A storm gathers as the 3rd Coast Cowboys pitch camp near Sargent on Thursday, May 28. Pam LeBlanc photo
I’ve had a hell of a day, full of bumps and slams and sky-rocketing highs.
Here’s the deal: I love doing stuff that makes me uncomfortable and leaves me covered in scratches and mud and mosquito bites. It’s itchy and dirty and frustrates me to no end, but these days don’t fade away. They stick to my ribs, in the most delicious way.
I’ve been chasing a team of paddlers kayaking from the tip of Texas to the Louisiana border. The 3rd Coast Epic Kayak Journey started nine days ago, on May 20. Today, West Hansen, Jeff Wueste, Jimmy Harvey and Branndon Bargo are nearing Galveston Island, with a goal of reaching Sabine Pass by Sunday or Monday. They’re not as far as they originally thought they’d be, but they’ve hit a rhythm and are having a hell of a good time, I think.
So am I. That doesn’t mean everything’s gone according to plan. Take the last 24 hours. It’s been a whirlwind of altered plans, mud, mosquitos and technical difficulties.
It started when I arrived in the small coastal community of Sargent on Thursday afternoon and found four very polite but beer-drinking, music-cranking 20-somethings at the house where friends had offered to let me shack up. There’d been a miscommunication; I needed another place.
While I plotted my next move, I decided to take a spin through Sargent, which is when I discovered that the Intercoastal Waterway was closed during daytime hours due to bridge construction. The guys would have to portage.
As I waited for them, I met the county constable, a friendly guy who showed me where the team could pull out and put their boats back in. When the kayakers arrived – West Hansen, Jeff Wueste, Jimmy Harvey and Branndon Bargo – we loaded their kayaks into my truck and made two trips to carry them to the put-in. Then we agreed to meet and camp about 5 miles down the road. A storm was brewing and we wanted our tents up before it hit.
We ended up on a little point of land next to where a barge was parked. It seemed perfect: More or less flat, a nice dirt road leading down to the site, out of the way, and private.
The rain turned the “dirt road” into a mud pit. Pam LeBlanc photo
The storm grew closer. We quickly put up our tents. Then we headed to Hookers, the local restaurant, for real food. Jimmy stayed behind.
As we drove to town, the storm hit. Raindrops smacked the windshield and it came down in sheets. We dashed into the restaurant, where the guys tossed back double Hooker burgers with cheese. (I can’t make this stuff up.) We bagged one up for Jimmy. The rain stopped.
When we got back to camp, a lot of the dirt road had turned into mud, and Jimmy notified us that a rat had trotted through camp, but the tents were still standing. Puddles had formed inside mine (sideways rain has a way of defeating a rain fly), but I had a cot, so I didn’t much care.
After a while, I went to sleep. I’m not sure how much time passed, but I awoke to the sound of the barge, rumbling so loud it sounded like I was on an airport runway. It had powered up, but was idling – and idled for the next 6 hours. Then it fired up the lights, so bright they illuminated half of the Texas coast.
I rolled over. My cell phone dropped off my cot, but I ignored it. I got up to pee, and a few hundred mosquitos bit my butt.
At 5 a.m., as the roaring continued unabated, I could hear the guys stirring. I stayed on my cot, exhausted. I reached for my phone, which I found – in pooling water. When I stepped outside, the mosquitos descended and I slipped in sticky mud. Someone handed me bug spray.
The paddlers attempt to push my truck out of the mud. Pam LeBlanc photo
Eventually, I broke down my tent. I’d asked the guys not to leave before I moved my truck up to dry ground, and West volunteered to move it for me. That’s when it got mired in sticky brown goo. The rest of the team came over, and together they rocked the truck forward and back, trying to gain purchase.
Eddie Steel of Granbury came to the rescue! Pam LeBlanc photo
After 30 minutes, I called the constable, who called someone just down the road who could help. In another 15 minutes, Eddie Steel came to my rescue.
Eddie, who lives in Granbury but owns a summer house in Sargent, rolled up in what looked to me like a golf cart with tractor tires. He attached a tow line to my (husband’s) Ford F150 and winched my vehicle slowly up the muddy road. I thanked him, tried to offer him money (he wouldn’t accept), and bid the paddlers, who were now 30 minutes behind schedule, adieu.
My muddy shoes. Pam LeBlanc photo
Then my phone started acting weird. At first, it wouldn’t take the letters I typed into the screen. Then it started randomly dialing numbers. Eventually, it quit working altogether. And I had kayaks to track!
I followed paper maps to Galveston (how old school), and when I arrived, I called Mary Beth Bassett at the Galveston Visitors and Convention Bureau. She invited me over for a shower, and placed my phone in a bag of dry rice. Then she took me to lunch.
And then, a miracle. When we got back, my phone started working. I did a happy dance, then set out for the Best Western, where she’d arranged a room for me.
Then I realized my phone wouldn’t plug into the charger. I kept pushing, but it just wouldn’t go. Finally, in my room, I discovered that a piece of rice was jammed in the opening. I stabbed at it with a flossing pick. I slammed it on the table. I blew at it. Then I posted an SOS message on face book.
In the end, someone suggested a needle. I called the front desk, and they handed over a sewing kit. For the next hour or so, I whittled away at the piece of rice, working it free.
And then, just like that, it crumbled to pieces.
Once again, I’ve got a working phone. I’ve got a working truck. I’ve got access to a hot shower, and places to charge my gear.
I’m back in business and can’t wait to find out what tomorrow holds.
After the storm, a beautiful sunset. Pam LeBlanc photo