The 2016 TWS was fairly uneventful – which was a good thing. So what is there to tell? Well, this was Nathan’s 6th TWS and I have done a race report every year for the last several races so I feel like I need to record this race as well. So here goes.
Nathan and Brian raced really well. So well in fact and the race went so smoothly that most of the excitement happened before we ever got to race day so let me back up. By the time we get to May the training runs are starting to wear on the support crew (in other words, me and the kids). So one weekend Nathan and Brian were paddling from City Park to Luling 90. The kids and I needed to get out of the house so I told Nathan and Brian that we would meet them at Luling 90 when they were done. The kids could play in the river while we waited and we could all grab something to eat when they were done. Of course this would turn out to be the one time I got an estimate of when they were starting instead of an actual text noting the time when they put in. So I guessed when they should arrive and we got there about a ½ hour early and played. And played. And played. Other boats came in. No sign of the boys. An hour after I thought they should have been there and no report from any of the other boats of having seen them I packed up and went to investigate. I drove up to Fentress to see if maybe something happened and they had to pull out early. No sign of them. I drove to Zeddler in case they had decided to keep going. Nope. I went back to Luling 90. By this time the kids were about at their breaking point and I hadn’t packed food for dinner and the kids were getting ‘hangry.’ I left a note on Nathan’s car (along with the taco’s I had picked up for him earlier) that we were headed home. Not 3 minutes down the road I got a call that they had finished. I turned around and headed back. The kids at this point were starting to worry why Daddy wasn’t there so they were really glad to see them. Then I got the story….
(As told re-told to me by Nathan)
They were coming around the last real turn before 90 and a tree had fallen blocking the left side of the river. There was another log in the river and there was just enough room to get through…if they had made that decision early enough. Instead they decided to try to bunny hop the tree. When they hit the tree it threw Brian out of the bow and over the log. Then the boat started to get sucked under the log. Nathan jumped out of the boat, on top of the log, just as the boat is swept under the tree. Nathan is straddling the log and inches his way to the boat. He kick’s the stern to pop it out the other side. At this point Brian does a Simone Biles back flip onto the boat to kick it up under another log so it doesn’t get wrapped around the tree he is holding onto. It works, the boat pops out and is now drifting down stream. Brian swims up to the boat, gets it over to the bank and flips it over. No paddles. They see one paddle, caught up in the pipes. When they pulled the boat out to try to get over to the other paddle they find a double blade. They paddle downstream, turned around and then paddled back upstream (with one double blade and one single blade) to look for the other paddles. They find one paddle stuck in a jam so they beach the boat and swim over to the jamb to fetch one more paddle. The last paddle is stuck on a right hand sweeper that seems impossible to get with how fast the water is running. So Brian walked back upstream about 300 yards, puts a life jacket on and floats down to it refusing to lose the paddle. He proceeds to climb over and under and through the jamb and pops out the other side (with the paddle). Nathan gets in the boat, goes to pick up Brian and they continue on their way to Luling 90. All of that took about an hour. All said and done though the only real damage was the rudder where Nathan kicked it. All paddles were recovered and the boys were fine. Tired, but fine.
That’s enough excitement for one training season right? Almost destroyed a boat and lost multiple paddles? Apparently not. We had another year of lots of pre-race rain and flooding and another race postponement. Well Nathan and Brian wanted to get some miles in but couldn’t get on the San Marcos to train. Town Lake was closed and they were tired of running the lower Guadalupe in high water. So they loaded up the Aluminum and head to go paddle the Blanco. However, after years of safari training we know the river levels of the San Marcos, Guadalupe and Colorado rivers, but, (and this is a big but), we haven’t ever paddled the Blanco and weren’t sure what levels were appropriate or what stretch could or should be paddled. But they knew you can only run it in high water and with all the rain it had to be high water right?
