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Texas Water Safari Update

Texas Water Safari Update

Headsweats Athlete Max Feaster just competed in the 51st annual Texas Water Safari. Here’s his recap of the 262-mile, non-stop race. That’s right, 262 miles. Non. Stop.

Canoe Racer, Max Feaster

Interviewed and written by B. Eriksson

There comes a time in every athlete’s career when the only option is to throw down everything you have on the course. It is the point when you realize that everything you have worked for during the past decade has built up to this moment. For Max Feaster, this moment came during the 51st annual Texas Water Safari.

The Safari is a 262-mile, non-stop, through the night, endurance canoe race running from San Marcos to Seadrift, TX. Regarded as the toughest canoe race in the world, the Safari has paddlers negotiate treacherous rapids, logjams, dangerous bugs and reptiles, triple-digit heat, and hallucinations, all at varying stages of sleep deprivation. In addition to the difficulty that is intrinsic to the course, Max was paddling what is regarded as the most challenging racing hull available: the USCA C-1.

The C-1 is a rudderless, 18′ 6″ solo canoe confined to using a single blade paddle. Built for short distance sprints in a straight line, this boat, as Max emphatically proclaims, dislikes wind, waves, aggressive turns, and many other things common in the Safari. When asked, “why on earth would you take a boat like that?” his reasoning takes a turn to the philosophic. For Max, the Safari is much more than a timed race. The Safari is not about getting to the finish line fastest. The Safari is about pushing yourself way past where you think your stamina, endurance, and strength end. The Safari is a precious adventure, and the C-1 is the best boat to fully grasp the intensity and intimacy of that adventure.

On top of these already strenuous factors, Max was pitted against one of the most respected Texas Water Safari racers around: Wade Binion. He was looking for his 18th finish, had excellent training, was in the same type of boat, and was a force to be reckoned with.

Headsweats athlete Max Feaster

Another factor that adds intrigue to the race is that designated team captains follow their paddlers down the course, being the only people who can administer supplies. This year, Max’s team captain was living legend Peter Derrick. Though English-born, Derrick has been racing the Texas Water Safari since 1975, and is one of the most respected and decorated racers in history. Until quite recently, the supply rule has been that team captains are only allowed to give water and ice to the paddler – everything else (food, repair kit, medical, lights, etc.) must be carried from the start by the paddler. Though the Texas Water Safari now allows full nutritional and medical support by the team captain, Max, holding true to his principles, abided by the old rules, and only received water and ice from his team captain.

When asked about race highlights, a cunning smile overtook his face and he began to describe a side of the race hidden from the bank. “The wonderful thing about this race is that there are too many factors to possibly control – so the race is constantly changing and staying fresh” Max said.

“For example, there is a 5 hour section down past Victoria which is notoriously known as ‘hallucination alley’. At about this point, you have been padding for 40ish hours, various body systems are starting to get dangerously close to failure, the hallucinations from sleep dep. are encroaching, and you know there are still 60 miles separating you from the finish. On top of this, the river starts getting eerily twisty and familiar: if you are not on top of your game, you could swear that you have the same right and left turn on infinite repeat. Luckily, I made it through the majority of this section with little-to-no issue, but coming to the final half hour, there was a tight, 180º turn that had simply dried up. I later came to find that the river had burrowed under a logjam/cliff/bank to rejoin itself after the turn, but in the moment, at around 3:00am, sitting on ~42 hours of exhaustive racing, I was lost, frustrated, and speechless. For the last eight years, including the training run I did the week prior on this section, this turn was a none-issue, but tonight, my entire race went ‘mission critical’.

