Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 13, 2012

Portaging Dams

Paddling down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers

My training for the Texas Water Safari has intensified. The Texas Water Safari is billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, which is why my son Jonathan is trying hard to toughen me up. Having completed his first water safari last year, he knows what to expect and what it will take for me to finish the 260-mile course with him. Because of my work and travel schedule, I have to take advantage of any opening to spend time on the river with Jonathan. Fortunately, I was able to take a couple of days off this week to devote to training on the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers before I leave for Qatar on Monday. These training runs are absolutely essential, especially for me. On our last training run, our instructor said to Jonathan, “I see that your paddling stroke is much stronger than your dad’s.” Yikes! I know he is a stronger paddler, but did she have to use the word “much”? Jonathan and I had a good laugh but her words reminded me that I have a lot of work to do before the big race.

Warning sign to be installed before Ottine Dam.

On Thursday morning, Jonathan and I drove toward Luling, Texas to set up our base camp at the nearby Palmetto State Park, a beautiful setting. We spent Thursday on a section of the San Marcos River that we will likely see on the afternoon of the first day of the race. The most important thing that Jonathan wanted for me to see was Ottine Dam, a required portage point. A few years ago the San Marcos Police Chief died there while practicing for the safari. As Jonathan and I approached Ottine Dam, we met some men who were in the process of replacing a sign warning canoeists of danger. We spent a few minutes talking with them and made it a point to thank them for replacing the previous sign that was washed away by flood waters. And, we were able to get familiar with the portage route around the dam, a distance of about one-hundred yards.

As Jonathan and I paddled safely away from Ottine Dam, I could not help but think about the value of warning signs. All warning signs have at least one thing in common: they were put in place by others who came before us, recognized a particular danger, and took intentional steps to warn those who would come after them. Those who ignore these signs do so at their own peril. Earlier today, Jonathan and I paddled past the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers toward Gonzales Dam, another place where several folks have died. The approach to this dam is also marked with a warning sign. It was important to Jonathan that I see this portage point in the daytime because we will actually arrive at this location at night on the first day of the race. He took the time to talk me through exactly where and how we will portage. We have to get this one right on race day, in the dark.

I certainly have lots to think about as the date of the water safari draws near. Our next scheduled training run is set for the first week in May when Jonathan will take me to the lower parts of the Guadalupe River that are closer to the finish line. I am looking forward to learning about the obstacles and portages along this section of the river. As I get ready for bed I am going to be sure to give thanks for the men we met yesterday who replaced the warning sign at Ottine Dam. And, while I am at it, I am also going to give thanks for the guys that put up the warning sign at Gonzales Dam. Guys like this do a great service for people they will never meet.

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