Neches River Wilderness Race
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Neches River Wilderness Race

Date: Aug 01, 2020
The excitement of the challenging Neches River race course keeps paddlers coming back every year for more of "Neches", drawing from both the highly skilled marathon and adventure racing crowd and the recreational paddler. "There is absolutely nothing like Neches from the venue and unpredictability of it to the people that put it on." says Erin McGee, a U.S World Cup Kayaker and regular race entrant.
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A true account of events by Rachel Nichols

22 miles down the Neches River…in a kayak. When my boss first asked me if I wanted to do this with her, I thought she was joking. But then she told me she had done an 8 mile kayak trip and it wasn’t that bad. I like a challenge and proving I can do something difficult so I got on board.

Mind you I have only been in a kayak once in my life over ten years ago and all I really remember from that experience was flipping out and being horrified of drowning. BUT- no rapids on this run, easy peasy, right?? Very, very wrong. I also would like to mention that my boss, we’ll call her “Mary,” said she would absolutely NOT leave me, and that we would not treat it like a race, but like a fun, super chill kayak ride.

So the day of the race comes around. I’m all good until it’s time to get in the kayak and I can barely do that. I’m all wobbly and start to get really nervous. “Mary” is at the front of the line, ready to go. They warn us it will bottle neck at the very start, so I hang back so I don’t flip in front of all the pros right off the bat. They say, “GO!” and Mary is gone. I did not see her again until the end of the race.

At this point, I’m still holding out hope that I will catch up with Mary. So I’m slowly navigating around trees and debris and just trying to stay calm. I’m doing ok… even made it under the first very low tree! I do alright past checkpoint 1; I believe it was about 4 miles. Checkpoint 2 is an additional 10 miles down the river, little did I know. There is NO current mind you, this is a 24/7 paddle kind of deal.

I can’t exactly pinpoint where it all went downhill, but I remember falling out about six times trying to go around obstacles and getting stuck, etc. My kayak was also sinking most of the time. That combined with my leisurely paddling put me in last place (though I didn’t know it at the time). At one point when I fell out, I decided it was a good opportunity to get the camel pack my boss was so generous to let me borrow. Pure bleach went into my mouth. I coughed and spit and almost drank the river water to get the taste out. Luckily, I promptly fell out again and was able to get my water bottles.

It was at this moment that it dawned on me that this whole trip was a murder plot. Mary was trying to kill me. But I was determined to survive.

Eventually, I met up with some very friendly firemen. It took me a while to realize they were only sticking with me because they were actually the “drag boat,” which is the boat that follows the last person (AKA me) to make sure everyone is safe. Felt real good about myself at this point.

Making it to checkpoint 2 was no easy feat, but I finally got the hang of maneuvering through the obstacles- I even threw my paddle over a fallen tree I was going under and it landed in my kayak! I’m basically a pro now. Needless to say, I did not make it to the end of the race. At checkpoint 2 I was told it would take me 5+ hours to finish the race and I decided I wanted to spend the night at home and not in the Neches River.

I made new friends and now I have kayak fever- I plan to find a kayak that works best for me and will smoke Mary in next year’s race! I would highly recommend The Neches Wilderness Race to anyone who enjoys kayaking, the outdoors, or just trying something out of your comfort zone. If I can do it, anyone can!

Just keep paddling,

Map of the Race Route

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The race is set up with two classes of paddlers: leisure class and pro class. The leisure class. start one hour before the pro class which means that the pro classes don't run off and leave the rest of the paddling field. They, by starting and hour later, will have to catch up to the leisure class and maneuver their way around and through the slower paddlers in order to make their way to the front of the pack, giving them, in effect, an added obstacle to overcome and giving both classes more time on the river together. This really adds another crazy element to the race and gives the leisure paddlers a chance to see what it's like to "really" go fast in a canoe or kayak. Water stations and check points are setup at two locations along the racecourse, with race volunteers monitoring paddlers' condition, and providing water to anyone needing it. Radio operators are stationed along the way to provide instant contact to emergency personnel should it be necessary.

At the finish line race volunteers pull canoes from the river for the weary paddlers and everyone enjoys hamburgers, cold drinks and watermelon. The shuttle starts to run, taking racers to the starting line to pick up autos. Awards are presented when all paddlers in a class have crossed the finish line. A drag boat sweeps the river from starting line to finish to make sure no stragglers remain on the river.
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