Friday, July 13, 2012

Texas Water Safari Part 9 The Finish

Texas Water Safari Part 9

     The stretch from the major log jam to The Salt Water Barrier seem like it takes an eternity to make. 18 miles or so of trying to compose myself and get back into a rhythm.  I find it and lose it, but manage to get my board down river as I know I'll see Michael (crew).  I see the river open and people milling about.  In the distance there's an arch of sorts that  runs over the water ahead. just before there's a concrete  ramp. 
                                      Arrival at the Salt Water Barrier - Final checkpoint before the finish

    I get off the board and speak quietly to Michael and ask him about if he's heard the news of our lost paddler.  He says to keep it quiet, there's alot of feelings out there on the matter. It has affected the entire community.  I don't say another word.

                            Up to this point I haven't thought much about my entire left calf and foot that has
                              swollen ridiculously. Yup, we even tried to duct tape it to reduce the swelling in my foot.
                                        Take a gander at how big my left calf is compared to the right.  Nice, right?
 My mind has been elsewhere.  Michael brings my focus back and tells me to get up in the grass and sit down so we can numb the leg up.

                                      Michael loading ice into socks, me sitting with a shirt filled
                                          with ice on my leg, and Tango or 4 legged friend who hangs with
                                                                       us and gets some of my bagel

Kay Humphries, Tango's owner (our new furry friend), is one of our guardian angels towards the back half of the race.  Her, along with Deborah Youens give Michael intel on what's left in the race course to the finish.  Michael briefs me and upon their suggestion I leave any gear that I don't need for the final leg.  I drop the wheel system, extra food, and anything else can lighten my load.
      I spend a little time at the checkpoint and take it in.  I realize, this is it.  I'm 10 miles to the bay crossing and from there another 6 miles to the finish.

    I receive good encouragement from Michael, load the board back up and head out.  In this stretch before the bay there are quite a few houses along the banks.  Summer homes or permanent dwellings line the banks.  I'm back.  Paddling becomes more efficient. My spirits are lifted after spending some time with Michael and the angels.  The board is lighter from less gear.  Everything is backin sync.
     I make my way through the final stretches of the Guadalupe river.   The day spills  into night and I don my headlamp for one last night of paddling (for the race this is my 4th night). As I get further down river I begin to see eyes reflecting in the river.  Varying sizes of eyeballs oogle me.  I approach a narrow section in the river and a set of eyes is right where the river is narrowest.  I approach with caution.  I get right up on a 7-8' gator just hanging out.  I paddle slowly past.  It's a good sized fella. But he doesn't move.  I shine it's eyes steadily as I'm almost right next to him.  I get 5' away and i get a glimpse of how big he is.  He then submerges.  I paddle like an idiot all the way down riveruntil I enter the bay.  Why? I don't know.  I don't like gators. 

   Entering the bay is a serene moment at night. I see lights of civilization across but it's a long ways away. The intel I received earlier stated the bay was like glass.  However, now it has plenty of chop and some wind. 
    There's 2 options I've been told to to cross. Go directly across the bay to the opposite shoreline and follow the shoreline down and around the sea wall.  Or upon entering the bay hang a right and follow the shoreline up to Foster's point then cut directly across the bay and to the finish at the sea wall.  I opt for #2.  I paddle hugging the bank and not even 5 minutes in I fall off the board. My body is a bit beat up and I am feeling the leg pain.  I get back on the board and paddle another 10 minutes and fall again. this time managing to land on the board.  I remember what Zoltan told me earlier in the race.  You can get out and walk in the bay draggin your boat if there's too much chop, wind, or current.  I do just this and walk in waist to chest deep water staying close to the bank.  Seems like forever I'm walking thinking that at any moment a jellyfish will sting me or something will bite me.  I get back on the board and paddle some more.  Nice chop rolling over the board.  I get about 30 minutes of paddling in until I make it to Foster's point.  Now, It's just a straight shot across the bay.  I'm tired and cold.  I decide on a short rest before I cross.  I tuck the  board up on the banks, which consists of 10' tall sea grass.  I use the grass to break the wind a little and catch a nap.

