Record turnout paddles for 1st or just for kicks
At the Gasquet Raft Races, there are those who float for first and those who float for fun.
A rafter resembling a Dr. Seuss character was only one of the unusual sights Saturday on the Smith River. Del Norte Triplicate/Adam Spencer
Then there are those who shoot for first, lose competitive spirit and succumb to enjoying the crystal clear waters of the Smith River and the beautiful sights of Gasquet.
My brother and I, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox for race purposes, fell into this last category, but unfortunately didn’t realize it until late in the race, wasting a gorgeous river run on an overzealous attempt at glory.
“It’s fun to float that river, but if you’re trying to win, it’s hard work,” said Doug Marvin, winner of the 36-and-older-kayak group, while he feasted on a much-deserved plate of deep-pit barbecue cooking. “I was worn out.”
The 43rd annual race attracted 200 participants, breaking the record of 174 rafters set last year.
For the fun-floaters, the prizes to strive for were the best decorated/
most unusual raft and the best costume.
A group of cavemen from Southern Oregon brought a stuffed buffalo on their craft.
I floated past rafters dressed as a watermelon and honeydew with the head of Waldorf, the theater heckler from The Muppet Show, affixed to the bow.
One rafter came equipped with a two-foot tall blue wig, resembling a Dr. Seuss character.
“Are you Thing One or Thing Two?” I asked.
“I’m just a thing. Don’t put a number on me, man,” he replied.
Viking rafts have won the best raft prize the past two years, but Viking Ron Gastineau was happy to pass the crown and see other people warming up to the weirder side of the event.
This year the Viking raft had a custom-built wooden water cannon and bags full of rubber Viking duckies used as projectiles, each one labeled with “Viking Raft 2012” so no one could mistake the source.
“Band geeks,” muttered a young kayaker as he passed the viking troupe.
My brother and I raced in the most heated category: the kayakers, ages 12 to 35.
We, the mythical logger and his blue ox, started strong off the gun holding second place with my trusty steer in the front power- seat paddling with gusto. We were quickly drenched head-to-toe from defensive paddle–splashes viscously delivered by the first place kayak we were tailing.
Choosing the right line through a riffle gave us a good lead ahead of the splashers, that is until we perched ourselves on some rocks through another riffle. We hopped out of the kayak to tow the boat to deeper water ahead when the splashers came from behind yelling:
“You’re cheating! Cheating! Disqualified!” they yelled.
We hopped back in the boat to avoid the dreaded DQ, and futilely attempted to push off the rocks while in the boat, until occupants of another raft told us we had been duped. It wasn’t against the rules to hop out, but it was too late; our competitors were barely visible downstream.
We didn’t give up at that moment, but it was a slippery slope. My blue-ox brother was bleeding all over the boat from a finger cut he got from grazing a rock while paddling. We shouted at each other incessantly, each knowing better than the other how to maneuver the kayak.
“You can’t go rafting if you don’t listen to the captain!” I yelled at him in brotherly fashion.
With blood on the boat, frustration in the air and first-place far out of reach, we agreed that the remaining time would be much better spent simply enjoying the scene.
We saw the splashers at the finish line, who ultimately flipped their kayak and had to settle for second.
I learned from my first race. I’m more of a fun-floater and will probably take my time next year.
I also learned that costume commitment just isn’t worth wearing blue jeans in the river.