One paddler bailed out, a bobcat left its paw prints on the outskirts of camp, and we woke up to an impressive lightning storm this morning.
Tim “Wildman” Curry, a Spanish teacher from the Houston area, decided he’d reached the peak of the fun-o-meter after four days of paddling up the Texas coast, and bowed out of the Third Coast Cowboy Epic Kayak trip from the southern tip of South Padre Island to the Louisiana border.
By way of explanation, he offered up a comparison to hot sauce.
“You know Cholula,” he said. “It’s good. It’s just chili flavor, and that’s all it is. It’s not too hot. I’m too old for some stuff – I don’t need my ass to burn. The paddling’s kind of like that – I need a little spice, but I don’t want my ass to burn.”
With that, he paddled to a parking lot at about 6 a.m. to await his wife while the other four paddlers – expedition leader West Hansen, veteran paddlers Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey, and co-star of the PBS documentary program “The Highpointers” Branndon Bargo – pushed into the Intercoastal Waterway and continued their adventure.
So far, the team has knocked out about 130 miles of the roughly 385-mile trip. Hansen initially predicted they would finish in eight days. It’s clear now he overestimated that schedule, but after gliding into Bird Island Basin near Corpus Christi at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, he shrugged off the miscalculation.
“We knew the wind would be with us, but we had this weird hour-long gale force thing that screwed everything up,” he said. “We’ve encountered some conditions that were unpredicted.”
In fact, the wind has been blowing like the world’s biggest box fan for most of the past four days, and doesn’t appear to be letting up. Jason Jones, who’s been driving me up and down the South Texas beaches, and I watched as at least three portable shade awnings set up by beach-goers crumpled to their spindly knees.
We’ve had our own adventures. We spent two nights at Matagorda Cut waiting for the team to arrive. We watched a kangaroo rat sprint across the sanddunes, ogled a raccoon in the giant granite blocks that make up the jetties, met a dog named Xena Warrior Princess, and got tangled up in a jellyfish’s tentacles. I collected sanddollars and swam frequently.
We reconnected with the team Saturday evening at Bird Island Basin near Corpus Christi, a spot popular with windsurfers. I doled out cheeseburgers, tater tots and ice cold Cokes that had been sitting in the car for four or five hours, but nobody seemed to notice.
“Best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten,” Hansen said.
They shared a few of the day’s adventures: They met a guy named Shawn who gave them water and orange juice, and a few hours later stopped at his bayside house, where they helped him right an outhouse that had overturned in a recent storm.
“It wasn’t just a port-o-can – it was heavy,” Hansen said.
They saw several pods of dolphins, leaping mullet, undulating jellyfish, squadrons of jellyfish and some friendly fisherman. The challenge, Hansen said, has been finding a properrhythm.
“I was hoping to have more mileage,” he said.
During the 2012 expedition Hansen led down the Amazon River in 2012, the team covered between 50 and 80 miles a day. That more than 4,000-mile expedition took nearly four months. Two years later, Hansen and Wueste paddled the entire Volga River in Russia.
So far on this trip, the team has paddled between 25 and 42 miles each day, but the first day and a half they were in the Gulf, where they dipped and rose in swells as big as schoolbuses. Their pace has picked up since they shifted into the more protected Intercoastal Waterway.
As he stepped out of his boat Saturday, Hansen grimaced and took a few ginger steps. He showed off a patch of severely chafed skin rubbed raw against his kayak seat as he peeled off his shredded water socks.
“It’s so nice to be away from the news and social media,” he said. “Sleeping out feels so good. The best part is hanging out with these guys.”
Bargo, a mountain climber who’d never paddled in the ocean before, struggled the first few days. He couldn’t keep food or water down, and spent hours puking into the sea.
“I knew it would be hard, but that compounded everything,” Bargo said. “That got me dehydrated, then I slowed down even more.” Also, he noted, he’s paddling with some of the best paddlers in the state. “I do everything I can just to keep up and they pull right past me.”
I camped with the team last night, and I’m glad I did. I know I’ll get a better story in the end. (Last night’s meal was another favorite from Austin-based Packit Gourmet – the corn chowder. I rate it an A-minus. Harvey and I are comparing notes, and agree that our favorite is the Texas State Fair chili, which gets an A-plus. Shepherd pie gets a B.)
Something about popping up a tent, listening to everyone swap tales and watching the stars come out makes me feel alive. We woke up to jags of lightning ripping across the sky to the east, saw hundreds of thumb-sized crabs in the mudflats, then discovered bobcat tracks on the beach that hadn’t been there the night before.
It all made me feel ever-so-slightly feral. Or maybe that was the bottle of scotch we passed around