     10 minutes later I wake up shivering.  The wetness from walking in the bay coupled with the wind has chilled my body.  I pop up and tell myself just go, paddle!  I get on the board and start paddling like a fool.  Still in a stupor it takes me a couple minutes to realize I'm in the bay.  I fall of the board yet again.  I pick myself back up and continue.  Next I proceed to fall off the board 5-6 more time in a matter of 20 minutes.  The last fall is the worst.  I land on the side of the board with the rail hitting perfectly on the side of my knee.  It's the most pain I've felt through the whole race. I now just sit on the board and hold my knee.  It's done.  I realize I can't stand at this point.  I try to kneel.  Can't even do that.  So I kneel and then sit back on my right foot.  This is the only way I can go on.

    I've paddled 256 miles at this point standing up. Now I'm faced with finishing the race sitting on my foot.  I hate the thought, but I have no other option.  I paddle the entire rest of the bay like this, only stroking on the left side of the board. The wind, swell, and current keep trying to push me left as I try to keep straight.  I paddle for what seems like forever on one side and make it to the seawall.  I hear Michael cheer me on.  Then, a familiar voice says," Logistically, you still have 0% chance of finishing on a stand up paddle board".  The voice of the same man that told me this at the beginning of the race. Local paddling legend Robert Youens.  I smile in the dark and respond," It was that statement at the start of the race that brought me this far."  He laughs, as do I.

I make it to the finish and am cheered by a small crowd at 3:55 am Thursday morning. I've done it. I've become the first person in the 50 year history of the Texas Water Safari to attempt and finish on a Stand Up Paddle board!
                                                                        The finish
Crossing the finish line
I made it!
Michael signing me in

I'm so stoked to have gone through this experience yet, there's a little sadness. My journey has ended. more sad is my my other crew man Joe Baisa can't be here to celebrate with me. He had to leave the day prior for business back in St. Louis.  On his own dime, he flew out.  He had been there for me and Michael throughout the race and now misses the ultimate pay off, the finish. Wish he was there. I've told him next year, he has to be at the finish for me.

   Now done paddling I look forward to sleep and the awards ceremony in about 8 hours. 

I have one last installment of this write up. Please read the "after the finish" installment coming next.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Texas Water Safari Part 8

Texas Water Safari Part 8
 Finding my low

        For the first time in the race I feel like I want to give up.  I just sit on my board and can't pull it together. I have no control.  The news Is overpowering.  I hear a man speaking about local Texas news. After some plugs for local stores he talks about the Texas Water Safari. The very race I'm in.  He informs listeners that for the first time in the 50 year history of this race there has been a death of a racer.  There aren't alot of details, just that a person had been taken to the hospital for what they believed was dehydration the previous day and his life has ended abruptly today.  The message of losing a fellow racer is terrible. I've never met him, and didn't even get his name from the radio.  However, I view this trajedy as losing a brother in arms.  He was one of us.  He shared our love and respect for the Texas paddling community. He was a paddler.

                                                       Brad Ellis, Our lost brother
                                             Please take time to read a little about Brad        

     It may seem odd that I feel the attachment to a person I don't know, but it hits home.  Four months prior to this race, I lost my father in-law who I was very close to.  This makes me think of this racer's family and what they are going through at this moment.  To lose a person that still has so much more left in life,  It's not something that's easy to take.  So many questions fill the mind.

                             One of us. Brad (in front) with his paddling partner in the TWS
                                                            (through Cottonseed rapids)
     Post race, at the awards banquet, I get the full story on our brother. 
We've lost him due to Hyponatremia, or easier put, low sodium. Brad Drank copious amounts of water, he just didn't realize the salt intake needed.

Here's a write up by a local Texas newspaper:

    As I talk to more people about it I do find more info on Him.  Joy Emshoff (a serious Texas paddler) informs me Brad was an organ donor.  He was able to donate 8 organs to people that have been waiting for a life saving transplant.  I'm sure Joy couldn't see under my Maui Jim shades, but my eyes start to water up.  This man had the forethought to check a box at the DMV that would allow the use of his organs and tissue to be donated to others, upon his leaving.  It's an emotional moment for me. I wish more people were this giving and thoughtful.  What he has done hits home more than most people can imagine. 
    10 Years ago I had kidney failure.   Followed with a year of Dialysis, I received a life saving kidney transplant.  I received a second chance at life.  What Brad has done is given people like myself the opportunity to regain a life that was nearly lost.  He made a choice that most never think of making.  He has impacted the lives of many families.  He has impacted me. 
I have taken away alot from this race.  Many memories, painful experiences, highs and lows, but this, I will always remember.  Brad is a hero of mine.

