Add late night, tent-collapsing storms to puke-inducing rough seas, hideous chafing and ocean poops on the list of joys experienced by a group of Austin paddlers kayaking up the Texas coast.
The team endured its wildest night yet Sunday, and that’s saying something, considering they fended off drunk teen-agers one night and pitched tents on a crab-infested mudflat another.
West Hansen is leading the mini expedition, which started as an eight-day semi-serious training trip from the tip of Texas to the Louisiana border. They’ve made less than half that distance (no worries, they didn’t really have a hard-and-fast schedule) and already have burned up six days. One team member quit after four nights, joking that he was too old and wise for so much fun. Three others – veteran paddlers Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey, along with mountain climber Branndon Bargo (of “The Highpointers” show on PBS) – are still plugging along and, it seems, actually savoring the seemingly endless barrage of discomforts.
Not long after I left the guys after camping with them near Bird Island Basin, they headed back into the Intercoastal Waterway, near Padre Island National Seashore.
A few hours later they paddled into Corpus Christi Bay with a tailwind, and zipped along until they reached open water, where they encountered foot-and-a-half rollers. The team veered right, hugging a line of spoil islands, then popped into the channel just south of Port Aransas. They sped as quickly as they could past the bustling ferry crossing and into rough water surrounding an industrial area. At nearly 8 p.m., they pulled ashore for the night.
After getting word of incoming inclement weather, they pitched camp, buttoned things up and went to sleep. Then, at about 12:30 a.m., things went from calm to crazy.
“This gust of wind came in and snapped my tent pole,” Bargo said today. “Then the pole pierced the rainfly and collapsed it all on top of me.”
Temperatures dropped by 20 degrees and rain sliced sideways through camp. Wearing nothing but his underpants, Bargo staggered out into the elements to wrangle his kayak on top of his flattened tent, pinning it like a calf at a rodeo. After hollering at a still-sleeping Wueste, he retrieved his sodden sleeping bag and fled to Harvey’s still-standing-but-now-leaking tent, where they rode out the next four hours, cold and wet.
Hansen, meanwhile, was busy directing his own three-ring circus. The first wave of wind and rain laid his tent down but didn’t kill it. A second, stronger wave yanked up a couple of stakes securing the tent’s fly cover, which began flapping violently. He strained to hold the tent poles in place to keep the shelter from blowing down.
Then Wueste ditched his own wounded structure and came knocking at Hansen’s tent flaps. Hansen sent him out to tie the shuddering shelter to the bow of a boat, and the two huddled inside, using their body weight to hold the tent, its stakes now plucked from the ground like feathers from a chicken, down.
The vestibule flaps slapped Wueste’s face, the rain pooled at one end of the tent, and the storm blasted the team until 4:40 a.m. They finally went to sleep, and when their alarms went off, the men heaved a communal “fuck it” and rolled over.
They slept for an hour or so more, and when they stepped out the air had stilled – and the mosquitos arrived.
In the end, they were left with two more or less surviving tents – the exact same eight-year-old North Face Topaz 3 models that Hansen used on a 111-day expedition down the entire length of the Amazon River.
They loaded up and paddled 14 miles into Rockport, where they’re now resting and doing boat maintenance at the home of Wayne White, a fellow Explorer Club member currently in his third year as station manager of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, and his wife Melissa.
Support crew are on their way with a new North Face tent, a heavier, bomb-proof model that sleeps five and is part of the gear for the Arctic Cowboy’s upcoming 2021 expedition to kayak the Northwest Passage in the Arctic.
“It’ll be a party. It’s got a disco ball,” Hansen said of the tent.
The boats sustained no storm damage, and the team was washing clothes and eating sandwiches as I spoke with them. (I headed back to Austin after weathering out the storm in Magnolia Beach, just up from where the guys were camped; I’ll be returning to the coast on Wednesday.)
What’s next, a zombie invasion?