Dragon Healers

9-20-08 RACE DAY # 2

Kathy - This is supposed to be the longest and toughest day of the race. The course today is not a straight shot, but has a side channel which we must find and follow.
What seemed like an ordinary day at the races. is there such a thing in the Amazon? We will find out. It turned out to be the most memorable for the Healers Blue crew. As we were pushing off to the start line, Brian was almost decapitated by a press boat, and Ross was almost thrown off behind Brian. We should have just gone back to bed (hammock) at this time. But Ohhhh Noooo! We are Healers, and “no big deal.” Little did we know what we would encounter that day. Same strategy as before, but we would switch sides and positions every 20 minutes. While two people was switching, the other two would continue paddling. Ross thought we lost too much time by letting the raft come to a complete stop. Remember Ross’s goal was to be the first foreign crew to win. We came very close. Third place out of 31 foreign teams is not shabby. Brian suggested we give a good power 10 stroke before switching or taking a food break.
When we got on the raft today, the back end was under 4 inches of water, not much floating happening. At the start of this trip none of us knew how to read currents, we learned quickly because it was necessary. We thought we were learning the river and what to expect. But we were humbled by the mighty Amazon! We were at the mouth of the channel, when the Coast Guard warned us that there were swift currents ahead, and to look for the tree with the red flag. In hind sight it seemed like a blink of the eye and we were at the tree! At this point of the river the currents were very fast. Several things happened, but as I tried to write this entry, I realized that I blocked it out because I could not remember much of it. Ross called a command for the steer to go left. The luxury boat ‘Dawn On The Amazon’ passed by creating a wake and pushed us close to the tree. We all dug in hard paddling in the hopes of avoiding the area, we almost made it! We broke the first branch with the impact of our raft hitting the tree. The back third of the raft became lodged under the tree, and we all fell off the raft. Some of you know this was my greatest fear. Ross yelled,”Stay with the raft.” We all hung on and tried to bring the raft off the tree. The coast guard came by and helped us dislodge the raft and get back on. One of our seats was off its platform but no damage to the raft. It’s the zip ties! Oh how we love our orange submarine. We repaired the seat and like true Healers got back on and continued the race. For a long time there was silence on the raft, each of us with our private thoughts about our experience. I could not speak, because I was shocked that my greatest fear happened and I was still alive. No more fears! Most of us in life never get to experience our greatest fear, so it continues to be a fear. We are unable to move through it. I consider myself tougher that I thought.
When I think about the experience I am most impressed with the response of my raft mates…total control. We were focused and not all yelling commands. We listened to our captain, obeyed orders and I believe our response under danger saved our lives that day. I cannot think of more courageous group of people, Ross, Cecilia, and Brian - thanks! When we could finally speak, we praised each other and went on the finish line. We did not know how close we came to losing our lives until the last day of the race when we met with the captain of the Canada 1 Team whose raft was destroyed and one paddler almost drowned by the same swift currents a few hours ahead of us. We paddled hard for the next few hours and made it to the finish line totally exhausted, physically and mentally. We made it to the finish line before our other Healers crew and the British crew we were playing with all day. We had a group hug and talked about our accomplishment that day. We had so much to be proud of, our physical and mental performance. We lost our flags that day. Tonight we get to eat a BBQ dinner in the village. Brian ate 6 meals that night. Well, tomorrow is the last day and it could not be as scary as today!

Ross -  Good Morning!  We awoke a little earlier today.  Breakfast is being served an hour sooner, so that today's start can go an hour earlier.  I guess they do this because we have farther to go, about 2 1/2 - 3 hours of more paddling.  Oh well, I just hope we'll be able to make up the lost sleep on the next night.  We recalculate how much water we'll need for the day.  Yesterday's volume was about right.  So, today we'll need a little more since it's a longer paddle and it is starting to feel a little warmer.  We were told that the women were to start the race first, then the others.  So, we make our way down to our raft and tie down our bag.  Our raft sat in the river all night long soaking up water.  Even though we had a great showing yesterday, the bank was kind of steep and there wasn't any room to pull our raft out and let it dry on the banks.  Everyone before us got their raft out of the water and on the bank drying out.  Anyway, the river's edge where we all launched was very crowded.  When the horn blew signaling the start, everyone took off.  We were one of the last 3 rafts to get under way.  With everyone on board, we were riding 3" more under water.  The back end was 3-4" below the surface.  Guess we'll just have to paddle a little harder to compensate.  Just as we were heading out, we were "sliding" under the protruding nose of the bow of another boat parked near the start line.  Brian was about to hit his head and instantaneously performed the "limbo" all the way lying down backwards.  Well, he knocked me cleanly off the raft and I was in the river up to my neck.  