Sports

Surviving the River Rat Race!

The AOTV 'dream team' Evan T. Perry (Front) and Eric Boughton (Rear)

The AOTV 'dream team' Evan T. Perry (Front) and Eric Boughton (Rear)

Every year for the last 52 years, a little-publicized event brings athletes from all over New England and New York to engage in a frenetic, grueling battle for supremacy of the Millers River. Amateurs and professional paddlers alike crowd the bank of the river, haunched in their canoes in near-silence. Then, over the crisp spring air, comes the crack of a canon. Chaos ensues.

This year, due to the harsh winter, only 242 boats entered the river rat canoe race . . . 242! And that's a down year! This year was also the first time my friend Eric and I entered the race after previously serving as volunteer camera operators for the local access station, AOTV. We thought we knew what to expect having seen the race from every conceivable angle, but we were wrong. The roughly 5 mile course from Route 2A in Athol to Orange is something that needs to be experienced to truly understand. When the canon went off, 242 canoes featuring professionals, men, women, children, locals, visitors, and persons from all walks of life, dug in their paddles and went for it and Eric and I were right there with them.

riverratrace

The day before, squirming in uncomfortable metal folding chairs, we patiently waited in Athol Town Hall in a crowd of fellow competitors to hear our randomly-assigned starting position. An hour had already passed and the end of the list was approaching. At that point, we secretly hoped to be picked last. You see, the last boat picked gets a prize automatically (In this case, it would be $242), but we received number 210. Miserable. It meant that our place along the bank of the river would be so far back and around a bend that we wouldn't be able to even see the starting line. Oh well! It was our first time and we hadn't a prayer of winning anyway. For the professionals, placement at the start of the race is more of a minor inconvenience than anything. There were boats placed around us that made it into the top 45 (a.k.a. "The winner's circle"). Despite making a point of trying to work out over the winter, we were woefully inexperienced and our goal for race day was simply to not embarrass ourselves. In a race where many canoes flip over at the start, that goal was by no means setting a low bar.

As Eric and I made our way to a boat launch, we learned a little about the canoe we were using. To us it didn't look very special. It was an aluminum craft with duct tape holding the seats together, but to others it was a gem. Turns out, our canoe which we borrowed from Eric's parents' neighbor, was one of the lightest-weight aluminum canoes in history. Not by any means the fastest, lightest boat in the race (Canvas is way lighter), but it was impressive how many fellow racers coveted the boat. We were even asked if we were selling it. Indeed, over the last 15 years, the canoe raced with a variety of different paddlers and even placed first in the aluminum class (not overall) a couple of years. 2015 would not add to the legacy of the boat too much, but we were hell bent on trying.

Hey! We're going backwards!

Hey! We're going backwards!

We had to haul the shiny canoe quite a ways until we found our starting spot marked by a placard along the bank of the river. After we slipped into the water, Eric in the rear and I in the front, we settled next to a tree. Others followed in the minutes leading up to the start and soon we were elbow to elbow with fellow competitors. The proximity of the boats meant that there wasn't space to paddle, so when the canon went off, we resorted to pushing off of one another until there was enough room to plant an oar. Then, all 242 boats reach a bottle neck right at the start of the race as the river narrows at the Route 2A bridge, the most entertaining section of the race for onlookers. People flip over. Boats get turned around backwards. Swearing. Scraping. Shouting. We were turned around when a boat pushed us from behind. It was quite sudden and surprising, but we were able to right ourselves quickly. Then we were off!

These guys got wet

These guys got wet

After the bridge, boats became moving obstacles to pass between and go around. We did well and passed a great deal of boats right away, but we definitely had some tough collisions and scrapes. We weren't wet 'though, so all was fine. After a few minutes, everyone starts to spread out and the course gets a little easier to navigate. To meet our goal of not embarrassing ourselves, Eric and I decided that we wouldn't leave anything on the table. My arms still hurt a little as I type this a few days later, so I feel like I made good on my promise. We paddled hard and passed a great number of boats. There are some very neat features along the river including some trestle bridges and tight s-curves. Then the river widens out. You'd think it would be easier with fewer obstacles and turns, but you'd be wrong. It was windy and the wind blew right in our faces. It took effort to get the boat to stand still, let alone move forward. It was pain and something neither of us expected. At that point, we chased down a wooden canoe and tried mightily to pass it, but we could not. Despite that, as we crossed the finish line, we couldn't help but feel elated. We finished. We didn't get wet. We didn't embarrass ourselves.

When I look back on the race, it was harrowing and it was tough, but it was fun and it was an experience that Eric and I plan on repeating next year. For all the years we watched the race through the lens of cameras, being in the race was something that couldn't compare. A few days later, the results were posted: We were able to take 100th place. That meant that we passed 109 boats on the way to the finish line. Not bad for rat virgins! 

We're trying!

We're trying!

Why Hockey is the Greatest Sport

Evan_Is_A_Goalie

Hello!

