The Texas Water Safari

The Texas Water Safari is billed as the world’s toughest canoe race and, to my knowledge, no one who has competed in and finished this ultramarathon race has ever disputed this claim. Contestants must navigate their vessels 260 miles down two Texas rivers and reach the finish line in 100 hours or less.
Dad and Jon TWS 2013To make the course even more challenging, contestants must reach the multiple check points along the route on or before the specified deadline for each respective check point or risk being disqualified. This race is the paddling equivalent of doing ten marathons back-to-back.
TWS RouteThe race starts in San Marcos and follows the beautiful San Marcos River all the way to its confluence with the Guadalupe River in Gonzales. Racers then paddle down the Guadalupe all the way to San Antonio Bay where they must tackle a five-mile crossing to the finish line in Seadrift.
TWS 2016 StartSomeone described the Texas Water Safari as a race from San Marcos to Gonzales and a death march from Gonzales to Seadrift. Having finished this race on each of my two attempts, I agree with this assessment. The finish line is an estimated one quarter of a million paddle strokes from the starting line. That is a lot of paddle strokes!
Portaging Rio VisaTo say there are challenges along the way would be an understatement. In addition to paddling day and night for as many as four days, paddlers must deal with hunger, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, several portages and rapids, and the unexpected challenges the river always presents. Anything can happen along the way to keep you from reaching the finish line — regardless of whether you are a novice or the most experienced paddler.
TWS 2016 Staples DamThis truly amazing race is held every June, normally starting on the second Saturday. Last year and this year, race officials were forced to postpone the start of the race because of record rains and floods that made the river dangerous to navigate. But, this morning, under overcast skies, more than one-hundred paddlers stirred the crystal clear waters of the San Marcos River and began their journey toward Seadrift.
TWS Finish 1The fastest paddlers will reach the finish line in far less than half the allotted time. Paddlers arrive in Seadrift to the cheers of family, friends, and fellow paddlers all the way through the deadline on Wednesday. The prize — a patch and a plaque that commends you for finishing the world’s toughest canoe race. For me, that was enough. The real reward was sharing the adventure with my son the first year and a friend the second year — and the satisfaction that I had done something really hard.
Bay Crossing 2The Texas Water Safari is now officially underway. When I go to bed tonight I will do so dreaming about those who will paddle through the night. As with every year, this year’s safari will give us some fascinating stories that will be added to the treasury of stories that are told and retold year after year. I invite you to read Resolve On the River, one of my favorite safari stories.

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