       It has taken me almost 4 days to write this portion of my Texas experience.  I've had to leave the computer and walk away many times.  The news still haunts me of losing a paddler.

     With the news of his passing during the race, I find it hard to paddle down the river. My speed drops to a low. I can't seem to find a rhythm. I'm slapping at the water and even missing strokes where the blade barely touches the surface. I try to compose myself. It seems like forever until I make it to the Salt Water Barrier, mile 244 the last check point.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Texas Water Safai Part 7

Texas Water Safari Part 7

                              You do something for the right reasons, Nothing can stop you.

I'm not here to try to be famous.  I'm not racing to have my picture taken for papers or interviews.  The cheers, the handshakes, and way to go's are very welcomed but not rewards I look for.   I'm often asked, why a Stand Up paddle board?  The answer is never easy.  There are a multitude of reasons why. 
      Why do I do this? A major goal of mine is to spread and further the sport of SUP. Through ultra-distance racing I am able to reach a larger audience to showcase the sport I love.  Stand up is my life's passion.  I live it. I don't get paid for it. It's actually quite the opposite, I spend a ton of money racing.  My reward is connecting with people through Stand up.  Teaching lessons. Education. Whatever I can to share my love of the sport.
     However, what I do is not easy.  I'm not talking about the racing, that's the easy part. The training, finding family time, finding money, managing life, these are tough.  Even tougher is finding a race I am accepted into.  9 times out of 10 when I ask a race organizer to race in their event on a SUP, they won't allow it.  It's usually a plethera of emails back and forth and then the most used reason is that my board doesn't fit into USCA specs.  However,  I won't let ignorance be a deterrent.  I keep search other org's that say yes. 
     Which leads me to the Texas Water Safari.  One email asking the race organizers to let me race,  with one simple question.  Would you be open to letting me race in theTWS on a stand up paddle board?  A prompt response back. "We've never had a stand up in the race before , that would be great. You can be in the men's solo unlimiteds."   I wish it was always this easy.

     I paddle out from Victoria into the night.  Night time kind of sucks but is kind of interesting.  As the night begins I get tortured by bugs.  Nothing that bites or stings, but bugs that are attracted to my light.  I try to run with only a flashlight taped on the nose of the board.  I have to run my headlamp periodically to scan for  stumps or rocks.  Everytime I turn on the headlamp I'm eating bugs.  I develop a paddle stroke that I turn my head to the side with each stroke hoping it throws off the kamikaze bugs from bombarding my face.  It works decently, but i'm sure I look like an idiot. I bet all the racoons that I saw on the banks were laughing at me.

                                              Heading back out into the night from Victoria

     Once the bugs are gone, night paddling takes an interesting turn.  I scan the banks and see some oddities.
           A Rhino humping a cricket!  What the hell?  How is there a cricket that big? Wait why is the Rhino humping it?  I paddle on the opposite side of the bank .
  My night is filled with oddities.  Some I've convinced myself are true and I keep my distance, others I paddle closer because I'm intrigued.  There is no pattern what I think is real and what's not.  I paddle close to a 20' teradactyl perched, only to find it's an oddly shaped tree in the night.  I have no rationale at this point.  I paddle away from a rhino humping a cricket but paddle towards a Pre-historic bird that can eat me!

  Through the night and into daylight finally.  That was wierd.  I've been warned about hallucination alley in this race.  I'm not sure if this was where people were talking about, but it was defiantely my Hallucination alley.   As I get daylight and catch up to my crew,  I follow my now normal pattern, ice the crap out of my entire leg, reload my water bladders, eat my bagel with peanut butter and then back on the water. 