(Again, as re-told to me by Nathan)
They met up with Jack to see if the rudder is fixed from the previous incident. Jack tells them that the Blanco has some of the best white water in Texas when it is up. So of course Nathan and Brian think this is a great idea. Nathan had heard horror stories of the land owners around the river so after going back and forth on where to leave the car at the top they pick a spot and hope it’s still there when they get back. In the first 200 yards they go through what they thought was a class 4 rapid. (Yep, this was a good idea.) They got some water in the boat so they pull over and dump. Regroup and are ready to go. What followed is blind rapid after blind rapid after blind rapid of just going in and either bouncing off of rocks or barely missing them. After about 20 of those they drop into one and it flips them both out of the boat and the boat heads into the heart of the rapid perpendicular to the river and just rolling. The good news is they held on their paddles so they swim to the bank and it’s off to the races. They watched the boat pop out on the other side so it made it through the rapids and was floating down river. They start running down the bank to catch the boat and about 2-300 yards downstream Nathan manages to get ahead of the boat just as it is rounding a corner heading into another rapid. He jumps in and grabs the boat. Boat is back in possession and swam it to the opposite bank. Fortunately the boat only had minor damage. Both bulkheads had popped out of the water. No holes and everything was intact. So off they go. They make it to the narrows and are portaging left. After a small “discussion” with the land owner the see another boat being drug ahead of them. Low and behold, it’s Molly and Amy. After portaging both boats down into the narrows which was like an assembly line of lowering boats down ledges they got to spend a few minutes admiring the beauty of the river. One more death rapid before they were home free. Amy and Molly were smart enough to “let” the boys go first. It was another blind rapid and as they were dropping in there was a massive boulder directly in the exit and a standing wave that looked like a tsunami. Nathan made a split decision to jump out of the stern and grab the boat to stop it from going down the rapid. Then Brian jumped out and they carefully get the boat out and portaged right. The girls watch (or maybe just listen to the ‘oh s$#@t’ commentary ahead of them) and decide to not even attempt running it and they also portage. After that they made it to the take out without any more major incidents. One more training run in the books and one more boat to take to get fixed.
Anything other training stories? Well, they also seemed to have an issue with Cottonseed. Or maybe Cottonseed had an issue with them. We also put our TC’s in training to work on a few runs. Nathan and Brian were doing a training run from City Park to Luling 90 and wanted a handoff at Fentress. So the kids and I headed down to Fentress Leisure Camp. We set up a picnic, played in the river and the kids helps get the jugs ready. About the time we thought they would be there we ventured back down to the water and hung out only to have them pull in and tell me they were done for the day. I’m not sure I ever got the full story and I think that’s the only training run the cut short but this training season definitely had it’s drama.
So we finally make it to the race. Dwight and I were TC’s again. My mother flew in to help take care of the kids but they were following along as well. As for Nathan and Brian, everything went pretty smoothly. They were cranking and ticking off the checkpoints pretty quickly. The oddity this year was the rain on Saturday. It kept the temperatures down but also made things even wetter and muddier than usual (if that is actually possible). When we got to Palmetto the crews from the first two boats were pulling out so it was pretty empty. Then it started raining. We all huddled under the tree canopy because we still had maybe an hour before they arrived. I’m usually drenched in sweat about now. Never occurred to me to pack an umbrella. The rain came and went and had stopped by the time they came through.
Nathan and Brian kept pushing through the night but the rain came back the next morning. When we got to Victoria City Park the place was covered in mud. The flooding had deposited several inches of mud on the boat ramp and hillside. They were running neck and neck with the 4 man boat (running in 3rd and 4th place) so we all went down to the boat ramp when we thought they would be coming through. Right when the 4 man came in it let loose. (video here) A downpour of water and all that mud on the boat ramp started sliding down. We tried to help round up the jugs and trash from the other boat because everything was just getting washed back into the river. Even our crate and cooler were sliding down. (I heard later someone found a shovel and scraped the mud off the boat ramp making it easier for later teams. A shovel might be on next year’s TC packing list.) The rain stopped just as we saw the boys come around the corner so we got to do the handoff without any issue. But the damage had been done. We were soaking wet and everything was a muddy mess. We were standing in at least 6 inches of mud and it was just caked on us, our gear, and our shoes. The best part was that Nathan asked for a peanut butter sandwich. We didn’t have one made but I knew I had enough time to get one made and meet him at the Pumphouse. So I left Dwight to clean up the muddy mess of jugs and ice socks and gear (Thank you Dwight!) and I made a sandwich, hopped in my car and headed to get to the Pumphouse. My shoes and feet had so much mud on them there wasn’t a chance I was going to be able to clean them so I took off and set them in the back of the car and drove to the pump house. Once there I got out and managed to get my shoes back on and hoofed it over to the stairs passing well-dressed people headed to Sunday brunch while I’m soaking wet and covered in mud and looking like I’m wearing clogs made of mud. One kid asked her mom why I was running and I could here her pause and struggle to find an answers. I got down to the floating dock with time to spare which luckily gave me time to try to clean all the mud off. The 4 man boat came by first. The boys came by a few minutes later, I tossed the sandwich to them as they paddled by and they were off.
