I experienced my first full-blown “yard sale” yesterday on the river.
Frankly, I’m glad I got that out of the way. After flipping our boats and losing everything that wasn’t tethered inside it, I can move on to worrying about other things – like how my shoulders will feel after paddling for three days straight, what I’ll do when I breath in a lungful of freshly-hatched mayflies, what will happen to my skin when its wet for 70 hours straight, and other horrors of the Texas Water Safari.
I’m one third of Team “That’s What She Said,” three women who have registered for what’s been dubbed “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race.” Sheila Reiter, Heather Harrison and I will paddle 260 miles, from San Marcos to Seadrift, in mid-June.
Yesterday, during a training run, the river reminded us who’s boss.
As the least experienced member of the team (I’m new to paddling, Sheila and Heather both have several safaris under their PFDs), I sit in the middle of our canoe. Heather drives, and Sheila fine tunes and calls out obstacles. We all paddle like hell.
Last year, while covering the Safari for the Austin American-Statesman, I spent a few hours at a place called Cottonseed Rapids, where I sat on a boulder and watched boats speed through a curvy, rock and cypress-studded stretch of river. It all looked so simple from that vantage point.
Things look different from the river, and from my perspective, they were quite, um, violent.
One minute I was in my seat, listening to Heather confidently call out some typical instructions. A second later, that instruction turned into a series of mild cuss words as our boat rapidly approached a cut log and a big hunk of what looked like cement or rock.
The boat tipped like a drunken debutante trying her first curtsy. The boat reared up on its side. Sheila, in front of me, clung to her spot like she had Velcro on her butt, but I was ejected almost immediately. (Let the record show I held on to my paddle, per instruction.) The other two joined me for a refreshing swim, and after getting sucked several hundred feet down the river, we managed to right the canoe.
Moments like this remind me of getting a root canal (not that I’ve ever had one.) They go on forever. Someone probably could have driven to Austin, cooked dinner and returned in the time it took us to drag our half-submerged craft to the river’s edge, flip on the bilge pumps and use my pee cup to scoop out our canoe, which apparently holds something like 6 million gallons of water.
A few speedy race canoes zoomed past.
“Nothing to see here!” I hollered out at one point.
“But if you do find a water bottle and a baseball cap downstream, that might be ours,” Sheila added.
We all laughed. Sort of.
In the end, I got my bottle back and Sheila got her cap back, Heather kept her cool and we found another hat buried in the muck at the bottom of the river. I yanked it out of the slurry – dark green, with an owl embroidered on its front, just like the real one we’d seen a few days earlier, at the night race.
I think owls are now my official spirit animal.
The preliminary race is next weekend, and it determines how boats will be seeded at the actual Texas Water Safari.
I hope we got all our boat flipping out of the way.