Howling in the Rain

In the Bay Area, the dragon boating season wraps up with the Halloween Howl, a race put on by the Oakland Renegades, our neighboring team. Like the others, this race was held and Lake Merritt, and since it is a more casual event, we were able to stake out our preferred camp site.

This was my first “rain or shine event,” and was probably also my last. I like to think I don’t melt in the rain, but I kind of do.

The winter of 2016/2017 brought the Bay Area record amounts of rain, and it got off to an early start with a storm on October 30, race day. But as a medalist dragon boater, I was confident in my ability to manage a shower or two. I had acquired a waterproof shell earlier in the year and was anxious to put it to work.

As you might guess, the Halloween Howl also has a costume component. In 2016 our team did not have a theme or guiding vision for costumes, so we were on our own. While I might not be intimidated by the chance of rain, I am very intimidated by costumes. Halloween is not my favorite holiday, so I don’t have a lot of costume experience. When a costume is necessary, I revert to wearing the traditional silk Korean dress that a roommate gave me in college. But I was pretty sure a long billowing silk dress with a tight-fitting kind of bolero jacket, was not going to work while paddling.

I ended up cobbling together cat ears and a tutu. I’ve always wanted a tutu. So there I was in my very attractive cat ear-headband, my festive tutu, my basic black race outfit and a bright pink waterproof shell ready to take on all comers.

Two soggy paddlers; one with cat ears

It started raining just as we were paddling out for our first race. But I was ready, so I pulled on the hood of the waterproof shell. Alas, it covered my eyes. I later learned it was not “triple articulated” so the hood depth could not be adjusted.

I tried paddling blind for awhile, which is doable – there are several teams of low-vision paddlers. But I thought for the actual race I should give up on the hood, which I did. Somewhere along the line it actually started hailing. We survived the first race, but that was about all.

It was then that things started going down hill. At the dock I pulled the hood back on. It did not occur to me that by now it was full of rain water which promptly poured down my otherwise dry back.

Our favorite camp site is on a slight slope, which is nice on a clear day, but on a rainy day allowed the rain and mud to rush though the site. Worse yet, the canopies were filling with water and threatening to give way. We drained the canopies and sorted our gear into wet and dry piles. Then we waited for word from the Renegades about the status of the race.

The races where suspended during the deluge,and everyone waited for the weather to clear up. The Renegades had a canteen set up in one of the boat houses by the docks. There was hot coffee and chocolate and some pastries. Mostly it was a dry environment, so it was packed with soggy paddlers.

After an hour or so one of our smaller paddlers was deemed to have hypothermia and was sent home. We were all huddling in the middle of our tent with the rain pelting us from all sides while the team captains contemplated what to do. People were starting to say I appeared to be developing hypothermia. That judgment made me more determined to stay.

But I finally realized we looked like a team on Survivor that failed to build an adequate shelter and were struggling to stay dry. Eventually there was a small rebellion and people started leaving. At that point I was happy to head out. Mike, the leader of the Renegades, was holding out for clear weather that was expected to be coming within an hour.

Sure enough, just as I pulled up to my garage, the sky started to clear. But all I was up for was a hot shower. The shell without the articulated hood was put in the Goodwill pile, and my comely cat ears had been lost along the way. But I was proud that I stuck it out as long as the rest of the team.

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