[EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome Jodi Caplan to Distressed Mullet. She is a photographer and writer living in New England. She works with Surftech a lot and you’ve likely seen her beautiful photographs.]
This is my first year on the “racing” scene. It started as photographer for Surftech for the Carolina Cup, and swiftly led into “I wanna do that!” as I watched so many strong, brave, badass women push themselves to the limits of endurance and skill. I craved that sense of physical challenge and accomplishment – this was the year I was gonna put myself out there as something other than photographer.
I’ve done three races since the Carolina Cup, up until this past weekend: a 5mi, a 12 mi, and my backyard, locals-mostly, hell-fiesta: the 22 mi Blackburn Challenge. It’s a killer. I was super stoked, and incredibly surprised, on how I did in those races.
After the Blackburn, the only reasonable next step was The Cape Cod Bay Challenge (CCBC), which is a 34 mile open-ocean charity paddle across Cape Cod Bay. It starts in Plymouth, MA, and ends 11-12 hours later in Wellfleet, MA, on the far end of Cape Cod.
Here’s a picture I stole from a fellow paddler (Damian Caputo) that shows the route:
Paddlers were expected to raise $750 to benefit Christopher’s Haven, a home away from home for the out-of-town families of children undergoing cancer treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. It is a cause close to my heart. Not so long ago, my husband was treated for cancer, twice, at Mass General. The first time we weren’t sure he was going to make it; we had a three month old baby at the time. Cancer is hell. I get it. I needed to do this. And i needed to finish it.
So, Patty Davis (“HEEYYYY!!!!”) flies up here from NC to do this event with me. We have a great time hanging out the few days before the race – relaxing and doing NOTHING physical for the first time in months. She was a little shocked with the 61 degree water and frigid mornings. Yes, it’s mother f-ing cold up here. Why do you think we’re all so crabby? It’s certainly not for the lack of lobster and oysters…
Then, Friday rolls around, and the journey begins.
We bumper-to-bumper it for a few hours through downtown Boston to get from the North Shore, where I live, to the South Shore, where the race starts. Friday afternoon in Boston traffic is hell. People go north to the mountains or to Maine; or they go South to the Cape. No matter which direction you go, you have to add several hours to your trip unless you leave at 5:00 am. Which we were definitely not doing. But, we eventually land at our motel, pass out on our beds for an hour (after immediately removing those disgusting bed “coverlets” – I know exactly what nastiness that horrendous print is “coverleting”….), then head to the pre-party at the Cabby Shack a few miles away.
But, this is Plymouth, after all, landing spot of our ancestors. There are some historical sights to see along the way: Pilgrims, a famous Rock, big ships and Massholes wearing Patriots and Red Sox gear from head to toe, talking about “pahkin’ they cahs”, etc…
Plymouth Rock (aka Puny Rock, cuz it’s about the size of my kids bean-bag chairs) was hiding behind a mile of NO PARKING signs. So, Patty (who was driving my car) had to pull a few illegal three-point-turns in the middle of the rotary (in front of cops – Patty is so badass…) to get to somewhere we could park legally. (Sharks? Let’s just try to not get killed by a Masshole or a cop before we even get our boards in the water. This ain’t The South – people are mean up here!). The Mayflower (or some replica of sorts) was along the way, so we stopped there for some selfies. Then, finally to the Puny Rock, which rocked Patty’s world, as you can see by the big smile on her face.
The Puny Rock. And a Pilgrim Hat to keep it company.
Yeah, that’s the Mayflower. Or something that looks exactly like it.
Sightseeing done. Off to the party!
Food. Why is it taking so long to find the one waitress serving the 55+ people there? I’m ready to eat Patty’s purse. Or her sweater. Or the biceps of the big guy next to me. Pure protein, right?!?!? I can’t stop complaining. HANGRY! Sometime around the hour I was hoping to be in bed asleep, I get my bowl of lobster mac-n-cheese. I throw the credit card at the waitress before the food is even on the table. Hydrated, fed and paid up. Time to hit the hay.
But, of course, it’s never that easy. That’s why it’s a Challenge.
We get to the hotel around 9:30 and there are NO PARKING SPOTS left. Live music was playing in the lounge, and despite the large sign at the entrance which read: “PARKING FOR HOTEL GUESTS ONLY,” every lounge-goer had their Chevy Pickup in the spots reserved for folks like us, who were sleeping at the hotel and getting up at 3:30 am. So, I parked my car down the center line of the lot, like the other 20+ cars parked there, where the illegal people, taking up the legal spots, could easily get out.
