Tag Archives: tour du teche

Captain Ned – Retired

During the 2010 MR340 I paddled along with a guy who said he’d been stationed in Japan and heard a quote that “A wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once, a fool does it twice.” I said then that a repeat of that kind of race wasn’t part of my plan. You know the rest – 2011 was the Tour du Teche and this year another MR340. Interestingly, I met the same guy this year on the Missouri River! I guess I’m not the only fool out there.

But, these races take a tremendous toll. Three or four days dedicated to only one thing, asking friends and family to wait at boat ramps at all hours; the time required to get ready – working out, preparing all the gear and food, planning the other logistics. I’ve managed three races in four years. That’s not nearly up to the number other people do, but more than I’m prepared to continue doing.

So, this is it. Captain Ned is officially retiring from ultra-marathon kayaking. Now it’s time to use the kayak in the way I originally planned. I’ll take it out on the local lakes, maybe out on some rivers for some weekend floating. The only racing I’m planning will be one day events.

Thanks to all of you for the cheering I’ve heard over the last four years. I really did hear it at 1:00 am out there on the Missouri River and while I was paddling down that bayou in Louisiana. And, it kept me going when my body and mind were telling me to stop. I couldn’t have done it without you. I owe all of you some seat time in my kayak. Let me know when you’re ready to play around in it a bit – you’ll enjoy yourself.

And thanks to my fellow racers. We only met for a short time when you passed me during that races but I’m a better person for meeting all of you. If you’re ever in the Dallas area let me know. I’d like to spend some time with you on dry land.

Thanks again,

Captain Ned, WRN Retired.

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TdT recap day 3

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.

Boats lined up ready for the start of the race on day 1

Eating dinner the night before the race

Boat inspection the night before the race.

Thurs PM. Boats lined up for tomorrow

Start of day 2 in St. Martinville. I'm on the left, in blue.

On the first day - my friend John on the left

And they're OFF! I'm on the right - yellow shirt and skinny paddle

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.

Getting in the boat for the start of day 3

Moving up toward the starting line

Getting sorted out for the start - and ready to head back through that stuff!

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'm done!

Christian coming across the finish line.

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.

Ned

TdT recap day 2

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.

TdT recap – day 1

It was only three days but they were three busy days so I’ll break the recap up into three posts. Besides, my hands hurt too much for a lot of typing at this point….

Christian and I got to Port Barre on Thursday afternoon, got our boats and gear inspected and approved, and took them over to the starting area where we set up our tents for the night. Then back across the street to rig the boats for the big show in the morning. That done we went over to the party, had a chance to visit with some of the other folks, eat dinner, listen to the music, and relax a little. Then it was back to the sleeping bags.

I never sleep well the first night in a strange place so it was a fitful night and I finally gave up about 4:00 and started packing up the tent. Then we had just enough time to eat breakfast, put the finishing touches on the boats, and get in the water for the 7:00 am start of the race.

The first day was absolutely beautiful. Great weather, a current in the bayou to push us along, and wonderful scenery. About 50 boats started and things got pretty wild as we funneled into the bayou itself but we were soon kind of lined up according to our speed. As I was looking to my right and deciding if the boat there would be a good candidate to tuck in behind and draft a little I didn’t see the raft of floating water lilies and plowed straight into them. The front of the boat got stuck and the current slowly spun me around until I could back out of it all. At that point I lost sight of Christian. He was paddling his racing canoe strongly and the reports I got were that he was up in the front of the pack pretty much all day, feeling good physically and mentally and would finish the day in just under 10 hours – at about 5:00. One of the checkpoint volunteers told me my son was in a different time zone! I felt pretty good, too, and was starting to think this race would be an easy one. Little did I know.

I hit the Breaux Bridge checkpoint about 3:00 (Christian had been through at 1:30) and was feeling strong. After that, though, the bayou lost the little current it had and became a skinny lake. The scenery started to die out but the weather was still great. Light breezes and cool temperatures and off I went paddling with a lot of other boats and headed to the St. Martinville finish line.

Christian finished the day about 5:00 and I rolled in just before 7:00. We set up my tent, I put some dry cloths on and we headed for town. Had dinner and listened to some music at the party. We didn’t stay long, though, because the long day was next and we wanted to get some rest.

Back home again alive….

Just got out of bed after some much needed sleep and wanted to wrap this up but I find my hands hurt too much to type a lot so this will be short. Christian made it through like a champ, and I just made it through. Came in dead last but I finished. This one was shorter than the race last year but a lot harder me.

The last two days are a blur because I got up at 5:30 Saturday and didn’t get to sleep until 1:00 am on Monday. Hallucinations can be interesting.

My good friend John drove back down from Shreveport to pick me up and Christin and Kristy were too tired to drive back last night so they’re driving back today. We’ll get the cars unpacked and, when my brain gets a little clearer I’ll post something about the whole experience.

Thanks to all for your support.

Ned

Almost There!

I heard through the grapevine that Christian and Ned are still going strong and feeling good. They’re well beyond the last check point, so we won’t hear from them again until they’ve reached the finished line. I’m so impressed by their physical stamina and mental endurance. Wish I could be there to cheer them on and see them finish!

The Last 25

Today is the last day of the Tour de Teche. It’s supposed to be the easiest and shortest day of the race but after two grueling days of paddling against the tide and through the night, these last 25 miles might prove to be the most challenging. I talked to Christian briefly last night and he said, “This is a mind game. I’ve been thinking I’m almost there for the last hour; I think the finish is just around the bend at every bend…and then it’s not.” 

I’m not sure when Christian got in but my dad was out on that river until 5:30. When he hit the last check point at around midnight, he decided the best course of action would be to wait for the next group of people to come in and then paddle with them. He was told they were approximately 15 minutes away but with the tide going against them, it was 2 hours before they made it in.

When my mom talked to my dad this morning, he could barely hold onto the phone because the wind was blowing so hard. She said his words were positive and optimistic but that she could hear in his voice the fear and exhaustion. At the beginning of the race there were 85 people and now, there are only 30.

My mom also talked to Kristy this morning and she said that it’s even taking the front runners much longer to finish the race then they had expected. This morning Christian’s boat got stuck in a tangled mess of weeds and what I’m guessing were water lilies (?). She pushed him as far out as she could, but eventually he had to paddle himself through it. We’re all hoping the frustration and anger he felt in that moment will carry him through the race. Sometimes that’s just what you need!

Thanks for all of your support, positive thoughts, prayers and comments! I’ll let you know as soon as I hear more.