Don't Stop & Paddle Hard | Pt. II
(This is the second story in a three-part series about the Texas Water Safari. Read part one here.)
Race morning dawns warm and muggy. The situation will not improve.
At 7 o'clock, the starting line at the Meadows Center in San Marcos is already a flurry of activity. White tents sprawl over rows of canoes. The clatter of paddles fills the air. Teammates and bank crews go over plans and through the contents of dry bags again and again. Getting to know you, one racer sings in a cheeky Julie Andrews impression to his teammates, applying anti-chafe balm generously to his chest.
His friends laugh, as do those just passing by — not that there’s much of a difference. Everyone seems to know everyone. As I mill around the grounds in search of the Joneses, I feel like the accidental attendant of a family reunion with a water-shoes-and-fishing-shirts dress code.
By the time Brian spots me and points me toward their canoe, the Joneses already have most everything in place.
Ed — whose family members describe with a grin as "type A" and "the planner" — is shuffling the layout of supplies, shifting items here and there to ensure they're configured as lightly as possible. He is the keeper of the details, organizing his races as much as possible from start to finish.
Brian, on the other hand, is a big-picture guy. This race may have been his idea and the overall strategy his direction, but son is content to defer to father when it comes to the finer components of how it's all carried out. As his sister puts it, "Brian's famous words are, 'We'll figure it out.'" Somehow, he always does.
Brenda triple-checks water jugs, helps out as needed, and doles out an endless supply of hugs and greetings to friends and fellow racers. I don't know it yet, but the bright smile she wears will remain almost the entirety of the race. She possesses a mental fortitude the likes of which are astonishing. At some point in a 260-mile sprint down a river, your body will be depleted. Attitude counts in a big way, and she has it in spades.
I’m introduced to Tonya and Amanda Adcock, her friend and co-team captain. I wave to Jordyn, Tonya’s 11-year-old daughter, who I met during an earlier interview with her grandparents. She has more bank-running experience than most team captains on the race this year, and is clearly unimpressed with all the hullabaloo.
In fact, while the excited energy of our surroundings is palpable, I’m struck by how unaffected all the Joneses seem. Relaxed, even.
The event schedule is old hat to them by this point, of course. Drop off the boat at the Meadows Center for inspection on Friday. Check in, sign waivers, attend a mandatory informational meeting. Head to a local motel and sleep as best you can before an early start on Saturday.
And there is also the fact that the Joneses are more physically ready for the Safari than they have ever been before. Brian has kept them to a rigorous training schedule, bolstered by Tonya's gym sessions.
“I’ve been pushing my parents hard,” Brian told me over the phone just a few days before. He hesitated, then quietly added, “Maybe too hard.”
Watching the Joneses this morning, though, it sure seems as though the strain Brian has put on himself and his parents over the last few months has paid mental dividends. There are nerves, but not the bad kind. The Joneses are ready. You can feel it.
As put-in time approaches, the crew gathers for a group photo, an annual starting-line tradition. The shutter clicks, and they stay huddled together for a few final moments after, waiting for it all to begin.
“What’s the saying?” Tonya says, hands planted on hips, as they stand over the packed canoe together. “Don’t…” she squints, trying to get it right, “don’t…"
“Paddle stop and don’t hard?” Ed offers, grinning.
The group falls out laughing, Tonya included. She shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and levels the Safari-old advice — the only piece there is to give at this point, really — at her parents and brother.
"Don’t stop and paddle hard."
Starting spots are determined a month earlier in The Texas River Marathon. A 35-mile sprint of a prelim, the race plays to the Jones family’s strengths: speed, and with no need to sustain it. They placed seventh in the Marathon and secured a Safari starting spot on row two.
Besides that, 134 boats are starting this year’s Texas Water Safari, and the starting line is the one time they will all be in one place, jumbling about for space. Given their position and the chaos that is the banks, the Joneses prefer to spend as much time as possible waiting patiently in place. At exactly 8:30 — the earliest allowed put-in time — they lift the canoe and begin their march to the river's crowded edge.
The banks here end in a short but steep drop-off to the water. Getting the canoes into the river and racers into them is a clunky feat that lands more than a few in the drink, including Brian. He cracks a smile and hoists himself back onto the bank, holding the boat steady as first Brenda, then Ed, climb in before following suit.
For a few moments, the group simply settles in; making small adjustments and, it seems, shifting their focus. A few minutes, and the nesting is complete. They pick up their paddles.