It all unfolded like a cartoon of dominos.  Just as fast as I entered the river I just pushed myself back up and onto the raft.  The "in" and "out" was all one quick and smooth motion.  Just as I got back "on", we all started paddling and looked down stream.  Nothing much was said about it.  We are "rolling with the punches" pretty good and are learning to keep looking down stream.  We all immediately get in focus and pass the other rafts one by one.  We stick with our 20 minute switch, two people at a time.  At Brian's suggestion, we make it a point to Power 10 before someone drops off to take a break.  The day is long and it is getting hotter.  We take a lot of breaks.  We incorporated several stretching breaks, one person at a time.  We enter a large "Bay" with a long sand bar on one side and a slight cliff on the other side.  The sand bar looks like a straighter shot, but we know that the water generally moves better away from the sand bar.  So, we take the longer, but what we believe (or hope) is the faster water route.  We don't see many other rafts.  A few, but they are a long ways off.  At the other end of the "Bay" is a channel where the Support Boat is parked.  We are supposed to turn up the channel.  This must be the channel that Mike C. described as lush with overhanging tree branch canopy.  Just as we come up on the mouth of the channel the Healers Green crew was right there.  They were only one or two strokes behind us.  I don't know if we caught them or if they caught us.  The Healers Green crew took the more direct sand bar route.  Based on our start, I think that we must have caught them.  We exchange greetings.  Everyone on both rafts stay focused.  Then, all of a sudden, we hear a noisy raft just a few more strokes behind us.  Wow! It’s the Healers Red crew.  What a proud moment, all three Healer Crews entering the channel together.  We must be at least 4 to 4 1/2 hours into the day.  So, we power on and enter first.  We notice fast water on the cliff side far right.  We follow it and stay in the lead.  After about a half hour to an hour, we notice that we had run out of fast moving water and the British and the Healers Green team pass us.  So, we get off the right side and find the middle.  Now, we are several minutes behind Healers Green just out of shouting distance.  There seems to be a turn up ahead and the Coast guard boat is parked.  We take water and I grab a protein bar.  Just as I take in half the bar (in one bite) a row boat comes motoring up.  He says "watch out for the red flag farther up ahead and it’s safer to stay to the left".  We say OK and I nod my head (since my mouth was full).  We take 2 or 3 strokes and I notice a small ribbon right in front of us.  We really didn't expect to see the warning so quickly.  We all had the impression it was a little more down stream.  Also, we didn't quickly recognize the narrow ribbon as the warning flag.  Anyway, we did manage to react quickly, but not quickly enough.  I called for Cecilia to back paddle and everyone else to dig it in hard.  We were getting to the left edge of the current.  But it was grabbing a hold of us and we were picking up speed.  Again, I tried to say Power Now and have Cecilia turn more left.  The Power Now came out, but the protein bar stuck in my throat and couldn't speak the "Left".  So, all I could do is point.  I was pointing at Cecilia paddle.  Just as she was deciphering my hand signals, the Dawn on The Amazon III came roaring by and we felt its wake.  It is unknown if their wake kept us from breaking free of the current.  They were close and we were "pinched" against the rapids.  There really wasn't enough room to make the left turn.  Anyway, the current caught the back end of the raft and we were turned sideways.  There was a huge fallen tree submerged in the river with several branches poised in defense.  We crashed into the first branch, which broke.  We continue down stream sideways, and with a mouth full of protein bar I called for everyone to Power Now.  We all dug in hard and started to break free of the current.  A split second later we crashed into the second branch and started to slide off it.  However, the far back right 1/3rd of the raft got hung up.  The raft and all of us were lifted out of the water.  Everyone was holding on, but falling into the river.  Brian says to "stay with the raft" and I echo Brian saying to "hold on to the raft" as we all are sliding off.  I'm holding onto my seat and Kathy is falling into me and part of her ends up in the river and part of me ends up in the river.  Cecilia falls all the way in, but hangs on.  And, Brian falls back onto the raft doing the splits with one leg in the river.  Fortunately we all were falling toward the calmer side of the "rapids".  I'm trying to spit that damn protein bar out and it is stuck.  The guy in the row boat comes motoring up, asks if we are OK, notices me choking and sympathetically tells me to take my time.  I look up at him and notice a TV camera filming us getting back on the raft.  The protein bar is finally spit out and we are all back on the raft.  We are still holding on, but are still hung up on that second tree branch.  Brian jumps on the tree branch and frees us.  We take 3 or 4 strokes, end up safely in the middle of the calmer left side of the river.  We take inventory.  Everyone is OK, we have all our gear and the raft looks fine.  We look up and the Healers Green crew is out of sight still moving ahead never looking back and having no idea what just happened.  The Healers Red crew should have caught up to us by now, but we don't see them.  I wonder if they saw any of it.  Well, after our 3 or 4 strokes and inventory, we decide to fix our seats.  Using them to hold onto as we were falling in the river, they came off their pedestals.  