Part of doing a WaterTribe Challenge is making your gear organized, efficient and as light as you feel is needed. The importance of this varies for me but doing it some of the time keeps the total weight of my gear down. I just happened to stumble into creating this cooking kit a week or two before the race and it served me very well. I can’t take credit for all of it. Some came from other adults in my son’s Boy Scout troop. The stove came from my fishing and camping buddy Scott. I stumbled into making it all fit together.
It was very convenient to keep this kit accessible during the trip. There were occasions where I needed to cook on the go or cook without unloading the boat. For example. SandyBottom and I got stuck on a shoal when the tide went out near Highland Beach in Everglades National Park. We used that time to cook. My stove was easily accessed and we ate hot meals while we waited 3 hours for the tide to come back in. Comeing up the St. Mary’s River I needed to put in several hours of night time paddling before stopping. I stopped for 10 minutes to break out the stove and boil water. Then went back to paddling while my meal re-hydrated. An organized and quickly accessible stove kit makes this possible.
Pictures of the kit:
Measurements on the pot are very helpful
Action shot on the St. Mary’s River. Its important to note when you are doing long distance adventure races you will start feeling tired. A lot of times this isn’t a signal that you need sleep or rest. Its a signal that you need fuel. Once you learn that you will be able to travel further and faster.
– I like a single piece metal spoon with a long handle. A metal spoon is easier for me to clean. I can also hold it over the flame to disinfect it if I don’t think my previous cleaning was enough. A long handle makes eating from freeze dried food back much easier.
– The “large”: fuel containers lasted almost 3 weeks during my trip. Usage was a little less than once a day due to stops at restaurants on the water from time to time.
– The MSR Pocket Rocket stove and Stanley pot is not as efficient as a Jet Boil. It seemed to take almost twice as long to heat up water but I still like how everything goes together and will continue to use this kit. 3 1/2 minutes vs 7 minutes was not an issue for me.
A little over a week ago I finished the WaterTribe 2016 Ultimate Florida Challenge. It was the trip of a lifetime for someone with a family and a corporate career. To drop everything for 30 days and in today’s fast paced society was not a trivial thing to do. I was very fortunate to have a supportive job and wife who not only let me go but took care of all the responsibilities that were still there while I was chasing a personal goal.
There are a lot of things to write up and share from the trip. As I write this I think I am going to write and publish one item at a time. Possibly following an outline that will loosely create a books worth of information. My emphasis will be to help future challengers and adventurers assemble information that is helpful for them.
So with that. Here is a first post. Thank you in advance for taking the time out of your busy life to read my stuff. I hope you find it helpful and/or inspiring. I always like to hear feedback and stories about others adventures. Especially ones where you have incorporated something I might have said or written. Safe Travels!
The Facebook Blog……..
During the 2016 WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge I posted almost daily updates on Facebook. I did this on what they call a “fan page” which means its publicly accessible and I don’t have to be Facebook friends with everyone. I found it a great way to keep trips organized and in segmented from the rest of the fast paced Facebook world. I was very impressed with how fast video uploads took on Facebook. As long as I had some mobile connectivity I could always get an update published.
To see my daily posts and get a feel of what my trip was like you can check it out here:
This is not a very WaterTribe oriented updated but its small boat sailing and its starting off with some boat repairs. Everyone can learn something from others repair jobs so I figured I would share.
So over the summer I have somehow gone on a small boat buying spree. First it was a great deal on a recreational version of a Laser 2. When I brough it out to my local sailing club I immediately hooked up with another Laser 2 sailer and got the opportunity to upgrade to full racing version of the Laser 2. Then a week later a MX-Ray was posted on Craigslist for $200. I had been looking for an asymetrical spinnaker for the first Laser 2 for a while. There are no used ones available. Its about $800 to buy a new one from a similar sized boat which was just a little less than I had in the whole rig so I kept looking around. Thats how I found the MX-Ray. I wanted a used kite but this one had a full boat attached and it was $200. Yep, to cheap to pass up. Turns out the only thing wrong with it was a cracked mast where it joined the two sections. Not bad at all.
Here is a picture of another MX-Ray on the water for reference.
Here is the cheesy original marketing video showing how fun and fast the boat can be.
