Adventure and travel writer Pam LeBlanc is registered to compete in next week’s grueling Texas Water Safari and training with 11-time veteran and We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador Debbie Richardson. Follow along with Pam on a day of training…

Wednesday, May 14, 2019

As if soul-sucking mud, log jams as big as your house, alligator gar known to jump out of the water and crack ribs, and actual alligators (just 4-footers, so far) weren’t enough, last weekend’s paddle training session with Debbie Richardson featured something new – a collapsing riverbank.

I’m registered to compete in this year’s Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Texas coast. Richardson’s a pro – she’s got 11 safaris under her canoe seat – so I’ve been joining her for a few training sessions to glean some of her experience before the race, which starts June 8.

So far I’ve learned all kinds of tips, like how to use Super Glue to reattach fingernails that get ripped off, how to pre-crush potato chips so you can eat them on the fly, and how to pee in a cup on a moving canoe. She’s warned me of the horrors of the race start, when boats get turned sideways and crushed, and the finish, which involves a challenging bay crossing, which deposits many paddlers into a raging sea. She’s warned me of a million things I’ll face in between, to, from spiders with leg spans as big as your palm (I’ve seen them!) to hallucinations, nostril-clogging mayflies, and logjams, which I can only describe as massive piles of bobbing logs, brush, old tires, the occasional snake and one or two animal carcasses, which you must cross, while lugging your boat.

But last Sunday, when the water was high and we all jumped into sturdy, two-person aluminum canoes for a 30-mile run on the San Marcos River, I watched as a 15-foot-high slab of mud cleaved off the bank and splashed, like a calving iceberg, into the water just a few feet from Richardson’s boat.

The ensuing impact created a miniature tsunami, which tossed the canoe that Richardson and her partner were paddling, high into the air. They grabbed the gunwales, said a Hail Mary or two, and rode the thing out. Then they paddled to shore, where Richardson spent a few minutes splashing water over her mud splattered body.

“I never saw that coming,” Richardson said, a tad wide eyed but still cool as a fire-ant covered log.

From that point on, though, she examined every bank a little more carefully.

Thankfully, we all made it through unscathed, and I learned another lesson from one of my paddling mentors – remain calm. Panic doesn’t help. In the big picture, that unstable bank didn’t cause any damage, it just frayed a few nerves. And frayed nerves aren’t enough to keep you from getting to Seadrift.

“There’s zero chance you aren’t going to finish,” she told me a few weeks ago. “When you feel bad, you just need to focus on something pretty. It’s not something you don’t get through. You need to cherish every minute of (the race) because it’s such a unique opportunity to spend that much time on the river and see things most people never get to see.”

About the Author:

Pam LeBlanc is an Austin-based freelance writer who specializes in stories about outdoor adventure and recreation. Through her writing, she introduces readers to other adventurers and explorers, keeps them informed about the latest fitness trends, and challenges herself to try new things. (She goes through a lot of sun screen and bandages, and doesn’t care when she flubs things up, either.) Learn more about Pam.

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