“Everybody ready?” Brian calls.
Ed and Brenda answer affirmatively.
And suddenly, they raise their doubles, dip the blades beneath the river’s surface, and pull in perfect synchrony. The boat leaps to a brisk clip. The Joneses are soon out of sight.
Ed, Brenda, Brian and most other paddlers will tell you that the race itself is, in some ways, the simplest part of the Safari. It takes all the brain power in the world — the training, the mapping, the organizing — and then, when the gun goes off, none of it. It may be long, and it may be hard, but at any given moment of the race itself, all you have to do is paddle.
The opposite is true for team captains.
From the moment the Safari begins until the canoe hits the finish line buoy, in fact, the TC is responsible for just about everything but paddling. They follow their team from checkpoint to checkpoint, logging the boat in with race officials. They resupply water and food. They evaluate the physical state of their racers and doctor accordingly. They are intel; reporting the distance between boats ahead and behind their own, split times, weather briefings, details on competitors and any info they’ve heard regarding upcoming obstacles. They troubleshoot endlessly. They keep morale high. And they do it all on a tight schedule, with not much more sleep than the paddlers themselves.
For the Joneses, this entire operation revolves around The Binder — and yes, it demands capitalization.
Tonya and her co-TC, Amanda, consult the hefty blue three-ring at every stop. In addition to general guidelines and backup driving directions, it is stuffed with pages of detailed instructions on what each individual team member requires at each specific checkpoint.
Once The Binder has spoken, Tonya and Amanda gather the listed items, all of which are stowed in the bed of Tonya’s lifted and impressively large Chevy Silverado. There are large, rubbermaid containers, one for every racer, and multiple coolers holding a general supply of sodas and sports drinks. Everything is organized and labeled to the highest possible degree, right down to having ice and liquid ratios printed in permanent marker on the sides of shaker bottles.
They check and double check the goods, then toss it all into a collapsible wagon and haul it to the water’s edge. Once the boat arrives, the three paddlers toss their empties and unnecessaries to the bank while Tonya and Amanda resupply them. As fast as possible, they are off again. Sometimes the canoe never stops at all.
The crew gathers up what was discarded, takes everything back to the truck and heads to the nearest gas station to rinse off the rivery supplies (and, usually, their rivery selves). Then it’s off to the next checkpoint, where they will do it all over again.
"We've never done pit stops this fast before," Ed marvels. "We've helped the crew out in the past, but the way Brian does it, it's full-tilt boogie.
"It feels selfish sometimes when I'm paddling up, just throwing stuff out of the boat while they're grabbing it and carefully putting stuff in. It feels odd. But they're here to serve us, and it really is a neat thing. It's very humbling, when you see your team working so hard. They're muddy, they're tired... it's overwhelming that they do this for you. It's awesome."
Tonya has TC'd for a Jones boat every year since they began racing. From her family’s description of her as a trainer and athlete, I expect her physical strength; but I am immediately struck by her accompanying strength of mind and presence. It’s clear they serve her well in this role.
Tonya is no-nonsense. She is sharp in the best way, unafraid to speak her mind, and resolved to the task at hand in an almost-formidable way. She has the bank running process down to an art and a science. I would hate to race against her.
Amanda is a bubbly personality, the yin to Tonya’s yang. You might not intuitively toss the two together, especially under pressure, but there’s no denying it works. Amanda’s willingness to take direction and work her butt off — while maintaining a sense of humor — made it quickly apparent why, despite being a rookie, she was asked to be a part of the top-fifteen Safari attempt.
They’re a fun pair to be following downriver, and it’s not long before the chase begins. As Ed, Brenda and Brian take their place at the starting line, Tonya and Amanda head just under a mile down the road to Rio Vista Dam.
I take one last look at the hustle and bustle of the starting line, then turn to do the same.
Rio Vista Dam is three quarters of a mile from the starting line, just close enough that you can’t watch your boat both start and navigate the dam — there isn’t time enough between the two.
This forces a choice, and while it seems counterintuitive to me to miss the official start of the Safari, I’m urged by all involved to opt for Rio Vista instead. I drive a few streets down, squeeze my car into a row of others, and traipse across a city park to a bridge overlooking the river.
Sprawling live oak trees open wide to make way for the blue-green San Marcos, her grassy banks descending to great slabs of limestone that bored kids take turns launching themselves off of into the cool water below. The hum of cicadas underscores the hum of the eager crowd, and I take a moment just to drink it all in. There is nothing like Hill Country summer.
