Do alligators, hallucinations and sleep deprivation sound fun? Try the Texas Water Safari

Paddlers training for the Texas Water Safari put in their boats at Palmetto State Park on May 27, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

I’ve never been a fan of sleep deprivation, so I’ve always grimaced at the thought of the Texas Water Safari, the notoriously grueling, 260-mile paddle race from Aquarena Springs in San Marcos to the town of Seadrift on the Texas coast.

That, along with the inevitable snake-infested logjams, alligators, clown hallucinations, and water-logged skin that “turns to tissue paper,” always sounded pretty horrible.

But I can feel my mind bending, just a tad.

This year I’m taking the easy first step of observing and writing about the event, which starts June 9. I headed to Palmetto State Park over Memorial Day weekend to meet some of the paddlers who gathered there to get in some training hours.

Paddlers haul their Alumacraft canoe to the San Marcos River at Palmetto State Park. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I knew I couldn’t keep up with them, so I brought along my husband and our Alumacraft canoe, and hitched a shuttle up to Zedler Mill, about 16 river miles above the park, to log an easy paddle myself while they sped down the river toward Gonzales. That would give me a taste of a beginner-friendly stretch of the course, plus time afterward to pick some of the racers’ brains.

It took me about three-and-a-half leisurely hours to make my run, including stops for a picnic and swimming. About 4 miles downstream of the Interstate 10 bridge, we encountered an obstacle dubbed “Son of Ottine,” a rocky drop in the river. We pulled off on the left side (avoiding a canoe-eating channel we’d been warned about) and lugged our boat partway down the little cascade, then pushed back into the flow. We eyeballed blue herons, dipped our paddles in water next to gar and drifted through a few clouds of dragonflies along the way, too.

Pam LeBlanc strikes a hammy pose before putting in her canoe at Zedler Mill. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

And, yes. The thought of one day racing the Texas Water Safari, which started in 1963 and is billed as the “World’s Toughest Boat Race,” seems a little less crazy with every dip of the paddle.

If I can only get over that sleep deprivation part …

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