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Camaraderie and a Paddle.

Cowbells ringing. Cheers. High fives. And hearing our name echoing threw the crowd. There isn't a better way to finishing something. Especially a daunting feat. That force us to question. Is this worth it?

The length. Time. Irrelevant. The journey, is what this adventure is all about. Tackling something that the mind thought. Impossible. But the body overcame the odds. Showing the mind that it is possible for us to push further than we thought was possible.

This was my 6th Carolina Cup. And physically the most challenging. But the most rewarding. Not because of my result. The camaraderie that happened before, during and after the race.

On Thursday morning, my good friend, Bill Kraft, joined me for the ten hour journey. Which took us closer to twelve. Heading north up Interstate 95. The boy band voice on the Waze app letting us know when to turn. And causing us to bust out in laughter, as if it was the first time we heard it.

Just before 5 pm we rolled into the parking lot of the Blockade Runner. Our home for the weekend. Located on the Island town known as Wrightsville Beach. Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the miles of beach. While just a few hundred yards away, to the west and inland, the Intracoastal Waterway runs up the coast. From Florida to Maine.

Upon arrival we are greeted by fellow paddlers making their way into the hotel. And our good friend Nick Montoya, one of the people behind the scenes at the Blockade Runner and event.

Checking into our room, we see a green nose board heading North from Masonboro Inlet, surfing his way down the Atlantic Ocean. It is our friend Travis Grant, who inspires us to get out on the water and enjoy a 4.5 mile loop around the south end of the island.

Arriving back on the beach, Bill and I, both are grinning from ear to ear. As the downwinder was a solid one. And worth the uphill battle getting there. We head over to the poolside bar and snag a quick bite to eat. Running into more good friends. Local paddler and amazing human Kim James greats us with a warm Wrightsville Beach welcoming. And Doctor Larry from New York City adds humor and passion to the mix. We all share stories of our trips and catch up as we haven't seen each other in a bit. But one would never know as the community vibe and friendships are strong. Like the currents that pass through the surrounding waters. As the sun sets, we finish dinner and head back to the room. The first day set the tempo for an amazing weekend ahead.

Friday picked up right where we left off the night before. Catching up with friends from all over the globe. Talking life. Paddling. And lots of laughs. The night came rather quickly as we all had our minds on the paddle set for Saturday morning.

Waking up Saturday morning. The energy was buzzing. Walking into the breakfast line at 6:30 am. The excitement was in the air. From talk about wind direction. To which way the Graveyard course would go. It was all about paddling. And the fun day ahead.

The paddle crafts kicked the day off, heading out onto the water at 8:30. Surf skis, Outrigger Canoes and tandem crafts. The took off to the north and in a matter of minutes where out of site.

The 5k and 10k racers were up next. Dan Gavere was on the microphone sharing the race day stoke. As I walked around it had more of a post race feel than pre race. Paddlers where hanging out and sharing stories. Running into friends like June Mizoguchi, Doug Vojtko, Tracee Van Brunt, Gail Kotowski, Chris Z-Man, Chris Dowling, Karl Eugster, Sybel Sierra, Julie Munaco, Erin Carter and the kids from the Wrightsville Beach Junior Elites and many more. All were smiling from ear to ear. Fueled with adrenaline and excited to get out on the water.

As I walked back to the hotel. I left with a feeling. One that I speak about a lot. The one where you feel as you are family. Apart of something bigger. It was the perfect pre-race strategy. And one I am grateful I was able to be apart of.

For the next 2 plus hours I found myself paddling around Wrightsville Beach. Sometimes with friends. Other moments alone. But during it all I was grateful to be on the water and sharing this space with so many friends. New and old.

Arriving back on the beach. Seeing the crowds of people. And hearing them erupt with excitement upon each finisher making their way in. It was a remarkable experience.

As the day went on. We changed in our race day attire for things a bit more comfy. Had some food, adult beverages and spent time with friends. We celebrated everyone who made the day what it was. High fived and hugged time and time again.

This camaraderie was what we all came here for. And it delivered.

There were many moments of inspiration. Where paddlers over came their personal obstacles. To stand on the beach. Some we saw first hand. Many we will never know. Many people ask why we do this?

Sometimes there's an answer that doesn't need to be spoken. As a high five and victory hug was all that was needed.

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Jeff Matthews

Elizabeth Miller

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