Old Hand & Brute Force – 3

Old Hand & Brute Force — 3

We had concentrated the whole year to this paddling event.
Gauja XXL River Quest 2019 in Latvia.
Gauja XXL is a 310 km marathon paddling starting Friday at 1900 and finishing on Sunday 2400. There are two compulsory stops at 115 km and at 200 km.

This is the final part of three stories from the spring 2019 events we paddled.
Links to previous stories in Finnish, but Google translates very well.
Old Hand & Brute Force — 1 Link >>> 

Old Hand & Brute Force — 2 Link >>>  

When you have been paddling over 30 hours without any sleep, your mind is not at its best.

In the second night the river was treacherous, it was bitch black night and on top of it dense fog. You just had to paddle by guessing. If you then make a mistake, you are in deep trouble.

Our Finnish friend in the competition, Timo was paddling K1. Timo decided to play it safe and wait for the daylight. He put up his tent, but he had only light sleeping bag and it was freezing cold.

We stopped for Timo, listened his problems. He asked, whether we had a warm sleeping bag. Nope, we answered.

We told him, that it is only about three hours to the daylight and went on our paddling.

Wrong. wrong, wrong!

We should have checked Timo´s situation and condition.

We should have given him anyway one of our light sleeping bags, give him warm tea or even go the shore and make him a warming bonfire. But our mind just did not work that far. It said paddle, paddle, paddle.

We talked about this situation later with Timo and we all agreed, that when this kind of situation arises, you just have to be alert and give all the help you can.

At that point we hallucinated. It was both very interesting and also very scary.

My front paddler Sampo saw a log running on the shore following us. I saw foldable postcards on top of sand dunes. I felt we were paddling up hill.

When the light started to come, the river was like asphalt road. I felt it just natural to paddle along a road.

Year ago Gauja was friendly and easy to paddle. 

Some fog at night, but enough water to make this years rock gardens disappear.
Temperature was nice also as spring here should be.

Our idea was to keep paddling till midnight Sunday and then we see where we are.
There were two compulsory 30 minute stops at 115 km and at 200 km.
Our plan was to take a nap then.

We had service Paavo, he had everything ready when we came to the stop.
Warm food and tent to have a nap.

At the start we were very confident as were twenty other paddlers in fifteen canoes and kayaks.

But as Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung said: "It gets really dark, before it gets black" This is what happened this year.

There are lots of things you can do to add your overall endurance without being a better paddler.

We did some water grinding at the bottom. First sideways with 600 grit paper and then keelway with 1200 grit paper. It felt good, speed gain is propably on the mental side. But we were going to paddle more or less 50 hours non stop.

We shortened our paddles a bit to speed up the rythm. Still, our rythm is not too professional, about 40-50 strokes a minute.

We moved the seats almost up to the gunnels. We paddle on our knees. With more hight we got better knee bend and more efficient blood circulation. We also moved the seats closer to the middle on the canoe to keep bows light.

Still, we are using normal Northstar Polaris touring canoe. I have always used normal touring canoes when paddling these long distance events. My idea is to get experiences that are useful to normal paddlers.

Last minute problems: Our escort had to cancel. And also the backup could not make it. So we used social media to get a new escort person. 

We were very lucky, we got a thriathlonist, who was planning to participate Gauja XXL in the future and he wanted to get aquaintained with the event. Escort takes care of putting up the tent for us to sleep, make ready all the warm foods, do the pep talk, etc.

Has everything done, that has to be done? We have been aiming to this event the whole year. We have checked the last minute weather and water level reports. Just some light headwinds, but the water level worries us. 

Actually we know another Finnish C2-team, who has been here before and they cancel their participation due to too little water. Waterlevel is a lot lower than year ago. It means a lot of rock gardens and very little help from the stream.

Finally the circumstances were a lot worse than anybody expected.

Water-level chart. The Gauja River is dry.
Two feet less water than last year.

It means rock gardens and slow water. Very slow.

GaujaXXL is very strange event. It leaves long scratches in to your mind. When you decide to register to this competition, you know, you are more than a good paddler. Still, you have no idea whether you will make it.

This year Gauja River tries to rip the paddlers and the canoes in pieces. During the first night everything on our canoe is covered with hard layer of ice. Rock gardens try to tear holes into our canoe. 

Low water slows us down drastically. After first 115 km we get warm food and 40 minutes sleep at tent. We paddled all night and to the midday. 

Seventeen hours with only three peeing stops. We are three hours late in our planned schedule. There is no way to get more speed. We just have to paddle.

The River turned the lights off. We did too. 

At saturday rose a very dense fog. We just had to paddle by listening. I was very worried about my front paddler Sampo. There were roots and sharp tree trunks pointing upstream in the middle of the river.

We had to keep good speed, but also be alert and ready to stop in seconds. Several times we just paddled to the shore. I had downloaded the Google Maps offline and it helped us to figure out, which way to continue.

The wilderness stretch took about 8 hours to paddle. Six hours in total darkness. It was stretch where we met Timo on the shore. No other paddlers no lights, nothing.

Until we started hallucinate. Sampo asked, do you see that log on the shore? It has been following us some time. I saw floating sand dunes, they looked like shop windows with nice folding greeting cards. When a beaver hit the water with its tail, the splash changed into acrylic cubes. Once and a while I felt, that the front paddler was somebody else than Sampo. When the daylight became brighter the river looked like paved highway. I felt it was just normal.

