The Art of Losing

Losing.  How is losing supposed to feel?  When talking to my friend Barry we often speak of competing and the winning and losing that comes with it.  Can losing be OK?  With great suffering comes great and clear thinking.

 Chip and Terry paddling the St. George

Chip and Terry paddling the St. George

Last year, according to what has now become legend, Mark Ranco and Bill Anderson paddled the Baskahegan against legends Chip Loring and Terry Wescot.  Two distinct stories have been told regarding the always perilous journey across the lake.  Chip tells a tale of a faster boat making it to the lake critical minutes before the wind picked up.  The biggest waves ever seen in his storied paddling career he’d tell you.  Chip and Terry are some of the best paddlers in the state, but fate did not smile on them this day.  MaCKRO (Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization) veteran Eric Gallandt, a great paddler albeit in a very narrow and long boat, capsized almost immediately, which tells how bad the conditions were.  Chip and Terry fought an epic battle battling the waves and wind, but the bow dipping in oncoming waves became too much and their boat was swamped.  Mark and Bill tell a different tale.  They tell of canoe stewardship and amazing grace under the heaviest of fire, leading to their victory.  Chip has heard these two’s crap all year and every time he does, his teeth start grinding and the hairs on his neck stand up.  Chip Loring’s grit is truly stuff of legends.  Last Saturday before this years’ race at breakfast as Mark and I start jesting Chip at breakfast, the hairs on his neck stand up a full inch STRAIGHT towards the ceiling.  He smiled, but it was a wry smile of a man excited for battle.

Canoe racing isn’t much different than fighting, except you get to try your hardest without ever hurting somebody.  It’s ultimately a check of a person’s grit, with many races coming down to which person wants it more.  There was a strange energy in the air that morning.  A feeling in my gut of the power in the air.  It was a subtle feeling, but I just knew that I was going to lose that day.  The energy surrounding Chip was something bigger than myself. The great spirit was all around him.  We drove on 1A for nearly an hour before exiting to the dirt roads.  We bumped along those dirt roads as I contemplated paddling thirty four miles.  A daunting day especially when paddling against quality paddlers: Chip in the bow, Ander in seat two, Bob Hessler seat three, and Terry Wescot manning the stern.  Our teams were so evenly matched it was guaranteed shoulder burn.  We turned off the main dirt road and walked the last mile or so to the water behind the trailer with the boats.  Four boats filled with ten fools.  We packed the boats with water and tube systems for seamless drinking, a bit of food, paddles, and life jackets on our backs.

 Course map for the Baskahegan Stream Canoe Race.

The boats floated in place, a calm before the storm.  Dew hovered on the water, with the sun coming on strong.  At go our boat took a drafting position for the first few miles.  When you paddle very close behind another canoe the rear canoe benefits approximately twenty percent when in the sweet spot.  After riding the sweet spot for a bit we passed them and start charging off, Bill Anderson paddling hard in the front, taking the bow with me behind him, Tammy in seat three, and Ranco paddling the stern.   The trim of these big boats is very important. The boat we paddled was a Minnesota Four made by Wenonah, a light and sleek twenty three footer made from Kevlar. Rocks laid six inches treacherously below the waters surface which we investigated with our bow.  The water shielded the rocks from view while the sun burned so brightly overhead.  Bill proclaimed himself an excellent geologist as the boat grinded to a halt on rock number three.  A combination of rocking and paddling got us off the rock, and we had some of our fastest paddling then.  We steered the canoe off the wake and pulled out to pass our boat half way up their side with each charging hard ahead.  I’d like to note here that while paddling a few weeks ago with Terry in the Kenduskeag race he was in the back ruddering in EVERY picture!  🙂  

Terry had a nasty cough this spring that kept him from paddling as much as normal and he wasn’t in top form.  Terry paddled so hard it would be easy to suspect that Chip had threatened life and limb of every paddler, maybe the grinding of his teeth whipped them forward.  As the boats jockeyed for position a “sleeper” rock hit the left side of the boat, instantly capsizing it.  Happening so fast, no paddlers were able to hit a brace at all.  First to come out of the water was Chip with a face full of irritation impressive in its purity.  Next Terry’s head came out of the water with eyes bulging, and as he got his feet under him a smile quickly spread across his face.  Team Ranco waited for ten minutes while they got back in their boat and situated gear for a minute.  Both teams paddled hard, and going on to the lake team Ranco lead the charge.  The wind and waves were strong again this year and Terry started turning right immediately upon entering the lake.  We took a faster route because the waves were cutting forty five degrees to the left of the point we paddled for.  The lake is four and a half miles across and the waves picked substantially as we crossed.  Ninety percent of the trip was spent paddling on the left keeping the boat lined up with the waves to prevent us from capsizing.  Even though we had our bow pointed at or past the point we needed to go, the wind and current dragged us further from the point.  Mark Ranco gave a hundred percent on the blade fighting wind and the waves.  This may have been where the great spirit played his hand and we fought our hearts out to get back to the point.

 Chip, Ander, Terry, and Bob

Chip, Ander, Terry, and Bob

After the lake, our team couldn’t get the boat going again.  The boat needed to be lighter in the front, and in open water I went low and Tammy crawled over me in the tippy boat.  We fumbled with the tubes that connected our drinking waters and mouths.  After disconnecting my drinking tube it dropped to a lower point, and the container promptly drained all my water into the boat, not the best place.  Tammy needed her seat cushion because of past experiences with butt blisters and has decided she doesn’t like them.  We finally got going, but our team had expended too much power on the lake and we never achieved the speed needed to catch our opponents.  Things went smoothly for both teams on the portage. Our team saw them on some of the straight stretches a few more times, but we never again gained distance on them.

Losing this day was different.  No burning in my belly, no anger, just happiness for my friend.  We all paddled as hard as possible, and this win was anything but a gift of any kind. It just felt in my stomach that sometimes you’re part of a bigger picture.  Sometimes losing is what you need, but maybe sometimes people need to win.  Maybe we need the humility to accept being the cog gear bigger than ourselves.  Possibly the lesson could be don’t piss off Chip Loring.