31 Mar 2014

Inflatable SUP Fun

By Peter Kosinski

Spring time means longer days and more time on the water. The waves were on the small side for my surf sup so I took the Starboard 12,6 touring for long cruising rides on my local beach break.

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27 Mar 2014

The Great Glen Paddle

By Jo Hamilton-Vale

Last year I was introduced to a new endurance race, The Great Glen Paddle. This paddle travels coast to coast in the Highlands of Scotland, along the Caledonian Canal and across the legendary Loch Ness. Therefore, the challenge is not only the endurance distance of the race (93km) but also the inclement weather. The race covers 21.5km of canals, 61.5km of open water and 10km of river.

Winter training did not go to plan due to the constant storms in the UK, very little chance of any distance training. No time to worry about that, best just go and get it done.

As we arrived in the Highlands on Friday afternoon we were greeted by extremely heavy snow. That is when I realised the weather in this challenge could be the big killer. On the drive to the start of the race Mark Slater, Adam Chubbock and myself found ourselves performing a strange pre-paddle warm-up – we were pushing a van, fully loaded up a snow and ice covered hill as we could gain no traction on the snow. If we did not get this van to the top of the hill we were never going to get to the race start. Huge thanks to Simon Helmsley, who was part of my much needed support crew for helping push that van up the hill and get us to the start line. 

At 2am, with safety checks and board checks completed by the organisers, it was time to hit the water. The first 11km was on the canal, so perfect flat water and low wind conditions, good fast paddling and surprisingly mild. Then came the first portage and it was a killer, climbing up a steep snow covered hill carrying my board and paddle, then a 500m walk to the drop in point. Back in the water and I was ready to hit the first Loch. I had not anticipated being so scared, I found myself paddling completely on my own with extremely limited visibility due to mist and heavy snow. I had no idea if I was going in the right direction or if I was paddling along the correct shoreline.  My only choice was to keep paddling and wait for daylight. At 5.45am I passed a checkpoint at the end of the Loch, I was certainly happy to see that checkpoint as it meant I was still on track.

At 6am it was time for the second stop and portage, yet another killer of a portage, 500m long and a K15 to carry. Food and fresh hydration on board and I was ready for another stint on a canal, perfect break from the open water of the Loch. This stretch of the paddle was extremely enjoyable I had met up with my friend, John Siggs, and we paddled together. Paddling a distance is so much more enjoyable when you have company. The next portage was at 48km and the half way point, this portage was 750m long. At this portage I needed to rest for a while as I was just about to enter Loch Ness and I had a feeling it would be tough, I actually had no comprehension of just how tough. After 20 minutes break it was time to head out onto Loch Ness, I left smiling, well that smile was going to be wiped off my face very quickly!!!

Loch Ness is 38km in length and we paddled the whole distance, wind was high gusting 35knots but in a favourable direction. The first 10km was enjoyable but tough, I chose to paddle a flat water board and in these conditions it was clear I had made a huge error on board choice. I had chosen one rest point along Loch Ness and I could not get to it quick enough. 18km into the Loch Ness distance I was needing that break. I was horrified to see the stop was actually on a rocky bank with a climb up a rock face to get to the toilet and the van for food and shelter from the weather. I had to jump into the water up to waist height to enable me to guide the board in over the rocks, thankfully On-line Extreme Wear provided me with an amazing dry suit so no problem with putting myself in the water. The rock face was horrific in neoprene boots but if I wanted hydration and food then I had no other option. 

Pit-stop over and back to the Loch with another 20km to go and the wind was not letting up, swell was waist height and the Loch seemed to be never ending. As there were no other points for me to rest on the Loch it started playing with my mind that I was just about to start the worst leg of the paddle. This was now survival of the fittest, my legs were burning by the constant movement on my board to keep me standing and out of the water. 8km before the end of the Loch my husband was standing on the shore to check I was ok, at this point if I could have gotten off the water, I would have, I was broken and my mental strength was at a serious low. Loch Ness was destroying me. 

As the end of the Loch was getting closer my spirits started lifting and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Only a 1km cross wind paddle to do at the end of the Loch and I would be back onto flat water. 

