Texas Water Safari veteran prepares to coach team

July 8, 2010 at 2:08 a.m.

Pat Petrisky, 35-year veteran of the Texas Water Safari, will captain an unlimited team this weekend. Petrisky will have to arrive at the checkpoints, located from San Marcos to Seadrift, before the team gets there to supply them with water and ice.

Pat Petrisky, 35-year veteran of the Texas Water Safari, will captain an unlimited team this weekend. Petrisky will have to arrive at the checkpoints, located from San Marcos to Seadrift, before the team gets there to supply them with water and ice.

Some of the stories from those floating down the lower end of the Guadalupe River during the Texas Water Safari are as hilarious as they are unreal. Just ask Pat Petrisky.

The Port Lavaca native, who is a race veteran who has been competing since the 1970s, has seen and heard it all.

"One of my partners saw a purple chicken with green fluorescent scales and a 747 crashed into the river," he said. "You can go back into the archives, and on the web site and read about them. One guy got up on the bank below Victoria and, his partner had dropped out and he was by himself, he went up on the bank to this phone booth, which didn't actually exist.

"So he's calling his wife and telling her all this stuff and you know, it's weird."

Participants in the annual Texas Water Safari know the stretch of the Guadalupe River just below Cuero for its harrowing tales of hallucinations and survival, a collection of stories rarely forgotten. The race's web site has chronicles of some of the most outrageous of the stories.

The stretch of the Guadalupe River from Victoria to Seadrift is affectionately known as hallucination alley, said Allen Spelce, the race's president.

"Team's have been out a really long time, they are physically beat up and mentally fried, and they often have a number of hallucinations," he said. "You'll have teams pull over and rest in Victoria."

Fatigue has also gotten the better of Sam Proschaka, who said he was so tired, he had been transported into the old west. He knew it wasn't real, but that didn't make it any less odd.

"That stretch from Thomaston to Nursery just looked like a bunch of old western store fronts," said the La Salle native with a laugh.

Petrisky said it's all about self-control. He said he's learned to be able to control the hallucinations, and to allow them to overtake him when he allows them.

"If things are going well, just to get away from some of the pain and misery, I'll turn it on or allow it to happen," he said. "You see, like you're laying down when you're a kid staring at the clouds and you see the different images, you just let it go and the trees and leaves and the canoe lights.

"You see all kinds of weird stuff."

The race, which is set to start Saturday morning in San Marcos and make its way down the river over the following 48 to 72 hours, is an endurance trial that taxes participants minds and bodies to the limit.

It's easy to lose track of time while out on the river.

"I don't want to keep track of the hours," Proschaka said. "You just get it done. . Sometimes, a 30 minute nap will do wonders if you can wake up."

This will be the second go for the race, the first time this year postponed in mid-June when the Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers were expected to flood. Allen Spelce, the race's coordinator, said the flood conditions made the rivers unsafe to navigate, particularly lower Guadalupe.

The different rivers are known for different things, Spelce said.

"The upper river is known more for it's technical aspects, like twisty turns, shallow water and lots of sweepers and strainers," he said. "Once you get down to Gonzales down to Seadrift, the river becomes wider, a bigger more flowing river."

Petrisky's property is like a museum of canoe trips past, with old kayaks, canoes and molds for making more boats. For him, it isn't any one part of the river that takes a toll on him, it's the conditions in the boat, with doing the race solo particularly grueling.

"My goal was simply to finish and do as well as I could," "It turned out it was a high water year, and I finished really good. . Being out there by yourself is a whole different ball game. Thank goodness the pressure wasn't on and I had a lot of years of experience."

"I wouldn't recommend someone go solo their first time."

Petrisky has competed several times throughout the last few decades. This year, he will be a team captain, following a team pushing down the river, checking them in and out at check points and making sure they stay supplied without slowing them down.

"Typically, you're going for all the marbles," he said. "Years and years ago, we would start training for the race in September. And now, it appears that most of the people stay in shape all year with their own routine, but they don't start really training until February or March.

"Getting ready, once you have the experience of the race behind you, you know more what to focus on."

Petrisky's team has "a gillion years" of experience behind them, and his team has been doing a lot of weight training and paddling practice to get ready. But he said nutrition is key for boaters.

"Everybody's metabolism is different, some people can ingest greasy stuff, some people can ingest carbs and sugar, but you have to learn what you can handle," he said.

Spelce, who competed in several races starting in 1986 and now is responsible for the race's organization, said the upper river's rapids have a tendency to shake out more boats with strong rapids and more treacherous conditions.

"The upper river usually has a tendency to eat more boats, you probably lose more teams on the upper river than the lower," Spelce said.

That isn't to say the lower river isn't treacherous. Spelce said that stretches of the river, such as the one between Thomaston and Nursery, have obstacles. The part of the river between Victoria and the coast line has a lot of curves.

Proschaka remembered one year early in his experiences. The days had been extremely hot, and as night fell a cold storm swept through.

"There was steam coming off the river because the water was so cold and the river was so warm," he said. "When the lightning would hit, you'd try to take a picture of what was ahead.

"When you finish and you sit back and reflect, you realize that you got all of your arms and legs and toes."



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