The boat has some fans who apprecite it for its speed and fun factor but gennerally serious racers are pretty harsh on the boat for its overall sailing abilities. It was the very first single handed sailboat with an asymetrical spinnaker. That was a radical concept and ahead of its time. Others soon copied and improved on the idea like the RS-100 and Musto Skiff. I am expecting it to be a challenging boat to sail and hope it performs well enough to be enjoyable so I will hold my opinion on the MX-Ray until I get it out on the water a few times.
This is my mast.
Here is the damage I am dealing with. Several splits where the two piece masts joins together. This is the base section.
Upper section of the mast. Smaller amount of damage to the ferrule.
My plan is to add an additional internal ferrule while repairing and extending the length of the original one. Here is a pic showing how that would work. I will make the ferrule out of carbon fiber and place it where I have the PVC.
The lower section of the mast already has additional carbon wraps where the boom attaches. I am planning to use a carbon sleeve to strengthen it where the mast is damaged.
Here is what I found that was somewhat applicable to my mast repair. Neither of them deal with fixing the joint on a two piece mast so I will be doing many things different.
These are my outstanding items.
1. Still need to come up with a plan to build the additional ferrule.
2. What is the right way to sand down the existing mast where its damaged and reinforce that section.
3. How thick can I make the lower section reinfocement without it getting to bulky.
It was an unusual weekend. I had spent most of the past year excited for the annual cruise down the south west coast of Florida. This event is mentally and physically demanding. It requires a lot preparation and determination to finish. There are thousands of things along the way that can take you out of race. Some are prior to the start like work and family. Along the way it can be equipment failure, fatigue, injury or even illness. But with all the preparation I never anticipated the event being canceled by the Coast Guard and getting news that we were ordered off the water.
2015 started like any other year. All was going smoothly for me. I had plans to paddle with Danito for as long as possible. I was able to ride with DieTired and DieTired2 to the start. We shared a camp site in Fort Desoto on Friday night. The biggest news was that the raccoons were thankfully gone and one WaterTriber was not going to make the event. He was hospitalized due to a heart issue. I went to dinner with a bunch of Tribers from Orlando and had an excellent pre-race meal. All was going according to plan.
Saturday morning roll call seemed normal. Some folks were still organizing their gear but conditions looked good. I had listened to the marine weather radio around 5 AM and they were calling for 15 – 20 and stated “small craft should exercise caution” which I took to mean that the potential for rough water was likely but there was no small craft warning in effect. Basically for me and my canoe I would have to proceed cautiously.
When I got to the starting beach the tide was very low. Most likely the result of the wind creating a stronger than usual tide. Since the launch was on the leeward side the water looked calm near shore but when I looked at a powerboat way off shore heading west on plane it was clear that there was a good chop on the water.
Quadcopter video from a spectator confirms conditions looked almost too good at the launch. It was a different story further off shore.
The first half of the bay crossing was fairly uneventful. Danito and I were paddling within 100 yards of each other. As we got further across the conditions continued to build. We were running 1 meter Flat Earth Kayak Sails or FEKS. I was mostly sailing. I would occasionally paddle and brace a bit in the bigger gusts. The wind gusts were strong enough to be causing my deck to flex under the load. When I saw that I eased the sail out and bled off some of the speed and power. Most of the time I was consistently making 4.5 – 5.5 knots which is moving quite well. Its about then that I grabbed my phone and took my first video.
It was soon after this that I happened upon the first capsize assistance being performed. I didn’t know the guy who had rolled. There was already a veteran Triber lending assistance. I acted as the 2nd assist by collecting his paddle and float nearby and then pulling up along side the 1st responder. We were able to get the guy situated and then proceeded on our way.
Green kayak being assisted after wet exit and re-entry. (Blurriness is from water on the lens)
It took me by surprise when I looked to my right and saw another Triber was in the water and already getting assistance. It was SandyBottom being assisted by FeralCat. As I approached she skillfully got back into her boat and with one of us on each side of her we proceeded to pump her boat out with two hand bilge pumps. This one caught me off guard because the person who went over was one of the most experienced and skilled kayakers that I know. I am looking forward to reading her account of what happened but my speculation is that it was a combination of the conditions, a high performance narrow kayak, and very large expedition load.
Conditions were getting worse as we got further across the bay. I had anticipated this. My plan was to head east of my intended crossing point so that first and foremost I wouldn’t miss the ICW on the other side. Second, as the conditions worsened I would be able to turn so that I would have following seas instead of waves hitting me on the beam. That plan pretty much fell apart the second time I gave assistance because were standing still in the water long enough to drift west of my intended line.