My competition was making up all the time I had put between us, I was trudging around in the swampy, alligator-friendly part of the course, and I could not find any tracks or portage trails from other boats. Finally, after about 30 minutes of backtracking, exploring, and climbing, I reached the ‘FIP’ and decided to portage around the whole turn. Though slower, more strenuous, and far more dangerous, I knew that I could waste hours searching for the correct route if I was not careful. After ~10 minutes of slogging through deep mud and vegetation, I finally reached the rejoined river, and paddled on to the next checkpoint – way behind schedule. When I reached the stop, my team captain, Peter Derrick, told me that my competition had made a huge push, and had reduced my once solid lead of 84 minutes to 15. So with 7 hours left in the race, and a freight train of a competitor bearing down on me, it became clear that taking it to maximum for the remainder of the race was the only feasible solution. Long-story-short, Binion had the same idea, and upped his speed at the same point. Thus, we stayed at crisp 12-15 minutes of separation for the next 30 miles, sprinting our hearts out as our respective team captains egged us on. Now, though effective, sprint dueling at any point in the Safari is a dangerous game, with the only outcome being the complete collapse of one party.

Thus, for one reason or another, I was able to pull through to victory, while Binion lost 30 minutes in the last hour. All in all, it was an amazing finish against an overwhelming competitor – but without getting lost in the middle of the night, it would not have been quite as spectacular. And that is what makes this race wonderful. I planned everything out to the most minuscule detail, trained like there was no tomorrow, and I was still left guessing and stupefied. It is a course that you can never predict or perfect, and an adventure that you can never truly conquer – and that is what keeps me coming back.”

YouTube
Check out Max during the Texas Water Safari

Max won his USCA C-1 class in the Texas Water Safari with a total finishing time of 49:02. He placed 6th overall, out of 115 boats – one of the highest overall placements for this class.

Though Max plans on racing again, he is putting his boat away for the near future as he pursues a career in the Air Force as a fighter pilot. His thoughts on his new path? “Once you race and win the Texas Water Safari C-1, most things tend to seem a bit more manageable.”

Photos courtesy of: P. Rask

DART wins entry to the World Championships

DART wins entry to the World Championships

Headsweats is proud to sponsor Team DART with their headwear — helping them keep a cool head as their competition heats up. Read on for their full race report at Untamed New England and their photos! Congrats Team DART!!

Last week, the Untamed New England adventure race drew 49 of the best teams from North America and Europe to the heart of Maine. Team DART-nuunFeed The Machine was made up of Mari Chandler, Ryan Van Gorder, Matt Hayes, and Aaron Rinn.

The four day race started at the outlet of Moosehead Lake with a short run and packraft followed by a canoe across Indian Pond. The teams then paired up and, together with a professional guide, tackled the huge and seriously fun class IV whitewater of the Kennebec River.

From here, teams ran to Moxie Falls for a checkpoint and then transitioned to mountain biking. The riding was challenging and technical, but the trail was scenic. We were moving well until Mari’s bike frame broke clear across the seat tube. Our aluminum bikes are lightweight and we are pretty hard on them. The failure was due to accumulated wear over time, rather than one huge hit.

Many teams passed us as we tried to figure out how to cobble together a solution for the cracked frame. We still had 30 miles of biking to do on this leg.

We found a stick to place down the seat tube to prevent the two pieces from completely separating. Meanwhile “Matt-gyver” earned this new nickname by figuring out how to complete a trail repair using parts of a waterbottle cage, some sticks, and a hose clamp, that Mari was using to hold an extra waterbottle cage to her bike. Mari could only use her lowest gear in the front, and she had to ride carefully. But we started moving again, and eventually Matt found a great route on a road that avoided several miles of slow trails. Unbelievably, the seat tube on Aaron’s bike frame cracked in half just as we arrived at the ropes! The ropes course involved rappelling next to Grand Falls on the Dead River, pulling ourselves across the river in rafts, ascending up the other side, and taking a zip line back over the waterfall.

This repair to Aaron’s bike was going to be more difficult, because it cracked at the bottom bracket joint. However, thanks to the DW Link suspension, Aaron’s bike was still able to work if he stood up, so he had to stand and pedal for the next 15 miles to the next section. We wanted to keep moving, so we would have to deal with Aaron’s broken frame later.

We trekked to Flagstaff Lake, where we blew up our packrafts and paddled across. It was the middle of the night and an approaching lightning storm gave our paddling an added sense of urgency. Our progress was slowed when it took a while to find a checkpoint in the dark on the opposite shore. After more than an hour of searching, we finally found it. We chose to deflate our boats at this point and trek overland land for a few hours. The mosquitoes came out in force with the sunrise. We blew up our boats again to capture the last few water CPs.

