Monthly Archives: March 2011

Shore Leave – Day 3

Have I talked you in to coming down to Louisiana for some shore leave? Let me know right away because there’s still room for you at the B&B I’ve rented for Thursday night. It’s a three bedroom home that sleeps ten, on the bayou. My ground crew will spend the night there on Thursday night, drive a few miles to the starting line on Friday and watch us paddle away, then head back to pack up the gear and watch the flotilla come by. Then it’s off for the first day of fun.

So, what did our imaginary ground crew do on their last day in Cajun land? Here we go…..

It was the last day of the race and you were deep in south Louisiana. It was only a 30 mile paddle for the racers but they had to battle an incoming tide from the gulf. And, they were tired, so their pace was slower than yesterday. You could take your time about getting to Berwick. After waving goodbye to the racers you strolled on over to the Franklin historic district for some photography and another great Cajun breakfast. You took your sweet time enjoying the food and enjoyed some beignets with chicory coffee. More pictures of the beautiful downtown area and a visit to the Gravemburg museum. Then it was over to Oaklawn Manor for the last plantation on your tour. Hard to believe people actually lived like this a hundred fifty years ago. While there you walked out back and down to the Teche to watch the racers cruise past. They were grateful to see you there cheering them on because they knew they were headed to the wax lake outlet and a possible long portage. This day you stayed on Main Street and cruised slowly south, watching the Bayou out the driver’s side window. If you had hurried just a little more you could have done the swamp tour at Cajun Jack’s, in Patterson. Well maybe next year. His website says he has tours at 9:00 and 2:30, EIGHT days a week.

You got to the locks at the Wax Lake Outlet and watched as the paddlers scrambled out of their boats. They had to drag and carry the boats and gear up the hill for the portage. A lot of head scratching and thinking going on about the best way to do this. Around the first lock, across the water in the outlet, and around the second lock? That water was was moving awfully fast. The “pros” decided to go across the outlet, along with some of those who didn’t have vehicles there to help with the portage. Others made the painful decision to take their boats down the road to highway 90, across the outlet, back up Levee Road to the bayou, and continue their race. Not so bad for those who could strap their boats onto vehicles. Tougher for the poor souls who had to carry their boats the whole way. Not many onlookers here. You couldn’t help your racer, it was against the rules. But, they were glad you were there to support them.

Back in the car and down the road to the last checkpoint in Berwick. This is the place those racers have been dreaming about seeing. You stopped in to see what was going on. Not much, yet, since the first racer had yet to arrive. The gang from the Teche Project had already set up and was getting the food ready so you visited with them and helped get some of the feast ready. Suddenly you heard cheering and looked to see the first boat coming down the bayou. It was the Illinois Brigade coming in for the home stretch and the win. You’d met these guys at the start of the race when they walked down to the water. Really nice guys but….. a little crazy. If anyone besides your racer was to win this you were glad it was them. You knew your guys were no match for teams like this so they wouldn’t be arriving for quite a while. The Illinois Brigade goes all out all the time and when they get to the finish……

………… they are TIRED! But, you knew your racer was having more fun than old Wally there. So, you waited for that phone call your racer promised to let you know the end was in sight. You had some time to check out Morgan City and Berwick.

You got the call a little after noon and raced back to the finish line. A lot more boats had arrived, and you could see more coming along. Lots of really tired racers with huge smiles. Some of them had done this kind of thing before but, for many, this was their first time. They’d made it and they were rightly proud of themselves. Some of the racers who’d dropped out were there, too, to support their “comrades” as they paddled in. Great sportsmen, all of them. Finally your racer came around the corner. You saw him slow way down and almost stop on the water as he looked at the finish. Why was he stopping like that? Then you saw him put the hammer down and paddle like crazy to make a fast finish. Quick, over to grab a cold beer for him, then down to the dock to help him out of the boat, some pictures, back slapping, and congratulations.

Maybe next year you’ll get a boat and try this?