How bad were the conditions out there? I really don’t think they were bad at all. Don’t get me wrong it was very windy and the seas were up but not anything that I would call storm conditions. It should have been manageable for anyone who was an expert in their small boat of choice and in good physical condition. Those that I saw roll and performed a wet exit did great jobs recovering. I am confident they would have been fine on their own too. The assistance we provided was just that, assistance, not a rescue. The others that I heard about after the race were different cases. An I550 sailboat capsized near Anna Maria Island and one account that I heard from a person with 1st hand knowledge of that boat was they hadn’t taken appropriate caution which resulted in the boat going over. I spoke with the person who radioed it in. He was on channel 16 requesting a commercial tow for them because there wasn’t an emergency and everyone was ok but the Coast Guard responded anyways.
The short version: Rod Price aka RiverSlayer and I completed the 2014 Texas Water Safari. A great race with a long tradition. This was the 52nd running of the race which begins in San Marcos and finishes in Seadrift. The course runs on the San Marcos River, Guadalupe River, and salt water bay. Rod and I were in the rookie division (they call it novice) and placed 2nd in our division and 36th overall out of 104 boats with a time of 71 hours 29 minutes. Most importantly we had a great time running a challenging course. We met some really friendly people and would do it again given the opportunity!
The Texas Water Safari has been held since the 1960s and is a huge part of the river community in the area. Its billed as “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race” which Rod and I initially took with a grain of salt considering we had done some longer races. Especially Rod. The difference with this race is that it has lots of class 2 rapids, at least one class 3, countless sweepers, several dams that require portaging, several log jams that require portaging, an open water bay crossing usually with a stiff sea breeze, and then hot summer Texas temperatures. Still with all of these tough conditions the race draws about 100 teams. Everything from solo to six man boats. The boats are standard fiberglass and aluminum recreational canoes, C1 and C2 racing canoes, to purpose built 6 man carbon fiber racing canoes.
So why do this race? Especially if you live in Florida. Its a long way to go when there is plenty of water and opportunities to paddle or race locally. I can site a few reasons. First, if you watch the youtube videos and follow Texas Water Safari on Facebook you will see everyone is having a really good time. (At least if your idea of a good time is being in a canoe even if it means suffering a little). Second, there are a few major distance canoe (paddle) races held in the United States. The AuSable, the Watertribe Everglade Challenge, MR340, and the Texas Water Safari. Each has its own appeal but the Texas Water Safari sets itself apart by having moving water with lots of obstacles in your way making for a really fun and challenging course. My final reason is personal. Its about having an adventure. For many of us there is a calling to go see something new. Something outside our comfort zone. Travelling to Texas and jumping into a 260 mile race never having seen the river before is an exciting proposition. Doing these types of trips makes working a regular day job the rest of the year tolerable. Its the type of adventure that gives you something to look forward to each day until its upon you.
How the Team was Formed
While talking at the finish of the 2014 Everglades Challenge Rod Price mentioned that his next big race would be the Texas Water Safari. My response was that I was interested in doing it too. Originally my though was to go solo. Rod was looking for a partner and had done his research. He wanted to enter the rookie (novice) division since you can only do it your first time entering the race. This meant using a standard canoe. Preferably aluminum for durability in the rocky rapids and on the portages.
I was concerned that my paddling was not that great. Certainly no where near the level of Rod’s paddling. While I had done 50 – 70 mile paddles and some longer trips where I combined paddling and sailing he had completed most of the major distance paddling races in North America and some internationally. So I told Rod that we needed to paddle a few times together to know if we would be able to do the race together. Somewhere in April our team was formed, we entered the race, and rented the canoe from a Texas outfitter named Paddle with Style run by Holly Orr who is a successful racer herself. Workouts went well. We were paddling 2 hours once a week on Wednesday nights, sometimes up to 20 miles on the weekends and we completed our training with 67 mile overnight paddle on Suwannee that even included portaging at Big Shoals. I supplemented my training with gym workouts and Rod was paddling on his own some more too.
Besides paddlers the Texas Water Safari requires that you have one or more “team captains”. The responsibility of the team captain(s) is to check you in at each of the ten race check points. Provide you with food, drinks, water, ice, and medical supplies but no other equipment such as paddles, lights, camping gear, repair items, etc. The team captains have a tough job. Trying to get to the check points and to some of the other accessible points along the course means driving long distances sometimes in very rural areas, living out of the car for multiple days, and boring long waits as the races make it down the course. Having a good team captain can make or break you.
