Article and Photo by Gretchen M. Sanders
Alligators, heat and rapids can’t scare Lisa Rivera off Texas rivers. The 38-year-old paddler will face all three when she competes in the world’s toughest canoe race this month.
The Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile slog that starts in San Marcos, Texas, and finishes in Seadrift, Texas, on the Gulf Coast, leaves battle scars. Rivera had pink eye and could barely walk after finishing the race in 2014 in a two-person boat. This time, she’s going alone.
Starting June 8, she’ll navigate the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers for three days without a hot meal and little shut-eye. Snakes, mosquitoes, portages, fatigue, darkness—and loneliness—are inevitable. Yet she must reach the San Antonio Bay by her own muscle power, carrying all her equipment in her yellow boat. Only her team captain, Ginsie Stauss, may supply her with food, water and ice at authorized checkpoints.
“I’m petrified and excited,” says Rivera, an executive assistant at Ryan LLC. “It will be the hardest thing physically that I’ve ever done.”
Six months of training have bolstered her nerve.
“I have the knowledge to get down the river,” she says. “Now I must depend on myself.”
Here’s how this canoe captain will beat the white water.
THE A.M.: “I set the alarm for 4:45 a.m. I hit snooze once, stretch, say a few affirmations, check the weather to determine if I’ll paddle that afternoon and head to the gym. I usually eat breakfast, eggs or oatmeal, at the office.”
THE WORKOUT: “I feel more confident paddling long distances when I’m strong. I may encounter 15 portages during the Texas Water Safari, some the width of a street and others as long as a football field. To build stamina, I lift weights and do 90 minutes of cardio three times a week at LA Fitness. I mix running, stairs, the elliptical machine and swimming, plus 20 minutes of abs because I need a strong core and back. Weather permitting, I paddle four times a week, usually two short sessions on Lady Bird Lake and two longer ones on some stretch of the [Texas Water] Safari route.”
THE DIET: “A [Texas Water] Safari diet is like going to a gas station. I eat eggs and bacon, granola bars, beef jerky, Sour Patch Kids, Fritos and brownies. Eating is a plan. If I don’t consume 300 calories an hour, I’ll notice changes in my paddling. My team [captain] will hand me a one-gallon bag of food plus beverages and ice at each checkpoint. I’ll get a turkey sandwich with mayo, avocado and bacon on gluten-free bread, fruit and a Coca-Cola Classic because I need the caffeine. I’ll also receive a bike bottle of Hammer Perpetuem powdered fuel mixed in cold water, which equals one hour of calories, plus two half-gallon jugs of water, one plain and one with electrolytes. Each jug lasts just under three hours, depending on the heat. Hydration is complicated. I don’t drink alcohol for months before the race.”
THE GEAR: “I paddle a yellow Wenonah Voyager, a solo boat that has an ultralight hull made with Kevlar. I bought it brand new in November from TG Canoes & Kayaks in San Marcos for about $3,000. It’s 17.6 feet long and weighs 34 pounds empty. For the race, I’ll carry two single-blade Zaveral Racing Equipment paddles, food, water, first-aid and snakebite kits,a cellphone and a life preserver, which I’ll wear at night and in the San Antonio Bay. I’ll face several portages in the first 16 miles of the race, so I want to keep my boat as light as possible. I’ll wear a Dri-FIT long-sleeve shirt with a running skirt over thin Nike tights,which protect my legs from sunburn and poison ivy. I may change into a tank top if I get hot. Everything is Dri-FIT, even my skirt, tights and underwear. I cut a hole in the tights to make it easier to pee in a cup! I’ll wear this outfit for the entire race, plus fast-drying sneakers, no socks, a hat and Bull Frog Mosquito Coast—sunscreen and insect repellent combined.”
THE MOTIVATION: “The Texas Water Safari changes your life. It makes you better. You will face good times and bad, and you just have to get through them. It’s all on you. No one else can get you through. It’s like life.”
THE MINDSET: “Win, Rocky, win! I watched Rocky with my mom growing up, and I feel she’s with me when I say this to myself.”
THE P.M.: “I pack my lunch and paddling bag for the next day and give thanks for the life I have.”