Ok, I was wrong. Despite having completed the 260-mile Texas Water Safari in June, competing in the 22-mile Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race today was still tough. What was I thinking? I was definitely reminded again today why they call this race the toughest “little” canoe race in the Republic of Texas. Just try to imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a pin-ball game for several hours and you will have some idea of what this race is like. The 22-mile race course is littered with fallen trees, submerged logs, and enough spider webs to fill a haunted mansion. Contestants have to navigate what seem like impassable obstacles along the way. Once again, I reached the finish line with a fair share of cuts and scratches and completely baked in the East Texas heat. But, I loved every minute of it.
My son Jonathan and I set a goal to beat our finish time from last year’s race and to finish in as close to 5 hours as possible. When they called for those competing in the Adventure Tandem Division to get in the water we lined up with all of the other boats. And as soon as the starting signal was given we started paddling and never looked back. Fortunately, we were able to reach some of the obstacles before they jammed up with boats. This immediately gave us a really great advantage. I will say that I did feel better prepared for this race because of all the conditioning from races and training runs that Jonathan and I did over the past year. The theme of this race for us was “keep paddling” — which is exactly what we did. Although we did not stop, our GPS recorded that we had 6-minutes of stop time because of how slow we had to go in order to navigate around some of the toughest obstacles on the river.
The best part about the whole experience was reaching the finish line. That’s when Jonathan and I learned that we had finished first in our division. The second place boat arrived about a half-hour later and the third place finisher almost an hour later. Wow! While we wanted to better our time, it really did not cross our minds that we might actually place in our division much less come in first. We both were excited and could not stop smiling. What a blessing! But, as with every race we have done together over the past year, the biggest blessing was getting to spend time together. Jonathan and I enjoyed good conversation along the way and faced and solved every challenge together. That’s something that is hard to beat!