We cut the zip-ties, dug out new ones, and zipped them back down.  The repairs went very efficiently and took approximately 2 1/2 minutes.  Those zip ties were the best idea ever.  I believe they were the main reason our raft held together.  We jump back into position and start paddling.  We are all intently focused on getting down stream and what is ahead.  What happened just a few moments ago is history and we need to be ready for what's ahead.  Funny, we never really talked about the episode until much later.  I don't think we appreciated how dangerous our situation was at the time.  So, we just kept paddling and maybe a little harder to make up for the lost time.  Everyone's quick and calm action on the raft at a time that was life threatening, is a testament to our Dragon Boat training.  A two word command coming from one person and everyone knew exactly what to do.  Plus we are all good paddlers and we almost made it out of there.  Three things came together at exactly the same moment: 1.) Not understanding how fast the danger was coming up on us; 2.) Choking on half a protein bar; and, 3.) Having the Dawn on The Amazon III pinch us against the rapids.  We came out of the channel and passed Healers Green, the British and couple more rafts.  We were surprised (we thought they would be further ahead) and glad to see them.  As we passed Healers Green and the British our spirits were very high.  As a side note, Mike C.'s description on the channel was off, no canopy of trees.  Despite Mike's description of the channel, we decided to take Mike C.'s advice coming out of the channel.  He told us to head straight across the Bay at 12:00 o'clock coming out of the channel.  We tried to follow his advice.  It seemed like we paddled hard in the middle of lots of dead water for a very long time.  We felt like we were lost in a desert with no end in sight.  Like a scene in one of those old Sahara movies, it was getting hotter and I was having trouble cooling off.  Anyway, Mike C.'s advice should have been tempered with a shot of skepticism.  After what seemed like an hour and a half, the Coast Guard whistled, shouted and generally made lots of noise to get our attention.  We were paddling hard and were far ahead of the several rafts we passed coming out of the channel.  So, we decided to spend a few minutes and head over to see what the Coast Guards wanted.  Well it seems that we needed to make another turn and we were about to head in the wrong direction.  We caught it just right and made the turn without wasting any more time.  I don't know if the water would have been any faster closer to the shore, as we were in the middle of this Bay, but it seemed at the time that we may have incurred an extra 30 to 45 minutes of extra paddling.  We joked that we ought to get extra credit or a prize or something for paddling farther than everyone else.  We went up the channel and after another 45 minutes or an hour we approached the finish line.  Cecilia spotted it first.  Within the last 1,000 meters or less, I decided to take a "pee".  Brian tried to talk me out of it.  But I knew that it wouldn't take very long.  So, I went off the back end.  It was a bit of a false alarm.  Based on the volume, I could have held it.  Anyway, it was satisfying - just like doing it in the woods back home.  Brian calls a Power Finish and we come roaring in and park.  The town kids help us get the raft out of the water and on the bank to dry off.  I hear a load straining groan.  I ask Cecilia to ask him if this was the heaviest raft he has picked up today.  He smiled and said there are other heavy ones.  I think he was being kind.  Kathy and Cecilia head back to the support boat and Brian and I stretch and hang out watching the others come in.  Right behind us is Healers Green and then Healers Red.  Healers Red placed 2nd in the Ladies Division for today.  Wow!  What an accomplishment.  We are all very proud of them and they are "jazzed".  Now, we have something to brag about.  We all talked about making sure we ate all the meals we could.  Our race entry fee included a BBQ in town, and our support boat charges also included lunch and dinner.  I ate 3 times and most people ate at least twice.  Brian ate everything that all the others couldn't finish.  Just so you know (without much exaggeration) was equivalent to about 6 meals.  We get water for tomorrow and buy some extra.  It starts to rain as the last rafts are still coming in.  The rain cooled things down very little.  I spend a long time in the shower trying to cool down.  I'm still overheated.  The town is small and has a few modern conveniences.  We heard a rumor that a Canadian team hit the rapids, too.  While we were walking through town, we crossed paths with one of the Canadian members.  We asked him about it and were told that their raft broke in half, they lost all their gear, and had to be rescued.  We were told that Dave P., the oldest participant, was swept under the surface with the current, his PFD got hooked on the tree branch under the water and had trouble getting to the surface, he pulled himself up with all his might to get his face up at surface level to breathe.  We were told that he was in that strenuously precarious position for about 12 minutes, that he was exhausted and considered letting go.  Whew!  Everyone made it and no one was seriously hurt (physically).  I think at that moment we realized how life threatening our encounter could have been.  It continued to rain for half the night.  It was humid and I still could cool off.  As a result I had trouble sleeping.  Since this is our last night I was a little disappointed.  I was so looking forward to getting caught up on all that sleep I missed out on earlier.  Oh well, got to "roll with the punches" and keep looking down stream.