We put our rafts in our packs for an off trail climb over a beautiful mountain. The route finding was tough and the bush was thick, but we nailed the navigation. We moved fast, and passed a couple of teams.

At the end of the trek we had devised a plan to repair the broken frames, helped out by a stop at the dump for some extra materials. But as soon as we got to the bike transition, at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, we learned of a bike shop with rental bikes. Mari and Aaron excitedly wheeled their broken bikes to this brand new bike shop. Half an hour later Team Dart was off on the mountain bike orienteering course, which we finished before dark. We had been racing for 34 hours and decided to take advantage of the Numa tents that were set up. The sleep dried us out, and we were reinvigorated as we headed out on an alpine trek. After climbing Burnt Mountain, we headed halfway back down in order to avoid a seemingly terrible bushwack along the ridge. We climbed back to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, arriving with a spectacular sunrise.

Next, we biked to an orienteering relay leg where each team member had to do a section. Each of us made a few mistakes on our sections, but overall we had the fastest time of all the teams. After the last bike section, we arrived back at Flagstaff Lake in second place.

Ahead was a 30 km canoe, which was broken up by two portages, and trekking to find several checkpoints along the way. Team Sole kept us company for this leg.

We finished the paddle at dusk and transitioned to the last leg of trekking and packrafting. Two teams were hot on our heals and came in from the paddle before we left the TA.

We tried packrafting on the Dead River and got passed by these two teams who were on foot next to the river. So we pulled out and put the rafts in our bags. We trekked to a cp where we received the last 8 checkpoints of the race. Those teams plus Team Sole left, but we slept for a half hour in the mosquitoes. We got up cold, plotted, and realized that we had 10-15 miles of packrafting on the same river that had proved so slow the night before. But the river in this section was awesome!! We started whitewater rafting at 3 am and more water was released starting at 5 am. The alpaca rafts ate up the whitewater. Rapid after rapid, we did our best to move downriver, picking off checkpoints along the way. We came up to the last river checkpoint around 9 am and saw a team from Montreal looking for the cp. They were a little early, so when they saw us, they got back in their rafts and followed us to the cp. That started a 2 hour sprint to the finish with 5 cps to go. The last hour, we decided to run the road while they packrafted. We traveled faster than them to the 2nd to find the last cp a few minutes ahead, but we had to blow up two boats to go across the river. We got the cp and their team arrived as we crossed back. From here it was 2k to the finish straight uphill and then straight down to the finish. We ran as hard as we could and finished 2 minutes ahead of the Montreal team.

In the end, with our time credit for our wait at the ropes, we ended up a half hour in front of the Danish team and Team Sole.

We ended up 2nd behind Thule, the reigning world champs. That gave both us and the Danish team a paid entry to the Raid in France in September!!

The team did great working together and having fun the whole time. We didn’t make any big mistakes, never got too sleepy, and just kept moving.

~ Written by Aaron Rinn

Adrenaline Packed Finish for Max Feaster at the Colorado River 100

Adrenaline Packed Finish for Max Feaster at the Colorado River 100

The Colorado River 100 ultra-marathon canoe race is a 100-mile, non-stop event starting in Bastrop, Texas and finishing in Columbus, Texas. Not only is this race renowned for it’s gratuitous distance and intense competition, but for the 2011 race, the river levels, heat, water weed, and wind was shaping up to be one of the most challenging races to date. With only three prominent points to re-supply hydration and nutrition, the need for a solid plan, carried out by a fast, efficient crew was critical. One sub-par pit stop in the 100+ degree heat could spell disaster to a winning performance, and could even jeopardize reaching the finish line. However, I was in the able hands of legendary veteran paddler Peter Derrick of Houston, Texas. With his illustrious career in ultra marathon paddling, I was confident that I could rely on him for the support I needed.

