Hustle and Grind & Tart/Jones
Where to start? I really need to start writing these right after the race. I’d love to say I’m just spreading out the Safari enjoyment throughout the year, but the truth is that once Safari is over reality rears its head and it doesn't get done. So here we are 10 months later and I’m pushing my tired brain to even remember what happened last year but the work I 'should' be doing is too overwhelming so I'm procrastinating but working on this instead. So here goes. Any inaccuracies, errors or omissions can be blamed on the fact that I’m a tired mom/architect/wife/etc and I just need a nap.
2017 was on track to be a repeat of 2016. Nathan and Brian were back in the boat together for the second year in a row and Nathans’s dad and I were going to TC for them again. Until our paddling family made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
I know I’ve said this before, but I love the paddling community. They are some of the most humble, kind, loyal, strong, tough and determined people I have known. Don’t get me wrong, there is the fair share of drama and a black sheep or two, but they have become our family here in Texas and mean more to me than I can ever put into words. In particular some of the women - they make me stronger, challenge me, encourage me, tell me to suck it up when necessary and most importantly just let me be me.
So when Virginia and Shannon asked if I would TC for them I had to say yes. So y’all don’t think I just bailed on Brian and Nathan, my husband was still in the VERY capable hands of his father who has been his TC since his very first Safari. This was Safari number seven for Nathan and something similar for Brian so they weren’t novices. Nathan was fully sportive. Well, he was until the TWS reached out because I was registered as a TC for both teams and they wanted to charge us to change out my spot TCin’g for the boys with Nathans mom who was replacing me. I’m pretty sure Nathan replied to that email with something along the lines of ‘since Virginia stole our TC she can pay the change fee.’ But otherwise he was fully supportive.
That wouldn’t be the last change though. Originally Kaitlin and I were going to TC for Virginia and Shannon. Then Kaitlin decided to jump in the boat and Kaitlin’s mom jumped in as the second TC. I was a tad nervous about TCing with Kaitlin’s mom just because I hadn’t ever met her before but everyone I talked to loved her. And they were all right. Kathi and Darryl were great. They were laid back and so much fun to hang out with. Since none of my family is here in Texas, if I could adopt them as my Texas parents I would! Well, if they would have me.
The only slight hesitation was the fact that I wouldn’t get to see Nathan throughout the race. I have been there for every race and wasn’t sure how it would feel to not be there. We thought Nathan and Brian would be pretty closely matched to the girls and so I figured I would be able to see them at a handful of stops. Well, as it turned out, they were more evenly matched than we thought. For pretty much the entire race, the two boats were within a 10-15 minutes of each other and there was only one stop (Victoria City Park) where we missed Nathan and Brian. Otherwise we saw them every step of the way through to the wooden bridge. So much so that it stressed me out a little. Don’t ask a girl who she wants to win when it comes to her team or her husband. ;)
So let’s get to the race. I actually think the few hours before the race are the worst all season. You are ready to race. No more training. No more prep. But you probably couldn’t sleep much even though you knew you needed it and have been up and are ready to just get in the boat and get going. There was a little bit of anxiety and nerves that morning but I think once everyone was in the boat and warming up their game faces were on and they were ready to go.
For the most part, the race was relatively uneventful – if the TWS can be uneventful. There were no major issues. There were no hallucinations or even log jams that would keep everyone at salt water barrier guessing who would show up when. And I had a boat full of pros. Even though this was Shannon’s first safari she wasn’t a stranger to ultra-marathon sports. And she was in the boat with the Women’s record holders. While things were going smoothly in the boat (or they put on a good face at stops) they were going smoothly on the banks as well. That was until sometime on day two. We were driving Chris and Shannon’s truck that had been stolen weeks before and was still missing the control panel. It didn't seem like a big deal at first and barely noticed. Day one was so busy and fast and Kathi and I just kept chatting. But come day two when the stops are further apart and you’ve been talking for a day straight you need some music. You might think I'm being over dramatic but you haven't heard me sing and if you had you would understand the importance of a radio.
Kathi and I would rotate who we handed off to so that we could rotate checking on each of them and trying to assess how they were doing. Quite paddlers make TC’s nervous. Sometimes it’s just that they are calm and waiting for the TC to do what they need to do during a stop, but it can also be a sign of issues coming (exhaustion, pain, nutrition or hydration issues.) Despite some concerns at times they kept cruising. I did later hear that at one point Kaitlin was having issues drinking her spiz and had run out of solid food. Around that same time the other boat they were close to – Tim Curry, Michael Vandeveer and Zach Peltier were paddling next to them eating snickers and tossing chips they didn’t want into the river. The guys should be glad it was Kaitlin that was struggling. If it had been Shannon or Virginia unable to drink spiz and needing solid food while they guy were snacking away and tossing out food I would have feared for their lives. Their boat might have showed up at the next checkpoint missing a paddler.