Our plan was to get some sleep at the 200 km stop. When we got there, it was already daylight. Paavo, our service gave us hot tea with lots of honey in it. When we stopped paddling we felt the cold and both of us started to shiver that we almost could not get the tea into ou mouths. We were laughing and shivering and went to tent. I had -24 deg. celcius sleeping bag, still it took a while to stop my shivering.

This is insane! We carry our canoe back to the river after a nice sleep and mini breakfast. We just did not feel like eating. We told Paavo, that we will have more food after couple of ours at Cecis bridge. 

Luckily the river picked up speed and the scenery changed into an astonishing forest with almost 50 meter tall fir trees. We really enjoyed paddling. At some point we noticed, that we had slept in the tent only 20 minutes! Sleep makes wonders!

Foto: Paavo Juntunen.

Food nap after lunch break at city of Cecis.

Actually I am emptying the canoe at back and Sampo has a meditation moment in the front. After few kilometers of paddling the food gave us energy and fresh feeling to continue.

We stranded for a short bodily relieving stop. At this point we had only about 50 kilometres to go. If we paddle 5,5 km/h, we will make it. And now the river helped us to keep our speed all the time over 7 km/h.

I tell Sampo ”Shit! We are going to make it!”

We are looking for he finish line after every bend. The Gauja estuary feels endless. We are lucky with the weather, the promised headwind turned out to be a perfect calm.

Foto: Elza Pukite
The feeling, when you finally see that GaujaXXL flag on the riverside!

We reach the goal with over two hour tolerance. We get very warm welcome and hugs. We know we are class winners, but later we hear, that there has been only one competitor before us! That is great! 

Actually from the 20 paddlers and 15 teams, only five teams made it to the finish. 

  • Our time: 48:53:45, Huh. Sampo had 20 minutes of sleep, I had 62 min and several short naps at the canoe. 
  • Total average speeds (moving): GaujaXXL 310 km – 6,34 (7,3) km/h, 
  • Vöhandumaraton 100 km – 6,89 (7,5) km/h, 
  • Turi-Tori 78 km – 7,6 (8,4) km/h 

Paavo Juntunen recorded his feelings

I had planned to participate in the Gauja XXL canoeing as early as 2019, but as a result of the unfortunate accident, I was still recovering as the competition unfolded. The mind wanted Gauja but the body couldn't, so it was kind of lucky that the service troops were needed and I didn't hesitate to join Sampo and Jaakko. 

 I have experienced a variety of ultra-distance competitions from the participant's point of view, so I had a pretty good picture of what kind of zombies to get to patronize the next 50 hours and how the job is handled smoothly. 

While on pause, I was able to follow what other teams were doing, of course I was trying to download all the doctrine for the future. 

Gauja XXL is not just a canoeing competition. It is a endurance competition. Both mind and body must work from start to finish. In Jaakko's and Sampo's team, 

I think the experience and the raw power met well. These, when combined with an uncompromising quality of mind, were the way to tap Gauja XXL into the finish. 

The significance of the experience was highlighted in 2019 by the fact that anyone who could read the river came to an end with an intact ship. Many were forced to quit on their way. One Estonian duo I repaired under the bridge in Sigulda village, where I waited for Jaakko and Sampo to eat. 

In Sigulda I was a little worried about my dependents for a moment. It was like watching a slow motion movie. The speech was reasonably reasonable even though I clearly noticed how bad the communication between the brain and the mouth was. 

The launch was also fun to watch ... for a moment it seemed as if both were falling asleep in the middle of putting the canoe on the water. Yes, it still started again when the paddles were in hand and the trip continued with a light current. 

It was absolutely amazing to see how everyone involved in the event was able to outdo themselves in many ways over the weekend. So much experience changed the original plan for the 2020 engagement that instead of the units we would be with my female friend in a twin. Night fogs on a foreign river are challenging for anyone, so at least the first time is safer together. 

Our canoe Northstar Polaris stood well against Gauja’s rock gardens.

Double bend carbon paddles worked well. We got no blisters and blades were like new in spite of many hits on the rocks. 

We did not have time to change clothes while paddling. Temperature range was from freezing to over 10 deg centigrade. Also we had heavy rain and sometimes chilling wind. 

Sampo has Ursuit MPS, Multi Purpose Suit and I had Ursuit Venture dry suit.

I am now safely at home. 

I'm going to a warm bed right next to my wife Riitta. 

Gauja XXL still storms in my head. Too many experiences in too tight a package. I have talked after paddling Virva, Timo and Sampo with our experiences. 

We all agree that there was more to it than the mind can melt. 

With Sampo, we received a bonus prize for participating in a 24-hour canoeing and 180 km river kayaking in Lithuania in November. Participate? We're not sure, but strong maybe is now in mind. 

Thank You. 

 “The one who can read the river, finishes with an intact ship." 

Sampo Harju 

Timo Kivelä 

Virva Vuorenpää 

Jouni Piiroinen 

Paavo Juntunen 

Erkki Lampén 

Elza Pukite 

Pia Pistooli 

Riitta Skytt 

Jaakko, Sampo & Timo

"Experience, raw power and 
indefatigable quality of mind 
were the utmost advantage this spring. ” 

Paavo Juntunen, 
guardian of Gauja XXL canoeing 
of Sampo and Jaakko.

Linkki Turi-Tori 2019 -melontaan

Linkki Vöhandumaraton 2019 -melontaan

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