Originally Rod’s girlfriend Stacy was to be our team captain but work kept her from being able to make it so Rod was able to get his friend Ed Morris to join us. Ed was an awesome team captain. A super tough outdoors man and triathlete with a great attitude.
Check in Day
Standing at the Check In Table (Jeb our very helpful and super cool race official checking us in is to our right.)
The Friday before the race is check in day. After flying in and traveling from the airport we arrived at the pre-race check in and meeting around 2 PM. This was our first introduction into the Texas Water Safari world. While I eyed a class of canoes the likes of of I had never seen before we began to prepare our gear. The first order of business was finding an official to review our mandatory equipment. We had all of our gear, Coast Guard approved aerial flares, first aid kit, snake bite kit, PFDs but one rule surprised us. You were required to have a communication device such as a mobile phone but it would have to be sealed to prevent use. This was an unforeseen hiccup in my plans. As an iPhone junky my phone was also my still and video camera, backup GPS, access to the Internet for Facebook updates and more. I was not happy with the rule but we had to comply. So I resolved myself to no having this modern day luxury item.
The next step was to list all other items you were bringing on the race. My understanding of this is that race officials want to prevent entrants from receiving equipment along the course so they make you inventory EVERYTHING. This became an unnerving task as we listed our dry bags, sleeping equipment, repair kit items, go pro, wallet, etc because we were told that we would have to check in our inventory at the end of the race. Anything in the boat that was not on the inventory would be grounds for disqualification. YIKES!
One fun bit of pre race preparation is that most of the experienced racers will get their boat prepared and leave their gear in the boat overnight. To prevent tampering they wrap their boats with cellophane. That way nothing disappears (or gets added). I believe the only exception being a food bag so that raccoons in the park don’t raid the boat. We didn’t know this trick so we took all our gear home for the night.
Finally when inventory was done we hung around for the race meeting. Standard stuff but with one good bit of news. The water in the river was up a bit making it more manageable and there were less log jams in the river. Probably three.
After the race meeting we set off to scout Rio Vista Rapids. It was important because we were on the fence about running the barely class 3 rapid. It was decided that we would use an abundance of caution an portage. Our highest priority was to finish the race. Taking unnecessary risks was not going to be in our plan.
The Start (We Are Not Pictured)
Image Credit: Texas Water Safari Facebook Page
Saturday morning was race day. Official start time was 9 AM. Rod and I loaded the boat in the water around 8:30 AM and were felling pretty confident. The start was fairly standard and we started with a steady pace not trying to burn out right away. A 1/4 mile up from the start is the first portage. We had no clue where was the best spot so we followed a bunch of competitors through the middle. It was very congested as everyone converged and we were held up slightly making our way to the other side. In hindsight I wish we would have put our canoe in the water around 8 AM and paddled down to this first portage and scout it better. We would have had time to pick our line instead of following the pack.
Arriving at Rio Vista
Portaging to the Left of Rio Vista Rapids
Putting in After Rio Vista
Video from 2014 TWS at Rio Vista Rapids by The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
At the 1 1/4 mile mark is the famous Rio Vista Rapids. This is probably one of the best viewing spots for the race. Everyone is coming through quickly. Some run the rapids, some have extra team members jump out to portage while one or two take it through the rapids, some portage the whole thing. We were playing it safe and took the boat out above the rapid on the left. Already on our second portage I was noticing that a relatively heavy recreational aluminium canoe was going to present its own challenges with these portages. The weight was not trivial like the carbon boats used by the other divisions. Rio Vista Rapid was also our first exposure to the crowds that gather to watch and cheer for the race. There were people everywhere taking pictures and video but the crowd yelling encouragement to the racer was awesome and a huge motivation boost.
Their Final Outcome. Swimming and Loosing Valuable Time
Based on my pre-race planning we went to the left and avoided Thompson’s Island Dam. We almost made a last minute decision to portage there because others around us were going that route but it was congested so we stuck with our original plan. It turns out that the left channel to Thompson’s Island Road Bridge is slow water so this probably cost us some time but we were able to portage without having to wait on other racers.