We go up to our room, fill up camelbacks, dry bags, and sort out clothes to put on support boats. Everything was ready for us to roll out of bed at 3:30 and get on the water by 4:30. Then, around 10:30 pm, just as we had turned off the lights and said “Good night!!!”, the hotel room phone rings. WTF?!?!
“This is the front desk. Can you come move your car?”
I debate throwing a tantrum and going ape on the clerk, but I find a shred of self-control and politely say, “Yes, I’ll be right down.” No time for tantrums; I gotta get to sleep.
Two minutes later I walk up to my car and a 6 ft, well-endowed, woman launches herself at me and pins me against my car. Oh, and did I mention I’m the size of a Keebler Elf? Her face is an inch away from mine, her POINTING finger ½ inch from my left eyeball. “You xkwhieth $%&##! I’m gonna &^%&% kill you! Who do you think you are? I’ve been waiting an hour for you to move your &*^&%$ car!” (I later find out from the hotel clerk, she was waiting a total of less than 10 mins, that she was not a hotel guest, and had been wreaking havoc in the lounge the entire time she was there).
I look from side to side and say, “Ummm, I’m not sure where you want me to put it since all the spots are taken and clearly this is where I’m supposed to park (pointing to the 20 other cars parked exactly like mine). I can help direct you as you pull out. You’ve got room.”
“I’m gonna %$#%$ kick your ass! (Chest bumps me…). Move your (*&%%% car before I kill you!” (She still has me pinned against my car).
At this point, her 6’4” terrifying looking Masshole husband (Patriots sweatshirt in-tact…) chimes in menacingly with: “You’re lucky we got you called down here. You left the interior light on.” (Oh, thank you so much kind samaritan! Now, can you pull your Rottweiler of a wife off of me?!?!).
“Lady, you’re scaring your kids,” I say as gently as possible. I was scared, but I felt worse for the kids who were watching from the truck.
“DON’T YOU [email protected]$%$# CALL ME LADY! I’M GOING TO (*&$$^$# KILL YOU! (another chest bump and finger poke to the shoulder…).
At this point, I’ve had enough. I’m scared. This woman is a drunk-ass PSYCHO. And I have to do the most difficult physical thing of my life in a few short hours.
I scream to the husband “Get you ^^#%%## wife in your &^%&^% truck RIGHT NOW or I’m calling the cops the minute I get in that lobby.”
He starts screaming at her to get in the truck, and I think eventually man-handles her off of me, at which point I haul-ass in the opposite direction. A couple of people watching from a balcony (gee, thanks for stepping in and helping?!?!) ask me “Are you OK?”
No. I’m not ok. I’m now totally screwed because it’s 11:00 and I have to get up in a few hours to paddle for about 10-12 hours. And some nut job was just threatening to kill me over a parking spot?!?! No. I’m not feeling OK. Not one bit.
Front desk: useless. Tells me I should call the cops. Yeah, really? The last thing I want to do at this point is deal with two hours of police paperwork. Because, now I have to take my board off my car in case Crazy Ass Kathy Bates comes back with a chainsaw and slices it into a thousand pieces. So, I carry it up the narrow stairs, through the winding hallways, smashing the nose and tail against every vertical surface I meet. I finally make it to our room and fall inside in a pile of tears.
I’m shaking and a little in shock. Sleep is far, far away at this point. I finally doze off around 1:00, then bolt awake from a nightmare at 3:00. Alarms were set for 3:30, but since now I have to get a board back down the Escher-like hotel stairway, and on top of my car, I just get up and get moving.
One verbal/physical assault and two disturbing hours of sleep. Not what I had in mind for the night before the big day. But this is a Challenge, right? So, COWBOY UP **%$^$! You made it this far! I send my brain to the days when my husband was in the hospital fighting for his life. He battled through that Challenge. This is nothing compared to what I watched him go through. Twice.
We make it to the launch spot. It was a beautiful morning, despite being 59 degrees when we finally take off at 5:00am. Calm waters, fabulous sunrise, and a forecast that looked like no wind over 7 mph all day. Hell yeah! I can do this!!
Don’t be fooled…
We paddle the app. 2-3 miles to get out of the harbor and past the breakwater, before we make a turn. Then it’s a straight shot for the next 10-12 hours. Everyone is stoked for a sweet, but difficult, day.
And then, we make the turn.
Boom! Right from the start, it’s blowing 13-14 mph steady, with 1-3’ chop, on the right side.
“Holy $%^&$#! How am i gonna do this for 11 more hours?!?!?” I cry silently inside my head. I try to not think about the bad things: the crazy lady, the lack of sleep, the cramping in my right SI Joint that starts immediately, and the never ending whitecaps coming at me from the right.
