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Last fall I had the distinct pleasure in racing in the 2013 Lord of the Fork on Saturday, October 25, 2013!  To participate in this race had been a goal of mine 7 years in the making… And now I set my sights to try to beat my time this year and to participate as a racer in the Green Race!!


First a little history lesson about the Lord of the Fork Race (Established in 1995) and my kayak racing history.  Lord of the Fork Race History Link:


I attended my first Green River Narrows Race in 2006 as a spectator and quickly became enamored with all aspects of racing downriver in a kayak!  The thrill of paddling fast, the cheering crowd, and the sole responsibility you have for completing the run safely and knowing you are your own safety during the race were all very fascinating factors to me.  I really wanted to try whitewater downriver racing, but I knew my skill set was way off par to even attempt the prestigious Green Race at the time.


I got my first attempt at kayak racing at the United States National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC in 2007 in an amateur World Kayak event. I was quickly hooked by the sense of accomplishment of completing a race and the drive generated while competing against others! The next few years I found myself racing in several amateur races throughout the southeast and even organizing a couple of races on the Upper Green River; all the while improving on my basic kayak skills to try more challenging races.  My wife and I even raced our Dynamic Duo down the Nantahala in a couple of races hosted in the gorge, which was big booming fun!  Some of the most beneficial training I received was racing in the NOC Canoe Club Challenges from 2009-2012, which is an amateur slalom race series through the gates adjacent to the NOC Outfitter Store and down river races of different lengths down the Nanty Gorge.  Those are some fun events for sure and great for river run skill development!!  Another major thing I learned racing in amateur races as a weekend warrior is there will always be someone faster than me, because I don’t do this professionally…  So the only thing I am racing is myself to do my best and the clock!


In April 2011 I set my sights to race in the 2nd annual Watauga River Gorge Race.  Watauga Gorge is my favorite river run on the planet and getting to race on this awesome piece of class IV whitewater was high on my things to do list!  It is 35 minutes from my house and I have been running it at least 50 times a year, since 2007.  I did not own a long boat at the time of this race, so I had to race in my Villain.  Racing on Watauga I quickly learned is a completely different scenario
than running it with your friends.  The race is long (4 miles) and mass start.  At first there are a lot of people around you in the start, but by the time you’ve got through the first three major rock garden raids the long boats have long checked out and the short boats have spread out giving you a feeling that you are chasing the next racer in front of you.  If you’re not careful to pace yourself you can find yourself exasperated dropping into the next rapid, which can cause a crash and swim quickly!  I finished the race in somewhere around 25th place, but it was one of the best feelings of my life to complete this course by boofing off of Stateline Falls  down into the finish eddy with the other race finishers.  A hearty congrats form race winner Chris Gragtmans really helped top of the day on the paddle to the take out too!


So after proving to myself that I could race the class IV rapids of the Watauga Gorge I decided it was time to start training to race the Lord of the Fork Race!  I got my first run on the Russell Fork Gorge in Oct 2010 with Mike Morrow Chris Clark & Joseph Obenschain at a 1,100 CFS release.  It was a great day and one I will not soon forget!  I spent the October Russell Fork releases’ of 2011 and 2012 learning the gorge and making sure I knew the lines well enough that I could paddle it solo in a race.  I also paddled the gorge run several times in different parts of the years exploring different low flow runs to really get a sense of the river and it geology.  By the time the 2013 October Russell Fork Season arrived I felt quite confident that I could complete the race scheduled at the end of the month!  I spent at least one day every weekend at the Russell Fork Gorge that month making sure I had lines dialed in and my confidence was 100% to race.

Race Day had come and it was time to paddle the Russell Fork Gorge Fast!  I was hoping to get my hands on one of the new Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited long boats to get a practice lap in and race, but fellow JK Team mates Dane Jackson and Clay Wright had already laid claim to the two protos we had on race day.  So I ended up racing my Lg Karma which was fine for me, because that is what I had been training in all month on practice runs.  The Karma is a perfect boat for the steep and pushy waters of the Russell Fork Gorge at release levels, so I knew I had a great boat to race!


I met up with Josh Register and Wade Harrison as my race buddies for the day and we took one last practice lap together to get good and pumped up.  After a quick snack lunch and a Monster we headed back up to the put-in at Garden Hole to register for the race!  When we got there and formed the line to register, I quickly discovered I was standing with the Who’s who of whitewater kayaking!  Dane Jackson, Clay Wright, Pat Keller, Chris Gragtmans, Andrew Holcomb, Eric Deguil, David Fusilli, Andrea Levknecht, Katrina Van Wijk, John Grace, Bryan Kirk, Jason Hale, Isaac Levinson and so many others big names of our sport were all there to sign up for this race.  Knowing I was going to compete with all these folks was intimidating, but yet exciting at the same time!


