Piescher, a couple of very strong young 'locals'. See that the second wave is made up almost entirely of seasoned canoe racers and skiers - Fred and Mickie Rayman, Doug Berg and Keith Canny, Duane and Norm Strike, Mark and Susie Newman. Maybe the reign of Luke and Ryan is about to end… [this turned out to be the closest fight of the day, with Keith & Doug beating off a strong challenge by the Raymans by less than 30 seconds]

As always, the chaos of launching is more fun than the activity at the start. Mora is a great race for new paddlers, occasional paddlers, and just about everyone else. The difference in abilities, shapes and ages, plus the low water levels makes for real fun getting in to the boat and getting it pointed down the river. An extra added attraction is that the first rock is about two boat lengths beyond the bridge, and placed perfectly to snag at least one boat. The second rock is strategically placed to get the paddlers who think they were smart enough to miss the first!

After the first couple of waves of 6, it's time to wander back up and put our boat in the water. Most of the pro and open racers have found a spot on the bank a little further up that allows you to get in with dry feet, and stay out of the chaos a little longer. We go out and paddle a little, check the trim, and try to line up to get the rope we think we want when it gets to be our turn.

One minute to go. Start my watch, decide which side to paddle away on. Slide to the start rope. Kelly grabs on, and then we're off. Steve and Emily Peterson, Rick Lorenzen and Tom Gardner, and Kelly Rood and I take off more or less together. We just miss grazing a rock, and miss catching the first wave from Rick and Steve. We stay within a boat length for the first 10 minutes, and then gradually lose a little ground as we started through the rock gardens. About 15 minutes into the race, we hear Al Rudquist's voice first quietly, and then getting quickly louder as Al and Jason Larson shoot past. This is Al's water - shallow, tough, and impossible for mere mortals to go fast. A couple of minutes later, Todd Ellison and Joe Manns, Kjell Peterson and Jim Larson, Chuck Ryan and Scott Ankeny, and then Brett and Devan Arenz move past as well. We ride each boat for a few strokes, but they are somewhat faster and we have to let them go. All the way down the course the earlier starts act as milestones to be passed as we push down the river. Most are easily passed with a cheerful 'hi', with a few showing where the tough rocks are.

Boy are there a lot of rocks in the river this year. I started to speculate that the race committee imported a few extra to spice things up. We waited our turn on several rapids and followed the least noisy aluminum boats thru the slicks. We're running pretty quietly - no yelling, no arguing, just an occasional 'HUT!, DRAW HARD' to dodge a rock. We did pinball down one stretch - went the wrong way at the first rock, and then there were 10 more to bounce off on the way down.

Just past the Hwy 65 bridge, Dave Dahl and Brett Thunstrom caught us and slipped a little ahead as we got stuck behind yet another boomer on a rock. Try as we might, we couldn't quite reel them back in as we went from shallow suck water stretch to rock garden and back again. A few more turns, and there was the last bridge. Only one more rock garden and I could hear the PA announcer, and a final sprint to the finish.

All in all, a fine race. Kelly and I were both pleased with our 2nd in class and 11th overall finish. The Mora community does a great job of putting together this race, feeding the paddlers, and ensuring that everyone has a good time. The Snake is really the first race on the calendar for most of us, and is always a challenge. Until next year…


About the author...

Marsh Jones is a 'forty-something, multi-sport, weekend warrior' to use his description. His best finish last year was 25th at the Chippewa Triathlon. In addition to skiing and canoeing, Marsh generally gets involved in whatever sports his 11&13 year olds are doing (currently lacrosse). Marsh races for Ketter Canoeing and ActiveElite.

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