From the Pumphouse we headed to Victoria 59 just to see them (no handoff) and from there we headed to Dupont and set up. The kids got their chairs out, we pulled out snacks and settled in. We had a few hours before they got there and while Dupont, as a handoff, may be one of if not the worst, it’s one of the nicer checkpoints to spectate and wait. There was a nice breeze, plenty of shade, tons of fake animals for the kids to hut for and find and just a relaxing place to hang out. My mother brought lots of peanuts with her from Georgia that we boiled before the race. A favorite of those of us raised in Georgia. So I sat at Dupont and shelled a bag of cold, salty boiled peanuts to give to Nathan at the next checkpoint. For probably an hour I shelled peanuts, the kids ate cookies and looked for snakes.
Once again they were neck and neck with the 4 man so we were all down in the mud waiting for the boats. The 4 man came in first. Dwight and I were standing near the stern of the boat and offered to take some of the jugs/trash they were tossing out of the boat. After all, we are knee deep in mud and can’t really go anywhere so we might as well help out. Note to racers – we know this is a race. However, once y’all are through the checkpoint or handoff the TC’s aren’t racing each other. And especially at places like Dupont where it takes an act of god to be able to move through that mud to pick up all the jugs and bottles and ice socks strewn across the bank we help each other out. So if another TC offers to take your trash and help out our TC. Let them. ;)
The boys were a little quiet coming into Dupont and for a second I was starting to worry a little but then while we were changing out jugs Nathan saw Shannon up on the banks and I hear a big “Hey Girl. What’s up?” Yep, he was fine. They just knew the calmer they were the faster we could work. And just like that they were out of Dupont and on the way to the log jams. The sun was starting to set and we had hoped they would get through the cut before dark and it looked like they would but the jambs and cut can make or break races. I headed to salt water barrier to wait. They were in the home stretch. But we all know between Dupont and the sea wall anything can happen.
TC's in training.
They came through SWB a few minutes behind the 4 man but still close on their heels. However, Nathan was looking tired. They unloaded all of their excess weight at the barrier, took some bread and Gatorade and headed to wooden bridge. When they got to wooden bridge the 4 man boat was there trying to get on their skirt. Sometimes the best part of the race is just listening to what is going on. I love Amy and she can be entertaining especially towards the end of the race. Remember, at this point it’s dark, they have been paddling for 35ish hours, are physically and mentally tired and probably not functioning at peak mental capacity. I think they missed the first snap and so when they got to the stern the skirt was off and not fitting correctly. At first they thought it was the wrong skirt for the boat and then maybe it was on backwards. Eventually they got it fixed but listening to the entire thing play out had me cracking up. It probably killed their TC’s because they can’t help but just had to watch all this play out. In the meantime, the boys were able to come into wooden bridge, get their skirt on and get back in the water ahead of the 4 man. At this point they were running in 3rd place. No telling what would happen in the bay but they had a good shot at third. The 4 man was out just a few minutes after then hot on their tails. So we headed to the Seadrift to sit and wait. But at this point there is too much excitement to really wait. We were looking at a finish before midnight so my mom had loaded the kids into the car from the hotel and they were sleeping in the car. We moved them to a blanket at the sea wall. Parker asked if it was time to get on the airplane because that is the only time he gets woken up in the middle of the night is to head to the airport. They went back to sleep and we watched the spot trackers. It was neck and neck. Then the boy’s spot tracker showed them stopped or barely moving as they were crossing the barge canal. If I hadn’t been sleep deprived as well, that combined with the fact that I couldn’t see their bow light anymore would have told me they had flipped. But they got going again pretty quickly. I drove down to the end of the wall to cheer them on. The 4 man still hadn’t come in so they still had a chance at 3rd. They were giving it all they had. They were paddling along the wall when the 4 man came in at an angle and finished in 3rd. Less than a minute later (45 seconds I think) Nathan and Brian crossed the finish for 4th place. 39 hours and it had come down to 45 seconds. It was a pretty incredible race. As a TC, they had a clean race. As a wife, Nathan had put so much work into training for this race that I couldn’t have been more proud.