Oh, The Things They'll See In Water Safari

June 2, 2012 at 1:02 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2012 at 1:05 a.m.

Few sporting competitions are as physically and mentally grueling as the Texas River Safari.

The 261-mile boat race down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers fosters camaraderie among competitors as they swap stories and tips on how to navigate the portages, dangerous reptiles and floating debris.

Racers also trade tales on how to avoid the mental block that is just as much a part of the safari as paddling through Victoria.

By that point, most racers have been exerting themselves for 24 hours or more, and dreamed hazards, like giant cartoon characters and pink monkeys, join the real ones in the river.

A record 139 participants registered for this golden anniversary of the race. By the time most of the paddlers get to the Crossroads, the broiling sun, hours along the river and the impact of minimal food has led more than one mind to wonder.

The stories of what people see as they pass through Victoria and Bloomington have become the stuff of legend, almost as noteworthy and interesting as stories about winning the race and surviving real perils.

A few paddlers shared there best hallucinations as they prepare for the 2012 Texas Water Safari.

Geoff Waters, Austin

Waters will be participating in his fifth Texas Water Safari.

"Last year about 10 miles above the Salt Water barrier, I was convinced there was a guy standing on the river bank up ahead. He was wearing a cowboy hat, red and white checkered shirt and leaning against a tree.

"I racked my brain for a witty comment to throw out as I went by. The closer I got the more detail I saw. He was old. He was wearing cowboy boots. When I got to that spot along the bank, he was gone. I looked around for anything red and white that could have fooled me, but pretty quickly realized it was a total hallucination.

"Shortly after that, I was convinced I was catching up to a competitor who had passed me at the log jam portage.

"I could see his light brown canoe and yellow shirt and saw his paddle switching sides, exactly what you would expect to see if you were 100 yards behind a solo racing canoe. It was about 6:30 and the river was mostly in the shade. I came to a patch of sunlight and the other boat disappeared. I scanned the bank for any sign that he'd pulled over - nothing. When I got to the Salt Water Barrier, I found out that the guy I thought I saw was 15 minutes ahead of me. There was no way I had seen him."

Chris Stevenson, Houston

Stevenson, a 1992 St. Joseph graduate, will be participating in his fourth Texas Water Safari.

"I saw it in 2008. At night the trees on the bank look like tidy brick buildings and bridges. The detail can be remarkable. I've seen windows and doors, archways and turrets on the buildings. It looked like what I imagine a town in medieval Europe would have looked like. I kept expecting to see lights in the windows, or for the Hobbit-looking citizens to come out and watch us go by. But I have yet to see or meet any of them, maybe this year."

Stevenson also shared a story he heard from veteran paddler John Mark Harras. Apparently, Harras' partner told him, "Look! It's a preacher up on the bank and he's praying for our sins."

John Mark quipped, "That's not a preacher! That's a giant Quaker Oats box."

Mike Smith, San Antonio

Smith is a four-time finisher of the Texas Water Safari.

"In 2008, it was the middle of the night and I was on the stretch from Nursery to Victoria and really pushing to get to Victoria so I could rest a bit. I was having a hard time staying awake and then it started.

"I kept hearing country music, and I would stop paddling and listen to see where it was coming from. I could never figure it out. I don't really listen to country music so I'm not sure what triggered it and I could not get it to stop. It was as if someone was with me the whole time and playing country music.

"Then, all of a sudden, my 1-year-old daughter was sitting on the bow of my boat. She was only about a foot tall and she was smiling and giggling. She was glowing like she was angelic. Perched in her hands and extending to me was a red Christmas ornament. It was as if she was calling for me to keep paddling to Victoria."

James Graham, San Antonio

Graham will be competing in his fourth Texas Water Safari, but his first as an individual.

"Last year, paddling at 2 a.m., under a full canopy of trees; the tall trees made me think I was paddling down the French corridor in New Orleans with the tall doors and high windows. Every once in a while a light from a window would turn on with the moonlight filtering through the tree.

"I made a comment to my front seat that we are too noisy and waking people up. Then I remember looking down seeing the ripple off the bow in the water as the moonlight caught it. I jumped on the side of the boat seat and paddled real hard. It looked like stairs going down and the water was falling over the stairs."

Andrew Condie, Cuero

Condie will participate in his third Texas Water Safari, but first as an individual.

"In 2009, the first year I did the safari, my partner and I were around Tivoli. We had been awake for about 60 hours.

"It was night time and the trees were hanging over the river. I thought I could see the dancing skeleton band playing in the trees when they blew back and forth. I told my partner, 'I bet you can see anything you want right now. See if you can visualize them smoking cigars.' And I could.

"The rest of the way down the river the rest of the trees looked like dancing skeletons."

John Moore, Austin

Moore paddles regularly with 72-year-old Zoltan Mraz, a regular in the Water Safari, who he says enjoys his hallucinations more than most.

"He talks about looking forward to his hallucinations each year, which happen around Victoria," Moore said.

Among them, he said, are 40-foot tall cartoon characters that talk to him in vivid color, Moore said, and also conversations with black cats on the gravel bars and in the middle of the river.

If you have a hallucination story you want to tell us, email sports reporter Will Brown at wbrown@vicad.com. We will be looking to post more stories about the Texas Water Safari throughout the week.



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