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Day 3: Dispatches

Early morning on the Teche

You slept until 5:00 this morning but, with the help of your Coureur des Bois you were up and dressed, and had the boat ready to go by 5:30. You ate breakfast with the other racers and realized you still had some time to kill. Although you’re feeling attached to it you’re starting to hate that boat but you remember what they say – going faster makes the pain end sooner. You’re ready to make it end but you have to wait for the start of the last day’s race. So, you stand around and talk to the other racers and look at their gear and boats. The people starting out fresh today on the “Oil and Gas Race” from Franklin to Berwick are looking at you and the other TdT racers like you’re some kid of river rats. They can spot you by the dirty boats and the dirty paddles, your two day beard, and the way you go about surely putting your boat together. A few have asked you questions about your gear and strategy.

Once again the countdown begins and you’re all off at 7:00. This time, though, there will be no slowing down. You’ve decided to push absolutely as hard as you can for the final miles. In all your training you never thought of 30 miles as a sprint but that’s what you’ll try to do today.

Starting in Franklin you realize the bayou has gotten much wider. And you’re actually seeing a few alligators. Mostly they’re laying on the banks watching you. You’ve been told never to get between them and the water because when they get spooked they’ll do just about anything to get off land and into the the safety of their home – including going over you and your boat and maybe taking a little bite on the way. Just give them plenty of room. No arguments there!

There was one, though, that was in the water about forty feet off to your left. You watched him and wondered if you could paddle faster than he could swim. Probably not. And then he submerged and disappeared. You hope he swam AWAY from you – he looked to be about twelve feet long. Franklin is where the Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival is held every year so you’ve also been keeping an eye open for bears and bobcats along the shore. No bears but the birds are easy to spot, and you’ve seen two eagles so far.

It’s not all wildlife, though. Along the way you pass some junk in the water just south of Franklin. But it’s not just junk. It’s the boiler from a boat that sank here some time back in the 1800s.

Lots of history in this bayou.

8:30 and you’re at the first check point / rest stop of the day at the Wax Lake Outlet. A rest stop they call it! You pull the boat out and check in with the race volunteers to let them know you’re still in it but this time there’s no resting. You assemble the dolly that’s been in your boat and strap the canoe on – and start rolling the boat up the hill and down the road for the portage around the locks. On a good year you’d be able to paddle across the outlet but this year there’s too much water and the race organizers thought it too dangerous. The extra rain made the bayou move faster but now you have to roll the boat a couple of miles. Oh well, good to use the legs instead of the shoulders for a while.

11:00 and you notice that the little current there is – is moving in the WRONG DIRECTION! You’re close to the gulf and the tide is coming in. So you keep paddling because when you stop you drift backwards. Not much further to go.

Noon and you’re close. You’re so very close to the end. And your paddling has slowed down to the point where you are stationary in the middle of the bayou. You started the day sprinting to the finish, trying to make it as quick as possible but now something in you doesn’t want it to end. You’ve done something you never thought you would, or could. You take a few minutes to enjoy it and you want to engrave everything in your memory. You never want to forget this moment. You look off to your right and notice several other boats, all of them separated and alone, drifting and doing the same thing. But it’s time to finish and you swing the paddle over the side, smile, and turn the last bend in the bayou.

The finish isn’t at a park or public ramp of any sort. Instead it’s at a dock behind someone’s home. So the crowd you see is made up of “race people” and you recognize a lot of the faces. Everyone is enjoying the afternoon, congratulating each other, and swapping stories. You start to realize that the race, and the preparation for it, have changed you. You’ve lost some weight, there are muscles you didn’t remember from a year ago, your blood pressure is down, and the cholesterol count has dropped. More than that you’ve learned how far you can push yourself, both during the race and in the run-up to it. You also reflect on the time your family sacrificed by allowing you to be out in your boat getting ready – and how much you appreciate them. You decide you could have done more and done better. You look at some of the people who came in before you and think maybe you should have beaten them. You’re thinking maybe another TdT in 2012; or maybe something bigger like the MR340. But, that’s next year. Now it’s time to enjoy the moment, take some pictures, and get some hot food and a cold beer.