Others join me in lining the bridge, striking up conversation and whiling away the minutes until I feel my phone buzz in my camera bag. It’s a video from a friend who stayed back at the starting line. In it, row after row of colorful canoes bob next to each other, paddles poised and at the ready. The crowd is cheering. My friend lets out a whistle. Suddenly, an airhorn sounds, and the boats explode into action all at once, heaving, helter-skelter, forward and south towards the Gulf Coast. I find myself grinning uncontrollably.
"Here they come," I announce.
Sure enough, just minutes later, the bow of the first canoe suddenly bursts around the bend, and the second isn’t far behind.
Rio Vista Dam appears to stair-step the San Marcos down two small falls — nothing special at a glance, but plenty powerful for a canoe. Most boats portage around the first section and plunge through the second; a process that makes for fantastic viewing.
Soon, boats are pouring into view. Teams scramble to get their canoes around the first portion, and the crowd holds its breath as they navigate the second, letting out a collective whoosh of relief as they burst through the swirling water and make for the bridge.
I almost lose sight of the Joneses in the fray, but find them just as they’re neatly completing their portage. They jump back in their boat and steer it down the rapid; Brian in the driver’s position, guiding with big, gulping strokes, Ed powering in equal strength from the rear, and Brenda matching them paddle for paddle in the middle, maintaining balance and speed. I scramble for my camera, and the canoe disappears under the bridge in a few shutter clicks. By the time I dash to the other side, they’re already past, headed full-throttle for yet another curve. I blink, and they’re gone.
They are in seventh place.
As I wander back to the other side, one of my fellow spectators lets out a low whistle.
“That your boat?” he asks as the stream of canoes continues down the dam. I nod.
“They’re looking good,” he says. “Real good."
“They look like they’re having fun,” another comments.
A former Safari competitor leaning on the bridge further down lets out a snort.
“Fun?” he snickers, pushing himself up to turn and face us. His grin is framed by a truly impressive, snow-white handlebar mustache and matching ankle socks. The gleam in his eyes is knowing.
“The Safari is only fun when you get to the finish line."
And the finish line is 259 miles away.
If your goal is simply to finish the Safari, you have two primary, predictable strategies from which to choose — the old tortoise and the hare. You can paddle in sprints and rest intermittently, or slog, slow but steady, the entire way.
To truly race the Safari, though, requires both speed and endurance. The luxury of choosing between the two is lost to those racers with the goal of a top fifteen finish. Instead, the entire thing becomes a constant balance, one edging out the other in accordance with the location and time.
Brian, who knows better than anyone else in his boat what that balance looks and feels like, has focused the Joneses training fittingly; first setting specific speed goals, then extending the length of time they can comfortably hold it. He's had Ed and Brenda practice breathing and getting their heart rate down to conserve energy.
"It's about being efficient," he explains. "If we're efficient on day one, we'll be fast on day two."
The plan is to start with a two-mile sprint, harnessing their starting line energy into gaining as much distance as possible. The Joneses will then assume a sustainable pace that will allow them to navigate the San Marcos and all of her twisting, aforementioned terrors by sundown. The Guadalupe, for all her critters, is a more forgiving nighttime paddle.
Per that plan, day one goes by in something of an excited blur. The Joneses double-blade with a fury for the first few miles of the race and switch to single blades by mile ten, taking on a more relaxed, deliberate rhythm. According to Ed, they’ll continue to rotate throughout the race. They stop as infrequently as possible.
At mile 17, Staples Dam is the first official checkpoint of the race, and a doozy at that. The river widens suddenly before it, slowing before spilling over and down the barrier in a violent rush.
Tonya and Amanda, wagon loaded down, make their way to the front of the crowd of leisurely onlookers and wait on the bank river right, above the thundering dam. It is Amanda's first hand-off ever, and she's nervous. Moments later, Brian, Ed and Brenda approach.
I catch myself holding my breath, but there’s no need. The entire team is calm and laser-focused. They toss empty water jugs and food bags to the bank as they approach and nimbly exit the canoe as it pulls in. Brenda seizes the paddles and makes for the metal staircase a few yards away. Ed and Brian each grab an end of the boat, swing it up and out of the water, and follow.
As they go, Tonya and Amanda place new, full water jugs in front of every seat. They replenish food bags. They rip a few leftovers out of the nooks and crannies of the canoe. They shout out times and ask questions, checking the state of their paddlers while scanning the canoe to make sure everything is secured in its proper place.
