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Texas Water Safari 2002: A report from Q-continuum

TWS 2002 | before & after | my race | bay crossing | TC story | soloists | TWS page

team captain

Memoirs of a first-time team captain
by Connie Uliasz

Preparing for the Race

Marek had dreamed, planned and prepared to be in the Texas Water Safari for about 16 months - he was definitely obsessed. We planned to leave for Texas on Saturday, June 1st, drive throughout that day and the next, arriving in San Marcos in time for a quick late-afternoon paddle on June 2nd. Marek managed to take off work on May 30th and 31st, too, to try to prepare his boat and Safari food. I had to work, though, trying to get enough done that I wouldn't be missed during my two weeks away. We both work at Colorado State University, in a research group studying global climate change. While Marek's research could wait for a couple of weeks, some of the tasks in my job, like doing my part to make sure the money keeps coming in, were not quite as easily left. I ended up working 12-hour days before leaving and, unfortunately, had little time to prepare for our trip.

Thankfully, Marek's mother had been staying with us (she lives in Warsaw, Poland) and was very helpful, as well as being willing to stay behind and take care of our dog, Worf. We have a Newfoundland dog, and even though it gets to 20 degrees below zero in Colorado he's never been cold. In the wintertime he will actually lay flat out on the snow so it touches his bare belly and cools him down. On the other hand, if the temperature gets above 60 degrees he's uncomfortably hot, so taking him to Texas during the summer is not an option.

I also made arrangements for my horse, Gulliver (a Paint/Warmblood cross), to be turned out every day, and ridden a few times during the two weeks that Marek and I would be gone. Somehow, Gulliver manages to either get sick or hurt himself almost every time I go out of town, so I was a bit nervous about him. One time he got colic (a potentially fatal stomach ache), one time he got caught under a fence and sliced up his legs, one time he cut a big gash over one eye, and one time he cut a big chunk out of his lower lip. He's 20 years old this year but is still a big, powerful horse, and when he wants to get into trouble he does a pretty good job of it. I also didn't want to have to ride him after he's stored up two weeks worth of energy. He's a pretty aggressive, though sweet, horse even when he gets ridden every day. Now that I've finally got him fit, heaven help the person who first rides him after two weeks of horsy vacation.

Christmas paddling. Over Christmas, Marek and I drove to Texas and he paddled with John Stockwell, Erin Magee, James "Devo" DeVoglaer, and Norm Thomas. It was fascinating to see how different everyone is in their paddling.

DevoMan I'd seen Devo in Safari 2001, and wasn't quite sure he was human. However, at Christmastime, after a day of paddling we were standing around talking and he sheepishly brought out the photos of his kids (who are absolutely adorable, by the way). Then I realized that, for all his extraordinary athletic ability, he is just a regular guy and I think I was able to appreciate better how much he gives to the sport, through his support of new paddlers. He has an interesting, serious but playful approach to paddling. Norm is such a tough guy that he battles through whatever comes his way and trusts to his substantial reserves of strength and will-power to succeed.

Erin is the consummate professional -- if there can be such a thing in the Texas Water Safari -- a fine planner and technician, and is willing to share everything she knows. And John is really one of the best managers that I've met. They were trying to decide where to paddle on one particular day, and John sat down and everyone just shut up and listened while he worked it out so that everyone was satisfied. Having the friendship and support of these people has meant more to us that I can say.

Before the Safari, Marek had spent a lot of time working out what to take to Texas, but he hadn't worked out just how to fit everything into his boat. And the week before we left, we still weren't sure about how to prepare his ice bags and what kind of water jugs to use. The ones he'd planned to use are no longer available, so we went to Walmart and got what was available. We also have an REI store about a mile from our house, and we spent some time in there looking at flashlights and folding knives, concentrated food sources, tents and sleeping pads. Marek showed me some of his newest toys, including his hammock - a really cool thing weighing almost nothing and complete with bug netting. Looking at the growing mound of stuff that was supposed to go with us to Texas, much of which was supposed to fit into his Spencer Extreme, I wished we had a bigger car.

