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Crossroads residents compete in the 51st Texas Water Safari (video)

By Keldy Ortiz
June 8, 2013 at 1:08 a.m.
Updated June 9, 2013 at 1:09 a.m.

Racers paddle away from the starting line of the Texas Water Safari at Spring Lake in San Marcos on Saturday morning. 226 people in 115 canoes entered the  race, which is now in its 51st year.

NOTE: Catch live updates from our reporters covering the event in our live chat here. Use the hashtag #twsafari to join the conversation.

Follow complete coverage of the Texas Water Safari using the hashtag #twsafari

SAN MARCOS -- Nausea, nerves and prayers for the best.

That's what was racing through John Valdivia's mind Saturday morning.

The Victoria native made final preparations for his canoe. He put on a backpack with a tube coming out to drink water while carrying vitamins and a GPS.

He called them essentials because he will not touch ground for days, as he gets set to compete in the Texas Water Safari.

The 260-mile canoe race, which runs from San Marcos to Seadrift, has been heralded as "The World's Toughest Canoe Race." The competition started Saturday, as 226 participates paddled through rough currents and high temperatures.

"It's a personal challenge," said the 45-year-old man, who works as a coffee roaster. "Having to carry my boat over obstacles and getting through the night, I'm chicken."

Valdivia prepared to travel on his first solo trip, but it was his second time competing in the event. Training since February, Valdivia travelled 600 miles on water.

"When you get tired, you make mistakes," he said "You just have to limit those. It can get frustrating."

Experience, however, didn't relate to Marshall Moore, 35. The Cuero native, who resides in Austin, said hearing stories about the Texas Water Safari as a kid finally led him to participate. At one point he called the experience a lifelong opportunity.

"Fishing in Port O' Connor, being close to Seadrift, I saw these guys coming through and I always wanted to do it," said Moore, who is a nurse. "We're looking at sleep, the max, three hours. Our goal ideally is 90 hours, but I think that's incredibly optimistic."

Moore's partner, Calvin Clark, 28, said the safari event is a way to test himself spiritually. Being away from his family he said would be rough, but he looks forward to the challenge.

"I got up two hours before my alarm clock went off this morning," said Clark. "I think the nerves settled down since we've gotten here."

While the water safari is considered the largest event of its kind, the race attracts people from across the country.

Chris Bailey, 35, from Colorado became hooked competing last year with a friend of his. Competing in his second year, Bailey expects to be in "zombie" mood by Sunday.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever done," said Bailey. "My buddy (John Schoepflin) has done it 15 times. Last year, I got the courage to do it, and now I'm hooked."

For newcomers and experienced competitors, support will be available during the course. Volunteering to offer mental and physical support, C.J. Hall said he recommended racers to pace themselves.

"It's 95 percent mental," said Hall. "It's a very hard hard physical challenge."

Through Saturday afternoon, 115 canoes were entered, but three had already withdrawn from the race.

Port Lavaca resident and Travis Middle School teacher Brian Franck, 36, said he didn't know what to expect Saturday. It was his first time competing, but his wife Maggie Franck said Brian has been in water his whole life.

"He says he's going to finish no matter what happens," she said as she watched Brian give his said his last good-byes.

Already expecting to compete next year, Brian said he wants to finish before Wednesday's 1 p.m. deadline.

"Next year, we might try to hit it a little harder," said Brian. "We want to get through it this year."

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