Seconds later, Brian is halfway down the stairs, and the canoe reaches a tipping point — literally. Ed thrusts the back end of the canoe into the air until it’s at a precarious sixty degree angle, gravity threatening the snugly-placed contents at every step. Once at the bottom, Brian begins slowly straightening the vessel out, and soon all are on level ground. They toss the boat back in the water and pile in. Brenda redistributes paddles. They take quick inventory of their supplies, then Brian yells, “Let’s go!” The strokes, in even, energy-conserving strength and speed, begin again.
Tonya and Amanda head to the Safari officials’ tent to check the Joneses in, and I see a bit of relief in both their eyes.
“They did great!” Amanda reports, breathlessly. “But this is the first time I ever handed anything off to them, so I was — I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever put anything in the boat, and so I didn’t put it in the right spot, and so I was like ‘Oh no,’ but—"
“But it was okay,” Tonya affirmed.
“It was okay,” Amanda repeated, nodding, reassuring herself.
Her second and final initiation will be the Luling Highway 90 Bridge — the first in-water handoff the crew will execute. It can be tricky, seeing as how the goal is to slow, but not stop; and Tonya mentions casually as they clean out protein shake bottles at a Stripes down the street that they never got around to actually practicing one. Thus, though the first checkpoint went about as smoothly as possible, Luling holds some of the same beginner’s nerves.
Luckily, this checkpoint isn’t nearly as formidable as the first. The river runs easy through a local park. The banks are wide and gentle, lined with folding chairs clustered under shade. People frequently wade in for a quick, cooling dip; turning the water to a milky brown. A woman with wiry hair, kind eyes, and a brightly patterned prairie skirt wanders around with a cooler on her hip, offering popsicles to the Safari crowd. Apparently it’s an annual tradition of hers. I accept.
The wind kicks up as we wait, bringing threatening clouds with it. As welcome as the change in temperature is, there is a collective murmur of concern from bystanding team captains. The wind is blowing directly upstream. Bad for paddling.
For all the mental and physical training that goes into a race like this, 260 miles of river leaves a lot up to the elements.
"A lot of the race is reading the river," Brian says.
And even those most literate are often surprised by its storylines. This time, though, the weather blows through in minutes. By the time the Joneses round the bend the sun is shining once more, and Amanda and Tonya plunge into the water. The handoff, once again, goes off without a hitch, and it’s the final confidence booster the crew needs.
“They’re looking great,” Tonya says as she loads back up the truck. “Everything’s gone just like it's supposed to so far."
Everything continues to go like it's supposed to, in fact, until Slayden Cemetery Road at mile 68.
I arrive at the viewing point first — an enormous wooden bridge, high above the river and surrounded by trees. A welcome breeze cuts through the evening heat, and the smallest handful of spectators yet are gathered in folding chairs along the bridge’s edge, passing around cold cans of beer and catching up on the day’s events.
The picturesque height immediately becomes an issue, though, when Tonya and Amanda arrive. In the last handoff, Tonya forgot to give Brenda her straw — the long tube that allows her to hydrate hands-free. It’s a tiny detail, but tiny details have potential to impact performance in a big way.
The banks are steep and scrabbly, all loose brush and dirt, but Tonya wriggles past a fence and starts a descent before anyone can properly protest. Jordyn kneels and watches through slats in the bridge, shouting down warnings (“That branch doesn’t look very stable!”) and advice (“Maybe go to the left!”) to her mom.
To the amazement of the folding-chair crowd just a few yards away, Tonya eventually manages to reach the water’s edge. The silty ground is precarious and the water immediately deep; and with hands on hips and feet planted firmly beneath her, she looks for all the world to be in a staredown with her surroundings.
“Watch that snake,” someone calls, gesturing casually to one streaking across the top of the water towards Tonya. Her sudden, startled movement surprises the animal enough to change its course, and she reassumes her original position. Laughter ripples through the air. Tonya herself cracks a grin.
“All this for a straw,” she shouts up, shaking her head. “She better know that I love her."
Brenda was, in fact, amazed at Tonya's efforts — as were Ed and Brian.
"How the heck did you get down here?" Ed queried upon discovering his daughter perched at river's edge.
With night falling fast and 17 miles of the San Marcos left to go, though, every second counts. After quick deliberation, the group decided that despite the impromptu hike, Brenda could do without the straw until Gonzales. They gushed apologetic thanks as they paddled past Tonya, and her proximity gave Brian a chance for valuable conversation — his protein shakes weren’t sitting well with him, and he’d prefer more applesauce at the next stop.