The only difficult moment during the race was Sunday afternoon. The girls had just left a stop and the boys were just behind so we hung around to see them. They hadn't listed this location as a stop so his mom and dad weren't there. All they wanted were ice socks and I couldn't give them anything. It killed me knowing how hot it was and how much they wanted ice socks. But they survived and got ice socks at the next stop. But it was a good lesson for novice and experienced TC's - regardless of the list of stops your team gives you, if you have a chance to see them on the river do it and even if they aren't expecting food have an ice sock and a water bottle ready just in case. The one time they need it they will be so grateful you were there.
The only time I got yelled at was at the Pump house. At Victoria City Park, Shannon asked for Aleve. Her back was hurting and she had been taking Advil and was worried about taking too much and asked for Aleve. So we rounded some up Aleve and headed to the pump house to hand it off. (This was the only stop we missed Nathan and Brian since we head out right after the girls left.) When I tossed her the bag I mistakenly said “here is your Advil.” Shannon responds with a frustrated “but I wanted Aleve!” The tone in her voice was somewhere between 'I'm going to %$#^%$ kill you' and on the verge of tears thinking how far she would have to go before another chance of getting meds. I had to yell back that it was actually Aleve. I think she forgave me before we got to the next stop. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation may have gotten to us as well – we still got done what needed to be done, but maybe don’t trust what a TC says come day two.
Because these girls are tough as nails, the kept on cranking and they paddled up to the steps early Monday morning and they were done. 44 hours, 20 minutes in 7th place! I walked down the steps to congratulate them and just about that time they flipped the boat. They had the skirt on and Virginia and Kaitlin were able to get out. However, Shannon was secured a little too well in the skirt and couldn’t get out of the boat. I had flashbacks of a few years before when Nathan got so frustrated with the skirt he tied it to his life jacket so it wouldn’t fall down but then got stuck when we flipped. I was able to grab Shannon and hold her up out of the water while we got her unfastened. We got her out of the boat, up the steps and the girls were done. Pictures were taken, post Safari supplies (they need home baked food to eat when they wake up starving whenever it is they wake up again) were handed out and I was off the clock.
But I wasn’t quite done. Once we got the girls taken care of, I pulled up the spot tracker for the guys and it showed them on the sea wall but I couldn’t see anything. The three man guys boat had come in in 8th place and I also knew Shawn Boyette was in the bay so they were racing him for 9th. I started walking down the wall but they were further away than I thought. First I just saw Brian walking on the wall towing the boat. But I didn’t see Nathan. ‘Where’s Nathan’ I yell. Brian responds with ‘I lost Nathan.’ (perfect spot for an eye roll emoji) For a split second I’m legitimately concerned Brian left him somewhere. I’m sleep deprived. Brian is also sleep deprived and physically exhausted so anything is possible in my head. Eventually I see Nathan is walking on the wall just waaaaay back there. Both Brian and Nathan were pretty spent but Nathan was moving slower than I liked. I tried to show him Shawn’s bow light in the bay and that he needed to pick up the pace. He tried to tell me it wasn’t a boat and it was a crab trap. I haven’t seen many crab traps with lights that move but after a couple rounds of that argument I said ‘fine, it’s a crab trap, JUST KEEP WALKING.’ Nathan could argue with me all he wanted about what that light was as long as he kept walking. And I of course retain the right to yell at him and order him around if it is for his own benifit. He kept walking and 37 minutes after the girls finished, Nathan and Brian finished in 9th place in 44:57.
We all know the saying ‘it takes a village.’ And I want to make sure to thank that village.
Karen Stewart: my mother had our kids during the entire race. She is in her 70’s and she carted the kids around from stop to stop, in and out of hotels, and swimsuits, made stops for ice cream and woke them up to put them in the car and bring them to the finish in the ridiculously early hours of Monday morning to see daddy finish. I couldn’t have TC’d the girls if she hadn’t taken care of our kids. And even though there are pictures out there of Parker running around naked at Fentress we'd have you back anytime! Thank you mom!
Dwight and Ernestine Tart: while Nathans dad is an old pro (and has the scars to prove it - think open wounds and the green slime from Zedler), this was Nathan’s mom’s first time as TC. To say she was out of her comfort zone would be an understatement. But she handled it like a champ and took on new challenges including some that I am pretty sure flat out scared her. But she did it!
Jiral Family: Darryl, Kathi and Landen - thank you for treating me like family. Nothing scares an introvert like having to spend 24/7 with complete strangers but y'all made it so much fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even after seven years I still feel like a newbie in the safari community so introducing the Jiral family to a new spot on the river was kind of fun.
Parker! No good story to go with this pic but he is just too cute to not include!
'till next year.....well....it's May so see you all in a few weeks. Happy paddling.