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After a tough year I, like so many others, needed a distraction and something to look forward to. Along emerges an idea to put together an informal (and free) whitewater race on the popular after-work “Middle Middle” section of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River for folks residing in the Greater Seattle area. Learning to paddle in the southeast USA, I was exposed to many races including the Green Race, Millrace Massacre and Iceman Championships, the Ocoee Race, and many others. Since moving to the Seattle area, racing didn’t seem quite as popular. While there are races like the Little White Race and Northwest Creeking Competition in Washington and the North Fork Championship in Idaho, there seemed to be a need for a grassroots racing event in the Greater Seattle area. Also, there just weren’t enough long boats on the rivers!

After a simple Facebook post to generate interest, the event got bigger and bigger. 60 racers signed up, volunteers offered their time, and the paddling community rallied around this weekday event. We all needed this and it showed. Long boats and creek boats were loaded onto roof racks and the river filled with paddlers zigging and zagging to find the fastest lines possible during a week worth of practice runs. I dusted off my Jackson Kayak Karma RG and felt that long boat magic again! There is nothing quite like the feeling of sending a big boof in a long boat (if you know, you know). Paddling race lines made a regularly paddled run feel brand new. Especially when you consider tight lines through a pile of rocks in a long boat, which certainly spices things up a bit.

The race course traveled from the run-out of A-Frame rapid through House Rocks rapid. It involved flat water, swirly eddies, and technical rapids that we were all VERY familiar with, as the Middle Middle is a regular after-work paddling option. Even though I was familiar with the rapids, it was different when trying to maintain downstream momentum. During practice laps, I found myself spinning out after catching too much of an eddy line, getting slowed by holes that were a bit more difficult to thread in a long boat, and simply not having the same fitness level as I had pre-pandemic. The final three rapids are fairly continuous (especially in a long boat), involving dodging a few holes, bouncing through waves coming at several different angles, and then the biggest rapid right before the finish line. It was an amazing race course for class III-IV whitewater paddlers!

On race day, the event organizers hosted a masterfully facilitated race. A clearly defined race course, coordinated safety, timers at the start line and finish line, photographers, baked goods, and coordinating a different takeout to limit our impact on local neighborhoods. I felt safe and ready to have fun! For most racers, the race lasted 10-15 minutes. There were laughs and smiles, and no carnage. As racers finished, the crowd at the finish became such an exciting place to be! As racers approached the finish line, we cheered them on. This positive energy felt so refreshing after such a tough year. It was like we were all healing each other through this event. Everyone stayed at the finish line until the final person (one of the race organizers) crossed the finish. We embraced his contribution to paddling community with a loud cheer, as he gasped for breath from a 2nd place finish. A paddler in a wave hopper even showed up to the race, eventually being crowned champion.

The award ceremony and after-party was a wonderful experience. I talked with friends that I had not connected with in a LONG time. We caught up, shared our struggles, and reflected on our appreciation for the race. Oh yeah, and we consumed delicious baked cookies! I was fortunate to tie for the 6th fastest time in my Karma RG. The champions of the evening belonged to the winners of each division, the fastest time, and the middle of the middle-middle (an event-specific accolade), belonging to the paddler earning the most median time.

I am thankful for the PNW paddling community, the Greater Seattle area paddling community, and the race organizers of the 1st Middle Fork Championship. I look forward to participating in the next race, hopefully in the Karma RG.