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.