On Friday night, May 31st, we agreed that there was no way we would be ready to leave the next day and planned to spend the day packing and preparing. We finally pulled out of town on Sunday, June 2nd. After driving for a looooong time, and running off the road during a dust-storm, we arrived in San Marcos in late afternoon, Monday, June 3rd. Marek was hoping to have time to paddle some parts of the river (and the bay) that he hadn't seen before. He paddled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and we managed to be ready for check-in on Friday. I was nervous about finding some of the access points. Texas is a different world to me (even the traffic lights are weird - sideways instead of having the red stoplight on top) and then there are the road names. I don't think I've ever been in a place where one road can go by 4 different names.

Marek was (justifiably) nervous about being able to carry his fully loaded boat over the portages, and wanted to carry as little water as possible. On the first day of the race, he wanted me to see him off at the beginning of the race at Aquarena, and give him water and ice at Westerfield, Martindale, Staples, Fentress, Prairie Lea 2, Luling Highway 90, Luling Dam and Palmetto State Park. I wasn't sure I would be able to make it to all of these places, and kicked up a bit of a fuss about him being so demanding. I was chafing a bit as it was, because I'd spent so much time over the past year under bridges and in the mud, waiting for Marek to come downstream so I could shuttle him. At the University, we get about 5 weeks a year of vacation, and I'd spent four of these weeks waiting on various riverbanks while Marek trained for the Safari. I'd made a major mistake over Christmas, agreeing that Marek could paddle on Christmas day. I spent the day alone, waiting for him at Cheapside bridge, and had quietly resented him for months afterwards. For the sake of both of us, I had promised myself that I wouldn't be quite that agreeable again. But he convinced me that he needed me at all those access points, so I agreed that I would be there for him.


Aquarena Springs Check in day was exciting because we were able to see a few of the wonderful people we had met over the past year, in our Safari preparations. We saw Devo and his TC, Steve, Norm Thomas and his wife (and TC) Brenda, and Ginger, and Erin. We had met another solist, James Green, during the week, and it was nice to chat with him and the other solists as well. Marek particularly enjoyed looking at all the different boats, and seeing how they are all decked out. Did Fuzzy Churchman really have slices of pizza in his boat? It looked like pizza.

I was still wondering how I was going to motivate Marek during the race if he wanted to quit partway through. He is not the most stoic person when he gets sick, so if he got really sick I thought it might be possible that he'd want to quit. I had decided, if that happened, that I'd get him to sleep for some hours and was sure that when he woke up he'd be ready to go again. His mother really didn't think he could finish, and had spent weeks telling him just to pack enough food for one day, as there was no way he'd make it longer than that. On the other hand, people like Erin, Devo, Ginger, and Pat Gunn have been so supportive and helpful that I think their influence was instrumental in getting Marek through the race.

Before the race, Marek still had never tried to lift up his fully loaded boat. I guess he was afraid to find that it was too heavy, but if he didn't find this out until race day it would be too late to quit. This is definitely not the way that Marek (who loves planning) usually does things, so even though I thought he was being silly I decided it was probably best to keep quiet about it.

Race Day

Aquarena Springs Saturday, we checked out of the Motel 6 we'd been staying in (an o.k. place to stay, after we figured out the trick to flushing the toilet) and made our way down to Aquarena. It was exciting to see the boats and people making last minute preparations. Luckily, we'd put Marek's boat in a spot that was near Norm's and also Devo/Shea's boats, so we were near some of the people who'd paddled with Marek over Christmas. It was comforting, really. I tried to take some pictures, and got a few, but it's hard to get anything other than butt shots, as all the paddlers are bent over their boats making last minute preparations. I generally prefer to see people's faces. Norm was amazingly patient with some of the questions he was getting from passers-by, and, once again I admired his extraordinary reserves of willpower.

Finally, the boats started putting in and the paddlers warming up. Marek stretched, and then lifted his fully stocked boat for the first time and put it in the headwaters of the San Marcos River. He gingerly got in, tested his balance a bit, and paddled off to warm up for the race. I took the duffle bag with the spare equipment back to the car, went to the bathroom, and found myself a vantage place on shore. I was a bit downstream from the start, wanting to see the racers as they flew past the buildings of Aquarena Springs.

Finally we heard the shouts of "they're off" and the first boats came into view. I saw the big boats, Devo/Shea, Erin, and many others. After a minute or so, I saw Norm and his yellow sit-on-top and, knowing he'd planned come after the first crush of the people portaging the Crab Shack dam, I realized that Marek had paddled past and I'd missed him.

