Dragon Healers

9-21-08 RACE DAY #3

Kathy This is supposed to be the shortest day of the race to the finish line in Iquitos. When we got to our raft we discovered our flags were there. Someone found our flags after the crash and put them back on the orange submarine!  I love humans more than dogs sometimes! We had a great start with lots of currents down river. We also encountered “dead water” several times. Dead water is like Lake Merced where there are no currents and you have to power through, Usually one of us would call a power 10, 20, whatever it would take to get us out of it.

  I I sang every boat song I could think of. None of my team mates joined me, probably it disturbed their cadence?  About 4 hours into our paddling we hit a sand bar. Ross yelled, “Get off and push to deeper water.” At this point the water level was  at Cecilia’s waist. Yes, I know I am taller than Cecilia, but after yesterday up to my ankles was as deep as I wanted to go! We turned the raft around and started walking it, more like running with Brian and Ross leading. I thought I was going to be left behind, and I had a small moment of panic. When the command to “get on the raft” came I was relieved, the water was not at my waist yet. The adrenalin was pumping and I felt this was the only time the four of us ever got testy with each other.  We were people looking for land, every thing looked like the finish. At one point Ross told me to switch, I said I was ok because the finish line as a short time away, yeah like a couple of hours. 

    Iquitos is a busy port town so there is a lot of river traffic. We were warned about this and I remember thinking, “I hope I am not steering to the finish line.”  Well, I was!  Boats went by, with people waving telling us the finish line was ahead. I am thinking “Get out of my way. You are creating waves and making  my job harder!“ Instead, I smiled my best Martha Stewart “It’s a good thing” smile.  

   The finish line is the final challenge because the channel is busy. We were going against the current. It is the final test to see if you are worthy of being one of the few people in the world to finish this race. Well! Madam Ester kicked into Healer mode and called several power 10’s as we saw the British team ahead of us. This was the longest finish because the current was pushing us back away from the finish. We did not beat the British but we looked strong crossing the finish line !  

   The finish line area was beautiful befitting this tough race. There was a pavilion with hundreds of people cheering us on. The finish line was just the shore of the villages. This was a grand finish line, and a great way to welcome the paddlers after the hardest three days of their lives. The local children came into the water to help us get off the raft and promptly take what ever was left of value on the raft. With sadness I realized that our flags did not make it!! Later that day, I saw a young boy proudly taking home our race number, #4 Healers Blue.  We waited on shore to greet our other Healers crew, Green and Red. At the reception we talked about the last three days and this great thing we accomplished. Of course we took “after photos” For most of us it will take some time before we can really process what happened to on this life affirming adventure. Look for my Personal Reflections in my Captain’s Log –

Ross, Kathy and the rest of the gang - We have lots to update. We all completed Goals #1 (getting to the start line) & #2 (finishing). Both were very, very tough. We've been without internet access for several days, so we will send day by day highlights a little later. There are many stories to tell, from the disgusting to the life threatening. We just wanted to send a quick note to let you and the Healers know that we made it and are all in great spirits. We received our certificates and are all now life time members of the Amazon Rafting Club. See you Saturday

