I did not choose flatwater paddling on a voluntary basis. From the diapers I started to visit the canoe club Chemička Ústí as a baggage of my father, a successful paddler according to his words. In the vitrine he had various cups and medals from canoeing marathons (for instance Roudnice-Hřensko on the Elbe river, Bratislava-Komárno on the Danube river etc.).
I settled on a kayak at the age of 8, and in 1982 I finished my first race in Týn nad Vltavou, where the Vltava river still had three weirs. What to say about my sport career? Something went goood, I brought some medals home, but it was not enough to participate on or even to win a medal from World Championship or Olympic Games. Maybe there would not have been any remebering without existence of Jirka Vrdlovec, with whom I started to train in 1992 when I turned into senior category and came to Prague. I did my first first long-distance “trip” with Jirka from Prague to Racice (60 km). I admired his will, tenacity and desire to overcome human possibilities.
We humans often have a dream, a peak we want to achieve in life, a record we want to overcome. Someone is climbing the Mount Everest, someone is overtaking the North Pole and what do I do? As a lightning on a clear sky, the idea of an arrangement of the traditional canoeing marathon from Budějovice to Prague appeared. I heard about this race from the old guys from the club in Ústí. In 1994 I also participated in the first such attempt to revive the tradition, which was held by Petr Doležal and went on K4 from Týn nad Vltavou to Prague. From under the dam of Kořensko in 4 stages in 3 days (1st stage ended at Štědronín, 3 km from Zvíkov on Otava. 2nd stage became the second day and ended by “lunch” in Solenice under the Orlík dam wall. 3rd stage then continued up to Stará Živohošť on Slapy and 4th stage on the third day after transport below the Slapy dam wall up to Prague to the tower at the Císařská louka. The time was stopped on portages as it would be hard for K4 to run there. There was not very strong competition on the race. We won it in the team Vávra-Šárka-Šrámek-Šára followed by the Černožice K4 (Reich Pavel-Reich Petr-Reich J.-Němeček), KVS (Mráz P.-Mráz A.-Kolanda J.-Jirák) and Chomutov.
But that race was on K4 and now it should be on K1 and the start would be in Budějovice? Do I take it? Will my butt survive? The first result of these considerations was the purchase of a light marathon kayak and thus bringing the family into a financial crisis. My wife did not take my answer that the kayak I will pay off gradually from the race prize money. But the kayak was already bought, we eventually have not died from starving and I could start preparing for my life peak.
Everything should start on Friday, August 6, 2010, at 8 am in Budějovice under Jirásek’s weir near the Lanna shipyard. My pre-start ambitions were really just finish at all costs. The respect from a huge distance was evident by all participants. In the race preparation I did the maximum at least in terms of fitting the pump boat and thinking about how and where to eat. Immediately after the start, a large front group was created in a strongly flowing river lead by Kusovský. It was clear that the first breaks will occur at the first portage, the weir in České Vrbné. When I got out, some were surprised that I was running, but this was no wonder with an 8-kilo boat. I jumped in as the first, but complications immediately occured I poured much water into the boat. I was solving the question whether to get out and empty the boat or to continue and pump it out during the 5 km section to the Hluboká weir. I took the second option and it was a good decision, the water was gone in about 2 km and before the weir I have already reached the leading K1s Kusovský, Horák. Kusovský was the first paddler setting out to the water of the Hněvkovice dam, while the youngsters Junek and Kucián catched me and Horák.
So we created a group of four, ideal for a relaxed ride. In the meantime, the fugitive Kusovský, was 200-500 m ahead and showed us where we could shorten our way through the wide waters of the dam and avoid catching in fishing rods. When we reached the Hněvkovice dam wall, we have almost reached the refugee. The portage was exceptional because it was a refreshment station, which was unfortunately the only one in the day and ahead of us was still around 45 kilometers on the calm water of the Orlík dam. It meant to me to get properly refreshed and to take all the necessary food and drink with me. I was really surprised me that my opponents chose a different tactic and continued without a long refreshment break.
I said to myself, nothing is happening, I’m gonna push hard and catch them in a while. But now they were four and I was alone. In addition, Junek started to pull at the pace at which I could not. I could not close the gap neither till the Hněvkovice weir nor on a strong river stream in front of Týn nad Vltavou. I slowly resigned on chasing them and started to accept being alone for the remaining distance. On the next portage I was losing 2 minutes to the front group. However, youngsters Junek and Kucian chose a snack break here, and I solved the puzzle whether to eat and prepare meals and drinks for easy refreshment while driving on Orlik or try to catch them and not to do it alone. The second option has won by me and we started a chase on Kusovský and Horák. Junek was pulling again and he set the pace again at 4:30 min/km, which was “murderous”. After a while, we caught them and continued in a group of five. After about 10 km I was really done and I also felt that the “hunger” is coming. I had to stop, get out, eat, and give a rest to the oppressed ass.
