By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
From the ‘Untold (until now) Stories’ Folder of the Camp Gray Blog.
Early Saturday mornings are often a quiet time during Summer Camp at Camp Gray. Rarely is the early morning dew that settles on Camp’s Athletic Field seen other than by the squirrels, deer, and other wildlife that roam the woods at Camp Gray.
However, on this particular Saturday, a gaggle of Camp Gray staffers had piled into Camp’s trusty Suburban for an early morning departure. As the crew drove past the Athletic Field, the dew sparkled as if to wish those inside luck in whatever early morning endeavor they were embarking upon.
There were eight of us crammed into that eight-seat Suburban, and the endeavor embarked upon that morning was a journey to the city of Madison. This wasn’t just a leisurely trip to our state’s capital. Nay, this was a leisurely trip to Madison for the opportunity to run past our state’s capital, with a 60-80 lb. canoe atop our heads.
Each summer, for 34 years running, the city of Madison has played host to an event called “Paddle & Portage.” Prior and after running across the isthmus of Madison and past the capital, participants paddle their canoes first across Lake Mendota and later across Lake Monona, finishing at Madison’s Olin Park. Hundreds and hundreds of people from all across the country descend on Madison for the annual race. 14 of those hundreds and hundreds for this year’s race came from the Camp we call Gray.
Six of our 14 had traveled to Madison the night before in an effort to get acclimated with the altitude of Madison, so as to better perform the following morning. Or perhaps the Friday night Madison arrival was done in order to avoid an early morning departure from Camp. Regardless, there were 14 participants from the Gray. With two people per canoe, there were seven teams striving for Paddle & Portage supremacy and lore, which begins and ends with getting ones picture in the following day’s newspaper.
Trailing the Suburban on that early morning drive was a large canoe trailer packed with 6 canoes. The Suburban wanted to get in on the portaging fun, as well, so the seventh boat was resting on the roof, preparing itself for the land portion of the race.
The drive down to Madison that morning was filled with nervous laughter. Those in the vehicle were encountering a wave of emotions – not unlike the waves of Lake Monona that nearly toppled the boat with Tigger and Pooh. There are loads of unknowns when competing for the first time in a race such as the Paddle & Portage. Three years prior, Jeff and I had competed for the first and only time in the P&P as “Team Over Yonder” to varying levels of success. The others in our group were rookies.
Once we arrived at James Madison Park, we met up with our now altitude-acclimated friends, and we swiftly unloaded the boats from the trailer. Because there are so many participants in the race, and because the sandy beach starting line of Lake Mendota only has a finite amount of boat-launching space, teams are split into various starting waves. We each found our wave groups, and then we waited. The scene at James Madison Park is chaotic, with canoes and people as far as the eye can see.
As the preceding waves are released, groups begin moving closer and closer to the start, preparing themselves for the start. The closer and closer one gets to the start, the quicker and quicker ones pulse becomes. Once your wave group is called, teams quickly move toward the beach and place their boats into the water and then themselves into the boats. Though there is chaos all around, a calm comes over a racer as he or she sits in their boat, awaiting the shot to kick off his or her group.
Once that shot is fired, the next 45 to 75 minutes becomes a tumultuously organized repetition of paddling and carrying – 3 total miles on the water and a full mile on land. Scattered among the hundreds were the 7 Camp Gray teams, competing hard, staying mostly dry, and making both Camp Gray and Disney proud. In attendance along the portage route were a handful of Camp Gray staffers, past and present, lending their valuable encouragement.
The 45-75 minutes that one is paddling and portaging passes quickly, and before we knew it, all of us were gathered at Olin Park, eating complimentary brats and admiring our complimentary “Finisher” t-shirts. Smiles were abundant among our crew, the unknown now known, the fear vanquished, and a feeling of accomplishment coursing through our veins.
Special thanks to all those that came to cheer on the 14 Camp Gray competitors at the 34th Annual Paddle & Portage. Special thanks to YOU for taking the time to read this week’s Tuesdays with Topher, a random look at what some of our staff did on a free weekend during Summer Camp 2013. Please click here to see photos of each of Camp’s seven teams, and to see other photos from the day!