By Diana Matthews email@example.com
“It’s a year of rebuilding for many,” Take The Lake organizers say, in an epic understatement. It’s also the year for the undecided TTL watcher to become a first-time TTL participant.
For 2019 the Take The Lake committee has taken on Part One of a three-year rebuilding project.
They did it to accommodate the reality that many Lake Waccamaw people and institutions are still facing a long road of recovery from Hurricane Florence. It takes a lot of hard work by dozens of public health and safety officers, town officials, volunteers and Lake Waccamaw State Park rangers, to pull off a full-scale TTL.
“They were there for Lake Waccamaw” in the harrowing aftermath of Hurricane Florence, my friend and magazine editor Stuart Rogers said to me the other day. Now that she is head of the TTL committee, Stuart could not ask those same people to make the level of sacrifice and effort they have on past Labor Day weekends.
That’s why she and her fellow committee members have streamlined their approach: they are holding shorter events and also hiring an outside race coordinator to handle registration and recordkeeping.
The shorter events appealed to me, as I am also in a building mode. So, look out, Lake Waccamaw, here I come: 2019 will be my first year to join the TTL kayak event.
In my once- or twice weekly training outings, I’m up to about three miles, which takes me over an hour in my little, non-speedy beginner’s kayak.
Up till now the TTL Paddle event has been the province of people stronger than I am, who were willing to be on the water for four to six hours, enduring sun, dehydration, fatigue, hideous cramps and whatever weather came their way.
(And a whole lot of weather can come your way on Lake Waccamaw in one afternoon.)
In 2017 I interviewed the amazing Chet Sechrest after his fourth TTL X-Treme. He recommended Gatorade, energy gel packs, sunscreen, a long-sleeved coolshirt, hat and gloves. This year we kayakers, including the super-capable ones like Sechrest and just ordinary folks like me, will cover six miles one way. The TTL committee has figured out logistics for us to get back to our starting place and pack up our crafts at the end.
When it comes to paddling skills, I am trusting what my instructor friend Fish told me in one kayak lesson two years ago. “Slow is steady, and steady is fast.”
Fish taught me to hold the paddle correctly and use one arm to push while pulling with the other and winding my body first one way then the other to create spring power from my core muscles.
Prior to that one lesson, I didn’t have anything you could call “technique.” I still am no expert, but I think I’m developing a little muscle memory each time I paddle on Lake Waccamaw.
“I can do this,” I tell myself, “even if I’m not the fastest. I know I can do the distance if I build up to it. Besides, just being on the water is a good thing.”
Every time I go paddling, I see something I wouldn’t have seen on foot or in a car. You can see turtles, ducks, schools of fast moving little fishies, and the even faster birds that eat those fishies as you push-pull your way along.
On one of my first outings, I was sitting quietly in a patch of grass near the dam when a great blue heron dove past me and caught a large fish in its talons. I watched it climb back up into the blue sky carrying the weight of its wriggling, dripping dinner.
Sometimes Wow is the only word.
My new goal is to paddle to the sandbar at the outlet of Big Creek and back.
I’ve been on Lake Waccamaw when the surface of the water was still and when it was choppy, with and without rain. I’ve known it to turn from one condition to the other in a hurry, just when I was approaching my turnaround point, so that I had to race the weather back. Sometimes, when the wind turns against me, it feels exactly like I’m paddling uphill.
Whatever conditions I run into — including some that make me reconsider my outing — I tell myself, “It could be raining (or blowing or choppy or hot and muggy) on Labor Day, so I’d better practice and get used to it.”
Saturday I paddled out of a rain shower into a clear area, but with mist ahead; as the sun shone from behind my right shoulder I saw a partial rainbow seeming to beckon me onward.
If you decide in favor of trying one of the weekend’s four challenges for the first time, I wish you well, and I look forward to seeing you there.
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