The battery on my cell phone was just about dead so I couldn’t set my alarm for Saturday morning. No problem because I figured I’d hear people moving around and getting ready for the race. Little did I know that the organizers of the race would wake me up with Zydeco music blasting from loud speakers! It was great. So I woke up in St. Martinville at 5:30, got my tent pulled down and stuffed into the boat, went over for a good breakfast, and we were on the water in time for the 7:00 am start. Off to Franklin on the 60 day leg of the race. Day one had been great but we both knew this was were the test really started. 50 boats had started the three day race and 3 had dropped out the first day. We were 47 now.
The bayou didn’t have any current so the paddling was more difficult, and the light breezes of yesterday turned into winds of 10 mph gusting to 15 from the south. Every time we’d stop paddling the boat would stop, but we kept moving south toward Franklin anticipating a short, easy, 25 mile day to finish it up.
The first portage came up quickly at the Keystone dam. Christian and I had worked it out so that he would carry a cart in his boat to pull it the 200 yards around the dam. He’d then run it back and leave it for me to use, and I’d carry it from point. When I got to Keystone he came out of the woods to tell me that the race officials had ruled that this would violate the rule against paddlers helping each other. So I had to hook up a rope and drag my boat around the dam, lower it down the embankment into the water, and get going again. This is when things started to unravel for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Back on the water after Keystone and the wind continued but we headed around a long curve in the bayou so there were times when they didn’t hit us head on, and the lure of New Iberia and their annual world championship gumbo festival was up ahead.
Christian hit New Iberia at 12:20 and I checked in at 1:45. I would have been in sooner but, as I pulled into town I saw festival going on and realized that the checkpoint was somewhere further south – and not actually at the festival as I had thought. Their riverfront has a high wall along it so there’s no place to pull a small boat up but necessity is the mother of invention and I wasn’t about to come all this way and miss a good bite of cajun cooking. There was a series of really big (2 story high) party barge / houseboats parked along the riverfront so I paddled up to one and asked a drunk if I could tie up. He didn’t mind (he probably wouldn’t have minded much of anything in his condition) so I tied up the boat, walked through the party, to the amazement of all the folks there, up the stairs to the second floor, and out to the festival. They had already sold out of all their gumbo but I did get a great bowl of jambalya and it was a short stroll for a muddy, wet, smelly Ned through the party on the houseboat, back to my kayak, and back to the race.
Just around the corner was the New Iberia checkpoint where I met up with Kristy, got more supplies, and headed south once again. At this point the bayou heads south-east for a long, long, stretch, and the wind was against us the whole way. Any speed I could have made was cancelled by that wind and it was just a grind the whole way. The next goal was the Chitimacha boat ramp and I knew I wouldn’t get there until well after dark. 9 more boats had pulled out of the race at this point so we were down to 38.
I got to Chitimacha about 9:30, Christian had been through at 7:15 and they told me he was doing well. I had been told that we were getting into ‘gator country and there was something called the Charenton Cut coming up. This is a canal connecting the Bayou Teche with the Gulf of Mexico and if you make the wrong turn you’ll be in the gulf in about 10 miles. I’d also been told that there were masses of water lilies clogging parts of the bayou. These are plants that float in the water and tend to bunch up and are tough to plow through. So, I decided prudence is the better part of valor and decided to wait for the next group of paddlers and join them rather than go it alone. The folks at the ramp told me they thought there were some paddlers about 15 minutes behind me so I put a light jacket on and laid down on the ground for (I thought) a short nap.
I wasn’t aware that I was really sleeping because I could hear the people at the ramp talking but 2 hours later they woke me to tell me the other boats had arrived. I waited for them to take a break and the four of us got back on the water about midnight. As we were getting in one of the checkpoint volunteers made the comment that at least the tide was beginning to turn and we wouldn’t be paddling against it. I’m glad I didn’t know I’d been pushing against a current and the wind most of the day.
I was glad I had waited for these folks because we got to the cut and paddled straight into it. I was absolutely convinced that we were headed the right way but 2 of the others felt that we were on the wrong track. After talking it over we decided to let the majority rule and turned around – going in the right direction. Going my way would have sent us down a canal with no civilization and we’d have had to paddle all the way back! 3 more boat had dropped out at this point so we were down to 35.
The four of us paddled on into the night. We did encounter some areas where we had to pick our way through the vegetation but didn’t see one alligator – not even any alligator eyes glowing in the dark. Now, I’m not fast but these three were downright slow. I didn’t have a GPS so I didn’t know how much progress we’d made or what time it was. Finally I asked one of them and he told me we were 4 or 5 miles from the finish for the day and it was about 4:20 in the morning! Guys! We’ve GOT to pick up the pace if we want to stay in this thing because the cut-off is 6:00 am and I’d like to get some breakfast before the last 25 miles of the race. They said they’d be OK and that I should just head out without them so I took off.
Just before Franklin the water lilies really hit. The whole bayou was choked with them and was very difficult to plow through. The local sheriff was out in his power boat, trying to clear a path by running through to chop them up. The problem was that they’d just sort of close up behind his boat. He came up to me and shouted for me to follow him but when he turned around his navigation lights weren’t working so I couldn’t see where he’d gone! Still, it was a help and I did get through.
I got in at Franklin at about 5:30. Kristy and Christian had spent the night at a hotel somewhere but they’d left his tent for me. I took a short look at where I should have been able to sleep the night and debated changing in to some fresh cloths vs getting food and decided sausage and eggs sounded better to me. So, a few cups of strong cajun coffee and breakfast and went back to the starting line.