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Log jams added obstacle to World's Toughest Canoe Race

By Sara Sneath
June 16, 2014 at 1:16 a.m.

Texas Water Safari competitor Tim Curry in boat No. 742 went solo, which added to the push to the finish line as he struggles with removing his canoe from the river to port the  dam because of the inflated saltwater barriers. Brian Jones in the No. 4 boat in the background waits his turn to go around the barrier in Tivoli.

Top five finishers

• Six-man team Texas Flood at 40 hours and 3 minutes

• Six-man team Rainmaker at 44 hours and 50 minutes

• Solo Tommy Yonley at 46 hours

• Solo CSK at 46 hours and 13 minutes

• Six-man team Cowboys at 46 hours and 17 minutes

Behind the tree groves and brush that surround 43 Cut, about 10 miles upstream from the Saltwater Barrier, Texas Water Safari paddlers climb over and around log jams while trying to avoid mosquitos, snakes and alligators.

"Most of the pictures you see of the race are upstream, where the rapids are, but this is where the real race happens. These guys come in all muddy, and you have no idea what they just went through," said Eric Whicker, 33, of Houston, who participated in the race from 2011 to 2013.

Higher water levels on the river made the log jams easier to navigate Monday. But the costly process to remove logs and the lack of a heavy flood to push the trees farther downriver naturally have made the jams an added obstacle to the event touted as the "World's Toughest Canoe Race."

"We had to get out seven or eight times, but it wasn't as bad as I expected," said Brian Jones, 29, of Austin.

Jones' teammate, Roy Tyrone, 69, of Pasadena, hurt his back earlier in the race, leaving the task of dragging their canoe 40 yards around the log jams to Jones.

"If the river doesn't have flow and the trees are in the way, it's going to be a long day. The log jams will make or break you," Jones said.

Experienced paddlers train at the log jams before the race each year. If they expect to hit the log jams at night, they will train at night, Whicker said.

"It's about memorizing the route before the race," he said.

But conditions on the river can change overnight. Water levels can break up fallen trees, push them farther down the river or add more to the pile.

The expense and logistics of removing large trees from the river prevents Texas Water Safari organizers from clearing the route, said Bob Spain, a Texas Water Safari board member.

"We just don't have the equipment to remove the log jams, except a little limb in the water or something like that. They're big trees," Spain said.

Texas Water Safari organizers encourage paddlers to practice at the log jams before the race, he said.

"We don't have aero photography that can show them where the jams will be," Spain said. "We try to warn them about the ones that we know about, but it's just like any competitive race - everyone is responsible for their own performance."

Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority does not have the funding or edict to remove the log jams, said GBRA spokeswoman LaMarriol Smith.

"Things have gotten so bad, and it's so expensive to move them that in recent times, there is less of that going on. It just costs a lot of money until you have a major flood event that washes them out. But, as you know, we've been in a drought," Spain said. "I think it's just part of the race."

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