Ross - Well, there are a few things I forgot to mention.  On the boat ride up river on the 17th we saw many Pink Dolphins jumping in the river.  Really neat and no, it wasn't the beer.  After fixing the raft in the evening on first day of the race, the 19th, my Keens were a little wet and muddy.  And, while looking for one of our contacts on the support boat, I came down the ship's ladder, which was also a little wet and muddy.  Well, I fell - hard.  I developed some of the largest and darkest bruises I've ever seen.  If there was a contest, I would have won a prize.  On the second day of the race, the 20th, right after our crash and we fixed our seats, a large fish or snake came swimming up stream.  It looked kind of white and pink or coral colored, similar to a shrimp, but kind of spotty.  I don't think it was a pink dolphin because it seemed to have scales.  I could see its width about 6 to 7 inches and its length about 6 to 7 feet.  There was more under the water.  It swam right next to us.  We could have easily poked it with our paddle, but we didn't.  It ignored us and swam right on by.  Later in the day, the many who did not have faith in the support boat's plumbing system and could not tolerate the shower, took advantage of the rain.  They lathered up and rinsed off.  The rain provided just the right amount of volume and force to clean those folks up.  Well, except maybe a little shampoo was left in the hair.  They seemed to enjoy nature’s shower and you could see by the smiles on their faces that they felt better.  All else in our reports stays the same.  Which brings us to the morning of our last day of racing.  Even though our raft was out of the water, the rain last night clearly contributed to its weight.  I never really cooled off last night and was still feeling hot this next morning.  I was also a slightly nauseous and overall just feeling "goofy".  Breakfast didn't settle well.  Nothing that a little paddling can't cure.  There was nothing to do, but put the raft in the water and get going.  Our raft rode another 3" deeper in the water and seemed completely submerged.  Brian and I were in the back.  I knew immediately that this wasn't going to work.  The other rafts were getting in the water and lining up.  It seemed that if we hurried, we would have a minute or two to adjust things before the start horn goes off.  So, I called a switch.  Brian and I went to the front while Kathy and Cecilia moved to the back.  Just as we were about half way through the switch with Brian and I climbing over the top of the ladies, the horn goes off.  All the other rafts take off as we complete our switch.  We must have looked pretty funny, dead in the water climbing over each other while everyone else is racing to get to the current first.  Well, we completed our switch and got underway picking off the other rafts one by one.  We make it a point to follow "The Ladies".  After about a dozen strokes or so, I started feeling great.  Paddling is certainly a cure all.  After about 10 minutes from the start, we all saw Pink Dolphins jumping out of the water.  There also were darker ones.  Possibly Gray Dolphins.  Anyway, it was a great sight and a nice "send-off".  We continue to paddle staying in the flotsam.  As the other days, there were a couple of currents full of flotsam.  We kept to the right trying to make the same choice as "The Ladies".  After a few hours, "The Ladies" were so far ahead that it was very difficult to tell which current they were in.  It was cooler today, but not by much.  Our nerves were a little frayed and I know that I got a little testy.  I apologize to my raft mates.  Cecilia was overheated and got a nose bleed.  Not a good sign.  We tried our best to cool her off, but not let up on our effort.  She got lots of water and we splashed her with our paddles.  After a short while, her nose stopped bleeding and we kept going.  We stayed near the middle of the river.  The current was stronger there.  Cecilia envisioned the finish line first.  We all wanted to believe it, too.  But, something inside told me that we still had a long way to go.  The British were on our far left and another mixed raft on our far right.  We were passing both, the mixed raft on the far right seemed to have better current and held us off for a long time.  It was suggested on our raft that we try the current on the far right.  I knew we could out paddle just about anyone.  So, if we got in the same current, all things being equal, I knew we could over take them.  So, we started to head over to the far right.  And, just as we got over there, that other mixed raft made a sharp turn and headed all the way across the river toward the British on the far left.  "The Ladies" have long since been out of sight.  But, we could see another Peruvian raft a very long way ahead wearing bright orange vests.  So, we set our sights on them and headed back across the river to the far left to stay ahead of the British.  We should not have headed to the right to get in the same current with the other mixed raft.  Had we known the course or had a better idea where the finish line was, we would have never headed to the current on the right.  That was not a good decision and cost us easily 15-20 minutes.  We would have stayed a while longer in the current in the middle of the river and headed to left sooner, ahead of that other mixed raft.  Now, we were behind.  So, we wanted to take advantage of the stronger current in the middle of the river by making our way across the river slowly.  It seemed like a good idea.  We were trying to get to the left of a fallen tree in the middle of the river.  From where we sat, it looked like we could go to either side of the tree.  We picked the left because it seemed like everyone was taking that route.  We misjudged the speed at which we were heading down stream as we were trying to get across the river to the left side of the fallen tree.  We should have taken a sharper angle and paddled harder to get to the left of the fallen tree and across the river quicker.  Just as we started to pass the fallen tree on the right, I realized that the branch heading toward the finish line was a channel to the left and that there was no way to cross back over.  What we did not realize was that tree marked the entrance of the branch of the river that lead toward Iquitos and the finish line, whereas the other branch (the branch we were in) to the right of the fallen tree kept going and would eventually cross the Brazilian boarder.  