Once back on the river and one more stop to go, I knew I would need a 15 minute break at this one. I was so hungry and now felt ready to eat, the challenge of the last 38km had taken it out of me and I needed to re-address and finish strong. At this stop I had a huge smile on my face and was feeling great. Loch Ness had not beaten me!!

Back on the water and 500m from the finish line it was time to end this race like I would finish every race, get a sprint on. I saw my husband, Pete Vale, on the river bank and I have never needed a hug so much in all my life. I just wanted to be off the board.

Back on dry land, Great Glen Paddle done. Overall time 13hrs 37 minutes, 70 minutes of this this time was rest stops and portages. So paddle time 12 hours 27 minutes to complete 93km. I was DONE. 

Huge thanks to Black Project Fins, On-Line Extreme Wear, Starboard UK and ZRE paddles for supplying me with great kit, which saw me through this huge challenge. 

Time to find the next one.

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27 Mar 2014

Great Glen Paddle 2014

By Crispin Jones

Paddling coast to coast, 57 miles from Fort William to Inverness.

With 5 months to spare I figured I would have plenty of time to prepare for my next big challenge, The Great Glen Paddle 2014. After spending 3 months in Florida and most of my paddle time falling into the SUP surfing category I decided that I should try and concentrate on increasing my strength and overall fitness while there was a gym onsite. Apon returning to the UK the weather conspired against me for quite some time and made any form of SUP training very difficult. The only bright side was that surf was rolling in week by week. I decided to kick start my old swimming routine and knock out 3km swim each morning. Time soon ticked on and the GGP was starting to loom. Just after my birthday I also tried to be fairly strict on my diet and reduce fats and sugars. Before I knew it the event was just a few days away and it all started feeling very real.
 
Kit for the GGP was always going to be a very important part of the challenge, but it wasn’t until I started to get everything into one place that I realised just how much was needed. Scotland being renowned for its harsh and ever changing climate meant that a large amount of clothing was required: Dry suit, Thermals, Boots, Hats and Hydration packs etc. It seemed there was enough gear to be going for an entire week not just the 1 day’s paddle.
 
I ended up making travel arrangements with fellow 11 cities paddler John Siggs, although it meant spending 5 hours traveling east instead of north it meant I could relax more prior and also have some company for the long journey. Also as an added bonus I was cooked my favourite meal, Gammon, peas, spuds and plenty of parsley sauce, RESULT! Thanks Sarah. We left the south coast at 5am for the mammoth journey, the weather lulling us into a false sense of security, bright sunshine most of the way until we got near the Scottish boarder.
 
The scenery in Scotland really helped make the event very special and unique and gave the impression that you really were just a spec amongst the land. We had planned to stay at a bed and breakfast near the start line in Fort William to reduce the amount of traveling and lack of sleep before setting off.  Even though we arrived around 4pm everything took a lot longer than expected.
 
 
 
The first form of panic happened while trying to register, as the rest of the SUPers were staying at the other end of the course and planning to register and get kit check around 1am, as stated being ok in the leaflets sent out a few weeks before the event, when we were told if they were not there by 9pm for kit check they wouldn’t be able to race, things got a little worrying, thankfully we got all the major details sorted and everything was back on track as some of the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen settled and covered the ground very quickly, it would be a very cold start to the race which was now just a few hours away. By the time we had finished with registration, kit check and boards ready for the morning and grabbed some dinner it was about 10pm and still some final last minute prep for the morning was done, it was clear our plan to get plenty of sleep by being at the start line had backfired slightly. John, Sally and I headed down the starting area after a quick hour kip, the others arrived by about 1:20 and busied themselves prepping boards and getting their kits checked.
 
My plan was to be paddling with Scott Warren, we have a similar pace and had been training together in the weeks leading up to the event and we left a cold and dark Fort William at 02:24.
 