Dane Jackson’s Race Run in JK Karma Unlimited Proto:

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″][/youtube]


After we registered and received our race bibs Josh, Wade and I jumped in our kayaks to head on down to the race start area at Skunk Beach above Maze Rapid.  Josh, Wade and I all had high race bib #’s so that meant we were going to be waiting around for a long time for our race starts, so we made the best out of it and climbed up on some rocks to watch and cheer on several of the first racers start there runs through the Maze rapid into Triple Drop.  Each racer was released on their time trial run of the course in one minute intervals of each other.  The finish line was past a rock on river right below Climax Rapid.  So the race course was comprised of Maze, Triple Drop, SIB, El Horrendo, Walk the Plank, Foreplay and Climax Rapids.


Josh’s race time finally came, so Wade and I rallied beside him at the start on the river bank to give him some cheering encouragement as he tore out of the eddy into the current after his countdown to GO!  A few racers later I found myself lined up the eddy behind Laura Farrell and Rowan Stuart racing together as a team.  Rowan had only ran the Gorge one time in the morning before this race and Laura was kind enough to race with her to help her finish the race and provided safety for each other.  Rowan also set a record in racing in this event by being the first ever junior girl to be in the Lord of the Fork Race!


After Laura and Rowan launched for their race run together I found myself setting at the start line and feeling very confident to complete the task that was out in front of me for the next several minutes.  As I waiting poised to pull my first forward stroke out of the eddy I heard the race starter begin to count down for me 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GO and it was on with cheers from Wade behind me gearing up for his race run!!!


I paddled through Maze cleanly and being quite conservative at first, because I knew Triple Drop was the next rapid and most concerning for me in this race for several reasons.  As I exited the Maze Rapid and began to drop into the first drop of Triple Drop I noticed there was not one person anywhere around this rapid.  I quickly focused to make sure I hit my lines correct, because if I was to screw up here the consequences could be great with no help in sight.  I came through first drop perfectly and dropped into second drop.  I caught a surge coming out of the hole of second drop which sent me off into the eddy on river left above third drop.  I kept my boat driving straight and just sent my Karma off the left line of third drop to not waste any more time.  The line through the eddy cost me some time by getting out of the main flow at third drop, but I quickly got it back together and began to paddle harder to and through SIB.


Upon exiting the SIB rapid clean I paddled across the pool above El Horrendo toward the left race line of this famous rapid.  As I crested the top of the rapid for the first time in the race I could hear cheers!  A nice size crowd of spectators had amassed on river left of El Horrendo!  As I passed them coming down the rapid is was quite comforting to know that I had half the race behind me now and the crowd’s cheers gave me a new breath of life to paddle harder toward Walk the Plank!


As I came out of Walk the Plank on line I noticed Laura and Rowan a few hundred yards down below paddling into the entrance rapids of Foreplay.  As I raced into the top of Foreplay, which is one of the longer rapids on the Russell Fork Gorge, I noticed I was quickly closing in on Laura and Rowan.  By the time we got near the last couple of drops of Foreplay I had ran up on Rowan and Laura.  Laura was shouting out next moves to Rowan as we all three came into the last drop of Foreplay on the river right.  I had already made up my mind that I was going to race through the Box Move of Climax to complete my race and that was the plan for Laura and Rowan also.  I by no means had any intention to cause Rowan or Laura any problems by trying to pass them in these tight rapids toward the finish, so I just fell in behind Rowan to coach her from behind with Laura as we all three charged into the box move together with loud cheers from other racers around Climax who already finished their run.


Laura, Rowan and I all three came through the Box Move clean one right in front of the other and across the finish line with a great cheering crowd!   I quickly bumped into Rowan in the finish eddy to give her a congratulatory hug and we celebrated our successful finish of the race with high fives and big smiles!  I then found Josh below the finish line and gave him a big high five for a finished race!  Moments later Wade raced past the finish line from his run and we celebrated together!!


Josh, Wade and I paddled out to the take-out nice and slow to enjoy the remainder of the gorge scenery and to take in the great day we just had.  We were passed by many of the other racers who all gave us some nice congrats and encouraging words.  And as usual Chris Gragtmans, being the always gracious and kind gentleman, gave me a hearty congrats and fist pump which just topped of the day!


Big congrats to Eric Deguil and Katrina Van Wijk who walked away with the all the glory of the race.

