Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 7, 2011

The Neches Canoe Race

Jonathan waiting for start of the race.

My son Jonathan and I woke up early Saturday morning to drive from Katy to Lake Palestine outside of the little East Texas town of Frankston. We made the three-plus hour trip to participate in the Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race, called the toughest little canoe race in Texas. The Neches River derives its name from the Caddo Indian word “Nachawi” meaning wood of the bow, a reference to the bois d’arc trees that grow along the river. The Spaniards changed the name of the river to Neches. This flatwater river flows 416 miles through the piney woods of East Texas to Port Neches on the Gulf of Mexico. The Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race began twenty-one years ago as a fund-raising event for the Trinity Valley Community College and has earned a reputation as “one of the best organized and most challenging races around.”

In June, Jonathan participated in and completed the 260-mile Texas Water Safari, the world’s toughest canoe race. He has asked me to do the Texas Water Safari with him next year. I agreed. So, between now and then we will do lots of shorter races and some training on Texas rivers as time permits. Paddling twenty-two miles on the Neches River was a good opportunity for me to get a little taste of what it will take for me to paddle a quarter-million strokes over a three-day period next summer. After completing the race I can say, without question, that the Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race has definitely earned its name as the toughest “little” canoe race in Texas. In fact, I would characterize it as a twenty-two mile canoe obstacle course. Every mile of the race was a challenge — we had to either go around, under, or over trees that had fallen into the river, navigate around submerged logs, and deal with numerous other obstacles along the way. It was tough and challenging, to say the least.

Participants in the Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race are required to complete the race in 10 hours or less. Jonathan and I finished in 5 hours and 41 minutes (25th place out of 59 racers and 2nd place in our class). We both love and enjoy the outdoors, so the Neches River race gave us an opportunity to enjoy miles of scenic views, some beautiful birds, and the sounds of nothing but our paddles hitting the water with every stroke. The best thing about the race for me was the opportunity to share the experience with Jonathan. We enjoyed lots of conversation and worked together to overcome countless obstacles along the way. And, because Jonathan is much more experienced in a canoe, he coached me. It was kind of fun hearing his affirmations like “Nicely done, Dad” — as well as his exhortations like “Keep your upper arm straight as you paddle.”

Obstacles along the race route.

In many ways the challenges of the Neches River are a metaphor for life. I talked with one man who told me that this was the third time he has completed the race — once in a kayak and twice in a canoe. I asked him which was easier. “The canoe,” he quickly replied, “because you don’t have to do it alone, there is someone to help you paddle, and it’s easier to get through the obstacles along the way.” I agree. Although there were some die-hard kayakers on the race who had amazing finish times, I’m glad that Jonathan and I did the race together. His presence did not make any of the obstacles go away, it just made it easier to face and overcome them. And, I now have a much better understanding of what it will take to do the Texas Water Safari next June with Jonathan. I have a lot of work to do to get physically ready for that race, but I’m glad that Jonathan and I will do it together.


  1. I love this post…I am so thankful for the ones God has placed in my life to share the load with–your post is so true!!

    • Amen, Kristin. It really is good when those who love us share our load. And it’s also good to help them bear their burdens as well.

  2. Omar,
    Do you ever do ANYTHING that counts for normal activity? Thanks for sharing a fun post!

    Best always,

  3. Omar if you want to paddle some nearby this fall the Colorado River in Columbus is a good river to run and I’m game.


    • Thanks, Bruce. Jonathan and I have kayaked on the Colorado River. Love it. We may go back this Fall with either the kayaks or the canoe. Maybe we can get some guys together for a day on the river.

  4. Pastor Omar, you are so blessed that your son WANTS you to do this kind of thing with him. Dick and I would give anything if our son had that desire. I am so thankful that someone who constantly reaches out to others has a son who reaches out to you. God bless you.

    • Thanks, Marcia. Jonathan has an amazing “prodigal son” story that makes our times together even sweeter than they otherwise might have been. I am grateful to God for preserving his life.

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