I followed the crowd back to the cars and eventually made it out of the Aquarena Springs parking lot, and turned right to go down Bobcat Lane and out to Westerfield crossing. Since Marek was paddling in about the middle of the pack, the traffic was pretty intense and from Bobcat Lane I made my first wrong turn and missed the road I'd planned to take to Westerfield. I knew I should have practiced the drive from Aquarena to Westerfield, but we never seemed to have time, and here I'd messed up even before making it to the first planned access point. Because of this, I didn't have time to buy ice as I'd planned at Walmart, and went straight to Westerfield. I found a parking space and walked as quickly as I could down to the bridge (quite a long way, about 3/4 of a mile) and found my place on the gravelbar. It was lovely there, with the water cool and clear, and shade dappling the river. I was there in time to see the first boats come, and Erin, and after a while, Marek came. I handed him the water jug as he wanted, and got the old one, and he struggled for a few seconds to put the new one in place. Then he shoved off, and I hotfooted it back to the car, shoved the jugs in the back, and managed to get away from Westerfield without actually hitting any of the many cars driving through.

I drove back to Highway 80, found a gas station to restock the ice, and drove to Martindale Dam. Another bit of trouble finding a parking spot, I parked, went to the back to fill up his jug with ice and water, made up an ice bag, and started down to the dam, where Marek and I had agreed to meet. I was sill on the wrong side of the river when I saw Marek paddle up and get out of his boat, getting ready to portage. I scrambled my way to our meeting spot at the base of the dam as quickly as I could, be he was waiting for me and I was upset that I hadn't been able to get there in time. He was there at about 11:10, a few minutes ahead of his schedule. He didn't complain, though, and took his water and ice and left. I got right in the way of some poor pair trying to portage their tandem, and feeling like I had been miscast in my role of TC, hoofed it back to the car, washed out the jugs and tubes, and drove back up the road on my way to Staples.


I had a bit more time now, as there are more than six river miles between Martindale and Staples. Still, I was having trouble making to these checkpoints due to the parking situation, and the length of time it takes to make ice bags and clean and fill jugs and drinking tubes. Marek had given me a list of how much water he wanted at each of our pre-determined meeting places. I thought about getting him to take more water with him so I could meet him fewer times, but of course there was no time to discuss anything, so I felt like I was stuck with a plan that wasn't working. However, I made it down to Staples in good time, grabbed a powerbar and bag of baby carrots for my lunch, and took my duffle full of Marek's ice bag and water jugs. Again, there was a bit of walking before I made it to the river, but I found a nice place in the shade and waited for Marek.

He arrived there a bit more slowly than he'd planned. I guess he'd been shoved into that vicious tree at Thompson Island by another boat, and had broken one of his rudder cables. He was a bit peeved, but realized it was an honest mistake, and set about fixing it. He had the materials he needed for the repair and fixed it up. He had also caught a cold, and was feeling pretty sorry for himself, complaining about how bad he felt. I was a bit nervous. If he was whining that much so early in the race, he was going to get pretty annoying throughout the remaining 220 miles. He took his water and paddled off, actually looking strong and confident in his boat.

Both Marek and I had been concerned about how we would deal with the Texas heat. Colorado is quite cool through May, and it rarely got above the mid-70s before we left. On the other hand, Marek had the advantage of being able to train at altitude (our town sits at about 5000 ft.) so we have all those extra red blood cells. We figured we would just have to make the best of it. We had arranged for me to have a room in the Hotel 6 in Victoria starting on Sunday night, so I could shower and cool off when I had the time.


Aquarena Springs After this, I don't really have a continuous series of memories, but have something like memory-snapshots of my Safari experience. Sometime after 9 p.m. that evening, I made it to Palmetto State Park. I finally had plenty of time to take clean my waterjugs and tubes, and afraid that I would have trouble getting enough sleep during the Safari, I pulled out my ground cloth, pillow, sleeping bag, and alarm clock, and tried to take a nap. It was still too early for me to sleep, however, so after 45 minutes I got up, put away my stuff, made up Marek's jugs and took them and my wonderful red-striped captain's chair to the bridge. It was after 10 p.m. by then, and quite dark. I was completely surprised to see the party on the bridge. I had been there right after the flooding over Christmas, and the water was still well over the top of the bridge. I had thought it was a boat ramp! There were people, chairs, lights, and bustle, and it was quite exciting. It seemed so quiet in the forest nearby, and now I realized that the quiet was due to the fact that just about everyone was on the bridge. I didn't have my flashlight with me and had a hard time reading the Checkpoint board. But in the short time it took me to walk over to the board someone had noticed I wanted to look and was shining their light on the board for me. This is just one of the many times that the kindness and helpfulness of the Safari people made my life as a TC a little easier, and after such a long day I appreciated it.

