I hopped in a 38-foot canoe yesterday, filling seat number four in a five-person canoe on a ripping run from Martindale to Luling.
I consider the nearly 30-mile trip my first really official training session for the 2019 Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race in June from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Texas coast.
I started the day with blue lips and triple clothing layers, and finished stripped down to a T-shirt and jogging pants. Thanks to flow rates of about 1,400 cubic feet per second, we zipped down the San Marcos River at an average pace of just over 7 mph. (Multiply yesterday’s distance by nine, cut the river flow way back, remove four strong paddling arms and I’ll know how it really feels.)
Driver Jeff Wueste steered us downstream, and I tried to put what I’ve learned from paddling instructor Holly Orr of Paddle With Style into practice. My stroke feels good on the right side, but awkward – like I’m trying to scoop ice cream with my non-dominant hand – on the left. By the end of our excursion, my left wrist felt like someone had snipped a tendon in it.
But, onward. I’m sure that’ll feel like nothing compared to the barf-fest that awaits on day two of the actual Water Safari.
Highlights? A coyote trotted alongside us for 25 or so yards, a beaver skidded down a muddy bank, an eagle scanned the river and we put a foot-long, zipper-shaped scratch in the side of our boat when a jagged rock popped up out of nowhere. We spotted a feral hog strung up by its heels on a rack in someone’s backyard, and watched as half a dozen parachutists dropped out of the sky. We also saw an array of turtles, deer (one injured, not a happy sight), blue herons, red-tail hawks, vultures and a couple of caracaras with bright orange beaks.
Thankfully, Sheila Reiter suggested that I pack a dry bag with spare clothes to take on the river in case of unintended mayhem. The boat never flipped, but I took a dunk trying to get out of the canoe as we approached a low water bridge at Prairie Lee 1.5. Lesson: Never, ever jump in the water right before a bridge. You might get sucked under and stuck like wad of lint in a dryer filter. That could be fatal.
Thankfully I survived, and happily I just stripped off my wet clothes and changed into dry ones. The sun baked me warm and dry in a few minutes.
It’s the changing spirit of the river that draws me to this sport – it shows off a slightly different skin every time.
Yesterday’s theme? Fast water and mud, mainly.
You should have seen us struggle to hoist that boat up the muddy bank at the takeout in Luling. We looked like stars in a slapstick comedy, sliding down the bank, slipping on our butts and coating ourselves in thick ooze.