Driving the Texas Water Safari
by Mark Andrus
I am writing based upon my impressions from being a co-team captain in 2013 and a helper in 2012. The Safari website www.texaswatersafari.org has a 27 page guide of Driving Directions which provides the best objective information and pictures. The team I was working for consisted of Lynne Andrus and Paula Scotney-Castle with Lynn Vance as the other co-captain. They were in a Wenonah Minnesota II canoe. In 2013, they finished the race on Wednesday morning a couple of hours before the race cut-off of 1 pm.
The boat was checked in at the old Aquarena on Friday afternoon and we wrapped it in Saran Wrap to keep the raccoons from invading overnight. We came back Saturday morning to get ready for the start. I had to park my pickup truck across the street at the football field since all the parking was taken. The start was announced by Tom Goynes at 9 am. After that, I got a couple of bathing suits at Academy since I will need them. The next stop for me was the first checkpoint, Staples Dam/Bridge at mile 17. It was crowded so I had to park at quite a distance and bring up their water. There is a nice pool downstream of the dam where we waited for the team boat to come up around noon.
After that, the next stop and checkpoint 2 was Luling 90 (Mile 40) which was the town swimming hole. I got some Bar-B-Q in Luling on the way. They arrived in late afternoon. We went on to Zedler Dam which they reached in early evening. Lynne broke a bone in her foot going around the dam but kept on going. After that, I stopped at the big Bucee’s outside Luling to get more ice and some food. The search for ice is a constant because a lot of ice is needed for their water. Bucee’s has the cheapest price for ice.
The third checkpoint is at Palmetto State Park (mile 60) which is where I spent the night. I put down a ThermoRest mattress to get some sleep. I could tell where they were because they had the required SPOT device and I could see on my iPad mini where they were on the map. The boat came in about three in the morning on Sunday.
Checkpoint four is at Gonzales 183 (mile 86) which they reached in early afternoon on Sunday. This had a good swimming hole and some shade under the bridge. The captains and officials keep moving downstream and the previous upstream location ends up being deserted after the cut-off times to reach that location. I passed by the site of the "Come and Take It" battle which is marked at the entrance to the park in which the checkpoint is located. I got more ice at the last Bucee’s on the drive in Gonzales.
Checkpoint five is at the Hochheim Bridge (mile 123). I remember this as a miserable location with a lot of mud and poison ivy. The river is reached on a steep slope with a lot of loose rocks. A rope is hung to hold onto going up and down. I got a bit of sleep on the ThermoRest. The boat came in during the night. On to Cuero where we got to checkpoint six Cheapside FM 766 (mile 147). In 2012 and 2013, Cuero was booming due to oil drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale. I ate at the local Dairy Queen which was crowded. The boat reached the checkpoint I think it was late morning on Monday. Cheapside is northwest of Cuero and the next checkpoint seven is southeast of Cuero on 236 (mile161). They reached there in the afternoon on Monday.
Checkpoint eight was at the Victoria City Park Boat Ramp (mile 200). I got there Monday night and I thought I saw a whole lot of deer when I came into the park. It was crowded by the boat ramp but I was still able to find enough room to put down the ThermoRest. Lynne and Paula got there about dawn. A race official had a few hours left on her motel room after she had to leave in the early morning so she offered it to any official or team captain to be able to clean up, so I was able to take a shower. We went to mile 212 to see the team pass by but it was not a checkpoint.
Swinging Bridge (mile 231) is checkpoint nine. It requires going through an industrial plant and all sorts of turns to get there, but the location itself is nice with a lot of trees so it is a nice place to hang out. However, it is not so nice to have a steep bank that requires hanging onto a rope to get down to the water. They reached here in on Tuesday afternoon.
The last checkpoint (ten at mile 248) is at Saltwater Barrier. This one had a lot of mosquitos. There is a big building covered by a roof but no sides. Lynne and Paula came in about three and got a couple a hours sleep since they were doing well enough on time to finish. They had survived the log jam that had stopped them in 2012.
On down to Seadrift for the finish line (mile 260 but it might actually be as far as mile 264). We waited there for our and other teams to finish. The banquet was on Tuesday so we missed that. I used my binoculars and saw them come around the point. The water seemed calm when they entered the bay but the bay became rougher as they approached, but their sea kayaking experience helped them deal with the bay. Two race officials took their paddles as they got to the finish portal. Lynn Vance told me to help with the boat since they could no longer brace since they no longer had their paddles. I slipped on the steps since they had algae on them. They had come in around 10:30 in the morning on Wednesday which was 97.5 hours and left 2.5 hours to spare.
We received our Safari patches and a coupon for a Seadrift restaurant since we missed the banquet. I continued on to Houston to make the Houston Canoe Club meeting that night. I was now part of the Texas Water Safari community. If you want to see some pictures, you can go back to the August, 2013 Article on the HCC website. I think the best place to see the Safari is at the finish in Seadrift. Other good places to watch are Luling 90 and Gonzales.
The author, Mark Andrus