Reflections on the Colorado River 100 Ultra Marathon Canoe Race
My son Jonathan and I made it to the finish line of the 9th Annual Colorado River 100 ultra marathon canoe race this morning — and we are both exhausted. This one-hundred mile endurance race is tough enough under normal circumstances. However, this year it was even tougher because of the fact that the water in the Colorado River is lower than normal. Race officials told those of us who competed in this race last year to expect the race to take us at least a couple of extra hours this year because of the river conditions. They were right! It took Jonathan and me more than two extra hours to finish the course, but we finished. Except for the times when headwinds stirred the surface of the water, the river was generally glassy smooth with no perceptible current. We worked hard to earn every mile.
The Colorado River presented an additional challenge to this year’s racers. The lower water level exposed more of the hydrilla that has infested the river. Hydrilla is a fast-growing weed (a kind of fresh water sea-weed) that grows in large clumps and spreads a carpet of ugly and smelly green algae when it breaches the surface of the waters. I first became acquainted with hydrilla when I visited Lake Dal in scenic Kashmir, India. Local officials there try to control the spread of the weed by harvesting it clump by clump, a task performed by workers in flat-bottom shakira boats. The hydrilla along the Colorado River presents a challenge to canoeists, kayakers, and boaters. The stuff will either slow you down or stop you cold in your tracks if you fail to navigate around it. It’s hard enough trying to avoid it in the daytime, but almost impossible to do so at night. The low water level and the hydrilla-ridden obstacle course made the race tougher even for experienced canoeists and kayakers. As a novice, it beat and whipped me to the point of frustration and exhaustion, but Jonathan and I still made it to the finish line.
For me, the hardest part of this year’s race was the final thirty-eight mile stretch from the La Grange checkpoint to the finish line in Columbus. I don’t know how many racers dropped out at La Grange, but it was a significant number. And, because of the low-water conditions, race officials gave racers the option of doing 100 kilometers instead of 100 miles. The folks who opted to do 100 kilometers also left the course at La Grange. The rest of us pressed on in the dark, paddling and squinting to try to find the best way through the frustrating carpet of hydrilla. We all took a beating. Jonathan and I and several others paddled together through the night which made it a little better because we were able to encourage one another to press on. And, soon after the sun came up, we all paddled in together to the finish line. The obstacles and challenges along the way beat us up and whipped us but did not defeat us. We finished the course.
This was my seventh marathon canoe race and seventh finish with Jonathan over the past year. I’m glad we finished the entire course and look forward to more adventures with Jonathan on Texas rivers in the years to come.