As we set off we tried to set a good pace but not race pace, it was going to be a long old day spent on the board and didn’t want to burn out to quickly. The snow lining the banks of the Caledonian Canal meant we could fairly easily see both sides of the canal. Before long we started over taking a few kayaks and were feeling pretty confident in how well it had started. Around 3 miles in and Rob Stewart came cruising passed on his K-15, we weren’t too bothered as we knew it would boil down to well managed stops and a good average pace not top speeds. By 6 miles in we encountered the first of many hurdles the Great glen would throw at us. A 15-20ft bank covered in snow, it was extremely difficult to claw your way up the bank, and even as we approached we saw a canoeist slipping back down the bank. I managed to get to about 80% the way up the bank using the paddle as crutch to stop me slipping back; I threw the board up over the ledge but started to feel myself slipping. I managed to sprawl out and hold my ground. I recomposed myself and threw myself up the last little section, as I was doing this I saw my board slipping back down the bank; I managed to grab hold of the wave breaker but dislodged my GPS in doing so.
 I made my way along the portage while Scott sorted out his dry bag, required because he didn’t have a dry suit. At the water’s edge I sorted out my GPS and adjusted my PFD which had unravelled, I then noticed Rob had just pulled off to start Loch Locky. I spoke to Sally while waiting for Scott, hoping she was having a better time of things than I was with my equipment seemingly trying to self-destruct. It turned out that both hers and Ali and marks van had both picked up punctures and there was a bit of panic happening behind the scenes in the support camp. Unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do but crack on and hope they could get everything sorted before we got to our next check point at the end of Loch Locky.
 
As the loch opened up we both commented how hot we had become except from our hands which had got very wet and cold with the snow from the bank. We headed out straight for a short way before turning towards the south shore to avoid the fish farm. About 1 mile in we started to hear sounds of someone approaching but couldn’t actually see anyone when we turned round, Mark Slater pulled up alongside from out of the darkness and we matched his pace while we had a chat. Before long it was clear our pace wasn’t good enough for him and as quickly as he appeared he was gone and out of sight within the snow. We could see in the distance it getting darker and darker and knew a heavy snow storm was coming our way, it was becoming more and more difficult to see the southern tree line and it felt as though the chances of getting disoriented were increasing. Out in the darkness we heard someone shout “I’m drowning” we rushed over and then the voice shouted “I’ve gone aground, its shallow” Mark had hit a land spit, which was far off away from the tree line, he must have shouted “I’m grounding” however we were grateful for the heads up and everything was ok and so carried on although much further out to the left.
 
Before long Mark caught up and joined us and decided to hold our speed. By now it was very difficult to see anything even with torches as the snow hammered our faces and the temperature was being a real issue, I had been sweeting since the first 7-8 miles and now the sweet on my thermals was ice cold inside my dry suit. A tail wind started to pick up and you could feel a slight swell pushing the back of the board around but all in the right direction. I can’t say I had really noticed but the pace had increased quite a bit and I turned round to realise it was just myself and Mark surging along the loch. The swell kept pushing my board one way and then the other, unable to see anything around us we were relying purely on feel to stop taking a dip in the icy loch. We both agreed it would have been much more fun just to be able to see what the swell was doing to make adjustments. The wind and swell continued to build but thankfully the worse of the snow had blown through and some level of vision had returned. At the checkpoint on loch Locky the first of the morning light started to creep through and it was just about possible to work out how to balance in the pushing swell. By the time we reached Laggan (16 miles in) it was fairly light but still very early. I pulled up to the pontoon mere seconds ahead of mark and couldn’t see Scott in the distance, I did feel bad for leaving my paddling partner but I was concerned Rob hadn’t been seen. As I got off my board my legs gave way and I spasmed with cramp, Mark manoeuvred in front of me and started to head out of sight. I finally got my board and headed for the bags, I hadn’t got far before my forearms cramped up and I had to drop my board. It was a very long 250m portage and took many stops in between horrid forearm cramps. My hands were once again icy cold and wet from the snow covering the pontoon, it was a challenge just to open the bag and try and peel a banana, and thankfully Sally was on hand to help out. After a quick bite to eat, a swig of some liquid food and a quick change of a preloaded hydration pack I carried on with the board down to the next pontoon. 
 
Being back on the canals was a giant relief and although I couldn’t even hold my paddle properly to get going I was trying to pool my mental strength and try not to focus on the lack of speed or the shooting pain in my hands and sheer numbness in my feet. After only a short while the canal opened up into loch Oich. Although there was a light rain setting in it was a bright and wonderful morning and I took in the scenery while paddling through, thankfully at a better pace now my hands seemed to be regaining some feeling. As I paddled down the loch I was unable to see any other stand up’s and I tried to focus on a few canoe’s that I could see in the distance using them as a short term goal to aim towards to try and break up the course into small chunks rather than viewing it as 1 long chunk to slog through. I knuckled down and tried to keep up a good pace of +5mph, there was only a slight tail wind at this point, enough to help maintain a good average speed but not enough to affect the water state to much so it was fairly calm. It seemed to me that the levels in the loch were fairly high and that possibly the banks had been flooded as many trees were underwater so I tried to stick near the channel markers as best as possible to avoid any unwanted surprises.
 