I met up again with the Team Mendenhall bank crew and asked how they were doing. I was told that their granddaughter was doing quite well and was enjoying the experience. I also met a really nice team captain named Chris, who was TCing for his third year. He was extremely helpful, gave me good advice, and was complimentary of Marek who arrived at about 11 p.m. Marek stayed for about half an hour, eating some dinner, chatting, and trying to stretch out a bit. He had practiced this portage earlier in the week, and was more confident here than he would otherwise have been. He was in better spirits than he had been at Staples, and looked good as he paddled off to the cheers and encouragement of the many dozens of people watching from the bridge.


I went back to the car, took a sponge bath, washed my hair, and drove on to Gonzales, where I pitched my tent at about 1 a.m. I realized that my Subaru's headlights were going to cause a problem. As long as the car is on and the parking break off, the headlights are on. These must have been disturbing to people trying to sleep. The tent went up easily in the dark. I don't really like using flashlights since they attract bugs, and I prefer to make camp in the dark. I set up my camp in the area under the trees near the parking lot, brought myself a bottle of water, and put batteries in my radio/cassette player. I've found that I can sleep in almost any situation as long as I doze off listening to books on tape, so I put in a mystery and dozed right off.

I woke up with my alarm, at about 5:30 a.m. and sleepily stumbled down to the river. Many people were awake and talking softly in the river dawn. Others were asleep on cots. It was quite a bit warmer and muggier there next to the river, and I was glad I'd put up my tent further up. After wandering around a bit, chatting with a few people, and looking at the check-in board, I went back to my tent to rest a bit, planning on going back a bit later. Marek had wanted to sleep at Gonzales, and I'd put up my tent in the middle of a little circle of trees. I thought it would be nice for Marek to be able to string up his hammock near my tent.

About a half hour after getting back to my tent, I heard Marek "who-whoooing" by my tent door. He looked pretty good for someone who hadn't slept. As planned, he set up his hammock in the trees, climbed in and went to sleep. He asked me to wake him up after an hour and a half. I took a few pictures and went back to the riverbank to chat with the other TCs, including the Mendenhall family, and also Ginger who was the checkpoint official. Ginger asked me how Marek was doing and I told her that I was absolutely sure he would finish. I didn't want to jinx him, so then I added that, o.k., the only way he won't finish is if something happens to his boat that he can't fix.

After an hour, Marek woke up, came found me, ate some breakfast, and paddled off again at about 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

Gonzales Gonzales
Gonzales Gonzales
Gonzales checkpoint - Sunday morning


Because it's 35 miles to the next checkpoint, I had plenty of time to rest and went back to my tent and back to sleep. I woke up about 2 hours later, covered with sweat, but feeling quite well rested. There was a little bit of rain at Gonzales, but not much. I packed up, went to the store to buy some more ice and some fruit for myself, and made one of my much cherished Dairy Queen stops. Without these DQ stops, I'm quite sure I would never have been willing to shuttle Marek as much as I have. Really, the DQ small hot fudge sundae has been responsible for many miles of paddling. Afterwards, I drove on to the campsite at Hochheim, but when I got there, I thought it might be best just to drive on by. The road into it was a total quagmire of mud and since I had time, I drove on to the checkpoint at Cheapside to ask if there was anything nasty to beware of. I was told it was just flat water, water, and more water.

After a bit, I drove back to Pecan Grove and the water on the road had gone down a lot. After getting out of my car to check it out, decided to have a try at driving in. We bought our Subaru because it is such a good snow car, but it turns out it is also a fine mud car. I didn't have much trouble with slipping around as long as I kept driving. I parked, set up my chair, got out a book, chatted with the checkpoint volunteers a bit, and waited for Marek.

He was starting to slow down a bit, so I thought I'd still have a bit of time. He had left me with some MREs, so I made up a chicken patty and potato one. I was just waiting for it to heat up when Marek came walking up the hill. He didn't want to sleep and just wanted to get an ice bag and some water. He'd run out of water, so I gave him some, and he loaded up the jugs I had waiting for him and paddled off, after being at the checkpoint for about 10 minutes. He was looking stronger with every checkpoint. I finished eating my MRE (fairly tasty) and drove to Victoria to check into the Motel 6 for a shower.

