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Texas River Marathon provides chance to prep for safari

May 6, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.

TOP: Robin Lashway, front, and Brad Rex paddle down the Guadalupe River as part of the Texas River Marathon on Saturday.

Texas Water Safari

When: June 9

Time: 9 a.m.

Starting Location: Aquarena Center, San Marcos

Registration ends May 25. For more information, click here.

CUERO - After miles and miles of pasture, cattle and an oddly placed Lutheran church a curious collection of cars straddled the highway early Saturday morning.

The cars sprinkled along state Highway 236 outside of Cuero contained participants in the Texas River Marathon. A record 121 applicants took to the Guadalupe River to compete in the 39-mile race canoe that is a precursor to next month's Texas Water Safari.

Those who entered the Guadalupe just before 9 a.m. ranged from first time participants like Victoria resident Peggy Neubauer, or seasoned paddlers like Huntsville teacher Myla Weber.

One person was so eager to get started they left the window on their driver's side door completely down.

Neubauer and her partner Jim Boyle didn't finish their race because they ran aground about eight miles from the start. Weber wasn't going to let fatigue, or the threat of water moccasins and alligators, stop her from completing.

At this time last year Weber, who has competed in the full 262-mile water safari four times, was beating breast cancer.

"If I can survive cancer (I can do this,)" said Weber, who competed in 2004, 2005, 2007 and two years ago. "I plan on being last, but I plan on finishing. I can't handle snakes and alligators."

Moments before the first racers crossed beneath Thomaston River Road a stick and a snake floated along the river.

The first four canoe racers reached the bridge, 17 miles into the race, in just over two hours. Cuero resident Andrew Condie was the first solo rider to cross the de-facto checkpoint at 11:20. The first individual woman crossed the Thomaston River Road bridge at 11:38.

By that point Neubauer and Boyle were already out of the race. Seven miles into the race the two tore a hole in their canoe. They slapped some duct tape on their brown vessel until they reached a stopping point. However, their story was just getting started at that point.

Neubauer and Boyle ran into a man standing on a sand bar in the river after his boat capsized and floated along without him. The two picked up the stranded racer, before retiring for the day.

"He had his paddle," Neubauer said of the racer whose cell phone also sank when his vessel capsized. "No shoes, no boat. He just had a life jacket and a paddle."

The first to make the trek took nearly five and a half hours to make to Riverside Park in Victoria. By 3 p.m., just 30 of the entrants completed the course. Among them were Cedar Park residents Johan Dahl and John Baltzell. Dahl, 51, never participated in either a River Marathon or Water Safari, but his friend Baltzell is a veteran of the 2006 safari.

"That's the excitement, the rapids and the unknown" Dahl said Saturday morning reference the rapids just outside of Nursery that have a reputation for being difficult. "I have never paddled here before so there are some surprises."

Dahl and Baltzell were the first two-person team to complete the course. Before the two started the race Baltzell joked age doesn't prevent one from becoming a good canoe racer.

Saturday's race was a chance for participants to test their stamina a month before the 262-mile water safari. Participants were also interested in the river's water levels, and setting up their positioning for next month's bit event.

Allen Spelce, president of the Texas Water Safari, believed the influx can be attributed to this year marking the 50th anniversary of Willie George and Frank Brown paddling down the river. That 1962 jaunt set the foundation for the water safari.

He said 60 groups have registered for the full safari, which begins in San Marcos five weeks from now.

"It's the 50th and it's bringing a lot of folks out," Spelce said, adding he expects more to register in the coming weeks. "People want to be involved who have done the race in the 70s, 80s and 90s and they are coming for another run."

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