The rain stopped, the sun came out, and West Hansen hung onto the men’s solo lead on Monday, Day 3 of the Great Alabama 650 paddling race.
By 5 p.m. Monday, last year’s winners, the tandem team of Joe Mann and Paul Cox, had taken a 40-mile overall lead in the event, which starts in northeastern Alabama and finishes at Fort Morgan on the Gulf Coast. Solo racer Salli O’Donnell of Florida was second, with West Hansen of Austin, also racing solo, less than a mile back. A tandem boat paddled by Rod Price and Bobby Johnson was not far behind.
Hansen has paddled almost 300 miles of the 650-mile course. With such a close field, exact position doesn’t mean much now. Teams will stop periodically to rest, and those that take the shortest breaks will gain an advantage.
“Salli looked like hell. West looked like hell,” Robert Youens, a member of Hansen’s support team, said this morning. Hansen had gotten about two and a half hours of sleep in the team’s air-conditioned support vehicle. He described the paddler as “stoic and focused.”
By this afternoon, Hansen’s spirits and condition seemed even better. He barely slowed just before 5 p.m. to pick up water, sunscreen, glow sticks and a headlamp from his crew. He turned down an offer of fried chicken. He’s getting his calories mainly through liquid nutrition and electrolyte supplements, with the occasional handful of Fritos, bite of sandwich, or trail mix tossed in.
“Let’s do this,” he said as he paddled away from shore.
Weather on Day 3 of the Great Alabama 650
Heavy rain has caused flooding around Alabama, and support crews are dealing with muddy portages and impassable roads. After two days of near-constant rain, the sun came out and temperatures warmed to 89 today, allowing the team to spread out and dry some of the soggy gear. The forecast calls for decreasing chances of rain, with high temperatures around 80 until Wednesday, when the high drops to 73 degrees. Thursday looks sunny and cool.
“This river is hauling,” Youens said. “The river’s up really big.”
Hansen passed a 7-mile stretch that typically includes rapids last night, but the water was flowing at 12,000 cubic feet per second and the whitewater was washed out.
Last year’s winners finished the 2020 race in just over five days and 23 hours. Youens predicted the fast-moving water would mean a new record this year. If he’s right, the top boats will finish sometime Thursday.
Hansen is switching boats as the race unfolds. He had been in a fast, sit-inside kayak, but he’s switched back to a C1 canoe typical of boats raced in the Texas Water Safari. It’s got a higher back seat.
“It may not be quite as fast as the other boat, but we know comfort makes a difference,” Youens said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if because of that comfort he gains time.”
So far, the support teams of the leading boats are cooperating, but that could change as the teams get closer to the finish.
“It’s the caginess of the game. Eventually this chumminess is going to fall apart because they’re racers,” Youens said. “We just don’t know where.”