Guadelupe near Thomaston The shower was great! I felt so much better. I unloaded my car so I'd have more room to clean and prepare the waterjugs and icebags, and then I sat in the air conditioned room for a couple of hours. I have learned that one hour of rest in a cool room is worth about 6 hours of sleep. Feeling fine, I drove off to Cheapside, and set up my chair on the bank and talked to the other TCs who were there. Marek paddled in at about 2 a.m. He wanted to sleep again, so he set up his hammock and gave me instructions to wake him up in 90 minutes.

I chatted with the other T.Cs, including Chris and his team, who I'd met at Palmetto. After the 90 minutes, I went over to Marek and called to him, and he got up straight away, took his water, and left again. I was glad I'd had Chris to talk to, as I still had pretty sad memories from my lonely Christmas at Cheapside, and it was nice to be there with such friendly people. After Marek left, even though I was really tired I was advised not to go to sleep, but to drive to the next checkpoint. I did this and drove into Cuero 236 at about 3 a.m. I was extremely tired by this time, and found myself forgetting things like turning on my headlights to drive. For a while I couldn't figure out how to roll down the windows in my car, and kept looking for the handle you crank around to roll down the window. It took me an hour to remember that this car has electric windows. I'd taken my camping gear out of the car and left it in the hotel room, so all I had with me was my rain poncho, so I curled up in it on the ground and fell right asleep, shivering, but glad not to be hot for a while.

Marek and I were both concerned about my lack of helpers, tendency for getting lost, and the possibility of TC sleep deprivation. We had agreed that I could sleep while waiting for him, and he would come looking for me at the checkpoints. Sure enough, at about 6 a.m. he got into Cuero 236 and woke me up. He didn't want to stay, but took his water and left again. I packed up and went to the local McDonalds for breakfast. I met another solo maniac's TC there, and he and I talked for a few minutes before both driving off, he on his way to Cuero 236 and me on my way to Thomaston.

I don't remember much about Thomaston and Nursery, but I know I was there. I wrote down Marek's times - he was at Thomaston at about 11:25 a.m. and Nursery at 2:20. I remember being sticky, though. It was hot, and another TC kindly taught me what poison ivy looks like, before I made the mistake of blundering through it.


Nursery rapids I had a bit of a rough time finding the boat ramp in Victoria City Park. I know I'd been there the year before, and Marek and I even made it onto Pat's Safari video as practicing for the next year's Safari. But, heck, I just couldn't find the place. Actually, the town of Victoria turned out to be a difficult place for me. At least I had the hotel room, and could go shower and cool off. However, I found that if I drove to the checkpoints in my car with the air conditioning on, I couldn't bear to be in the heat waiting for Marek. I learned that I could cool off in the room or in the river, but not in the car. It was just too miserable. I also kept getting lost in Victoria. I eventually learned that there's a big difference between Highway 59 and Highway 59 Business.

Looking at the checkpoint paperwork in Victoria, I was surprised that Devo and Mike Shea hadn't made better time. It was only later I learned that Devo was quite sick throughout his entire safari. I also saw Team Mendenhall bank crew drive up while I was there. I was glad because I really wanted them to finish, and only a few teams pull out after reaching Victoria. I was quite dismayed to learn that they'd had to pull out, but I really applaud the younger Mendenhall's presence of mind in taking care of her teammate. She may have saved the life of her father.

After seeing Marek off at Victoria City Park, I was really hot and miserable. It was after 5 p.m. but hadn't cooled off at all. I went back to the hotel, showered again, changed clothes, washed the jugs and refilled them with ice, had dinner, and drove off to what I thought was the Victoria Highway 175 access point. Marek and I had driven over that same bridge in Victoria earlier the previous week on our way to Seadrift to paddle the bay. We had both thought it was the access point mentioned in the Safari driving handout. However, when I got there I found the bridge to be spooky, the ground below it abandoned and covered with trash and burned out cars. I was so tired and miserable, and was obviously lost again. I really felt like just sitting down on the bank and crying, but reminded myself that I had a job to do. I decided to let myself cry later after I'd given Marek his next jugs of water. (Silly as it sounds, I really was planning to have a good cry later.) The bridge swayed with the heavy traffic, which was loud and constant.

