2015 TWS Race Report Part 2: The life of a TC (and the badass women of paddling)
I wrote this shortly after the safari last year but never got around to posting it. Then I realized there were two stories here. That of Tres Leches (Boat 3) through the eyes of their team captain (Part1), and then my experience of being a team captain. Here is part 2.
Although I have been on the banks (or in the boat) each year Nathan has raced, 2015 was my first year as TC. His novice year I was all set to TC when I got pregnant with Kennedy and would have been 6+ months pregnant during the race. So Nathan’s dad, Dwight, took over and has come back each year despite exhaustion and injury. This year was the first year since there could be two TC’s (that I wasn’t paddling) so I joined Dwight.
I had a blast and got introduced to an entirely different side of the TWS. Not only did I gain a new appreciation for all TC’s but I also got a deeper dive into the paddling community. Here’s the thing. I am a classic introvert. Married to a classic extravert. So for years it was so much easier to just let him get to know everyone. When you are in the boat you meet people, you see them at the put in and take outs, chat when you pass each other on the river. But the people you really get to know are those in the boat with you. And I already knew Nathan. ;) That story has already been told. However, with no kids (they stayed at the house with Grandma), no Nathan, and lots of time hanging out on the banks it was time for me to open up.
Ok, on to the race. Cottonseed was our first stop. I found a spot on a rock on the banks and started chatting with the guy next to me. Turned out he was part of a production crew for Yeti filming a couple of boats. I didn't know it then, but I would be seeing a lot more of those guys. After Cottonseed, the spectating was over, and it was time to get to work.
Let me quickly sum up the actions of a TC. Prep: mix jugs and bottles with water or spiz or whatever concoction the racers are eating/drinking, prep ice socks, and prep any other food they may want. Do your best to estimate what time your team will arrive. Make sure you get down to the river early because the cardinal sin of a TC is to be late and your team have to wait on you (or leave and keep going without the water/ice/food they need.) Go down to the banks and wait. Wait. Wait. When your team comes through, get all the new jugs and food into the boat as quickly and smoothly as possible. Once they pull out pick up all the jugs, bottles and old ice socks that are strewn all over the banks. Head back to the truck and get everything cleaned up. Pack up and head to the next stop (likely with a stop for more ice and water along the way.) Repeat. Over and over and over. Sleep deprivation, injuries, exhaustion and a layer of grime/mud/bug spray/sunscreen isn't just for the racers. It applies to the TC's as well. And to all the racers who's TC's take such good care of them they don't have to get out of the boat at Dupont and into the mystery muck, thank your TC. We risk the random rashes, bacteria and unknown animals nibbling at our legs so you don't have to. And that muck must have a layer of glue in it, because it says with you for days. You are welcome. ;) Now on to the fun stuff.
Our first handoff was Staples and this is where this years’ experience started to differ from others. The boys were at the front of the pack, meaning so were we in regards to TC's and spectators. When we got to Staples we pulled right up to the Spencer’s house and parked. That definitely beat having to park a ways down the road and lug everything like past years. At Palmetto we would get lucky again. I could get used to traveling with the front of the pack (no pressure Nathan). This may sound trivial but after years of following the race, it’s really pretty nice. Although it doesn’t leave you with much downtime between the prep, cleanup, and travel time between handoffs and little to no time for sleep.
Once day one starts drawing to a close boats have settled into their grove and have spread out and you will find the boats (and therefore TC's) that are on pace with your boat. Be nice to them, you will be spending a lot of time with them. Throughout the race, the boys were close to 283, the Martindale Mamacitas (Virginia and Katlin) and the Cowboys. And remember that Yeti film crew from Cottonseed? Turns out they were following the girls and the Cowboys so we got to spend a lot of time with them as well. Both boats came through Victoria 59 right after the boys. What the video doesn't show is the hilarity of this situation. While it does show TC's in tutu's and a film crew hovering. It doesn’t show the chest high weeds you have to climb through to get to the muddy bank that you have to then lower yourself down by rope to get to the water. And it doesn’t capture the fact that we are all hanging out in the mud under a bridge in 100 degree heat because we want to be there. That’s the safari. Be careful, the madness is addicting.
The other advantage of being a TC was that I was introduced to more of the women in this community. Let me preface this by saying that I knew the women of Safari were badasses before this, but being a TC just reinforced that. On any given year they might show up as a rockstar TC, a tough as nails solo paddler, or as a wife juggling taking care of kids while also taking care of paddlers (who can act like children come day two or three). There are too many stories to tell and some of what happens on the river stays on the river. So I will leave you with one story that is just a quick snapshot in time but is a prime example of just how much heart, dedication, determination and grit these women have and why I want my kids to grow up in this 'village.' Not just for Kennedy to grow up seeing what strong, confident, independent, badass women look like and to learn from them, but also for Parker to see the men that support and encourage those women.
Ok, so here's the story. When we pulled up to wooden bridge, Virginia and Kaitlin were getting their skirt on and prepped to cross the bay. The boat was pulled up on ground so they could get everything on and the boat was right next to a fire ant bed (keep in mind it’s somewhere around midnight give or take and pitch black other than the light from the few headlamps). Shannon and Virginia were getting the brunt of the fire ants yet neither of them were stopping what they were doing. The goal was to get Virginia and Kaitlin back in the boat and across the bay and fire ants be dammed. It wasn’t until the girls were back in the boat and on their way that Shannon turned to her legs. Minutes later as she was sitting on the back of a truck, her feet covered in ice, the bites were all swelling up. If I recall correctly, she ended up with 100+ fire ant bites. (And if urban legend is correct, Virginia just left the fire ants and paddled across the bay when them on her legs in their hunt for the women’s record – which they got by the way! #badassmamacitas) So if you are ever looking for badass women, just look for the women in the boats and on the banks of the TWS. They are humble, they don’t brag, they just show up, do their thing and let their work speak for itself. But they are pretty easy to spot if you just keep your eyes open.
Just a few more days until this year’s race. See you on the river.