I arrived back “home” to the Log Cabins last night after successfully paddling 180 miles across Belize in what has been named the 37th most difficult race in the world (from http://100.peak.com/event/la-ruta-maya-belize-river-challenge/).
Participating in the race was simultaneously the best and worst experience of my entire life; never before have I pushed myself so hard physically, emotionally and mentally and still questioned whether or not I would succeed.
Before the race, I had visions of drifting on the water, taking time to swim lazily in the Belize River, and joking with the other teams as we hung out on a 4 day moving boat party…but within the first few hours of day one, I came to the painful realization that I had grossly underestimated the difficulty of canoeing 4 whole days with 2 (almost complete) strangers. My goals for the race were quickly revised from not coming in last to simply finishing the race alive, and at some points included finding the nearest safety boat to tow us into the finish line. We (amazingly) never came in last, nor did we ever have to be towed in; we did however, stick to the back of the pack and did form some pretty hilarious relationships with the other last place teams (who were all not surprisingly composed of non-Belizean paddlers-for the last three days, we paddled among people from Japan, Canada, London, the US!)
Our strategy to keep paddling was surprisingly successful in its simplicity. I would count numbers 1-8 in my head, say “nine, ten, switch” and Alyssa and I would change sides of the canoe and then begin again, until I became delirious and started repeating numbers and counting in Chinese, Spanish, Pig Latin and made up languages composed of squeals and grunts. At the end of every hour, we would have a “power alphabet,” where I would count to 10 aloud, then instead of saying “switch,” scream a word beginning with every letter of the alphabet, one letter for every set of ten. At first, we had alphabet themes: foods, names, verbs, etc. but as the hours added up we ended up just shouting random words and sometimes just the letter (‘x’ proved to be the most challenging…after x-ray, xylophone and xenophobia we basically gave up…).
At the starting line each morning, we would float on the water surrounded by professionals, competitors and a huge cheering section comprised largely of our own Galen support team. But when the starting horn sounded, we paddled and paddled and we lifted our heads only to see one canoe after another disappear around the bend in front of us until, ultimately, it was just the four of us-me, Eric, Alyssa, and the river.
As I said, we never did finish last, and I left Belize City with a little more muscle, a lovely life-jacket tan and a sense of accomplishment that will hopefully stick with me for the rest of my life.