After wandering around there for about 20 minutes, I was on top of the bridge and saw a tandem pair canoeing below me. I yelled down to them to ask if this was the other Victoria bridge. Yelling above the noise of the traffic, the one in front said it didn't look good, and the one in back said that it wasn't this bridge. I thanked them and drove back to Victoria City Park, determined to follow the driving directions perfectly, and find the right bridge that way. I missed another turn, got lost again, and had to stop and ask a family on their evening walk for advice on how to find the access point. I finally found it, and luckily Marek hadn't beat me there. He was going pretty slowly by this time, exhausted from the heat and lack of sleep. I waited for him on a log, helped there by another nice team captain. A little snake slid by, a few inches away from my foot, and someone said it was a water moccasin. I'm not really afraid of snakes, they're such vulnerable creatures -- made up of one long vulnerable backbone, so I stood still while it slid past and then it slipped into the water and swam away.

Marek paddled in shortly before dark. He was in very good spirits, but said that he was so tired it was hard for him to turn his body to get a good paddle stroke. I told him to keep eating and drinking, and not to worry about paddling technique, but just to keep putting his paddle in the water and taking it out again. I was quite proud of him. He was going slowly but was steady, an his cold seemed to have gone away. I thought he was doing great. He was in better spirits with each passing mile, seeming to thrive on the challenge.


I was still really upset about getting lost in Victoria, and was afraid that I would have a hard time finding Dupont. I drove straight there, and was confused because when I thought I had found the checkpoint, it was full of trailers and sheriff cars. I thought this must be some kind of Sheriff's gathering, and drove further down the dirt road. After going far enough, I realized I was in the wrong place again, and drove back. I asked one of the Sheriffs where the Safari checkpoint was and he said "this is it." I drove in and parked, and walked down to the checkpoint area. The talk was all about the tandem pair that had split up, and one of the paddlers was lost in the woods. The sheriffs were looking for the paddler. I settled on the bank and talked with one of the nicest people in existence - a bearded man who was the TC for his son (I think). I never did get his name, but we talked for a while and I really enjoyed his company. I remembered him from the year before. We'd seen him at Tivoli and I remember asking him what a bayou is. It has always sounded so romantic to me. He said he thought it was just another name for a swamp. Maybe a salty swamp.

Dupont was really interesting, because the bank is high above where the bottom of the boat ramp is, and if you stand on the bank and shine your flashlight onto the water, the Mayflies swirl around the light on the water, and then zoom up the beam of light to your flashlight. It is fascinating - something like out of a science fiction movie. I and another TC did it again and again, and the Mayflies zipped up the beam of light, maybe 30 feet to the flashlight. Really - like out of Aliens.

At that checkpoint I also realized why it is so hard for me to sleep at checkpoints. It's not the noise. The thick humidity seems to muffle sounds and they don't carry very far. No, it's the interesting people. They were so fun to talk to that, given such an opportunity, I was more likely to join in conversations than sleep. But since I was just absolutely dog tired by this time, I decided to go back to the hotel, grab a couple hours of shuteye and come back to Dupont. Unfortunately, I got so lost when I got back to Victoria that I wasn't even sure what state I was in. I'd taken Highway 59 Business instead of Highway 59. It probably only added about 7 minutes to my travel time, but it seemed like hours and by the time I found my hotel you would have had to put a gun to my head to get me out of that room. Between the spooky trashed-out and abandoned wrong bridge in Victoria, the sheriff-paddler search, and alien Mayflies, there was no way I was leaving my room until I calmed down. I took a shower, set my alarm for 5 a.m., and went to sleep.

water jugs Marek had told me that he'd be at Dupont at about 1 a.m. and would sleep there. In my present state of mind, and with Marek's slower and slower times, I decided that 5:30 was the earliest he would arrive, and if he got there before me, he would just sleep anyway and I find him then. My alarm went off at 4:30, but I didn't wake up until 5:00. When I got to Dupont, I learned that poor Marek had been wandering around in a semi-daze, looking for me. Not finding me, he had been signed in by the Checkpoint official. He was afraid that I wouldn't come back to Dupont to wake him up, and had paddled off, leaving at around 3:30 a.m. Feeling like a total crumb and fully expecting to be put in some kind of TC Hall of Shame, I drove off for Tivoli.