At the end of Oich I hit the first of 3 portages within a fairly short distance, my aim was to clear these 3 and take a further rest/food stop at Fort Augustus. As I got to the end of the first portage I saw both Mark and Rob with their bags out and taking on supplies and refuelling, I had managed to sort out a better method of taking the board out of the water at the pontoons by this point and at least the leg cramps had stopped and I limited the water/ice on my hands, I walked past them both and as I was launching I saw them hurrying up to get back on the water, knowing they were going to be hot on my heels I really pushed myself to stay at the front of the pack and force them to work hard, knowing I just had another 5 miles before I was due to have a breather. 2 canoeists were just up the canal in front and I tried to push for them to keep me focused forward and not thing too much about what was happening behind me. I managed another good portage and managed to catch sight of Mark and Rob as I got the board out and knew I still had a slight lead on them, moral wise this was a great boost, I hadn’t planned on being in such a strong position and it really helped spur me on through the pain.
 
Another few miles passed I had arrived at Fort Augustus about 27 miles into the total journey, thinking to myself well that’s 1 day of 11 cities done and I still feel ok. Mark arrived at the pontoon around 20 seconds later and Rob no more than 20 seconds after that. I started making my way down to the far end of one of the longest portages in the race, 750m, it took a few stops for a quick breather as my arms were really struggling with the weight of the board, as much as I love my C14 she is a heavy old gal. To my horror Mark was jogging down the length of the portage and was launching to start his section of the mighty Loch Ness.
 
As he had taken a stop a few miles back he was refreshed and ready to start counting down the miles left to go. This completely changed my initial plans, I was going to spend about 30 minutes restocking and recovering solely with the intention of just finishing the race for what it is a massive challenge, but pulling in at this stage in first place I knew it was now a completely different event, I didn’t want to throw away the lead so I decided to take as much of my energy bars and gels with me as possible, take an extra 2litre drinks bladder on my board and just try to do Nessie in 1 hit, taking on food and drink while the wind pushed me along so I could be at least moving in the right direction instead of being stuck on the land. I had a big gulp of liquid food and set off, despite not taking as long as I had expected to take, still plenty of time had passed since both Mark and Rob had set off and I knew I had a lot of work to do to catch up.
 
As I entered Nessie I was feeling confident but I’d be lying if I said I felt ok, my body was run down, fatigued and running on pure adrenaline, lack of sleep was also playing its part on how I was feeling but I was determined and felt nothing could stop me from finishing. About 1 mile from Fort Augustus the loch opened up and I felt the first of the tail winds behind me, the surface water also had a good swell on it and I was able to catch a few glides and let my board do the main grunt of the work for me, before long then wind had ramped up and so had the waves, I was actually really enjoying myself now and it felt more like having a play in the surf than anything else. Mentally this was such a lift, from going from run down and just cracking on with it I felt a smile come across my face and all the pain had subsided as I flew down the might Nessie at around 7mph. Unfortunately my luck wasn’t to last the gusting winds picked up and so did the waves, they were close together and pushing in different directions, although I had cleared a good 6 maybe 7 miles of Ness already there was still an awful long way to go and still no sight of the other 2 stand ups I was chasing. My board started filling with water in the troughs and throwing my direction from side to side. Id lean on the rails to try and keep from failing in but would just take on more water and my speed was surging from 6mph down to 2mph and becoming a real challenge.
 
