Veteran canoe racers Jeff Wueste, Jimmy Harvey and West Hansen, left to right, pull into the boat ramp near Austin High School after a training run for the Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

West Hansen sloshed out of Lady Bird Lake yesterday, helped his teammates pull their three-person racing canoe ashore, and wiped the sweat from his face.

Hansen, who paddled the entire length of the Amazon River in 2012 and followed that up by paddling the whole Volga River in Russia two years later, learned something during the 10-plus mile training run: The boat’s trim is off, and the canoe racers need to make some adjustments to get the balance right.

“We’ll work on that by moving Jeff’s seat,” Hansen said after pulling the long, torpedo-shaped canoe, with the name That’s What She Said in bright green letters on the side, out of the water.

That’s easy stuff.

West Hansen, head of the Arctic Cowboys, paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012. Pam LeBlanc photo

The team is training for the upcoming Texas Water Safari, a grueling 260-mile paddling race from San Marcos to the town of Seadrift on the Texas coast. Paddlers in that race face everything from bobbing mats of logs to smallish alligators and swarms of biting insects as they make their way down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers toward the finish line, many of them going without sleep for two or more days.

But these three paddlers – Hansen, Wueste and local pool business owner Jimmy Harvey – have a bigger mission hovering on the horizon. Hansen ultimately plans to lead the trio, dubbed the Arctic Cowboys, on a 1,900-mile kayaking expedition through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic.

Covid has cast some uncertainty on timing of that expedition. The trip hinges on how soon the Canadian government allows access into Nunavut, populated by the native Inuit people. The Northwest Passage, between Tuktoyaktuk and Pond Inlet, is currently closed due to the pandemic. Hansen is hopeful an efficient rollout of Covid-19 vaccine could allow them to make their attempt this summer, and says the team is “continuing to hurry up and wait.”

Jeff Wueste, Jimmy Harvey and West Hansen paddled more than 10 miles on Lady Bird Lake to prepare for the upcoming Texas Water Safari in June. Pam LeBlanc photo

In the meantime, yesterday’s much warmer training run showed them some scenery they won’t see in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Throngs of people on standup paddleboards, kayaks, inflatable rafts, canoes and rowing sculls, enjoying the balmy day.

And not a single chunk of floating ice or polar bear.



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