We'd been to Tivoli just the week before, and it was familiar to me. Also, the racers were pretty spread out by this time, so parking was no problem and I pulled in, grabbed a book and my favorite chair, and set off for the checkpoint. I met the same nice bearded guy, and he asked if I'd finally made it back to Dupont. I said that yes, I'd just come from there. He told me that he'd met Marek there, walking around in a daze and had told him that I'd been there but had left. We relaxed next to the river and watched the gar jump and thrash in the water. Saw another snake - I saw lots of snakes, and watched the birds swooping under the bridge. Given his current speed of 3 m.p.h. I figured Marek would be there at around 9:30 a.m. He was there at around 10, and looking surprisingly good. He didn't say much about me not being at Dupont, but was definitely relieved to see me at Tivoli. The checkpoint Official (Tore Shau) at Tivoli was really helpful and kind. He and I had had an interesting conversation about the different social roles of men and women, and when Marek came in he made sure that Marek was aware of the best route to take. Marek paddled off and I left for the wooden bridge sometime around 11ish, hopeful that Marek would make it to Seadrift in time for the awards ceremony.

When we'd been at Tivoli the previous week, I was waiting for Marek at the wooden bridge and a nice ranch hand said I might be more comfortable at the ranch's boat ramp area, just about 1/4 mile further up the dirt road. It had been very comfortable there, and I went there again. I didn't see anyone around, so I started walking to the house nearby where the rancher lived. He saw me coming and got in his car to meet me on the road. Before I had a chance to ask anything he said, "So, how'd he talk you into this foolishness?" I told him that, well, it was just Marek's dream, so how could I say no? The rancher welcomed me and told me to make myself comfortable, told me about the running water available, and offered me use of his bathroom in the nearby house. What a gentleman. This is very different treatment than Marek has gotten from time to time in Colorado, where people have come out to scream at him for taking photographs from a public road. Granted, such a vicious reaction is unusual, but we have rarely received the kind and generous treatment that seems common in Texas.

I took the opportunity to use the rancher's running water to wash out my water jugs and drinking tubes, and some other TCs come up with their families, and it was friendly and comfortable. We cheered on all the paddlers that came by, everyone looking very tired but hopeful.

It seemed to me that the economy has everyone thinking a little bit differently than last year. Marek is not the only one who really needed to take a break from work, it seems. And others, who wanted to be in the TWS haven't been able to, I think, because of the money. It made me glad that I was able to do this thing for Marek. Marek paddled to me at the shore, but I can't remember if he needed water or not, and then he shoved off again, and I said the happy words - "See you in Seadrift!"


the bay from Seadrift I pulled into Seadrift after people had started lining up for the awards ceremony food, and got out my ticket and stood in line. It was nice to see some of the other TCs there, as well as Erin and some others that I recognize. Some of my favorite teams were there, too. Marek and I have watched the Safari videos so many times that I feel like I know some of these people, even though I've never spoken to them. The Goynes' may be my absolute favorite team, and I have always been so impressed with Sandy. I filled my plate and wandered over to say hi to Devo. He was nice as always, and offered me a chair. I sat and joined him to watch the awards ceremony. I asked him how his race had gone and he said it had been rough. Not wanting to bring up bad memories, I said I was sorry, and went back to my meal. No long after that, a man came by to talk to Devo, saying that Devo should not have been able to survive his safari experience - unable to eat or drink during the entire race. It did not surprise me, however, that Devo is able to survive things that would make the rest of us turn up our toes. He and Mike still made it in, what was it, 48 hours? He asked where Marek was and I said that he was somewhere between the wooden bridge and here. He said, "he'll finish then." and I said yes, I never doubted that he would. He really is the most stubborn man I know and accomplishes what he really wants.

I thought that the earliest Marek would make it there was about 2:30 p.m. and started to get pretty antsy about then. I was also so sleepy that I would start to doze off, then someone would say something during the awards ceremony that was really interesting, and then I'd wonder where Marek was. This went on throughout the entire awards ceremony. During the ceremony, I saw a couple of boats come in that had left just before Marek, and then a tandem pair that had left the wooden bridge after him. I told Devo how much his support has meant to Marek, and it was especially helpful after Marek's mom started telling him just to pack food for a day. She really meant it! I don't know what Marek would have done without the support of the other paddlers.

