training for the Texas Water Safari

Part of Pam LeBlanc’s race team pushes their boat around a log while training for the Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

When you’re training for the Texas Water Safari, stuff goes wrong. And it did this week.

I’m racing on a five-human boat, and two of our five humans live in Colorado, not Texas.

That’s OK. Both Steve Daniel and John Murphy have finished the 260-mile paddling race between San Marcos and the Texas coast before. They know what they’re getting into – extreme exhaustion, sleep deprivation, log jams covered in spiders, the occasional dead and bloated cow, mud, snakes, mosquitos, horrible rashes, sore shoulders, and more.

In their absence, a rotating cast of paddlers has been filling seats in our boat, so Debbie Richardson, James Green and I could train.

But starting position in the Safari is based on how teams do at the Texas River Marathon, a 35-mile race from Cuero to Victoria on May 7. Top finishers at that race get starting slots at the front of the line at the big dance on June 11. But if your entire team doesn’t race in the Marathon, you must start at the back of the pack at the Safari.

No problem, we figured. The way we planned it, our Colorado teammates would fly down for the Marathon and a few training runs. We’d paddle together for the first time and work out kinks before the Safari.

A change in plans

But earlier this week, things turned south. Our Colorado teammates both got sick. They had to cancel their trip to Texas to race the Marathon.

The boat calculus that Richardson had worked out suddenly collapsed and a flurry of rescheduling ensued. Our brains collectively melted down. Hotel reservations, flights – it all had to be cancelled and rescheduled. And with only four more training weekends remaining before the Safari, we have to figure out how to get get in at least one training run with our Colorado contingent.

Tomorrow, Richardson, Green and I are racing in a three-man boat. Come race day, we’ll have to start at the back of the pack, trying to maneuver around slow-moving aluminum tandems and other slower racers. Imagine a 37-foot torpedo picking its way through a minefield of hand grenades.

debbie richardson

Debbie Richardson pushes a canoe under a branch while training for the Texas Water Safari in March 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

I figured we were doomed. But Richardson, who has finished 12 of the 12 Safaris she started, assures me we’ll be fine. She’s started at the back of the pack three times. And of those three races, she’s finished third, fifth and eighth overall, out of roughly 150 boats.

“We might need a helmet and life jacket (at the start),” she jokes. “But I’m not scared to start at the back wall.”

It’ll be tricky at the start, but we’ll have about two days of non-stop paddling to make up any disadvantage.

Bring it on.

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