By: Seth Smith
After days of endless gloomy skies and rain, the clouds parted and the sun came out to shine. It was almost as if the powers above knew that it was about time for the 62nd annual Mothers Day Race to begin! I walked swiftly back to my hut in the staff campground behind New Mexico River Adventures to get my boating gear on. In my hut, I slid into a cool wet suit that was still a little damp from the previous use, slipped on my wool socks and sandals, put chums on my eyeglasses, and grabbed my synthetic shorts and hoodie.
Back at the boatyard, we had already picked out our boat for the race, an NRS Osprey, it was all loaded on the trailer, river ready. My team was supposed to consist of three other staff members from NMRA, Jacob, Tony, and Auston. Ten minutes before leaving for the race we realized none of us had seen or heard from Auston the entire day. In a frantic panic, we called his phone and found out that he was sick and sleeping in his van, unable to compete in the race. We scrambled around the boatyard pleading to other staff members from NMRA to join our team last minute. The problem was everyone was already on a team and those who were not were too tired to compete after running a Taos Box overnight trip. With one man down we had no other option but to jump in the company van and head to the put in, hoping for a miracle.
The Quartzite put in was madness when we arrived, a sea of bodies gearing up and prepping boats near the edge of the rushing Rio Grande. Along with the contenders, there were spectators all over the place. We hopped out of the van and unloaded our boats and paddles, threw on our PFD’s and helmets, all while mentally preparing ourselves. My heart rate began to rise with anticipation of the race that was about to begin shortly. As we were waiting around for the race to begin Jacob came running back over to our boat with great news! A staff member from NMRA, Jack, had just arrived today for the 2019 season. He had no team for the race but had all his gear with him, our prayers had been answered, and we now had a four-man team!
With our spirits rejuvenated we devised our plan for the race. Tony and I would be up front in the boat, and Jacob and Jack would take the rear. The plan was set, and just then we heard the announcer over the megaphone say, “Racers, please take your position behind the yellow rope. The race is about to begin.” After a short introductory speech, they pulled the yellow rope tight and everyone got into their places. The energy wafting through the air was a mix of excitement and nervousness. “Racer’s take your marks, 5,4,3,2,1, GO!” announced one of the organizers through the megaphone. I watched the yellow rope drop to the ground in front of me and bolted towards our boat. With a running jump from shore, I dove into our boat feet first and smashed into the front tube launching our boat offshore and straight out into the current. It was the perfect boost to start the race! When I jumped in I had fallen backward over the front thwart and was lying on my back with my feet in the air. I scrambled into position as quickly as I could, grabbing my paddle while simultaneously shoving my left foot into the front foot cup and bracing my right foot under the thwart I had just fallen over. “DIG IT IN, ALL FORWARD!” yelled Jacob from the back right side of the boat. Like a Viking warship, we all instantaneously began to paddle forward.
For the beginning portion of the race, we stayed in first place. Jacob would call out commands, urging us to paddle hard for short bursts, and then we would take a few seconds to pause and catch our breath as we drifted downstream. The intention was to stay ahead but also conserve some energy in case we needed it later in the race. We whizzed past Saddle Rock and headed for Albert’s Falls! Between Albert’s Falls and Herringbone Rapid, we all paddled as hard as we could, taking long strokes with our paddles deep in the river. The second place boat was on our rear and we wanted to stay in the lead. As we entered the class III section of the Rio Grande known as The Narrows I began to feel a fuzzy sensation throughout my body. It felt as if I was a little dehydrated. “This is not the time for this to happen,” I thought to myself not daring to mention anything to my teammates. Then from behind me, I heard Jacob’s encouraging voice boom “All forward! Keep it together fellows!” Concurrently the bow of our raft crashed through the waves in The Narrows, and we kept paddling downstream, making sure to dig our paddles in at the trough of the waves and ride over the crests.
After exiting The Narrows and passing through Cheese Grater Rapid we began to get sucked into the big eddy that is on the river right. As this happened the second place boat stayed in the current, passing us and taking the lead. We maneuvered our way back out into the river. All of us were a bit flustered by what had just happened. “Take a moment boys, get it back together!” Shouted Jacob from behind. I felt my spirits drop as I watched the new leaders paddle out ahead of us. My arms and abs were tired from paddling my face off but there was no giving up. Tapping into my depleting energy reserve I kept paddling forward with all my might. A strategy I developed was to match the pace of my breathing with my paddling in order to take in oxygen and give my body a fighting chance to operate as efficiently as possible.
Up ahead was Glenwoody Bridge. At this point the river was at a high water level, making the gap between the river and the bottom of the bridge extremely tight. The normal move at times like this was to head to the left side of the bridge where you could safely pass under. But the current of the river passed under the right side of the bridge. Jacob made the judgment call as we watched the first place boat head out of the current and to the left, “Alright boys, get ready to get down! We’re taking the right line under the bridge and staying in the current, this is a good chance for us to catch up!” Just before we were about to pass under the bridge all of us laid down in the raft getting as low as we could. The massive bolts and wooden posts passed mere inches over the tops of our heads. We jumped back into position immediately as we exited the underside of the bridge. Now, we were directly behind the first place boat with only inches between us.
We tried to pass them in the snake section before Big Rock Rapid but were unsuccessful. As we approached Big Rock Rapid we took the line directly to the right of Pyramid Rock, launching our boat down the rapid. Still, though, we remained in second place. We were neck and neck as we passed Sleeping Beauty Rapid. Both of us passed the rapid on the left side not wanting the giant wave to slow us down. After Sleeping Beauty we were determined to gain the lead again. We went for a pass on the left side of their boat and were unsuccessful. Then, we backed off and went for it again, this time on the right side, paddling with all our might. The sides of our boats were so close there was only room for one person on each boat to get paddle strokes in. I paddled vigorously using all my strength to get my paddle strokes in before their front right boatman could get his in. With a stroke of luck we passed them and regained the lead. At that moment all the pain and suffering that had been coursing through my veins seemed to dissipate. In its place, newfound energy I didn’t know existed fueled my body.
Looming ahead was the last rapid of the day, Souse Hole, the infamous rapid known to flip boats if you didn’t choose a good line. On the shoreline near Souse, some staff members from NMRA were waiting, screaming, cheering us on as they saw us come around the bend in first place. It gave us a much-needed boost of energy hearing the encouraging support from the edge of the river. We dropped into Souse on the left side hurling the boat through the granny line barely making a splash. “WOOOO, Yes BOYS!” hollered Jacob from the backend. We took the little sneak route after Souse seeing that it would be the fastest option at this high water level. The only remaining portion of the race was the Mellow Mile. No more big rapids, just smooth current. The objective now was to just stay in the current and paddle with everything we had left in us. It was the most intense moment of the race with the second place boat right behind us. I dug my paddle into the water using my whole body to pull the water. At one point we drifted a bit out of the main current and the boat behind us tried to go for a pass. Luckily Jacob was great at steering and nudged our front end just in front of their boat and forced them to bump our boat and keep us in the lead. We gained some ground ahead of them at this point and could see the finish line ahead. We were about to do it, we were about to bring home first place not only for us but also for the entire NMRA rafting family! As we crossed the finish line we screamed with joy! At the take-out point, a few of us flipped backward off the boat soaking ourselves in the river. I stood up in the river, my legs were shaking I was so exhausted from using all my energy.
Shortly after pulling the boat onto shore our staff that had been cheering from the edge of the river pulled into the take out and ran down to our boat, giving us all big hugs and congratulating us. Little did we know we had set a record, with a time of 31 minutes and 7 seconds, with our win at the 62nd annual Mothers Day Race!