    I know it's close, it's been on my mind, it lies behind any bend of this stretch of river.  The infamous log jam.  I'm told it's a 1.8 mile portage.  I've spent time in my backyard figuring out a way to transport the board through this area.  Now, faced to portage without my harness I have to figure out something else.
        Just as I see the log jam in the distance I get a nice head wind slapping me in the face.  It's like getting kicked in the nuts and while you're hurt getting a tittie twister!  I'm tired, and a bit beat up, and I let out a loud grrrr/grunt and pound the water with my paddle.  Not even 15 seconds later I hear, " Hey Shane".  It's a tandem boat I've talked to here and there on the river.
  I think, did they hear me? They must think I'm a wierdo. If they heard me, they play it off. I ask them what their plan is. They tell me there's a portage river right that dumps into another slough/stream that you paddle that puts you around the jam and right back into the river. The guy in the pic below with the black shirt runs through the woods to try and find the path to the slough. 20 minutes later he comes back covered in sweat. No dice, he can't find it. I make my way over to the left bank as they do too.

I call these guys my log jam buddies.  They arrive at the massive jam at the same time I do.  Can't remember their names,           but they were really great guys,  (If you guys read this, please let me know your names again)
(pic at the awards ceremony)

This is what  you see as you come down the river - Major log jam
More Log jams

     Prior to the approach I came up with a half-brained idea for a harness.  The wheel system has a bit of extra nylon strap on it and there are some bungee tie downs.  So once on the bank I put the wheel system on.  I put the wheels under the nose and fasten it over the top through the 2 Surfco hawaii handholds I epoxied on prior to the race.  I clip the sides together and cinch it tight.  There's about 4ft of nylon left  and I cut it off.  There's my harness.
       I tie it around the handhold on the tail of the board and it works.  With a loop tied around the handhold, I now have about a 2 foot loop that I can hold onto and pull the board.  A quick pull over rocks and stumps and I make it to an old jeep trail about 30 yards from the river.  Now strategy comes into play.  I'm told some people will portage around a huge log jam and then get back and paddle the river until they come to the next large jam. I drag the board for about 5 minutes and lay it down.  I run back over to the river and take a look.  Still the log jam.  I get back to the board and the tandem team has caught up to me and pass ahead.  I follow them and decide to see what they do.  They portage the whole thing then get back in the river.  I follow suit.
                                    In between the major jams this is what the river looks like.
                                 During the long portage, some people get back in and paddle to
                                                              the next impassable section
     After a long portage, I pull off the wheels and we're in the river paddling again.  Guess what? Yup, another log jam.  We get out and I decide I'm done with the wheels.  I just drag the board, nose end first.  I scrape over stumps and rocks in the process.  The rubberized coating on the bottom of the board (developed by Pau Hana's Todd Caranto) has proven itself over and over again. I drag for about 5 minutes until there's about a 10' drop that leads back into the river.  Back paddling and there's smaller log jams I paddle up to and crawl over pulling the board with me.

                       Racer Tim Osburn slips on a log at a jam just after the bigger jams.  Trying to maneuver on the  
                              logs is tough.  It's slippery and some of the logs you step on will submerge making you fall.

                         After the major jams, this is the river for a little while. Very technical on a SUP


          I finially make it out of the Log jam ordeal and paddle for about half an hour and decide to see if I can get any reception on my radio.  I get a local station that comes in decently.  Now paddling alone, my log jam buddies have paddled ahead, with a little music I find a decent groove.  Until about 10 minutes of listening, I hear disturbing news over the radio.  I stop paddling. I have to kneel down on the board.  I can't even hold my paddle.  I completely lose it and breakdown.  The news is more than I can handle...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Texas Water Safari Part 6

Texas Water Safari Part 6

     Cuero (checkpoint #7) to Victoria.  40 miles with a couple stops in between.
 I've set myself on a good pace throughout the race.  Despite the day by day wear and tear I'm holding up pretty good considering.  The only thing standing in my way of finishing now is my body.  My will and determination is as strong as the day I started. Just my left side is getting beat up.
      My ankle is getting kind of nasty through this stretch.  I am definately slowing down a bit as I have to stop every couple hours and get off the board to float in the water to relieve the pain and swelling a little.  Outside of that, I can't do much for the swelling. It is what it is at this point.
       I find about anything to take my mind off of it.  Sing songs.  That dang Elmo book I read my son at night keeps haunting me.  I run through the book out loud.  "The monkeys shake the dreamland tree, and down fall dreams for you and me.."   My mind leads me to think about my family.  I know they are watching me through my spot tracker page and following my progress.  It's just difficult not being able to communicate with them for so long.  A comfort I bring for every race is a picture of my son.  I laminate a picture and duct tape it to my deck bag so when times get tough I look to him to pick me up. His pictures have brought me through the toughest times, as it does here.

