Thomaston Man Tries 30th Texas Water Safari | Reserved for subscribers


SAN MARCOS – Every year, competitors from across the country converge for what is considered the world’s toughest canoe race, and this year Thomaston resident Bill “Polecat” Stafford, 65, is looking to complete the 260 mile race for the 30th time. .

As the sun began to rise above the horizon Saturday morning, competitors gathered at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment to prepare their canoes and kayaks for the grueling river marathon from San Marcos to Seadrift.

Spectators and competitors greeted each other at the start of the race, and each team’s canoes and kayaks lay on the ground waiting to enter the water at Spring Lake, which empties into the San Marcos River.

As race time began to draw closer, competitors began to prepare their boats and bodies for the trip, sealing any holes they found; tether their food, water and gear; and praying for their safety during the coming trial. All the while, the sun continued to creep further into the sky, pushing the temperature from 75 degrees early in the morning to 85 degrees at the start of the race on a day when temperatures were expected to exceed 100 degrees.

“Everyone is pretty much primed and ready for what’s to come,” said Allen Spelce, president of Texas Water Safari. “It’s going to be a long and tough race. Lack of water, heat – it will wreak havoc on them.

Of the 154 teams registered, 138 teams from 18 different states were ready to compete Saturday morning, Spelce said.

“The biggest challenge this year outside of high heat and low water is going to be mental,” he said. “Not only do you have to be in peak physical condition, but also mentally to be ready for what they’re going to go through over the next 48 to 100 hours. They’re all going to suffer at some point, and you have to be able to get through that. mentally and continue.

Among the competing teams were Stafford and his son Brandon “Pavos” Stafford, 37, in their numbered No. 30 tandem canoe.

Brandon Stafford begins hauling the team’s canoe to the Texas Water Safari start line on Saturday.

The father and son duo and their team captain Joe Bitterly were in high spirits ahead of the race as they prepared their boat ahead of its around 8.30am launch.

Although concerned about the lack of water due to drought conditions in the region and impending 100-degree temperatures, the Texas Water Safari veteran felt his team was well prepared for the race.

“I like to call our team horse and donkey,” Bill Stafford said. “The donkey (the older Stafford) is in the back, and we have the horse (the younger Stafford) here in the front.”

This is the fourth time Stafford’s son has raced with his father.

“It’s always been a family event,” Stafford said. “In the 90s, when I raced all through the 90s, he was just a little kid and he was on the shore cheering me on.”

Texas Water Safari Day 1

Brandon Stafford, Bill Stafford and Joe Bitterly pray before the start of Texas Water Safari on Saturday in San Marcos

It’s a blessing to be able to do this race together, the two said.

The tandem team hopes to finish first in its division, United States Canoe Association C-2, for the race.

“If we can hold it together, we can probably win this division,” Stafford said.

Two big challenges for them will come on Days 2 and 3 of the race, the Staffords said. The first challenge will be in a stretch of the river approaching the Victoria area, nicknamed “Hallucination Alley” by the runners. There, runners often begin to experience hallucinations due to lack of sleep and physical exhaustion.

Spelce said people report seeing a variety of things upon reaching this point, from a Russian submarine chasing a group of runners to another runner seeing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the horizon.

Stafford remembers one year he saw a group behind him carrying a coffin as if they were going to put him in if he stopped paddling.

The other challenge will come as they move from the mouth of the Guadalupe River to the open waters of the bay on the final stretch to Seadrift where currents and winds pick up, Stafford said.

At the start of the race, groups of canoes and kayaks entered the water one by one, and before the team carried their boat to throw it into the water, the team prayed for safe passage for all who participated in the race.

Each boat brought good luck wishes from the officials and louder cheers from those present.

While the teams from other boats waded a bit to get their bearings, the moment the Staffords hit the water they concentrated and immediately began paddling as if they were two piston engines pumping their boat outward. forward in the Texas Water Safari endurance test.

At the first checkpoint in Staples, a small town south of San Marcos, the two leading teams — both teams of six — were neck and neck as they cleared the Staples Dam. They rushed back into their boats to the cheers of the crowd as they passed around 11:10 a.m., beating the organization’s estimated arrival time of the first boat by five minutes.

Texas Water Safari Day 1

The lead group of paddlers leaves the starting area at the start of the 2022 Texas Water Safari Saturday morning in San Marcos.

However, the riders there remained focused on the water ahead of them and continued their odyssey to Seadrift.

Where the Staffords will finish remains to be seen, but for both it is about finishing the race as very few have been able to finish the race 30 times, they said.

Kyle Cotton was born and raised in San Antonio and graduated from San Antonio College and the University of Texas at Arlington. Cotton covered economic development, healthcare, finance, government, technology, oil and gas, and higher education.


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