I know each and every one of you want to know all of my opinions and just how I came to formulate them and this is one that I have felt with increasing intensity as time goes by: Hockey, specifically the ice kind, is one of, if not 'the', best sport ever. To be fair, I didn't always think so. Early in life, I pretty much hated all sport in general, mainly because they were something I couldn't do because of my childhood asthma. Now, I definitely have developed clear arguments for hockey. Let me lay it out for you:

  1. The Essence of Sport - Sports are a critical part of civilization for many reasons, but the 'team' or community mentality has always been the strongest for me. We want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. We want to be a part of a brotherhood of like-minded people. We want to be a crucial part of a success. Unfortunately, we are stuck in a cheerleader role more than anything when it comes to the sports we enjoy and watch, but we still feel the camaraderie of fandom, the joy of victory, and the sting of defeat (In some cases even stronger than the players themselves). We feed off of the idea of the team. Even solo sports need teams of people to succeed including coaches, trainers, promoters, etc. No one can win alone. When it comes to sports, I would argue that the strongest sense of 'team' is present in some sports and definitely not others. In this, I concede that Football (the American pigskin kind) probably is the sport that needs an entire team to work together near perfectly to win. A team can have the best player in a position (Quarterback, running back, etc.) and still lose if the line men, receivers, and others don't do their job. Hockey is second in my mind because one player can occasionally (albeit rarely) take over a game. Goalies can get hot. A forward can go end to end and score at will with enough talent and luck. After that, however, there is a huge drop off. Soccer, the better football, has an astounding gap between the best player on a roster and the worst player. That coupled with the amount of space on the playing area for elite players to show off in, and the game can be decided night after night by a select few on the field rather than the team as a whole. Basketball is similar: If you have LeBron on your team, you just might win a championship. He is that dominant. Baseball is the absolute worst 'team' sport. Players are chosen strictly on analytics and virtually nothing else and the offensive side of a baseball team is completely individualist. Granted you need complementary pieces and strategy for your baseball team, but the game is so compartmentalized by position and numbers that players exist in a vacuum where his/her contribution to the good of the team is empirically measurable. Boring. That leads me to what I consider a very strong component of team: Heart.
  2. The Margin of Victory - What does it take to win? In every sport except golf, you want to score more points than the other guy before time runs out. Of course, it's much more than that. There are also moral victories. Games within games. Strategy. More than any other team sport that I can think of, Hockey does all these things the best. What is the margin of victory? Las Vegas will give you odds on any sport and tell you who will likely win, but part of the reason hockey isn't as popular as it could be is that there is no such thing as a safe bet: Any hockey team can beat any other hockey team any given night. Emotions can win a hockey game unlike any other sport. Why was the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's win over the Russians considered a miracle? Because they should have lost that game 1 out of a 100 tries, but they didn't because of some intangible force that no one, least of all the players, will ever understand.
  3. The Game Itself - Now at this point I totally switch to personal opinion mode, but it cannot be helped! Baseball is slow and you can be fat and still be considered for a roster spot. Soccer is a beautiful game mired by diving and a rules system that is very black and white and perhaps overly simplistic. Football is crafted for television timeouts and advertising and there is absolutely no way I could ever understand the seemingly thousands of rules. Basketball is a slugfest of back and forth action to the point of boredom. And what of Basketballs' rule system? It is very hard to understand unless it is explained to you (Why can't I push him to the court again?). Then there is hockey. Hockey is fast. Hockey has a, more or less, very understandable rule system (unfortunately, the game has grown slightly more complex than I like over the last 10 years or so). Unlike baseball and football, players need to be athletes through and through and not just specialized (to throw, run, or be a heavy wall). The objective of hockey is simple, yet the subtleties of the game so fluid and beautiful. You have the physicality of football combined with the finesse of soccer and the fast transition from offense to defense of basketball. Simply, the game of hockey itself has the best of all the top sports. Where is the argument against?
  4. Sport verses Game - If you read this far, you're either very angry or you've totally agreed with everything I wrote. Good. Now I'll lose a few more of you because now I'm going to lecture you on what should be considered sport. In its most basic terms, sport is a physical activity in which you can take enjoyment out of. 'Game' can be defined similarly, but also includes mental challenges, puzzles, Parcheesi . . . For me, the definitions go even further. To me, a game is activity, with a set of rules, that one plays for enjoyment with others. 'Sport' is also an activity with a set of rules played for enjoyment, only, to me sport is something akin to a tiered system of athleticism. If you are the best at a game, you have developed a set of skills specific to that game that are not universally transferable. A sport however, includes the development of skills that are universally transferable to other sports. As an example, Sidney Crosby is arguably the best forward in hockey. He is an athlete through and through. When he was asked to participate in the Pittsburg Pirates' batting practice, his hand-eye developed in hockey allowed him to cream the baseball and I'm pretty sure he could out run anybody on the Pirates' lineup. You take a typical baseball player and he will be unable to skate, let alone perform any other skill considered a basic part of hockey. That's because baseball is a pass time: Baseball is a game. Similar to hockey, football players have a long tradition of excelling at other games, but then some football players are very specialized for roles such as an offensive or defensive line. Chris Drury, an elite hockey player in his time, won the little league world series, but you will never see the winner of the big league world series be able the even take a face off in hockey. Granted, most of baseball can outrun, out jump, out everything the common person and maybe, some diversify their workouts, but I believe that the best baseball player of all time, whoever that is, could never even be a match to the best hockey player of all time on a skill by skill basis.
  5. Fighting - Whether you hate it or love it, fighting is such a unique part of hockey. Granted there are scuffles in other sports, but fighting is built into hockey itself. Fortunately, fighting is more than just violent aggressors looking to injure or otherwise work outside the structure of the sport. Rather, fighting has its own set of unsaid rules and definitely positively affects a hockey game. There have been times when referees have been asked to curtail fighting and what resulted were dangerous plays during the course of play. Fighting allows for aggression to be released and positively channeled through an isolated event and there is a set penalty for it. I believe, more than any sport, hockey gives the bulk of the power to the players, rather than the rules, to dictate the end result of the game. A player can do what he wishes and if there is a consequence, he knows what it is and accepts it for what it is. That's not to say there isn't controversy or bad calls by refs, but hockey is definitely a sport of effort and determination of which fighting is a part and plays a role in the outcome.

There you have it! Some of my strongest arguments for hockey and let's be honest: Several reasons why baseball is really stupid. I love hockey a lot, so I'll likely write more about it, especially considering I play it, but I think I've said enough for one post!