Embrace the Absurdity

paddlingI recently spoke with Texas Water Safari veteran, Sam Ritchie. Sam was part of a six-man team that won the race three years in a row, and was kind enough to share some insider information with me.

Again, everything mentioned here is an example of what has happened in the past and not intended to be advice for what might work for someone else. Our goal is to simply gain as much advice as we can in an attempt to, as Sam puts it, embrace the absurdity that is the Texas Water Safari.

What’s the worst that could happen?

When asking about the race, I’ve heard a lot of generic answers along the lines of “expect the unexpected,” and Sam delivered a similar response. This is great advice, but I was looking for something to at least get me in the ballpark of what could go wrong, so I asked Sam to give me an example of one of those “unexpected” things that happened to him.

Here’s what he threw at me:

One of the crew members was bit by a spider, presumably in the middle of the night. By morning, his throat was beginning to swell up and they hadn’t packed any benedryl or antihistamine. He was feeling a bit uneasy, what with his throat closing up and all, and began to skip scheduled food and drink breaks.

By mid-afternoon the sun, combined with everything else, proved too much and he ended up passing out for about an hour.

In the early evening, out of nowhere, he snapped back. He moved to the front of the boat and started paddling harder than the others who were tired from paddling all afternoon. He ended up getting them about an hour ahead of the other boat they’d been neck and neck with the whole time.

Turns out, he thought he’d died and that his new lot in life was to paddle that canoe. It wasn’t until hours later, he was finally convinced he hadn’t died and settled back into normalcy.

And now I have a ballpark.

Keep it together.

runningWith a background as a sprint kayaker, National Championship medal winner, and member of USA Canoe and Kayak Olympic team, Sam thought he wouldn’t have to worry about some of the side effects of paddling non-stop for several days, such as hallucinations. He thought maybe those people just weren’t in great shape or hadn’t trained well enough.

But that wasn’t the case.

On the second morning, the hallucinations began. “You’d look up and see the next bridge or checkpoint and then the next time you’d look up it wasn’t there, but you’d see another one farther down. You’d see members of your crew standing on the bank and then look again and it was just a branch.”

One of the things Sam stressed was the importance of staying out of your head. Don’t dwell on what goes wrong, and definitely don’t over think the amount of time you have left to paddle.

“Break it up in segments,” he says, “you can’t start thinking I have 200 miles left to go or you’ll never make it.” portage

According to Sam, more often than not, when you start to feel mentally defeated it’s because you’ve let yourself get behind on your nutrients. He suggests if you find yourself feeling down or dwelling on negative thoughts grab something to eat or take a salt pill.

“Try incorporating not eating every once in a while into your training,” he says, “to get a feel for how different your mindset is when you haven’t eaten.”

As for dealing with mishaps–that will inevitably happen–in the moment, he says stop, reset, and get moving again. In the overall scheme of the race. 30 seconds here or 15 minutes there to get your bearings back under you won’t kill you. In fact, it will probably help in the long run.

These are just a couple of the stories and tips Sam shared with me. He gave even more advice on eating, packing, peeing, purging, and avoiding the beasts of hell. But those will be saved for future posts.

Got any great stories about your experience? Share them below.







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One thought on “Embrace the Absurdity

  1. My good friend Corbett and I did the race in 2002 and much like yourself were novices training for something totally unexpected. The outcome was amazing and to this day, literally, it affects my perspective about life and living. Hope your training is coming along well.

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