Next up was Cummings Dam. A formidable drop with a portage to the right. This is where we got to see another team with an aluminum canoe school us on how to do the portage quickly. As we pulled up with the intention of taking our boat out of the water they lifted theirs on to the dam and lowered the boat down quickly with bow and stern lines. It was absolutely impressive. Our portage took about 5 or more minutes but theirs was around 90 seconds. It would take us quite a long time to catch back up to them.
Tom Dyll and Rod Price, Team 1219, Entering Cottonseed Rapids
By this point racers were starting to get spread out on the course. Rod and I were beginning to understand how difficult things were going to be. There wasn’t a lot of long strait paddles. There always seemed to be logs or rocks in the water that needed to be avoided. Portages required large amounts of physical exertion. Next up was Cottonseed Rapids. A class 2 rapid with lots of exposed rocks. I picked the wrong line and we ended up stopped with the center of the canoe on a rock. I then made the mistake of jumping out of the boat thinking I could get it off of the rock but what happened was the stern settled further into the water, caught the current and spun the boat 180 degrees. With the boat still on the rock and Rod in the stern facing the wrong direction the boat became less stable and (probably) in fear of tipping over Rod jumped out. Whoops! The crowd on the bank cheered at our less than graceful antics. At least the boat stayed up right so we quickly got it turned around, jumped back in and proceeded on our way.
The next major obstacle was Martindale Dam. Here again we were schooled by the locals. As we went to the right to portage they went strait up to the dam and over. The person in the bow jumped out and slide down the face of the dam. The person in the stern got out and lowered the canoe down the dam with the stern line to the bow person and were gone in a blink of the eye while we spent 5 minutes or more carrying our canoe around the side.
Check Point 1
Saturday 12:28 PM – The first of the 10 race checkpoints was next. Staples Dam was our first opportunity to see Ed, our team captain, and another portage. Staples dam was bit of confusion for us. Ed was on the left bank and we followed the original race instructions to portage on the right. So we never really got a chance to see him. Again the locals had fast methods of portaging the dam by going over and using the structure to their advantage. We continued to stay conservative and portage as advised in the race instructions because it was our planned strategy.
The race after Check Point 1 begins to be more drawn out. The trip from Check Point 1 to Check Point 2 was much less eventful. Still lots of obstacles and current but it was our opportunity to find a groove and click off miles. Another bit of good fortune was that the sky was primarily overcast keeping the temperatures tolerable. At this point I was beginning to have some body management issues. My hands were water logged from pushing too hard and would need to dry out or end up getting torn up. I carefully changed my stroke so that my lower hand would stay mostly dry.
Saturday 5:05 PM – Check Point 2 at Luling 90 bridge was again full of people cheering on racers. It was also the first really good spot to meet up with Ed. He resupplied us with water and a snack. We asked what place we were in for our class and was informed that we were tided for 2nd. He had seen the first place team at Check Point 1 and they were well prepared for the portages. They were completing them in the same manner as the expert teams and had 40 minute lead on us. We didn’t stay at the check point long. We left ahead of the other team in 2nd and started thinking about travelling at night.
Next was Luling Zedler Dam. At this point I will have to profess to my memory getting a bit foggy. It was another tough portage but at least it was still light out.
The sun set for the first day and we proceeded on to the rapid know as Son of Ottine. Its an old rock damn in the water that creates a rocky class 3 rapid. Of course we elected to be conservative and lined the boat down just to be safe. I wish I had pics for you but the phone was stowed per the rules 🙁
Ottine Dam was our first night time portage. We were somewhere around 40th place overall. The take out was a slick 6 foot high mud bank with some roots. Rod and I were able to get out of the boat with no issues but when dragging the boat up the bank I lost my footing like slipping on a banana peel and landed flat on my back. It was a bad enough fall that the boat waiting to portage behind us asked if I was alright. I was lucky not to slide back down the bank and end up in the water. I was also lucky not to have any injuries from the fall. Just a little bit of pain.
Check Point 3
If I recall correctly Palmetto Bridge and Park was a low bridge where we portaged the boat up onto the bridge and met with our team captain Ed. No major issues just a resupply and go.
