The past weekend I was able to take part in my first River Rat Race Weekend. This was an experience to say the least. For those of you that have never been exposed to the Rat Race it is a very large event that takes place between the towns of Athol and Orange, MA. The big show is on Saturday where the town has a 5k road race, a parade and the long running Rat Race. This years race had a total of close to 220 boats that battled there way on the 5.2 mile course down the Millers River. This is a pretty large amount of boats and one of the reasons this race is so much fun as there are more non-racing paddlers in this race than us serious paddlers. There is also a rule that your boat cannot be more than 18ft in length making our normal racing canoes illegal for this race. On Friday night before the race the starting positions are picked where you will start on the left bank of the river before the Main St. bridge in Athol. Once the start of the race is signaled by a cannon all of the boats find their way down the 5 miles to the finish in Orange.
This year there was quite the "event" that was focused on the false start. Someone blew off an air horn that set the back half of the field in motion prior to the cannon. It created quite a sticky situation for many racer and non-racers alike as it took an already congested situation at the start and basically doubled the amount of canoes that would have been going through the bridge at the same time due to the unfortunate false start.
Although it was a crazy start it looked like it didn't affect the overall winners Ben Schlimmer and Trevor Lafever as they went on to win the Saturday event with ease. They did have a pretty close call though at the start when they rammed right into my boat and luckily neither of us tipped over and we didn't slow them up too much.
For those of you that have never done this race I highly recommend it as there are not many other races out there where you will have to use all of your tricks to avoid the non-racers that struggle to control their boats so you can stay round side down and go on to battle for the money.
On Sunday they hold a Pro-Am race that has a format that is more familiar to the racing community with multiple starts for different classes and the course starts at the finish and goes upstream and back downstream. With no surprise Ben and Trevor also took home the victory in this contest and Rebecca Davis and Emma Ellsworth took home the fastest time for the Women's division. The day had great conditions and the course was challenging especially with the pros starting at the end we had to pass the other boats throughout the race adding another element that some of us could use to help with race tactics.