By Reily Chestnut
Another year came around and another edition of the “World’s Toughest Canoe Race” was taken down. The winning canoe, respectively called “Desolation Row,” took home their fourth No. 1 finish in the 262-mile marathon in the last five years, 36 hours and 48 minutes after they started next to the Meadows Center here in San Marcos. However, the winners aren’t truly measured in a race like this by placement.
The true winners are anyone that manages to make it to Seadrift, Texas at all. This year’s edition prove to be no exception to that statement.
“I think people aren’t going to be used to [lower water levels], plus the heat seems to be a bit more [intense] than it has been in the past,” said Texas Water Safari board member Jerry Cochran.
The conditions don’t seem to stop the racers from coming back each year to once again tackle the task at hand.
“There’s just so many different kinds of people from all over. It’s kind of a shared experience once you’ve done it and been involved with it and it just keeps everybody coming back year after year,” Cochran said.
Cochran could not be more accurate. Despite the intense difficulty, people continue to come back for more–some racers with a proven track record. Take the team known as “The Cowboys” that has six racers who have finished the TWS 110 times combined, including John Mark Harras, one of only two racers with at least 30 finishes. This field also wasn’t short on first timers like Philip Johnson who was talked into his maiden voyage by his brothers/racing partners Andrew and Matthew Johnson. His number one trick to winning this race?
“Not killing my brothers,” said Johnson. Simple, yet effective.
Then you have racers Jim and Myla Weber, on their canoe “Wetted Bliss,” looking to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary with their 5th finish together on the 11th. It’s a tradition for them at this point. These are the kinds of stories that make this race special and endearing to the local community that continues to show up and challenge themselves.
No matter how hot the summer sun, how low the water levels, or how certain the dangers of water moccasins or the infamous Alligator Lake, you can bet that the folks will continue to show up with their paddles ready to earn their place in the now 55-year history of the Texas Water Safari.
Featured image by Peyton Hill.