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.


  1. Another wonderful account of your journey. This one brought tears to my eyes.

  2. I think each segment has made me cry.. I feel like I am living each minute with you. So glad you took the time to let us all in to the experience

  3. I need to be the one thankful toall the people that made the journey possible. The Perrin/Belmont family. Friends. Guardian Angels. Crew. And the Texas Paddling Community.