I wanted to include a few pictures of days 1 and 2 in the last 2 posts but hit the publish button by mistake on day 2. So here are a few to catch up before we get started on day 3. Note that you can click on any of the pics to make them larger.
Day three started for me a little over an hour after the end of day 2 and I was really tired. Two cups of Cajun coffee helped a little but it would still be tough going on. I just told myself it was only 25 miles to the finish line. Christian was also feeling the effects of two hard days on the water. His stomach was upset and he told his ground crew captain he had an elevated heart rate. It happens when you push that hard for that long, sometimes. Still, he got dressed and showed up at the start to watch the sun come up and take a look at the mess we’d paddled through the night before, and that we’d have to go through again (twice) as we paddled up to the starting line and then back through after the start.
A while later Christian caught up with me. He had decided to just get in his boat and see how it went. This is really what this kind of thing is all about. You want to quit. Your body is telling to it wants to stop and your mind is asking you why you’re doing this. But you figure you’ll just go a little longer. So, he started 7:30 and lost a half hour on everyone. I was glad to see him and he lagged back with me for a while to make sure I’d be OK.
The next challenge would be two portages around locks. At the first there’s an island of some sort and I went left. I got to the lock and it didn’t look like I’d gone the right way so I turned around. Then I heard Christian at the top of the hill shouting and waving at me to come back. He’d waited for me to make sure I didn’t go the wrong way. What a guy. Out of the boat, drag it up a hill and around the lock, pull it down the hill and back into the water. Then it was across another canal and repeat the process.
Now we were on the the home stretch but the bayou gets really wide and there’s still no water movement – and this day the winds had picked up to 15 mph with gusts up to 20. All day it was paddle against the wind. I was really tired and hurt everywhere so I just kept pushing and telling myself it would be over soon. As I got to the checkpoint in Patterson I saw my friend John at the ramp. He had dropped out of the race earlier but decided to stay around for me. What a sight that was to see this guy who could have been home resting but stayed with me. This is the OTHER thing these races are all about, and the reason I go back. I pulled out and visited for a few minutes. He told me I was looking good (liar) and encouraged me to keep it up. A few miles later I was on the left side of the bayou trying to stay out of the wind and I heard him yelling from the other shore so I paddled over. Again he was there to encourage me. At this point I was thinking that he was there with his car – with a kayak rack on the top – and I told him I didn’t think I could do it. I don’t know if John knew it but I was asking him for permission to quit, and he kept me going. A couple of times I’d closed my eyes for too long and fallen asleep, only to jerk awake as the boat started to tip over. I’d been hallucinating for about seven hours and seeing people. Nothing drastic but I’d see people on the shore and look at them only to realize they were just trees or parts of houses. I knew my eyes were playing tricks on me and realized what was happening but it was strange.
The muscles in my lower back were hurting badly and I’d reach forward on the boat and pull myself down to stretch them and get some relief. So, when the police boat pulled up to tell me they’d had a report of a guy sleeping in a kayak I knew what they were talking about. I showed them how I’d stretch, assured them that I was really alright, and off they went. Then a coast guard boat came along to check on me. Once again I assured them I was fine. They told me I didn’t HAVE to put my life preserver on but that they’d feel better if I did, so I strapped it on and kept going. For the few miles leading up to the final portage I amused myself by looking at the clouds – they were also ALL shaped like people!
I FINALLY got to the portage, around the lock, and in to the Atchafalaya river. The race organizers had decided it wasn’t against the rules so the kayak cart was waiting for me and I didn’t have to drag the boat all the way – that would have finished me off for sure. I could see the finish line and pushed as hard as I could to get there. Made it just after 6:00 pm. I’d been paddling pretty much non-stop for 11 hours and had only gone 25 miles. An average of 2.25 mph is pretty sad but it was the best I could do and now I’m glad I stuck with it. 22 boats had dropped out and I didn’t feel so bad about coming in dead last – or maybe I came in 28th out of 50. The final thrill was seeing Christian coming up the river toward me. He had seen me coming and jumped back in his boat to meet me so we could both across the finish line together. That made it all worthwhile. We packed up the cars, drove back to Shreveport, and I got in bed about 1:30 am. Not counting the two hours on the ground at the boat ramp I’d been awake for almost 42 hours. But, I finished it and have blisters on my hands and feet, a lot of sore muscles, and a finisher’s hat to prove it.
I was never much into sports. I was on the swim team in high school (100 yard freestyle) but wasn’t much good at it. So, I’m not sure why this ultra-marathon stuff appeals to me the way it does. It occurs to me, though, that there’s a higher level of risk involved in going long distances. Not a higher risk of injury, although that’s part of any sport; rather a risk of not finishing. If you play baseball you expect to see the end of nine innings. And no one expects not to make it to the end of a 100 yard dash. With these things, though, there’s always the very real possibility of the DNF. So, someone like me who stands no chance of coming in first can still succeed just by staying in the race until the end. The hands hurt and the muscles are still sore but I sure feel good.
Thanks to everyone who’s been reading this blog and posting comments. It’s big part of the fun for me.