One hour later, we’re standing in the baby food aisle of an HEB in Gonzales, Texas. After scrutinizing the available options, Tonya finds the exact brand and flavor Brian prefers and stocks up. Water, too, is resupplied; along with a few avocados and bananas, in case Brenda needs a change from her fare thus far, too.
We each grab a snack, and although I’m told we’re one stop away from our longest nap opportunity, I snag a bottle of cold brew coffee at the register and knock it back before we’re even out of the parking lot. Insurance.
Meanwhile, the Joneses are still paddling.
It’s well past 10 o’clock by the time we arrive at Gonzales Dam. Tonya turns abruptly off the main highway, and we bump our way down to a makeshift gravel parking lot between large concrete barriers. We ease our vehicles alongside the same, familiar, front-of-the-pack cars. Streetlights cast the scene in yellow, giving everything an otherworldly look.
Tonya and Amanda hop out, exchanging pleasantries with the other team captains who are also meticulously mixing shakes in truck beds, as if this is all a very normal thing to do. A man gives an enormous, one-armed wave; the other occupied holding the leashes of his two pugs, one of which is barking at a passing armadillo. I am suddenly, intensely delighted with just how weird the Safari is.
Gonzales Dam requires a portage, and Tonya and Amanda decide to split up on either side of it. Amanda will wait at the take-out point and retrieve the team’s cast-off supplies. Tonya will wait at put-in with new ones.
I am instructed to go with Amanda, and we walk downhill to the tiny dock where the Joneses are expected within the hour. After weighing comfort against critter potential, the former wins out, and we take a seat along the edge, feet dangling above the water. It’s pitch black. I voice concern about Ed.
Nights are tough on everyone in the Safari, if only psychologically. For Ed, though, they’re a physical struggle. With no horizon lines or landscape to anchor him, the motion of the boat takes a serious toll.
Amanda assures me that he’s doing well so far. Tonya included nausea medicine in his supplies at the last checkpoint, and recent change-ups to some of his usual prescriptions seemed to have helped, as well.
Still, everyone — including Ed — knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s struggling to keep down nutrition. The Joneses just want to be as far down the river as possible beforehand, and I’m relieved when I see their boat light glowing in the distance.
The water before the dam goes still, lake-style, and it seems like ages before the canoe finally reaches the dock. First Brenda, then Brian and Ed pile out of the canoe, thanking Amanda as they toss their empty water jugs and food bags to the ground. She tells them Tonya is waiting on the other side, and all three disappear up the hill and around the barrier with canoe in tow.
The next time I see them, they are flying past the gravel bar at Highway 183, a streak of neat, silent paddle strokes illuminated by headlamps on the bank.
“Go Joneses!” a smattering of people yell into the night.
“Thank you!” Ed calls.
“Thank you so much,” Brenda echoes.
A few paddles more, and the river goes dark. It is midnight by now, and the team is officially navigating the Guadalupe River. They are holding seventh place.
From the gravel bar, we drive nearly forty miles to Hochheim Bridge, the longest stretch between checkpoints in the race. By the time we arrive, it's after one in the morning, and we join the same handful of cars from Gonzales Dam for an unofficial group car-camping session. My coffee has long since worn off, and I curl up in my front seat and fall asleep in seconds.
I wake up at 3:39 a.m. to the glow of headlamps outside my car window. The TC's in the truck next to me are preparing their team's food, and soon, Tonya and Amanda are up and doing the same.
The earliest of morning light glows grey-blue and the bridge looms black against the sky. Under its belly, it's still dark as night. The obligatory white officials’ tent is lit by a few flashlights and the tiniest of campfires, and a few hundred yards from it, the rocky dirt suddenly and dramatically drops.
Bobbing headlamps tell me that, somehow, crews are coming and going from their boats below. I walk to the edge, and between my adjusting eyes and snatches of lamplight, I watch as TCs pile supplies on their backs or in the crooks of their arms, grab ropes tied to deep-set stakes at the top of the slope and inch their way down, mountaineering-style. Tonya and Amanda follow suit.
The boat before them rolls in, a married couple of which the wife is startlingly chipper given the circumstances. She makes bright conversation as they fumble in the dark, rearranging supplies briefly before taking right back off again, carving their paddles into the black river.