                                       My inspiration through the toughest times in this race

    An interesting person I meet is a fellow named Zoltan.  Yes, that is his name.  He's a proud Hungarian.  I find him very friendly and helpful through our conversation.  I can tell in the beginning of our conversation he's curious about why i'm standing up, but never asks.  I pick his brain about the rest of the course.  He's a wealth of knowledge on the Texas Water Safari and for good reason.  This is his 22nd time racing it!  Yes, 22 years of racing.  He divulges that he's finished 11 times.  He hopes this is his 12th finish.  I learn later on that Zoltan is 72 years old! 
     He gives me valuable information about the course and the bay crossing at the end of the race.  Racers have made it all the way 255 miles only to lose their boat in the last 5 miles in the bay crossing  as they flip and the current steals their boat from them.  Zoltan is one of those racers this has happened to. 
     As we paddle, he states he's paddling ahead.  His boat is fast and he cruises effortlessly ahead of me.  An hour or so later I pass his boat pulled up on a bank and he's 10 ft up on a bank, flat on his back snoozing.  30 minutes later of paddling he catches back up.  We do this for most of the rest of the race.
                             At 72 years old, Zoltan Mraz Is a very accomplished paddler.
                                    I'm honored to have spent alot of the race with him.

    Gear, food, and supplies.  A short breakdown of what I've carried all this way.  From the rear view is a set of wheels designed for moving a kayak.  What you can't see is prior to coming to Texas I cut a piece of rain gutter, cut it open so there's a flat piece,  and taped it to the top of the wheels (facing down flat on the board in this pic). So instead of the U shape where a kayak would set into the wheel system, there's now a flat area the board will sit on top of to transport it.

 In front of the wheels is a long flat Deck bag by Sealine. In this bag I carry stuff I won't need immediately, just extras or stuff to break out once daily. Tub of peanut butter. 2 bags of bagels. oatmeal packets, flares, a ton of extra clif bars, twizzlers, more food, and some randoms. In front of that is a smaller deck bag that has stuff that I might need to grab occasionally. It has a small 5l dry bag with my repair kit (surfco quick putty, epoxy, gorilla tape, and clear packing tape). Another 5ml dry bag that has occasional stuff as well, Kidney meds, first aid kit kit, snake bite kit, nalgene with built in filter in case I run out of water I can scoop river water and drink it. And incidentals ie. benadryl for stings, and wet wipes(I'll talk about taking a dump off the side of a board in a yoga pose later, was glad to have wipes after.)

This bag has a mesh pouch on the front.  A small thing but was perfect to stow my Maui jim sunglasses in at night so I wouldn't lose them.  I've lost way too many in the past.
     The front deck bag was my go to bag.  My extra water bladders for my camelbak,  Extra fins, nalgene of electrolyte replacement, and a dry bay of quick foods.  Man I consumed alot throughout this race.

     Many hours later and a few stops to rest the now bad leg and I make it into Victoria.  I'm not walking that great but I try not to let it show.  People are excited to see the stand up guy and I don't want them to focus on my leg.   I get an introduction from my crewman Joe baisa to a local legend paddler of the Safari,  Ken Startz.  I've heard of the boats he builds and I've heard of his paddling abilities.  Both are so great only to be rivaled by his genuine spirit and love for paddling. I talk to Ken a bit and he's psyched that I'm doing this race on a stand up.  He tells me he's already making plans to build a SUP that's safari grade for next year. I like this guy already.
     Aftet chatting a bit I head up away from the ramp off to the side to pow wow with my crew.  I show them the leg, ankle, foot issue.  Joe confirms it, he says, "Shane, that's really bad". I look slike crap now.  Now club footed,  the skin is expanding so much it's hurting.  Michael grabs some ice and puts it in his own tube socks.  He hands me the socks and I lay it over my foot.  I ice everything down for 20 minutes.  This is where my time is getting sucked out.  While I had previously projected a tuesday evening finish, the icing and delays due to the swelling push me further back.  It's pretty bad.