It was in this section of the river we encountered our first log jam. We were traveling with another 2 man team and the 3rd place team in our division was not to far behind. We made a huge mistake by thinking we could slide through the log jam on the left side. Upon entering it we came right next to a floating dead calf that stunk badly! Enough to make you want to puke. At this point we were committed and pushed another 30 ft deeper into the log jam. The 3rd place team arrived and upon seeing our lack of progress went to the right hand bank to portage. Rod and I struggled in the log jam for several minutes as we were passed by the other team. We watched them successfully portage and continue on when we decided it was time to turn around and follow their route. We probably lost a good hour with this mistake. I also think I picked up poison ivy at that is portage on my wrist and legs but that wouldn’t start becoming a problem until after the race.
The remainder of this leg of the race was uneventful. There was some current and there were logs in the water to avoid but most of the time it was just paddling and dealing with the nausea from smelling the dead cow. Just before Gonzales Dam we completed the San Marcos River and entered the Guadelupe River and the current increased.
Before Check Point 4 was Gonzales Dam. One of the larger ones on the river. Before arriving at it there is a lighted sign warning you to get out. We portaged on the right as described in the race documentation. We were a little confused on where to put in. A race official sleeping told us most were going strait down the rocky side and putting back in so we followed the advice. It turns out this was the more dangerous path. The rocks were large. Anywhere from the size of tool box to large cooler. They would move a bit and you had to careful with your steps. Once all the way down you were in a briar thicket. It was fairly low so they didn’t bite too bad.
Check Point 4
Sunday 4:30 AM – Gonzales Gravel Bar was a busy place. Lots of racers were stopping here to rest. Rod was feeling tired and went to lay down for an hour. I was still pumped up with adrenaline and stayed up with Ed. I took the time to clean the mud out of the boat and off of our seats from the previous portages. We had also broken our bow light off in the dead cow portage. I had made the original out mount out of foam and duct tape but now the boat was wet so I re-secured the foam mount with some bungies that I cut up.
I also noticed my next health issue. My rear end was beginning to get raw. Not a fun subject and gross for non-racers but a fact of life for distance paddlers. The issue was fairly serious I had rubbed the top layer skin off but not being able to see I figured it was just a rash at this point and covered it with Desitin. The same stuff used for baby bottoms. This helped a lot and probably minimized further damage.
We left Gonzales around 6 AM at first light. We saw the other team in our class that had passed us at the dead cow log jam. They were still on the gravel bar resting. (This would be the last time we was them as they were slowing down a bit and we were keeping our pace).
The leg from Gonzales to Hochheim was uneventful. We had a good feel for the river. There were a few sweepers and a couple small rapids but for the most part it was an uneventful paddle. Sunday was a hotter day and I found myself dipping my hat in the water too cool off.
Check Point 5
The Steep Hill at Hochheim
Sunday 1:38 PM – Hochheim Bridge was the first of some tough check points for our team captain Ed. It was a steep bank making resupplying the boat difficult. Ed had mentioned that he wasn’t getting any sleep. Rod took a bio break at this spot and I jumped in the water for about 5 minutes too cool off. Not thinking I went swimming with no foot protection and felt the big tow on my left foot brush up against a sharp piece of glass. Broken glass under a bridge? Duh… Should have seen that one coming but luckily it only took off the surface skin and didn’t bleed.
It was around this time that we learned our nickname was now Team Sharknado because of the teeth on the front of the canoe. The 3rd place team’s captain referred to us by that name and asked if we had seen their guys but we told them no. They also mentioned that their SPOT Satellite Tracker wasn’t working so they didn’t know where they were at.
Check Point 6
Sunday 7:14 PM – I don’t remember the Cheapside Bridge very well. but at this point in the race we had passed the half way mark. A great milestone to boost our morale. This could have been the spot where Ed scraped up his foot and knee trying to deal with the steep banks at the check point. He was still not sleeping.
By this point Ed and I were both extremely sleep deprived too but I was feeling ok. We were talking about where to stop next. As the sun set I was having an extremely difficult time seeing the river in those final moments of dusk where its too dark to see but too light for the flash light to work effectively.
Once it was dark we met up with Pete Binion. We had said hello to him earlier on the river but moved on quickly. This time we chatted a bit more and discussed the idea off running together for a while. A lot of the details are a blur from sleep deprivation but if I recall correctly Pete enjoyed travelling with us because we were on the faster end of his regular pace so it kept him moving along at a good pace. The opportunity to talk would help keep everyone awake. The plan further developed into sleeping on a bank or bar somewhere past our next check point but before some of the more technical rapids and sweepers in the next section of the river. The plan had its benefits for us too. We would be able to travel with someone who knew the course. Especially the big log jam further down the river. The locals knew a fast way around it. On our own we had the potential of spending hours dragging our canoe through trees and other ugly stuff causing us to fall way behind. So travelling with Pete was a big break.