Max Feaster

This year, I was racing in the USCA C-1 class. This class involves going solo in a boat with no rudder and only using single bladed paddles. It is regarded as the most difficult class in all forms of boat racing: especially long-distance river racing. My competition this year was one of the best C-1 paddlers in the lower United States, Jonathan Yonley. With a much stronger build, a faster boat, and more access to training, it was going to be an uphill fight to the finish.

In the crisp air of an early September morning, the competitive solo field of the ultra-marathon canoe race shot to life. Within seconds the water was churned into a foamy life, and within minutes, the field was starting to take shape. I was riding comfortably in fourth position with Jonathan steadily dropping back. But before I could celebrate, I quickly realized that my water had completely siphoned out into the bottom of the boat not half an hour into this initial three-hour section. With the Texas temperatures continuing to rise as the morning faded, I knew I had to tone down a bit to keep my body safe. A heat stroke this early in the race (of which there were several this year), would mean an end to my hopes of first place, and possibly result in long-term damage.  So the balancing act began: trying to be judicious, whilst fending off the competition.

After more than two hours of inching towards the critical dehydration/overheating line, I rounded the bend to the first checkpoint, Smithville. With Peter Derrick waiting in the river with water and supplies, we made the pit stop in record time, and I was off with new, hydrated vigor. By this time, the faster, two-person competitor boats, which started 10 minutes after the solo field, were starting to overtake. As a result of this staggered start, there is a huge amount of strategic thinking that goes into taking advantage of the passing tandems by riding their wakes. Like drafting in cycling or Formula 1, if done successfully, one can achieve huge efficiency and speed gains. So with this new task at hand, I was off towards the second checkpoint: La Grange, another 5 hours down the river.

With there only being one place to refuel in this section, this was an excellent section to try and hold off my competition, especially Jonathan, whilst recovering for the final push. And with a serenade of joyous hunters celebrating the newly opened dove season, I completed this 35-mile section in good time, and was confident and ready for the final section. However, the mood quickly changed when I realized that Jonathan had decreased his previous time gap from 12 minutes to 3, and was now in sight on the straight a-ways. With new strength I quickly got my water from Peter Derrick and tore off down the river. This last section was a monstrous, uninterrupted 36-mile haul from La Grange to the finish line in Columbus, made complete with confusing currents, invisible sand bars, and the falling darkness of a hill country night. In the midst of this bleak final section, I started making my move. As my pace quickened, and my fatigue grew, I buckled up for a wild night.

With every stroke my confidence of winning grew. I was quietly sailing through darkness with just the moon to illuminate the obstacles. Everything was looking like I had managed to secure my win until I saw an ominous light approaching on my left side. Jonathan managed an incredible move and had caught up a mere hour and a half from the finish. At this point, the intensity picked up dramatically until we were tearing down the course. Fueled by the desire for the win, we rounded the bend and saw the ten-minute bridge. Upon seeing this landmark, he made his final move and surged ahead. Playing with a bit more strategy and caution I held him, but decided not to go on the attack just yet. I thought to myself that his move was too soon, and he would not be able to hold that monster pace all the way to the line. And then, just as I expected, his pace started to fade, prompting me to make my final attack. I had been saving the last 15 hours for this very moment. I started flying down this last bit of river, dealing a crushing blow about 7 minutes from the finish. With every muscle screaming, and every stroke harder than the last, I finally saw the lights of the finish line and went for it. Sprinting for all I was worth, I managed to cross the finish line an entire minute in front of one of the best paddlers in the entire state, securing my class victory in one of the longest, non-stop canoe races in the country.

Because this year’s race managed to combine high intensity athletic exertion, the heat of a Texas summer during a drought, and more than ten hours of cloudless sun, there was huge potential for one to overheat. In fact, dehydration, sunstroke, and a number of other heat related issues caused many racers to drop out before the finish. As a result, trying to keep cool was at the top of everyone’s priority list. As always, one of my main weapons against the heat was my Headsweats Race hat, and it performed exceptionally. It, unlike many other hats I have tried, gave me complete, comfortable coverage, in a smart, lightweight design. If I am completely honest, there is absolutely no way that I could have performed as well as I did without my Headsweats Race hat. In fact, it might very well have been the difference between first place and first loser.