t all started, they say, with a bet. Fifty years later, making it all the way down the San Marcos River using only muscle power is still a roll of the dice.
That's exactly what the Texas Water Safari is all about, though bragging rights for finishing what is billed as the World's Toughest Boat Race. Winners in each category receive a trophy, but each finisher gets a coveted patch.
More than 130 entries are scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. Saturday in Spring Lake for the 260-mile marathon to a flag pole at Seadrift on San Antonio Bay. En route they will tackle both swift and slow water, logjams and masses of floating fire ants, water moccasins, gnats and biting flies and the occasional nest of wasps or yellowjackets. That's in addition to the occasional alligator as they near the coast, and the possibility of a shark once they hit salt water.
They will not leave their boats except to portage dams or other obstacles, and must have everything they need for the voyage on board except for water and ice and those precious commodities can only be dispensed by designated Team Captains at pre-determined points along the river's course.
Each team or solo entrant must also carry a GPS tracking device. Teams are also allowed a cell phone but it must be in a sealed bag and kept for emergencies once it is used, the team becomes ineligible.
Those who have met the challenge say that in addition to the physical exhaustion there's mental strain. One portion of the lower Guadalupe River (which the San Marcos flows into near Gonzales) is known among Safari veterans as "Hallucination Alley," where dozens of racers have reported seeing what couldn't possibly be there.
Entrants have 100 hours until 1 p.m. on Wednesday to finish the race, but stragglers will miss out on the presentation of awards, scheduled for noon that day.
New this year are a pre-race banquet at Aquarena Center after teams check in on Friday and stricter rules for spectators who want to see the start. Because of ongoing work to restore the property, a shuttle will be run from University Parking Lot across Aquarena Springs Drive from Aquarena Center.
Photographers will be clustered at Rio Vista Falls, where some teams will run through the chute and others will portage either to the left or right. Other good viewing points are at City Park, the CR 266 river crossing and Martindale and Staples dams.
As for this year's lineup, many veteran teams are returning, and it's likely some records will be set. Just last year, 21-year-old Courtney Weber became the youngest female finisher in the USCA C1 class and the year before, Max Feaster, 18, was the youngest male finisher in the same class. The youngest finisher in any category was Jessica Bugge, who with her grandfather John paddled to the finish line in 2003.
The fastest finishers on record the Unlimited team of Bryan Mynar, Fred Mynar, John Dunn, Jerry Cochran, Steve Landick and Soloman Carriere completed the race in 29 hours and 46 minutes in 1997.
For much more on the race, and the people tough enough to tackle it, visit texaswatersafari.org.