After 10 minutes, I saw two boats, Kuta-Březina on C2 and young Kotrč on K1. I get in and went on with them. Despite the rest, I had enough and could not do more than to stay on the wash until the stage finish in Štědronín. I lost to Junek, Kucián and Horák about 15 minutes, which meant to say goodbye to the thoughts of the overall position among the top three. One paddler from the original front group did fall off. Kusovský did not recognize the coming crisis in a timely manner and spent the hour sleeping on the rocks. The shock was that a couple Halda-Mareš with a boat in his hand came down to the camp at Štědronín for about an hour after our arrival. They decided to climb the steep bank of the Vltava, skip the last 7 km, and run to the finish. They made it, but as the ship was dragging on the ground, they had a hole in it. They were able to fix it during the night.
The stage 2 start at Štědronín was scheduled for 7:00 am in the morning. The weather was not good for the race, it was raining, the water in the dams was rising, but at least it was hoped the river would shorten the time we spend by paddling. The first night was terrible. It was constantly heavily raining and many people slept in tents or even under a shelter. Many got wet. Despite my tiredness, the painful body and the crazy blisters on my hands I somehow felt that I would do it to the finish in Prague. But in the cold rainy morning, when I had to take the paddle into my hands full of blisters, sit into the boat, and start, I was not laughing at all. It hurt. Fortunately, the pace of the 10-member group was not overwhelming and was over 5 minutes per km. In about 25 km we were expecting an half-hour break at Orlík. Five leading paddlers from the first stage were accompanied by C2 Kuta-Březina, K1 Kotrč and Synek, and K2 Kumžáková-Lagner. Yes, the race was attended and then finished by a woman, the granddaughter of Bóža Karlík. She extended the family tradition.
The break at Orlík was perhaps the worst experience ever. The whole morning was raining, and we stood frozen in the lift that was moving our boats below the dam wall. After half an hour we were launched to continue to the next dam Kamýk. We found there a hell in the form of high side waves under the dam wall. It was a matter of luck to successfully set off the bank. The people who had a second had the advantage. Kamýk became the fatal for Kusovský, who damaged his rudder and lost precious minutes.
We continued as a 6-member group with Junek, Horák, Kucián, K2 and C2 up to Častoboř. I admired the rear guy on the C2. He had obviously to work hard to stay on the wash for so many kilometers. Just as I admired all kneeling canoe paddlers, how they can take it. There was an attempt to change the peaceful pace of the group after Častoboř. C2 and K2 gradually were dropped from the front group and surprisingly the leader of the race Junek as well, who could no longer sit on his butt. We only stayed three with Kucián and Horák. We kept pace 4:50 min. per km, while Junek lost at least 300 meters to us. What a surprise when he caught us three km later. All my thoughts about the podium were gone and I rather started to take care about the gap between me and those who were behind me. At the end of the stage, I caught a second breath and raised my gap to the 5th Kuta-Březina to 6 minutes. The first three paddlers positions has not changed. The gaps were only seconds and it was clear that they would rejoin the group again at the start of the last stage.
The evening after the stage two was again painful. I tried to overcome that by taking five beers and I really enjoyed a great dinner from Svára. In addition to mad blisters, I had another problem with sore forearms. In the morning I could not make a stroke anymore. Fortunately we passed 3 km to the start under the Slapy dam wall freely. I was fourth with a loss of sixteen minutes on the leading three and with a six minutes lead on the 5th C2. I knew that if something unforeseen did not happen, I would keep the 4th place and the financial reward of 3000 CZK. In addition, the water flow was so high, so that under the Zbraslav road bridge my GPS showed a speed of 2:35 min per km, the highest speed I ever achieved on the kayak. During the Štěchovice portage I saw Jirka Vrdlovec, who was unable to start due to serious health problems, and remembered the whole history of my paddling. Perhaps he was proud of me. I survived in the hell under the Vranská dam as well as under the Modřany weir, which was hardly noticeable due to the high water mark. 2.5 km to the finish line and I was struggling in huge waves that went in all directions and I could barely hold the paddle due to blisters. In the end, I overwhelmed the waves and could enjoy arriving at the finish.
I did it! I was able to do what hundreds of brave boys had done 50 years ago. Actually, right after the race, I knew I was coming again next year. Although I could not take anything for about a week and I did not go paddling until 14 days and was actually done for the rest of the racing season. Successful completion of the race left deep uneraseable memories in me. The next year of the race is slowly coming and I bother my surroundings by talking about the race. I hope there will be more boats at the start than last year (27 boats on the start, 23 finished) and we will all enjoy it again. The three days of the entire race, including a common sitting and a cocktail in the evening, are an opportunity for all competitors of various water sports disciplines. I admire all those who set out to get to the finish.
Pavel Šára, June 2011