Imagine falling down an endless spiral of darkness, where you can’t really see where you’re going.
Toss in a helping of unidentified sounds, a shovel (or hundred) full of stink, a seat that could at any time catapult you into the dark murk, and you’ve got a vague idea of what it’s like to paddle as fast as you can down a Texas river at night.
I’m training for the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddle race from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Texas coast. Cutoff time to officially finish the race is 100 hours. An official finish earns you a patch. I want a patch. As a result, my team, Team That’s What She Said, took a practice run from Palmetto State Park to Gonzales on the San Marcos River Saturday night.
The Martindale Athletic Club put on a race that started at 7 p.m. We ran the same course, but started an hour and a half early so we scout three logjams before the last drop of light drained from the sky.
- Something lurks in the depths. As we launched, I stood in hip-deep water, holding our 21-foot, three-person canoe. Something with some substance – monster catfish? eel? the creature that lived in the trash compactor from the original “Star Wars” movie? – swirled around my ankles. I kept my cool. Sort of.
- Nobody understands the horrors of a logjam until they’ve dragged a boat over baseball field-sized flotilla of fallen logs, brush, snakes, biting ants, muck AND A DEAD AND BLOATED FERAL HOG in the waning light. My partner, the stoic Sheila Reiter, calmly and firmly told me, “Don’t put your hand there,” as we scrambled past a decaying carcass in our mission not to wreck our boat as we forged through the mess. I’m still suffering PTSD.
- Mother Nature offers up an entirely different hit parade of sights at dusk and dark, and last night’s show included a huge owl (horned?), a beaver, armies of spiders with leg spans as big as my palm, a family of (living) pigs, turtles, blue herons and four ghostly looking white egrets that escorted us downriver in a flapping, beautiful display.
- Sometimes it looks like the river ends. It doesn’t. It goes on forever. (Nod to Robert Earl Keen.)
- No matter what, when everybody else sees a shooting star, I will miss it.
- You do NOT want to lose your prescription glasses in the river, which Reiter did, or thought she did, and she cussed a lot but moved on, then looked down and by some Easter miracle (but wait, she’s Jewish) found them tucked in the side of the boat.
- Dam portages can be freaky at night, when you hear water rushing and see rollers and whitecaps in the haze, and you have no idea what lies ahead. It’s best to sit in the center seat, paddle like a banshee when ordered to do so, and think stable thoughts.
- Nothing beats a riverside fish fry at midnight, featuring fish caught by a fellow paddler.
- Paddlers are nice folks.
- I CAN PEE IN A CUP IN A MOVING CANOE!