Before long my hydration bladder in the board was sloshing about and before I knew it, it had been washed off the back of the board. I was in real trouble I had only 1.5 litres in my current pack at the start of the loch and didn’t dare think about how much was left in it currently. I had passed check point 2 and only moments before Rob had pulled out, no doubt seeing me coming a ways off in my bright yellow dry suit. I was unsure what to do about water as I had planned to stop there at check point 2 in my rough plan the support crew had got, hoping they would just move down to the next check point I cracked on with the new task of catching Rob, He was on a K15 and was struggling and had opted to kneel down, I figured I’d have the advantage being stood up that id catch more windage but for the life of me I couldn’t close the gap as my board would keep filling with water and slowing me right down. I do remember thinking, ‘bastard, stand up, I’m on essentially the same board and yes it’s bloody difficult but I’m having to do it why can’t you’, but I really don’t blame him, it was really starting to get quite dangerous and it was so remote it wouldn’t take a lot to get into real trouble, I slowly managed to catch some good glides and moved passed him for about 10 minutes, then from behind me for a good 30 seconds or so I heard this noise, it got louder and louder till whoosh, he passed me on an absolutely amazing glide and I was back at square one trying to catch him back up.
 
Another few miles went by and I couldn’t help but feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the mountains either side of me and the expanse of water we were on, we truly were ants in comparison taking on nature in all its forms. Every time my board turned with water lapping over my board I had to brace with my paddle and lean one way or another, causing my body to go in spasms of cramp down my back, legs, arms and fingers. Gritting my teeth and refusing to give up I saw a welcome sight in the distance Urquhart Castle, the location of check point 3, infused with a new sense of purpose to be able to get some more water and have some more liquid food I pushed on, but just because I could see it didn’t mean it wasn’t a long way away, it seemed to take an age to finally reach, with each minute causing more and more pain. I rounded the castle and shouted my number to the volunteer stood on the ramparts, tucking in round the headland and getting out of the worst of the swell and wind, finally some form of respite from the constant battle, it was only 30 seconds or so after I passed I heard Rob shout his number so I knew he wasn’t far behind still. I clawed my way round the corner in search of the location that the support crew could be waiting at. Rob caught up and we both had a little chat, the area was around 1 mile of the beaten track though and I did feel a little hard done by that I wasn’t heading in the right direction but water was so very badly needed. As the feather flags came in sight I felt relief followed very shortly after by despair, no one was there, no volunteers, no support crew, vans, bags nothing. My heart sunk and I had very little option but to swing the board round and head back into the wind and swell and try and keep going.
 