The Joneses ease into the checkpoint not long after, and I hear a pitiful-sounding Ed inform Tonya — via code word, so as not to alert other team captains and inspire extra competitive effort — that his nausea medication met its defeat at some point during the stretch.
They make some adjustments, and Tonya reminds her dad that the sun will be up soon. He and Brian take a few seconds to soak in the water; but the longer the race goes on, the more Brian must take charge of keeping them on pace. He orders himself and his dad back into the boat and the paddling commences once more. Both TC’s reemerge, panting.
We regroup at a gas station in Cuero, clean up, and head to a nearby Whataburger. I swirl creamer packets into burnt coffee. No one says much. Tonya seems tense.
“I always stay in the car until after this morning is over, because my grandpa,” Jordyn tells me when it's just us at the table. “I don’t like seeing him that way."
The comment makes me grateful for the first rays of sun as we leave, and I send up a prayer for daylight to work its magic on Ed’s well being.
For the rest of day two, I settle into the rhythm of hurry up and wait. I chase the dust of Tonya’s truck checkpoint to checkpoint, watching as supplies are gathered in a frenzy, clambering down to handoff points, and standing by for the canoe’s arrival. After the exchange itself, it’s straight to the nearest gas station, where we locate the water spigot. Then it’s just rinse — the supplies, ourselves — and repeat.
Hurry. Wait. Hurry. Wait. Drive, drive, drive.
The landscape transitions, the hills gently evening out until the road stretches for miles before us under light, white-hot blue sky. I munch on beef jerky and hum along to Dwight Yoakam, feeling as thousand miles from nowhere as I ever have.
For the lull of the highway, though, each mile feels like a race against impending doom. The teams in this lower-top-fifteen bunch are paddling strong but looking more haggard at every stop.
The Joneses slipped two spots back in the night, and ninth, for some reason, feels much shakier than seventh. They’re still on track, and their spirits are high, but it seems time can’t move fast enough.
At this stage of the game, where bodies start to deteriorate, two factors become increasingly valuable.
The first is veteran savvy. Little tweaks and tricks here and there that the experienced know can make a world of difference — alternative handoff spots, for example.
“There’s a few little sweet spots on the river that all the veterans know for easy handoffs,” Ed explained before the race. “Checkpoints can get real congested, so if you can find a quiet spot where you can do a quick transfer and keep going, it’s a little easier. Plus, the other teams don’t have a chance to gauge your abilities, your capacity, your fatigue, things like that."
Cheapside — the first checkpoint after Hochheim — is historically problematic for the Joneses. They opt to paddle through the bad mojo as quickly as possible and meet instead at one of those points on their own.
The second factor is pure mental fortitude. All around, the top boats rely on steady positivity and a sense of humor to keep up the pace throughout the day.
"I don't feel as good as I look," Ed announces as the team paddles into the penultimate checkpoint of the day, garnering the biggest laugh yet. His grin turns to a grimace though, and he admits, "This is hellish. Hellish. This is the hardest thing I've ever done."
There's just no way around it: The miles take their toll.
By the time teams arrive at Victoria City Park, they have paddled 200 miles, and every resource — physical, mental, and emotional alike — is nearing depletion.
The Joneses arrive at the checkpoint as the final moments of dusk are slipping away. The cicadas are nearly screaming, and tempers on every team seem to be flaring accordingly, the Joneses included.
As Brian struggles to attach the canoe's light to its bow, Ed stumbles behind him and tumbles into the river, grabbing the canoe on his way down in an attempt to steady himself. The sudden weight rocks the boat away from Brian.
"Dad, what are you doing?" he yelps, whirling around to investigate. He stops short as he realizes what's happened, but not before garnering Ed's annoyance.
"Hey," Ed snaps. "Relax."
He gathers himself, stands, and makes his way to the front of the boat. The tense moment is immediately diffused as Brian offers him a sheepish smile and hands off the light, which Ed accepts and assembles with expert skill. It's a silent apology and demonstration of respect; an acknowledgement that the same fatigue that wears patience thin necessitates unmatched teamwork to finish this race.
Equipped with light and fresh supplies, the Joneses pile back into their canoe for the final sixty miles of the Safari.
Brian yells the signal, and they begin paddling again.
They are in eleventh place; neck and neck with the boats before and behind them, and have a formidable stretch of night before them.
They are achingly close to the Gulf Coast, though — less than twelve hours, if all goes according to plan. And everything has gone according to plan, so far. It would seem almost unfair if it didn't.
But all is fair in love and war, and the Texas Water Safari is both.