Oak Bluffs resident Chick Stapleton, owner of Island Spirit Kayak, did the Vineyard proud at the 36th annual Run of the Charles on Sunday. Stapleton placed third overall, and was the first woman to cross the finish line in the 19-mile race in the single sea kayak division.
The Run of the Charles, organized by the Charles River Watershed Association, is a grueling test of endurance, a combination of 16 miles of paddling and three miles of portage — lugging the kayak between navigable waters. From the starting line in Dedham to the finish line in Boston, racers must portage around six dams, which entails scrambling up muddy river beds and over wooded trails with their watercraft.
This was Stapleton’s third Run of the Charles. “The running part was always the hardest for me, but this year I killed it,” she said. “I trained all winter, and ran the 20-mile ‘No Weenies’ race.” This year was the first time she opted for wheels on her kayak. “I kissed my wheels when the race was over; there was no way I could have done so well without them,” she said. “At first I felt like a cheeseball having wheels, but I’m 40, so they were a huge help on the portages.”
Downed trees across the river and submerged logs were an added challenge this year, Stapleton said. Underscoring the perilous conditions, volunteers are stationed at bridges along the way to help pull capsized paddlers to shore.
Stapleton said the cold, wet conditions were ideal for her. “I enjoy being wet and cold, so you can punch it and not get overheated,” she said. “This was the first year I wore headphones. I was singing my way through the whole thing. I got a lot of funny looks, but I didn’t care.”
The last three miles of the race are the hardest, Stapleton said. “When you see the Prudential, you think, ‘I’m almost home!’ but it’s slack water, and you get absolutely no help.”
Stapleton has owned and operated Island Spirit on Martha’s Vineyard for 17 years. She’s also guided kayakers all over the world, including Thailand, Australia, and Nova Scotia. More locally, she instructs beginners in and around Island waters, and for the more adventurous, takes tours to the Elizabeth Islands. “As soon as somebody wants to go, I’m ready to take them,” she said.