Pam LeBlanc nibbles cold tangerine slices a few minutes after finishing the 2019 Texas Water Safari. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

The rash has mostly disappeared from my butt, and the blisters are peeling from my fingers and palms. Nearly two weeks out from the start of the Texas Water Safari, I’m finally feeling human again.

Holy guacamole. I underestimated the recovery period for an ultra-endurance paddling race.

The Safari, billed as “the World’s Toughest Canoe Race,” started June 8 in San Marcos. Nearly 180 boats lined up at Spring Lake, then started paddling 260 miles down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers toward Seadrift on the Texas coast. It took my team of three – veteran paddlers Heather Harrison and Sheila Reiter and me – a little more than 53 hours to finish.

Truly, I had no idea it would take so long to feel normal again. But it turns out that sleep deprivation (we didn’t snooze along the way, so were awake about 56 hours straight) and non-stop paddling do weird things to your body.

Adrenaline got me up last Tuesday, the day after the race, for the banquet and awards ceremony, but after that I slept – a lot. I had to go to New Orleans for a wedding, and my husband drove while I slept most of the way there and most of the way back. Most of my sleep has been zombie like, but for the past four days I’ve popped awake in the wee hours, dreaming that I was still paddling down a dark tunnel of river.

The weird wrinkly skin on my feet smoothed out in a day. I’ve got splotches of poison ivy and strips of sunburned skin around my ankles and on my hands. The tips of my ears peeled. My shoulders are still exhausted. I returned to regular swim practice this week, but I’m slow and feeble, which has been frustrating.

If you look closely, you can see the wrinkly state of my feet. Like staying in a pool too long. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

I’m mentally exhausted, too. The moment after I climbed the steps at the finish, I told my husband, “I’m never doing that again.”

But the mind is funny. At first, I could only remember the bad parts – the heat index of 110, the nausea that coursed through my body at the sight of a cold piece of bacon wrapped in a tortilla and shoved in a baggie, the trees that morphed into leering cartoon characters, the way my ass felt like I was sitting on broken glass, peeing in a moving canoe for the umpteenth time, the mental lows and grumpiness that swept over our team at times and the feeling that all I wanted was to get off that damn boat.

But my brain has already started its editing job. I keep wondering how we could have done better if I hadn’t gotten sick, or if I’d eaten different food, or taken more electrolyte caplets. I want to know how it would feel to race on a bigger boat, with a team of four or five. I liked the almost feral feeling I got from paddling down a river, clambering up and over muddy banks like a wild animal, and dragging the boat through mats of bobbing logs.

Honestly, I need more time to process what just happened. And maybe another nap.


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I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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