I’m sitting in the stern of a homemade 16′ divorce boat with my girlfriend Tracy at the bow just drifting to & fro. We’re in a small channel on the east side of the Mighty Mississippi surrounded by more then 100 kayaks and canoes. There are fast sleek surfskis with fast sleek athletes lined up at the front like thoroughbreeds at the derby, and river rats in canoes bobbing in the back. There is even a lab-mix in boat that I’m sure is just here for the fishing. I spot my friend Haimes & his buddy John on the far side of the channel. They are in another homemade “sleeker” 24′ kayak, and I wonder if knows that he is partly to blame for the predicament I find myself in. Years ago he was part of team of friends with me Tracy Jason and Dwight who figured triathlons and sprint adventure races weren’t enough. Next thing you know Dwights’ building boats in his shop and we’re headed to Florida to compete in multi-day adventure races. Now years later I’m preparing to hit the River in my first kayak race and wondering how long until I can stand up again.
Brian and Tracy crossing finish line
The horn blast and off we go, a scene of flashing paddles & chopped filled wake. Just a week ago Tracy and I starting kayaking again at the Coosa River Adventure Race were we managed to finish first in our class despite flipping a sit on top in some class 3 rapids. Now we are headed into the largest river in the U.S. for 42.5 miles and trying to figure out where we fit in all the fun & excitement. 3 hours later the fun is much less exciting and my backside knows I haven’t been in a boat for this long in years. I’m amazed by Tracy’s strength with the paddle and her positive attitude that keeps us going strong. She is much more upbeat then I am and her stroke is smooth & steady. My head is bent down and I paddle hard & angry just to get to the mirage that is the power line. We pass the power line and I think 1 more hour while hearing my Dad sing “Old Man River” in his fake baritone to wake me my brother and sister for church on Sundays. We round a bend and can see a hill in the distant, but don’t know how far away it may be. Tracy can now make out the image of the grand old paddle boat at the finish line and the Natchez bridge is coming in sight. We go hard to the finish, racing ourselves, and are happy to finish and stand on dry land again. Volunteers are waiting to help get the boat ashore and up the hill as we stumble across the road for a fresh meal and a chance to dry out a little. Tracy and I feel great, both proud & happy to have completed the adventure. We stop by to check on our finish time and are amazed to learn that our 5:28:05 puts us in 1st place in the 12-17′ co-ed division. What a day 5 and 1/2 hours in a boat, a sore butt, more admiration for my girlfriend and an award to go home with. Thanks to all the many volunteers who make this day happen.
~ Brian Arnett, Starkville, Mississippi