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Texas Safari canoeists check in at Riverside Park

July 11, 2010 at 2:11 a.m.
Updated July 12, 2010 at 2:12 a.m.

Terry Alford looks at his hands in the 29th hour of nonstop paddling in the Texas Water Safari during a brief pause at the Riverside Park checkpoint Sunday afternoon. Blistered from constant contact with the water, Alford and his five-man team continued the race in fifth place.

The lead canoe in the Texas Water Safari pulled up to the Riverside Park checkpoint at 10 a.m. Sunday.

By 10:01, the crew of boat No. 314 had checked back out to complete the final 60 miles of the 260-mile journey to Seadrift.

The canoe, manned by Andrew Stephens, Amado Cruz, Daniel Cruz, Andrew Soles, Sam Ritchie and Ross Flemer, crossed the finish line first at 7:40 Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Henry Mecredy had been sitting at Riverside Park's boat ramp since 7:30 a.m., serving as its checkpoint official.

By 7 p.m. he had seen 16 canoes, with the rest of the 98 required to make it by 11 a.m. Tuesday or face disqualification.

"The folks who've been through here are real competitive. They zip in and zip out," Mecredy said from his post underneath a pop-up tent. "Most that have come through are in pretty good spirits."

The crew following the "Three Dudes Winery" canoe, were in good spirits, cheering as their five-man team pulled away from the shore about 2 p.m.

"We're the 'woohoo-ers,'" said Vicky Malone, who came from Houston to tag along with the Three Dudes Winery crew. "We don't get on the boat, but they still need that encouragement."

Ann Best, who is the head race judge for the safari, said by the time racers reach Riverside Park, most are suffering from what she called "body troubles."

"Right about now, people are losing the first layer of skin on their hands," the two-time safari participant said.

Add in chafing, mosquitos, hallucinations and logjams, Best said, "It's misery."

Shannon Larson agreed. The team captain for "A Trois," a three-person team from around Austin, sat underneath a pink umbrella on the river bank while her 14-year-old daughter, Mallory, swam a few feet away.

Larson said she and her daughter were struggling with the heat and sleep deprivation, too.

That morning, the two had hooked up a hose at a gas station so they could shower and wash dishes.

"You literally become homeless," Larson said.

By Sunday afternoon, their canoe was in eighth-place and the crew was still going strong.

"They're hardcore," Larson said of her team. "You can't appreciate being in a boat until you've been team captain, though," she added, joking that the canoeists aren't always in pleasant moods when she meets them at checkpoints.

Wes Wyatt wasn't in the mood to chat when his canoe, No. 8321, pulled into Riverside Park. He was busy taping up a light on the front of the canoe so he and his partner, Grady Reed, could see through the night.

As Wyatt poured himself a chocolate protein drink, his wife and team captain, Stephanie, said she expects the rest of their journey to be the most challenging.

"That's where things will get wild - the bugs, the flies, the smells. I could never do it," she said.

But for those who do take on the challenge of the Texas Water Safari, the feeling of accomplishment is like none other, said Best.

"There are so few things left like this that are really raw," Best said. "There are all these liabilities and regulations now, but this is a true great adventure."



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