Check Point 7
Sunday 10:30 PM – Here we made a quick stop and informed Ed that we would be getting an hour or two of sleep somewhere on the river. I have very little memory of this stop. The sleep demons were beginning to creep in and during the next few hours of paddling it was difficult to keep my eyes open and my brain focused.
So it was a welcome break when before the Thomaston Bridge section of the river we pulled over on a high gravel bar in the middle of the river for a 1 – 2 hour nap. Pete had a good schedule and sleeping at this location set us up for the next day. Pete and Rod decided to put me in charge of waking up so I set my watch for 3:30 am. Well….. I missed that alarm but luckily only by a little bit. We were up by 4:00 and back on the water 15 minutes later. The schedule was still on track.
Running the rapids around Thomaston Bridge at night was exciting. We stayed a safe distance behind Pete but followed his line through each one. We didn’t know it at that time but the water level was up even more. Somewhere up river they had received rain and we were benefiting from it. The extra current was good for our pace but the sweepers were more dangerous. Rod and I had good strength and could muscle though all of challenges but I wondered how some of the smaller teams were fairing.
Here is a video from that morning. The GoPro battery was not doing well so this is all I was able to get.
Check Point 8
Monday 10:37 AM – By the time we got to Victoria City Park Boat Ramp we had learned that it would make sense to get rid of all of our non essential gear. It would help with the log jams but it was essential before crossing the bay. We notified Ed of this plan while he continued to supply us with great food. At this point we were on our 3rd or 4th Subway sandwich, cookies, Snickers bars, fresh fruit, Cokes, Monsters. He was taking really good care of us.
The trip to Victoria Port Authority (Invista/Dupont) was uneventful. The river was beautiful with huge cypress trees lining the banks. We had to negotiate more sweepers but everything went well. Rod and Pete spent a lot of time talking. They had both been in the canoe racing community for a long time and had many mutual friends so time passed quickly.
Check Point 9
Monday 5:52 PM – At Victoria Port Authority we elected to keep our gear just in case. By this point we knew what we had to portage and we could handle it. We also knew that with Pete in the lead we were going to take the side cut and not have to do the worst portage. Ed was holding up well and the finish was not too far off.
We continued on to the first log jam. It was just before the rail road bridge. The take out was another steep 5 foot incline but things were clicking for us. Pete was fast but we were not too far behind.
SPOT Tracker of Log Jam Bypass Route
We made it to the 2nd BIG log jam just before dark. Pete scouted the portage into the side creek and we were off. The side creek had good current! I watched my GPS as we paralleled the river for about 3 miles. The side creek was fun. The current had a perfect pace for negotiating the tight areas but not having to paddle hard. This was our biggest break of the race.
Check Point 10
Monday 10:58 PM – We had arrived at our checkpoint the Saltwater Barrier. Pete elected to continue on down the river on his own. Rod was wiped out and found a quiet spot to get some sleep. I worked on cleaning out all of my non-essential gear from the boat and preparing for the last leg of the race. It only took me about 45 minutes to get ready and after a few minutes of talking with Ed I fell asleep too. We got up around 2:00 AM. Since we had good light under the bridge at the check point we elected to put the spray skirt on the canoe. We soon found out that the spray skirt didn’t fit properly. It was too small. I theorized that it was due to shrinkage from long term storage but it wasn’t right. We were able to secure the front of the skirt but the back was not going to work. We used duck tape wrapped all the way around the boat and a garbage bag to make it work. It was a heck of a rig job but it was all we had to work with.
We left the check point around 3:00 AM. This would put us at the bay at first light. We hoped that it would also be the lightest possible winds for making the crossing to the other side but it wasn’t to be. We entered the bay with a good 15 MPH wind. We followed the advice we had been given by other competitors and hugged the shoreline until we had to cross over. At Foster’s Point we had to commit. Also motivating us to make our move was a 10 foot gator on the point and no more than 50 feet from our canoe.
Our Route Across the Bay
Rod being the experienced paddler was giving me advice and encouragement as we fought through the chop. It wasn’t terrible in the bay but that was mostly because Rod was keeping us at the best possible angle to the waves. We were relieved when we were across and pulled into a protected shore line to bail the boat out. So far so good!
