Full Contact Paddling

Safari tests brains, strength, endurance and the willpower to persevere when you're puking out of your boat. And pissing in it.

Sitting on the seawall after dark on Sunday night is John Stockwell, a former military man in his late fifties from Austin. Stockwell was running the race as a novice but had to drop out below the Luling 90 Bridge when his seat came unglued from the floor of the canoe and slid crashing into his wiring setup, disabling his lights and bilge pumps. If that weren't enough, Stockwell was struggling with a sour stomach. You want to try to keep your urine clear, he says. Not yellow. Yellow indicates high acidity. It's easy enough to check: Competitive racers wouldn't dare sacrifice the paddle strokes necessary to hop out on the bank. They just piss in the boat where they're sitting.

At 10:06 p.m. the Mynar boat follows its light into the concrete steps at the flagpole. The finish time is 37 hours and nine minutes. Someone slaps a cold can of Big Red into Joe Mynar's hand. The team wobbles on uncertain legs and a fat teenage boy muscles in and starts asking John Dunn questions: How long has he been racing? What kind of race food does he recommend? Dunn offers some polite nods and maintains a middle-distance stare until his wife grabs the boy by the shoulder and pulls him away. She is fuming.

"My husband just spent 39 hours in a canoe, and I haven't even seen him yet, and the last thing he wants to talk about is canoeing. Now get the hell out of here."

The boy slumps off.
The Cali Boys struggle in at 2:31 a.m., almost four and a half hours off the lead. Twice the margin of defeat of any second-place boat in the past two years. Whatever the cause of the field's inability to knock off the Mynars, it's clearly not John Bugge, who finishes third a mere hour and 19 minutes behind the Cali Boys in a four-man boat half-powered by women. It's after 5 a.m. before another boat reaches the finish, and they will continue to trickle in at more or less hourly intervals for the next 56 hours and collapse on the shore or wander like zombies, too tired to fall down.

The grassy seawall fills with boats through Monday, and recovering racers stroll the grounds hearing the stories behind snapped-off paddle blades, and cutting a wide berth around the Bugge boat, which is a quarter full of rotting mayfly carcasses that look and smell like congealing barf.

A traveling masseuse has erected a tent by the pavilion and does a brisk business kneading knotted backs. Tom Goynes, who finished in a tandem boat with his daughter Sandy in 54.5 hours, suggests that a portable therapy tent might do even better.

At the awards banquet at noon on Tuesday -- technically, there are still 25 hours in which to finish -- a serving wagon dishes out fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried hush puppies and lemonade. Eighty-two boats started the race. Twenty-nine have dropped out for one reason or another. Thirty-seven boats are in, and 16 are known to be on the way.

After the eating, announcers hand out the awards. Finishers get a Texas Water Safari patch. Winners in the class categories get plaques to keep and their names inscribed on a traveling trophy cup that goes home with the winner for a year. There is no prize money. Just bragging rights.

Finishers make small speeches as they pick up their plaques. These usually involve thanking the people who have helped, praising the community of paddlers and something self-deprecatingly funny.

Veteran Owen West says finishing the race is "like getting out of college, finally."

Sandy Goynes thanks the organizers of "this stupid, ridiculous race."
Former champion Mike Shively tells how he and partner Jim Pye passed the long hours between Gonzales and the Hochheim Bridge with a vomiting contest, scored on the Olympic ten-point scale, which Pye eventually won.

Finally, the announcer arrives at the number two boat, West Hansen, Allan Spelce and the California Boys. Spelce takes the mike first and gets a laugh when he describes how his boat kept it competitive "right up until Rio Vista," 259 miles back.

Rich Long confesses: "I haven't had my butt kicked this bad since the fourth grade."

There is much bowing and scraping to the Mynar team, and modest hopes to provide stiffer competition next year.

And then the Mynar team takes the stage to receive the trophy they're surely getting used to. Joe Mynar quietly thanks Tom Goynes for the use of his shop and then relates that he lost his father earlier this year, and a good friend three weeks later. "I miss both those guys" is all he says, and he carries away the original 1963 Argosy Cup (donated by the now-defunct adventure magazine) to thunderous applause.

A short time later, while West Hansen and Allan Spelce are already scheming improvements, Rich Long, the beefiest of the California Boys, wanders by the winning boat and calls out to Brian Mynar.

"Hey, you guys taking reservations for that six-man next year?"

E-mail Brad Tyer at brad_tyer@houstonpress.com.

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