So, I called a hard turn left heading straight upstream and called for everyone to dig it in hard.  We paddled hard for a while and it seemed as if we were gaining on the current.  Then, I hit ground.  I called for another hard left turn facing up stream.  We took another 3 or 4 strokes and Brian said he was hitting ground.  I called for everyone to get off the raft and walk it around.  We were in front of the tree which was on a sand bar.  We made very good time walking our raft around and getting to the left side of the sand bar and back into deeper water.  Although very risky, jumping out and walking the raft around was a great idea.  Fortunately, the river bed was sandy and not muddy.  Getting our shoes and legs stuck or getting bitten or stung by some animal that lives in the sandy shallow water would have been a disaster.  Because of the current, I think the speed at which we moved made it all work.  Just so there is no misunderstanding, we were about knee deep.  It is not easy to jump off a raft, run through a strong river current, pushing a submerged log raft.  Especially, when you are already exhausted from paddling for 3 days.  We quickly made it to the far left bank and headed up the channel toward the finish line.  We didn't really loose any time by walking our raft around.  We may have picked up a minute or two.  Although we nearly missed the turn up the channel and ended up in Brazil, we came out of it safe and sound without loosing any more time.  What saved us was a quick realization that as we passed the fallen tree we were about to miss the turn, and a quick decision to jump out and walk the raft.  All of this worked because of our Dragon Boat discipline.  When the order came, everyone on the raft obeyed quickly and appropriately.  If it wasn't for our Dragon Boat training we likely would have ended up in Brazil.  Anyway, I think that we could have avoided this heart pounding episode if we had not headed to the far right earlier to get in the same current as that other mixed raft.  Had we not headed to the right, we would not had to travel all the way back across the river.  And, we would have been able to head left of the fallen tree much easier and much sooner.  As we head up the final branch toward the finish line, there are many boats on the river.  Some of them are big.  I take a quick look over my shoulder and I observe several rafts behind us on the same sand bar walking their rafts around, too.  It seems many rafts rode that middle current too long and almost missed the turn.  I wonder if anyone did miss the turn and ended up going too far down stream.  It would be easy to do.  We hug the left bank as much as we can.  The current is very strange here.  It is as if we are in a back current.  We are making good progress and see a lot of city traffic on the river.  We cross an intersection and wonder if we go straight or turn.  Everyone in front of us is out of sight.  So, we keep going.  The rafts behind us are gaining.  Not knowing where the finish line is affecting our effort a little.  We would get a better glide if we dug in with more confidence knowing with certainty that the finish line is straight ahead.  Then all of a sudden we see 3 or 4 rafts not far ahead of us and a large speed boat waving us around some weeds.  It becomes obvious that the other rafts were gaining because we are paddling directly against the current.  The back current disappeared.  That is why it seemed as if we caught up to the other rafts ahead of us.  It looked like one raft ahead of us got caught in the weeds and for a short time was at a stand still and even went a little backwards.  So, clearly staying out of the weeds is a good idea.  As we come up to the turn by the weeds I call for a very wide turn.  There is the finish line.  I wanted to stay out of the weeds and I thought we could head straight into the finish.  We noticed the other rafts hugging the left side along businesses and restaurants hanging over the water.  I thought we were strong enough to overpower the current.  The current is very strong and rough.  Paddling next to motor boat traffic didn't help.  After about 20 minutes it became obvious that we were heading nowhere.  So, we made a sharp turn toward the left side along the businesses and restaurants to follow the others.  By this time, we were passed by the British and another raft.  We waited too long to made our turn to the left side to follow the others and should not have tried to overpower the current.  That was my mistake and it cost us another 20 minutes.  Just as we were coming up on one of the rafts that passed us, a Sea Plane revved up its engines and took off.  Fighting the wind and spray was easy, but the waves kept us from changing our finishing place.  Regardless, we came roaring in, finished strong and were very pr oud of ourselves.  We let the locals salvage what they wanted from our raft.  I bet those seats were a big hit.  We made our way up the bank and watched Healers Green come in, just a few minutes after us.  They announce us over the load speaker to the crowd.  Healers Red came in next.  We went to the second floor of an open air building, drank a beer and ate lunch.  We took pictures and traded third day stories with our Healer mates.  While trading stories, Tamara had temporarily left part of her lunch intending to return to finish it.  While story telling, we observe one the Sisterhood guys grab part of Tamara's lunch off her plate and eat it.  The British are such barbarians, eating off someone else's plate.  There is plenty of food for everyone.  Anyway, we finish our beer and watch the award ceremonies.  Afterward, we head back to the support boat to get our gear.  We take a motor rickshaw type taxi to our hotel.  We get all our luggage including the piece we put in storage.  We hang all our stuff, clean and dirty all around the room to dry and air out.  It all smells.  We take a shower.  I notice that I'm beginning to hurt all over.  I hadn't noticed that before.  The strangest thing was my finger nails.  They hurt the most.  I guess my hands were a little swollen from gripping that paddle.  We head out to get something to eat.  We see all the other Healers walk on by.  We finish up our meal and go looking for them.  We find them in a restaurant near a plaza that is full of activity.  Very high energy.  Too much for Kathy and me right now, so we stop in to say hi and head back to the hotel.  Kathy crashes and I stay up late repacking everything.  I place a request for a wake up call.  Not very easy when you don't speak the language.