Next was to cross over at the barge canal. There was a bit more chop in this area I think due to a current coming out of the canal. Rod spotted a big fin. I saw it but couldn’t identify it. Because it never came back up I suspected Rod was right when he thought it was a shark. A dolphin would have reappeared near by.
Past the barge canal we experienced a new issue. There was a sea wall reflecting the bay chop and making it worse. At this point Rod was very concerned about the amount of water we were taking on. The GPS showed us with 1/2 mile to go and we were in a bit of trouble. Sinking was looking like a real possibility. Rod gave me directions to keep paddling and we clicked off the remaining distance. Once we spotted the finish we turned 90 degrees and started paddling strait into shore. With only 100 yards left we were going down! Everyone on shore was yelling and cheering for us. The chop got worse from the sewall as we got closer and at about 40 feet to go we finally had too much water in the boat and we flipped. But we were at the finish. The water was 3 feet deep and bottom solid. We stood up and immediately celebrated. High fives and a hug were in order. We just completed the Texas Water Safari in 71 hours and 29 minutes. Second place in our class and 36th overall out of 104 boats.
Team 1219 – Rod Price, Ed Morris, Tom Dyll
A final work about Texas and Texans
I have to admit that I had heard stories that Texans didn’t like outsiders and some people I knew had bad experiences. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Everyone we met in Texas from the TWS officials, volunteers, participants and spectators to the airport employees, and TSA agents (yes! the TSA agents) were amazingly friendly and nice. I was blown away by the hospitality and am humbled to have my original assumptions blow away. Many Texans were noticeably humble and soft spoken. I am sure we came across as loud and abrasive but always remained nice.
The part of Texas we saw was beautiful. One assumption was confirmed. Texas is big but its also beautiful. We were fortunate to see tons of wild life. There are deer and hogs along the river. Great birds too. Pete even pointed out a lesser heron. A species we don’t have in Florida (I think???) The cypress trees lining the river were amazing. The rapids made the river exciting. I hope to be back soon and highly recommend going to Texas if you get the opportunity.
Thank you to everyone who helped us with our race. Family, friends, race volunteers and people we met along the way!!!! This was a special trip. Thank you for your part!
Special thanks to Rod Price for talking me into this crazy race! It was a great time.
Electrolyte Pills – Rod brought these and shared them with me. I was unaware of the importance of these in ultra long distance events. These were our main supplement to keep our bodies hydrated.
Knowing Your Distances – It was a long race but it was manageable by knowing total distance travelled, distance to next checkpoint and distance to next major landmark. Without it the race would seem to go on forever.
GPS Tracks – You can program routes and you follow tracks. Programming a route doesn’t work for a windy river. Following a preloaded track worked great.
GPS Trip Odometer – Important to track mileage. Our distance tracked was slightly higher than the official race distance because we were moving from one bank to the other riding the current. This usually meant doing small amounts of math to accurately estimate distance to next check point.
Thermarest and Bivy Sack – If you knew the course extremely well you might be able to have one person sleep in the boat while the other kept it moving but there were way too many sweepers and rapids for us to know where we would get away with this while on the river. We ended up taking three one hour breaks. The sleeping equipment was essential.
Duct Tape – We brought a whole role and used more than 1/2. Before the race we used it to tie on emergency water bottles and build a mount for our bow light. During the race we used it secure our spray skirt that didn’t fit the boat properly. I highly recommend having a role in a rental canoe.
Large Billed Hat with Flaps – The pics make me look pretty dorky but after 3 days on the river I had no sunburn.
What Didn’t Work
Flying home on Tuesday evening – Originally I though we would easily finish on Monday. In hindsight this is highly unlikely without expert knowledge of the rivers and portages. We got off the water Tuesday at 9 AM. Skipped the awards ceremony and rushed to the airport to make a 6:00 PM flight. It would have been better to just schedule it for Wednesday.
Bow Lights – Ours were high powered and long lasting but they didn’t throw up a wide beam. The teams with good lighting were at an advantage. Some were doing it with handheld flashlights and others with aftermarket car lights. Looking back we didn’t test this part of our equipment prior to the race. This was a mistake.
Water Tight Spray Skirt – Ours had some issues. Make sure you test fit it before the race. Also a whole role of duct tape and a couple garbage bags can help in a pinch but you better be prepared to bail water. Especially in the bay.