        Post race, I learn Michael has checked in with my wife to let her know i'm still doing great.  (he makes no motion of the swelling issue. I've asked him to never tell my wife anything is wrong. I don't want to worry her).   On the other hand I learn later that Joe has called her sperately and told her how bad the swelling is! Dand ig Joe. (I forgot to tell him the deal)

                                                       Michael's genius idea of icing

                                      My left leg is swollen and the calf is now bruising. 
                                My foot can barely fit in to a flip flop and my ankle is bad.

The game has changed.  The race started as a physical race and by day 3 became a mental game.  Now it is both.  I've never been presented with  a challenge like this.  Hurting and in alot of discomfort I head out of Victoria.  Somewhere in the next section is the 1.8 mile log jam I've heard so much about.  My harness I was going to use to pull the board through the portage is gone.  The first day of the race,  a spectator picked it up out of the water as it fell off the board.  He tried to hand it to me and put it on the board.  A race official was there and said I couldn't use it (remember in this race you can receive any outside help.  Your crew captain is the only contact you can receive and he can only give you water and ice.) 
      Since day 1 this portage has been on my mind!  Maybe I'll use some vines I find.  This fills my mind until I get to the log jam.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Texas Water Safari Part 5

Texas Water Safari Part 5

Cheapside Bridge  - Checkpoint 6

I arrive at Cheapside to my crew and a round of hoots and hollering.  Seems the SUP disease is mingling about the folks.  My crew and some people welcome me in and Michael takes my spent bladders and changes them out for new ones.  I take a small rest here.  I find a mother (Becky)/daughter (Allie)/friend  (daniel)crew team  here who is waiting on the boat they are supporting to come in.

4 man boat(Cuatro Sinko) that Becky/Allie/Daniel are crew for
(I end up leapfrogging with this boat throughout the night)
(post race I find that they were told the same thing that I was at the race start. 
 You're not going to make it in that craft! Well, we did.)

My crew has been talking with them proior to my arrival.  The mom (Becky) says how awesome it is that I'm doing this on a SUP, she gives me praise and encouragement.  She is excited for how far I’ve come.  Her daughter Allie and her friend Daniel are all smiles and just as stoked for my journey.  They are supporting me and rooting for the Stand up guy.  They believe in what I’m doing here.  My Team Captain, Michael, tells me of all the people asking about me.  They are genuinely happy to know I’m still paddling.  He says there are so many people that are behind us now.  They love the fact that a craft that was not made for a race like this, has taken all the abuse and torture that the Texas Water Safari can throw it, and survived, A craft that has never been seen on this race course in it's 50 years.  They also are excited for a paddler that comes from out of state, never has seen the river, does  not know anything about the portages, the stumps, rocks, and treacherous terrain that is here.  This coupled with temps in the mid to upper 90’s as well as  heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and dehydration that are all in play.  The Texas paddling community is starting to accept a stand up paddle boarder into their ranks.

                                                                         Arrival at Cheapside
                                          (dang, those Maui Jim sunglasses look good on me)
                                                                      (stopping at Cheapside bridge)
                            Left to right: Allie Garcia, Me sitting on my buttocks, Daniel Buffington, and
                            Michael My Team Captain  (not sure what pose he was going for here.

                               Taking off the fingerless gloves I've been wearing up to this point reveals
                                      some nice blistering and a severe case of pruning. I ditch the gloves

          Another 15 miles to get to the Cuero checkpoint.   The river is widened and slow.  There really are not any paddlers around on this stretch.  It’s the point in the race where it changes from more of a physical challenge to more of a mental game.   Trying to balance everything becomes a chore.  I have to constantly remind myself every 45 minutes to an hour to eat something.  Clif bars have dominated my diet so far and continue to be the choice.  They are the one item I have, I know my body always does well with.  That and I have about 70 of them.  The best part about eating them is that every hour I eat one, I free up a little weight from my load.  At checkpoints I treat myself to a bagel with a scoop of peanut butter slammed in between the two pieces.