The digging DEEP starts early….
So, row row row your board, on the left for 9 straight hours. Lot’s of folks were able to stay chipper, thank god, because I was no where close to that state of mind. But there were also a whole bunch of big, strong guys who stayed on their knees for 80% of the journey. I was pretty proud of myself for staying upright most of the time. (But happy to have the option to go on my knees for a while and not feel like a total wuss).
Somewhere around hour 9.5 I hit the wall. I was at the back of the pack (I think we started with about 53 paddlers and quite a few had to drop out). I was shivering, and my right SI Joint was stabbing me like a cattle prod with every stroke. A WONDERFUL, strong, confident, calm woman named Kim Reilly (Kim, I will love you forever!), who has done the CCBC four times, was a captain and stayed right with me. She got me talking and tried to keep my mind on other things till the next break. I was really too tired to form any words other than complaints, but I knew if I didn’t keep talking I would lose my marbles.
About 10 mins of paddling with her, (mostly spent by me begging her to not let them put me on the boat for being at the back of the pack), I see something about 8 feet long and grey swim right under my board.
“Kim Kim Kim Kim!!!! Come close. Come close now! I need you!” I yelled above the hum of the 14 mph wind.
“Did you see something?” she calmly asks.
“Yes,” I say with pupils the size of dinner plates.
“Ok,” she says. “Let’s not talk about it. Don’t tell the other paddlers. It’s gonna be ok.”
We keep paddling.
Five mins later it swims under my board again. (WHY AM I LOOKING DOWN?!?!?!)
“Kim Kim Kim Kim!!!! Again! It went under again!” I screech.
Meltdown mode; I know when I’ve reached my NOT SAFE zone.
“Ok. Let’s get you on a boat for a few mins,” Kim says calmly.
“I have to finish this,” I cry. “There is no way I am not finishing this.” If there was any moisture left in my body at this point, I’m sure I was crying actual tears.
“You are allowed to take 3 breaks. You WILL get back in the water. You WILL finish. You NEED to take a break.” She flags down a boat filled with angels, and the best Ginger Ale I have ever tasted, and will ever taste, in my entire life.
The boat people cover me in blankets and coats and I try to get warm and stop shaking. About 5 mins into this Tender Loving Care festival, we hear over the radio from the far-side support boat: “Fin in the water! Fin in the water! Gather the pack.”
Ok. I wasn’t imagining it. FAAAHHHKKKK! (That’s Boston for, you know…). And why am I surprised? Jaws the movie was based on Martha’s Vineyard, which is just on the other side of the Cape. The boats stop to regroup the pack – one boat goes shark hunting – and everyone waits till the panic has died down.
My boat picks up one other paddler who was ready to throw herself to the sharks, and we both hang out and gather our wits for about 20 more minutes as the pack slowly paddled on. By this point, the captain of the boat said the water was only about 13 ft deep. I was ready to get back in for the final push.
So, we dodge the props of the boat in the 1-3’ chop and and get back in the shark filled washing machine. Only about a mile or so to go till we make a turn and begin to head downwind, into the harbor and the finish line.
And let me tell you, when we made that turn, and I could see the beach about 4 miles away, I found that teensy bit of adrenaline left at the bottom of my fight-or-flight barrel. (Stupid ass drunk psycho lady had pretty much drained it the night before….). I hauled ass downwind faster than I think I have ever gone downwind before. Paddling on the right NEVER FELT SO GOOD!
And when I saw my husband standing on the beach cheering me on, and my sons swimming out to meet me, I was never before so happy to see them, to be near land and to be alive. Crushed, broken, traumatized, sleep deprived, freezing cold and delirious; but alive.
Alive. That’s what the Cape Cod Bay Challenge is about. Being alive, feeling alive, fighting to stay alive, and for one single day, going through the pain, struggle, and every single emotion you can imagine, that the children fighting cancer, and their families, go through every day.
What I did was nothing.
I can write a big ol’ dramatic story about it, but really, it was my choice to take on this challenge. The families at Christopher’s Haven and Mass General Hospital don’t have a choice. That unfortunate choice was made for them by something beyond their control. But, the money we raised will help ease their battle. And, more importantly (as we learned on our journey) it will keep their tribe together as they fight through the greatest Challenge of their lives.
We made it!!! (My older son in the background.)
“Don”t let go, Patty! I can’t stand!” (My younger son in the background.)
Couldn’t have done it without this guy. My husband, my hero.
One I earned; the other was given to me by Andrew Glidden, who will soon be wearing Gold at the Cup, and not wood.