2013 Lord of the Fork Race Final Results

Place Bib Name Group Time ±
1. 43 Eric Deguil 00:06:31.7 00:00:00.0
2. 17 Dane Jackson 00:06:35.3 00:00:03.6
3. 1 Geof Calhoun 00:06:39.4 00:00:07.7
4. 3 Andrew Holcombe 00:06:40.3 00:00:08.6
5. 45 Gerd Serrasolses 00:06:42.3 00:00:10.6
6. 42 Bryan Kirk 00:06:44.4 00:00:12.7
7. 39 Chris Gragtmans 00:06:45.4 00:00:13.7
8. 2 Isaac Levinson 00:06:48.2 00:00:16.5
9. 30 Pat Keller 00:06:49.4 00:00:17.7
10. 26 Stephen Mcgrady 00:06:53.8 00:00:22.1
11. 5 Jake Greenbaum 00:06:59.8 00:00:28.1
12. 10 Jess Albright 00:07:00.6 00:00:28.9
13. 4 Chris Stafford 00:07:01.6 00:00:29.9
14. 31 Kyle Hull 00:07:04.0 00:00:32.3
15. 16 John Grace 00:07:06.1 00:00:34.4
16. 40 Pablo Mccandless 00:07:06.2 00:00:34.5
17. 12 Katrina Van Wijk K-1 W 1st place 00:07:09.2 00:00:37.5
18. 19 Adriene Levknecht K-1 W 2nd place 00:07:10.8 00:00:39.1
19. 44 Adam Johnson 00:07:11.1 00:00:39.4
20. 11 Dave Fusilli 00:07:11.3 00:00:39.6
21. 41 Clay Wright 00:07:13.6 00:00:41.9
22. 28 Zach Fraysier 00:07:14.1 00:00:42.4
23. 7 Matt Anger 00:07:14.8 00:00:43.1
24. 32 Clay Warren 00:07:18.4 00:00:46.7
25. 15 Jason Hale 00:07:18.7 00:00:47.0
26. 23 Paul Stamilio 00:07:23.0 00:00:51.3
27. 25 Eric Stritmatter 00:07:23.2 00:00:51.5
28. 8 David Herman 00:07:23.3 00:00:51.6
29. 27 Cooper Salade 00:07:26.0 00:00:54.3
30. 18 Snowy Robertson 00:07:28.6 00:00:56.9
31. 14 Clay Lucas 00:07:31.8 00:01:00.1
32. 9 Ben Blake 00:07:32.7 00:01:01.0
33. 37 Mac Mcgee
00:07:33.0 00:01:01.3
34. 36 Ryan Mcavoy 00:07:33.1 00:01:01.4
35. 13 Ty Caldwell 00:07:38.4 00:01:06.7
36. 35 Eric Chance 00:07:42.0 00:01:10.3
37. 21 Phillip Ellis 00:07:46.9 00:01:15.2
38. 22 Robbie Gilson 00:07:51.5 00:01:19.8
39. 20 Keith Sprinkle Hand paddle 1st place 00:07:52.3 00:01:20.6
40. 46 Matt Gossett 00:07:59.0 00:01:27.3
41. 51 Wade Harrison 00:08:01.6 00:01:29.9
42. 54 Jesse Sammons 00:08:07.0 00:01:35.3
43. 33 David Thomas 00:08:14.0 00:01:42.3
44. 47 Bren Orton 00:08:26.5 00:01:54.8
45. 52 Topher Fonderhide 00:08:31.5 00:01:59.8
46. 29 Burton Greer 00:08:34.4 00:02:02.7
47. 50 Wesley Bradley 00:08:39.3 00:02:07.6
48. 55 Willy Witt 00:08:48.0 00:02:16.3
49. 38 Josh Register 00:08:50.8 00:02:19.1
50. 24 Emily Shanblatt K-1 W 3rd place 00:08:57.2 00:02:25.5
51. 53 Joseph Habenicht 00:09:00.3 00:02:28.6
52. 34 Erin Savage 00:09:11.8 00:02:40.1
T53. 48 Rowan Stuart 1st K-1 W Jr (ever) 00:09:36.4 00:03:04.7
T53. 49 Laura Farrell 00:09:36.4 00:03:04.7


Here is some info I pulled from the bib # results and for the 2013 Lord of the Fork Race

Men’s Short Boat Class

1st – Wade Harrison – 08:01.6

2nd – Jesse Sammons – 08:07.0

3rd – Topher Fonderhide – 08:31.5

4th – Wesley R. Bradley – 08:39.3

5th – Willy Witt – 08:48.0

6th – Joseph Habenicht – 09:00.3


Like I said before, there is no better feeling than completing a successful race!  Lord of the Fork Russell Fork Race was indeed a great time!  Big thanks to Josh and Wade for the support during the day!!  At the end of the day I was overwhelmingly filled with joy and this Bible verse popped in my head; 2 Timothy 4:7 – I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

With this successful Lord of the Fork Race done for me I have made 2 new racing goals!  #1 is to get me a new Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited to try to beat my Lord of the Fork race time I posted in 2013 (I think I got this one in the bag)!  #2 is to try and race in the 19th annual 2014 Green River Narrows Race!!  This goal comes with many of its own challenges and I have lots of training that needs to get done between now and the first Saturday in November to get my confidence where it needs to be to race in the greatest show in all or sports!  I must also face my first run of Gorilla and Go Left before the race!!!  I hope to see you on the GNAR on Saturday, November 1st sometime after high noon in my kayak going fast!