A 130-mile adventure race down Bayou Teche draws serious paddlers and dilettantes alike. By Mary Tutwiler
Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
Bayou Teche has inspired all sorts of works. Take the 19th century poem, Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Take the antebellum plantation architecture of New Iberia's Shadows on the Teche. Take the rusty bedsprings and old washing machines midnight dumpers hurl into the stream.
Lately, the slow-moving waters of our most beautiful bayou have called to a group of bayou-side dwellers to clean up the junk. While trash bash efforts have been wildly successful, they have incited Teche-habitués to want more. A lot more.
Fired up with enthusiasm, the members of Cajuns for Bayou Teche, along with the Kiwannis Club de Pont Breaux, The Coffee Break and Bayou Teche Brewery, are sponsoring a 130-mile, 60-hour adventure race down the Teche, from Port Barre to Morgan City. "This isn't going to be a walk in the park," says Dennis Wise, sternsman for Team Pogie.
Wise, a personal trainer, teamed up with biologists Tami St. Germain and Tad Guidry, who will serve as courier du bois for the race. The courier du bois drives a support wagon with extra food, water, camping gear, dry clothes and anything else the racing team may need. The canoe itself runs lean, holding only the paddlers and enough water and food to keep them going.
"We've been training since we signed up in June," says Wise, who lives on the banks of the Teche in Cecilia. "We've probably got 200 miles of training in our muscles right now."
"I'm not sure people understand how serious a race this is," says Ken Grissom, general manager of The Teche News in St. Martinville, who brainstormed the race with Breaux Bridge marble and granite magnate Ray Pellerin as a way to draw attention to the recreational aspect of the Teche. "Remember the Teche is tidal, by the time canoes get below New Iberia, racers may be paddling against the tide."
The race has drawn pairs of paddlers from all over the nation to tackle Acadiana's waterway. Teams from Illinois, New York, Texas and Missouri will take on the natives for a purse that keeps climbing, over $1,000 now, as raffles take place and donations and sponsorships are called in to Grissom's office.
Wise and St. Germain's strategy is to tough it out without stopping, even for sleep. "Our goal is 30 hours," says Wise, "finishing on Saturday evening." His canoe has running lights and he is hoping for lots of moonlight. "We're going to have moonlight, and the moon makes a trail down the water so you can follow it like a highway," he says. "We might take turns sleeping, but the boat will keep going."
Another team, from Bayou Teche Brewery, is taking a different approach. Father and son Karlos and Cory Knott donated a pirogue to be raffled off to support the effort. They were so enchanted with their bateaux that they are heading downstream in a second pirogue packed with a keg of their own La 31 Bière Pâle. "We're going to have fun," says Knott. "You're not supposed to have alcohol in the boat, so we're making T-shirts that say we're already disqualified, but it's all about having a good time and drawing attention to Bayou Teche."
Towns along the Teche plan to have parties along the banks of the bayou as racers paddle by. The scent of the grill may be the most daunting part of the race from a tired and hungry canoeist's point of view. "People from other states aren't going to be used to doing it the way we do it," says Knott. Port Barre is planning to have a party on Thursday night, before the launch on Friday. Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville are also planning bands and barbecue. And farther downstream, Patterson and Berwick are teaming up for a finish line grand finale. "That's part of the adventure of the race," says Grissom. "Cold beer. It's going to be pretty tempting to stop."
The entry fee is $100 per paddler. Entries will be taken until 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Lions Club meeting hall adjacent to boat landing on Bayou Courtableau in Port Barre. The race begins Saturday, Sept. 17, in Port Barre and continues through Sept. 19 at Patterson. For more information and for race regulations, go to the website at www.techeproject.com.