One of the things we didn’t really prepare ourselves for the first year we did SEVENTY48 was high-mileage days. That first year, we hardly ever paddled as many miles in a single day as we paddled on our lowest-mileage race day. We paddled often, and we accumulated a lot of training miles. But we hadn’t really practiced being in the boats all day, or for the kind of daily mileage you need if you want to paddle 70 miles in 48 hours.
And our training for the 2023 race is a bit lacking in that department as well. We’ve done a handful of training runs that match our Day One plan (~12 nmi). But none that quite add up to our intended Day Three mileage (~16 nmi). And nothing even in the neighborhood of our Day Two plan (30+ nmi). So it’s time to get some higher-mileage paddles under our belts, and remind ourselves what it’s like to keep going after you’ve already laid down double-digit tracks in a day.
The Strategy: Double up on Fox
Often when we plan a 20 nmi paddle, it involves leaving the house around sunrise, driving to the launch, paddling all day, and then packing up after dark. Sometimes it even involves setting a shuttle car. But we have this handy island that’s over 10 nmi around and less than 30 minutes away. So why not just paddle around that twice? Thus the plan to double Fox Island was born.
We are NOT fair-weather paddlers. Our preferrence? Cool (less than 60 degrees) and overcast with low winds – rain optional. The sunnier and warmer it gets, the less we enjoy paddling in our immersion gear. And we tend to see far fewer power boats and jet skis when the weather is drearier – which is a plus. This past weekend was early summer in the Pacific Northwest: low 80s and sun almost all day long. But we might encounter similar conditions in the race, so we may as well train this way.
If we’re aiming for 20+ nmi, and we have an island that’s just over 10 nmi, we should just go all the way around twice, right? Well… almost. Fox Island has one side that’s heavily influenced by the current in the Tacoma Narrows, so we want to make sure we’re hitting that at an appropriate time. The other factor? The mental challenge of paddling PAST your car at the launch without stopping. So we decided to eliminate that particular issue.
Double Fox Island: the Plan
Paddle approximately halfway around the island. Take a break. Keep paddling most of the rest of the way around the island and take another break. Then repeat the whole thing in reverse:
We launched almost exactly on schedule, to blue skies and calm seas.
The paddle through Hale Passage and around the southern tip of the island was clear and uneventful. We were managing the temperature relatively well, but when we rounded into Carr Passage the breeze died and we were very ready for our shady break on the beach.
Look at all that shade!
We pulled up some driftwood seats and feasted on a delicious lunch of noodle salad topped with fried tofu, fresh veggies, and peanut sauce. It was cool and refreshing and delicious. This is something that we do while we’re training that doesn’t make it on the race with us. On colder days, a thermos of soup will often be part of our meal plan. On hot training days, deli salads in Hydro Flask containers go alongside our coolers of fruits, veggies, and cheese.
For the race itself? We’re trying to reduce bulk. That means no thermoses that end up taking up room even when they’re empty. We try not to bring anything that requires assembly. Pre-made PB&J? Sure. Pre-sliced apples and cheese? Absolutely. Crusty rosemary bread already cut into single-serving chunks? Bring it on!
This has been a while coming. In 2019, we finished the race with a FULL thermos of soup on hand. And maybe 10L of back-up snacks, just in case. But that was better than 2018 when we actually cooked at our campsite along the way and finished the race with most of a Costco bag of individually wrapped Tillamook snacking cheese. We’re aiming for closer to zero food by the time we cross the finish line this time. Not necessarily NO leftovers, but maybe we eat everything but a handful of Kind bars and a PB&J by the end this time?
During our break, we encountered someone training on the beach, who said they hike a circle up the hill from their house, over to the Fox Island Fishing Pier, and then make their way back along the beach. We wondered the rest of the day what he was training for, since we neglected to inquire.
We also met a fluffy, friendly pup and his human – a highlight of any break.
As we set out for our second leg, the Olympics were out to greet us and the glassy water looked especially inviting.
This stretch involved several encounters with power boats that seemed to be far too close to shore and the occasional jet ski disturbing the peace. To add insult to injury, the heat kicked back up as we approached the Tacoma Demolay Sandspit Nature Preserve. It was definitely time for a cool-down break. We drank icy water, applied more sunscreen, and stuck to the shade as much as we could. It was only about two hours after our lunch, and no one was very hungry in the heat.
Packing on the Miles
From the sandspit, we could see the launch from that morning. If we tried, we could pick out our cars in the parking lot, less than one nautical mile away. On any other normal Fox Island Circumnavigation, we’d be done and to the take out (where our air-conditioned vehicles are) in less than 30 minutes. But that was not our goal. That’s a mere 10-ish nmi. We were going for distance. We needed to go the long way around.
So we launched back into the heat. And the jet skis and the power boats. The shoreline where we’d stopped for lunch was no longer in the shade, so we decided to keep going around Gibson Point, where we were sure to find more shade options. First we found a mountain just sitting there, popping around the point as we approached.
As we paddled along the southeast side of the island, the wind came up again, which was refreshing after all the heat we’d experienced. We found our shade and took our final break of the day, snacking on apples, oranges, cheddar cheese, and rosemary bread. Our platypus soft bottles that had started the day half-full of ice were mostly melted, but still delightfully chilled. We had a lovely view and felt ready to tackle the final leg home.
Or we thought we were ready… until we experienced an unscheduled rapid disassembly of a key piece of equipment. A dry suit, to be exact. Paddling in the Puget Sound, one needs always to be prepared for cold water immersion. And the best way to do that is a dry suit, with appropriate layers underneath. Second-best is neoprene, which is what we had, safely stored in a hatch, as a back-up plan. It set us a bit behind, but it’s far more important to be properly attired than to stay on schedule.
The wind increased as we paddled toward Hale Passage, and we pushed through some disorganized waves and sideways winds. It was nothing terribly challenging, but after nearly glassy conditions most of the day, it was not the most welcome sea state. We’d already put in more miles than any other day this year, and would have been glad not to fight for the last few miles. But it was also a good reminder that we can handle a bit of a challenge even when we’ve been paddling most of the day.
That’s a Wrap!
In order to be sure we got all 20nmi that we planned, we went the long way around Tanglewood Island, just to be safe. We made it back to the launch and started packing up. We had to navigate the swarms of teens that were gathered there, and had to get some of them to move the cars that completely blocked us in. But I can see why they’d want to be there for the sunset.