     Hydration is a constant concern.  My system that I have found works best is wearing a camelback.  It adds weight to my shoulders but the delivery system is tried and true.  I don’t have to mess around with tubes in bottles running from the board, up my body, and  to my mouth.  I can simply bite, suck, and swallow.  I keep 1-2 extra bladders in a deck bag just in front of my feet.  When my bak gets empty, I kneel, take off the camelback and swap out bladders.   In addition to water in the packs I keep a Nalgene bottle in the deck bag as well.  I switch off electrolyte product in the Nalgene every time I fill it.  Powdered Gatorade, then Heed, and also camelbak’s Elixir tabs (with caffeine).  The key is I have to listen to my body’s needs and be aware enough to satisfy them.  Too often people think, oh I can make an electrolyte drink at the next checkpoint.  5 hours later when they reach the checkpoint, they have now set themselves back in electrolyte balancing. 
     With hydration and food under control, I am now faced with a problem I didn’t plan for.  My left ankle is swelling.  It’s not painful, more of a discomfort.  Yet, I can see that it’s going to be a problem.  There’s not much I can really do for it.  I pop a couple Tylenol to try and combat the swelling.    I paddle on and pull the old Jedi mind trick on myself and make myself think of anything else besides my ankle.  “This is not the ankle you are looking for.” Thank you Obi wan.

                                              The franken foot.  My left foot and ankle begin to swell.
   Cuero comes soon enough.  160 miles in!  100 left to go.  Piece of cake.  I make it in to greet Joe and Michael.  It’s Just the standard pit stop.  Michael takes the empty bladders and swaps out new ones with ice and water.  Load the Nalgene bottle with water and I throw a Gatorade powder in.  Just chatting with the crew makes me completely forget about any soreness, hurt, pain, hunger, or any other concern.  Seeing these guys after paddling for hours is a Huge boost.  I’ve already touched on how important a good crew is, but it’s worth mentioning again.  They are my lifeline. They are my most valuable tool in this race, more than they know.

        Leaving Cheapside.  All my gear still intact. Still plenty of Go left!
        After Cuero I press on as my foot and ankle continue to swell. The area where it began is just below my compression pants. There's a gap between where the compression pant ends (an inch above my ankle) and just above where my Columbia shoes end (an inch below my ankle). I loosen my shoe and the swelling gets worse in my foot. Now, the swelling radiates up to my knee. 
       Next up, 40 miles to Victoria with a couple stops in between.  I'm manage to paddle efficiently, even with the beginning wierdness in my left foot and ankle.  As I paddle on,  I catch up to  a couple boats here and there and a couple catch me too.  One lady I catch up to is Myla.  Along side her Safari boat it reads, “Going the extra myla.”   Pretty cool.  I ask her how she’s doing as I watch her boat not able to track properly.  She informs me that she crapped up her rudder.  With little steering she is in a constant battle to track straight.  She bumps logs here and there but her boat is tough. These Safari boats are made specifically for this race.  Alot of people would give up with a setback like this.  She keeps paddling, using her paddle to steer, a difficult task. 
     This is what I find about the paddlers of the Texas Water Safari.   They are a different breed of paddler.  They take everything that is thrown at them and smile.  They are in the "World's toughest canoe race" for a reason.  They want to go up against a race that defies all odds of racing.  The course is the hardest you will find.  That's why she's here.  That's why I'm here.  To test ourselves physically and mentally beyond what's normal.

                            Myla and I paddle and chat a bit. She's super nice and one tough paddler.

Post race through emails with Myla I get more of her story.  I learn that in 2011 her daughter (Courtney) raced the TWS  and became the youngest female C-1 solo finisher.  Myla had to leave during the race for treatment  of stage III breast cancer.   Yet, she managed to make it back for the finish, having hated to miss any part of the race. However, after surgery, chemo, and radiation she vowed to beat cancer and began to train for this year. She wanted to do this year solo showing cancer it has nothing on her!  Once her hair started growing back in, she the dove into training.  She showed up this year with her brother in-law as team captain (whom also had Prostate cancer at the time she had breast cancer) and she raced through adversity.  With a broken rudder, cracked Bow, and no boat lights for night navigation she triumphed!  She not only finished, but finished 4th place in her division! In prior years racing the TWS, she holds 2 finishes in the 3 man boat boat division,  with 4 attempts.
     People like Myla I hold in the highest regards.  No matter what life has thrown at them, they persevere and push past adversity.  I feel very priveledged to have paddled with her and for her to share her story with me. 
Myla crossing the bay at the end of the race.
"Going the extra Myla"
  Paddling on to Victoria becomes more difficult as the swelling becomes an issue.