Marc McCord on the Main Salmon River, July 24, 2012
Marc McCord at Travertine Falls on the Upper Guadalupe River
March 21, 1998.
I was first introduced to canoeing as a Boy Scout in the early 1960's, though our experience was limited to infrequent lake paddling, which does not generate much excitement, expecially for the amount of effort required. After a couple of times on the water I did not see a canoe again until 1975, on Oklahoma's beautiful and scenic Illinois River near Tahlequah, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, where I made my first ever down river paddle trip in an aluminum canoe. None in our group other than the guy who suggested the trip had any previous experience on free-flowing waters, and it immediately showed. But, the trip provided the "hook" that eventually led to my eternal love and devotion to canoeing as a way of life, if not the quintessential purpose of life itself. I literally live to paddle a gorgeous river! My life can be summed up in the words of Robert Redford, "...a river runs through it..."
Over the next 17 years or so I occasionally paddled flatwater rivers like the Brazos, Red, Sabine and Trinity. In 1992, I joined my brothers Bob and Bill, along with Bill's good friend Dave, for a July 4th overnighter on the Brazos from Lake Whitney down to Gholson just above Waco. It was the first time I had camped with my brothers since our days together in Scouting, and it was almost enough to end my paddling days, if not my life! Texas summers are hotter than hell on a hot day, and these two were no exception. We were visited by a very stiff headwind that literally blew us back upriver if we stopped paddling. The Brazos was at its usually low and slow self, frequently requiring us to carry or pull our boats through shallows that would not float a canoe with two paddlers, food and camping gear. It was two days of paddling hell on earth, but it was great to be on the river with my brothers - the first time we had really done anything together since our dad passed away in 1981.
In 1993, Bill and I began making trips to the Upper Guadalupe River in Comal County of the Texas Hill Country. On the second trip we met Wendall Lyons, owner of Bigfoot Canoes, and on all successive trips to that river we went back to Bigfoot for rentals and shuttles, as well as camping by the river on the Weidner Ranch where Bigfoot Canoes is located. Bill and I also discovered the San Marcos River together in 1994, utilizing the services of Spencer Canoes, a local outfitter in Martindale. It was on that trip that we learned a very valuable lesson about knowing and recognizing your take-out - we missed it by a mere five miles, but have NEVER made THAT mistake again! We had a strong downriver current and a moderate tailwind, then we had to turn around and fight our way back upriver against them both to reach our take-out. We were listening to music emanating from the campground and just paddled right by the place - our mistake!
For me, serious paddling began in 1995, when I began to make frequent trips to the Upper Guad, San Marcos and (occasionally) Brazos Rivers. I had already developed a love of the excitement found running whitewater, and flatwater rivers began to attract less of my attention. The Upper Guad was a solid Class II to III river at that time (before three major floods in '97, '98 and 2002 flattened it to Class I to II status). In 1997, I logged 338 miles on the Upper Guad, San Marcos, Medina, Puluxy, Brazos, Colorado and Trinity Rivers in Texas, the Illinois River in Oklahoma, the Mulberry River, Big Piney Creek and Frog Bayou in Arkansas and the Current River in Missouri, which I first paddled many years earlier. It was during that same year that I served as the newsletter editor for Dallas Down River Club, and it was also the year of my first-ever canoe race, the DDRC Trinity River Challenge, which I paddled about 11.8 miles from Lake Lewisville Dam to Carrollton's McInnish Park with my brother Bill in an Old Town Discovery 169 equipped with an ice chest full of Dr Pepper and Bill's 9-year old son Will, who rode along as a passenger on his first downriver trip ever. It was Bill's 47th Birthday (I was already 49), and we managed to finish 4th in our class with a time of 2 hours 19 minutes - not bad for two "older" guys in their first canoe race ever!