The awards ceremony ended and Marek still hadn't been sighted. I wandered down to the cement wall and one of the other TCs said that her team was coming in and Marek was there, too. She lent me a pair of binoculars, and I could see Marek far away. The wind, however, was just in the direction that it would hit him broadside if he paddled straight in, so he just kept going out to the bay. I could see him getting farther and farther away, and was glad that there were some islands out there, and he would eventually have to stop and turn around to come back in. Needless to say, he finally made it in, and several men jumped into the water to help him get out of his boat and make it back to shore. So many nice people.

Seadrift - safari finish Marek wanted a can of his favorite rootbeer, and I had some for him. He also wanted time to unpack and rinse out his boat. He worked on this, and I wandered off to try to say a last thank you and goodbye to some of the people who'd been so good to us. I found the person who'd given me the binoculars (and she'd gotten them from someone else...). Erin and Devo and others came to give Marek their congratulations, which I'm not sure he remembers, but I know he appreciates it. We finally rinsed off and packed up, and I took Marek to our hotel room in Victoria. He showered and wore clean clothes! and I went and got some takeout Chinese, which was delicious.

We slept for about 12 hours and both woke up feeling great. Marek felt so good that he thought he should have paddled harder. We went back to Seadrift hoping to see the final arrivals. We did, and also saw Norm and his wife and their charming son, went to lunch in Seadrift and then back to the hotel for more sleep.

... going home

We started the drive back on Thursday morning, and took turns driving. Actually, we took turns driving and sleeping - one would drive and the other would sleep, and then we'd change places. We got back to Ft. Collins after two full days of driving, arriving late Friday night, but without further mishap. There had been hail in Texas, golf- to tennis-ball sized hail, but we were lucky and missed all the bad weather. We'd also heard about the fires in Colorado, with highway closures and evacuations, but were not personally affected by them except that the air was quite smoky throughout much of our drive back to Colorado, triggering my asthma, and the sun was blood-red as it set over Denver on Friday night.

Marek's cold came back after the race and he has had a cough for some time. But I am super proud of him. He is a bit disappointed in his times, and I think he's going to want to try to improve. I think we may be on our way to Texas again next year.

... comments by Pat Gunn-Spencer

Pat Gunn-Spencer videographer Connie, thank you so much for writing of your feelings about the job and the sacrifices that you made to make Marek's effort possible. It's important for first-time team captains to know that it's more likely than not that they will all experience some or all of these emotions at some time (or ALL of them all of the time!) during the race, but having those intense feelings and staying on the job and getting it done anyway changes them forever too. Team captains discover things about themselves as they push their limits and deal with "the unexpected" and live to tell the stories. I believe that person is more than he/she was before.

I cannot imagine anyone saying it better than you did, and I don't think anyone has put it in a form like this where it can be shared with so many. Thank you for helping all those first-time team captains who will come after you. Marek, thank you for thinking of asking her to write about it.

I believe that being a team captain is a gift that one partner gives to the other and it deserves praise and enormous appreciation. I know Marek is as proud of your efforts as a first-time team captain, especially with no ride-along helpers, as you are of his great finish! It was an enormous challenge for you both and I'm so happy for the two of you I can't stop smiling! I'm not at all surprised, you understand, but I am delighted! Besides, I like being right!

This email started me thinking last night and I realized that I also believe it is a "gift" to be asked to be someone's team captain. By asking you, the paddler is paying you the highest compliment. He is saying that he trusts you with the success of his goal. He has an enormous investment in both time and money, and he is willing to risk all of his "investment" (as well as the tremendous efforts he will expend to finish the race) on your doing a very difficult job. The success of all his efforts depends on you. It is an opportunity for you as a person to push yourself to achieve more than you dreamed you could before. Successful completion of your job increases your confidence in your abilities to adapt and survive under physically and mentally challenging conditions. This makes a person more than he/she was before.

First-time husband/paddlers usually don't realize how much they are asking of their partner, and may not realize the crucial importance their team captains will play in their finish, and first-time team captains usually don't realize how terribly important they are to the paddlers' success or how totally tired, exasperated, frustrated, and filthy team captains can be The second-time everyone knows what they are getting into and how much they are giving and getting, but both partners now may already be thinking of ways to solve problems they experienced the first time. It is a challenging opportunity to be sure, but also an opportunity to show how much love, humor, and good will each has for the other.

Related blog posts:

TWS 2002 | before & after | my race | bay crossing | TC story | soloists | TWS page

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