 I judged I had little more than 4/5 mouthfuls of drink left by this point and I had used up most of my gels, I tried to eat an energy bar but it just left my mouth feeling dry and dehydrated, after a few bites I gave up on that idea, and decided to just put the paddle in and kept going. At this point my mind was playing tricks on me and my body was failing apart, I remember thinking for about an hour or so, just quit, there no shame in quitting you’ve done brilliantly but this is getting seriously dangerous. There seemed no end in sight and I was completely alone, just me, my mind and the cold harsh environment. By 73km into the total distance I just couldn’t stand any longer on the board when it filled with water, I braced, cramped and fell. As soon as I hit the water my legs locked up and I was in agony in the water just holding onto my board unable to move. I honestly thought that it was game over as far as the race was concerned and just waited till my legs had stopped cramping and tried to climb back on board. I got back up and just lay there for a few moments trying to stretch out and just decide what I was going to do. Then it hit me, I haven’t seen Mark, I knew he was going to stop again at around 40 miles in and have another break, maybe I had passed him and just hadn’t noticed him while concentrating on the conditions. I mustered everything I had left and stood up and got going, suffering from what I like to call Bamby legs for the first few minutes. Damned if I’m giving up if I could be in first place, just keep paddling, just keep paddling. Just keep paddling. At the 76km stage my legs gave way again and once again I found myself in the ice cold waters of Loch Ness, strangely it was rather refreshing and I did contemplate just drinking the loch water but figured maybe it was like the don’t drink sea water when dehydrated at sea. Got back up on the board, stretched my back out and got back up, an amount of time passed as for how long I have no idea by this point and I saw van and volunteers at the final check point on Nessy, with a new found vigour I paddled to the shore line praying someone had some water, the waves were breaking in on the shore line and there were rocks everywhere, as I got close enough I pleaded for a drink and luckily one kind women waded in and gave me a half filled bottle, as I leant forward to grab it my board got caught by the waves, it slammed against some rocks and a tree and made me slip on the rocks under foot.
 As I pulled my board away from the rocks I noticed my GPS had been ripped out from its location just inside the wave breaker, I franticly looked for it amongst the breaking waves and tried to fend my board off the rocks, unfortunately my GPS was orange and so were the colour of the rocks in the water, in all the action of this happening I had squeezed the water bottle and lost most of the water, I finished what was remaining and had no choice but to solider on. I kept to the north shore as instructed in the brief and tried to work out where the end of the loch actually was, it was hard to concentrate but I thought I saw the exit on the northern corner, I paddled towards it and as I got closer I found out it was just a boat, I then realised I needed to be on the south shore and I had to cross the loch with side on swell and a force 5 blowing side on, to top it off on a board that doesn’t do well with cross wind and just tired limbs, I clawed my way across pleading for help, I don’t know who I expected to hear or help me but it just seemed like the only thing I could do. Once I hit the exit of the loch the water was flowing fast towards the weir and run off for the river, the wind on my back and my legs able to rest, despite feeling near to broken and with nothing left I just kept going, astonished with my own ability to not throw it all in. another mile or so passed and I could see the very last portage, I glanced back behind me and I saw a paddle boarder dressed in dark colours, I was sure this was mark so I pushed on with new found strength. As I approached the pontoon I was shouting at Ali to grab some liquid food. I just wanted to drink as much as possible and get moving for the last 5.5 miles. I told Ali I couldn’t stop as mark was almost catching me, “Mark?? He passed through hear about 50 minutes ago”. My heart sank, it was the only thing keeping me going and suddenly all forms of energy I had left faded, I decided I’d have some chocolate and just plod on for the last few miles and then have a much needed cup of tea. As I set off I kept glancing back to see how much time I had on, I was guessing at this point Rob, I then gave myself a stern talking too, 2nd place would be a fantastic achievement, heck FINISHING would be a fantastic achievement, pull your finger out and go hard or go home. This seemed to do the trick and although I had no idea of my speed with my GPS now gone as soon as I felt myself dropping off in speed I upped it straight away, everything was aching beyond belief but I couldn’t give up now, around every turn I was praying to see the low bridge we had all be warned about prior to coming up to the event, the 1 mile to go bridge, this corner. Nope, next corner nope, but as I kept knocking off corner by corner I suddenly noticed more and more people out for a run on the banks along the canal, figuring most people wouldn’t be headed to far from Inverness I knew I couldn’t be far off now. And then there it was the low bridge, as I approached I tried to gauge whether or not I had even clearance and there was plenty, I stormed towards it and ducked down, prone paddling out the other side, stood back up and gave absolutely everything possible left in the tank, as I rounded the last corner and saw the feather flags flapping in the wind I knew I had done it, just a few hundred metres and I was there, having completed my biggest and toughest challenge yet, Coast to Coast, 57 miles, in 12 hours, 28minutes and 58 seconds.
As I pulled alongside the pontoon I fell off and collapsed in a heap. In a state of shock and suffering from fatigue, cold and sheer exhaustion I slowly made my way towards to tent with tea. Thanking everyone who had helped me along the way and of course congratulating Mark Slater who had absolutely smashed the course in a stunning time and well and truly deserved the victory. The next few hours were a bit of a blur in all honesty, I know it took me about an hour and a half to finally get changed into some dry clothes and I was seizing up every time I moved.
 
I’m at completely stoked with my achievement, and so proud of everyone who completed it and helped out, as much as I love Stand up Paddle boarding this was by no means fun but at the same time I am so glad I’ve done it. Would I do it again? Unlikely, but would I have done it differently, you betcha, hindsight is a wonderful thing and yes I would have used a different board more suited for the conditions on Loch Ness, different gloves etc. and had my GPS encased in an air tight case bolted to the board but these things happen, you learn from them and move on, they make you stronger and a better paddler and I believe mentally stronger as a person also.
 
I’d like to thank firstly, yourselves as the reader for getting this far and joining me on my adventures and hopefully you will have gained an insight into the race or maybe picked up some tips for when you give it a shot yourselves, or simply just enjoyed the ride. Starboard and Tushingham for their continued support and advice, On-Line for an excellent dry suit, All the support crews that kept us crazies going on the water, Ali, Mark, Sally, Simon, Pete and Nick. All the organisers of the event for allowing SUP to be part of the race this year. And also a big thankful to all the Siggs family for putting up with me for near enough a week. Until my next race in April, Head of the Dart, Mahalo.
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