For the past sixteen years I have logged over 1,000 miles per year all but three times, and in 2008, I exceeded 1,500 miles for the year. Recently, severe drought throughout the southwestern United States has significantly lowered river levels and the mileage I have logged. 2012 was the second fewest miles I have paddled since 1996, finishing under 500 miles. Still, the year between September, 2011 and September, 2012 has led me to several really special places including Utah's Green River where we paddled Desolation and Gray Canyons and Idaho's Main Salmon River where I paddled the biggest whitewater of my life, both trips made in my SOAR S16 inflatable canoe that eats big rapids for lunch. But, I digress.
A year later, Bill, Will and I entered the "Come and Take It" Race at Gonzales, commemorating the first battle in Texas' war of independence from Mexico. We finished the 12-mile race in about 4 hours 38 minutes amid slow currents, stiff headwinds, two major logjams that had to be portaged, high humidity, hot temperatures, a portage around Gonzales Dam and a general lack of intensity about paddling hard enough to finish quicker. We did, however, mamage to cross the finish line third in our class, making Will a very excited paddler in his first race as a competitor. The following Monday, upon returning to school, the other kids were talking about trips to Seaworld in San Antonio or a movie they saw, but Will had a trophy for our efforts in the race on the Lower Guadalupe River.
In 1999, I began a semi-annual pilgrimmage to the Illinois River with friends in Dallas Down River Club, and have made many other trips on my own or guiding private groups on that river. Bill, Will and I entered the "Come and Take It" Race and finished first in our class a month after I paddled the DDRC Trinity River Challenge solo, finishing fourth in class. Bill underwent major cancer surgery in early 2000, and could not be exposed to direct sunlight, but he cheered on Will and I as we eked out a second place finish in the "Come and Take It" race after leading it all the way to the first major log jam. Unfortunately, that was the last race we paddled together, but hopefully there will be others in the future.
My love for paddling continued to grow, and in 2001, I logged 768 miles on Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri rivers. I acquired a new old Town Cascade whitewater tandem canoe, then proceeded to outfit it as a solo whitewater boat with saddle, foot braces, thigh straps and airbags. It is the boat I paddled almost exclusively until about 2005, though I do occasionally paddle other craft when going tandem or guiding trips where I have to carry a lot of gear. In late 2001 and early 2002, I added some New Mexico and Arizona rivers to my experience list, and paddled Arizona's Upper and Lower Salt River on numerous trips where I photographed the river and learned about its ancient history.
I took two swiftwater rescue classes and assisted in another during 1997-98, since which time I have been involved, either as part of a group or by myself, with the rescue or recovery of at least 200 people plus boats and gear, most of whom were on rivers in conditions that were far beyond their skill level. I strongly recommend swiftwater rescue and first aid classes for any paddler running whitewater rivers or any other river that is flowing above normal levels - you just never know when the life you save may be your own! I have taken over 12 classes, going back for refresher courses every year or two to learn more and keep my skills current. On numerous occasions that training has saved my life or helped me save somebody else's life.
I began designing web sites in 1996 after 14 years experience in computer field engineering and hardware sales, and in that same year created "Hill Country Paddler", a guide to the rivers of the Texas Hill Country. That web site has since evolved into Southwest Paddler, a guide to navigable waterways in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. Other creations related to paddlesports include the web sites of several outfitters and liveries, as well as an historical site about the birth of the Texas Water Safari - the World's Toughest Boat Race! My love of paddling grows more with every trip, and my personal goal is to paddle at least 1,000 miles every year until I die.
You will frequently find me on the river with great friends such as Bryan Jackson, Jerry Johnson, Steve McCarrick, Roy Pipkin, Doug Bryans, Sam Sloan, Bonnie Haskins, Fraser and Terri Borders and many others too numerous to name. But, if nobody else is available to go, then you might find me on a river all by myself if I know that river well enough to feel safe in paddling it alone. I offer guided river trips in eight states through Canoeman River Guide Services and am available to plan and lead trips for individuals or groups needing an experienced river guide and trip leader.
I currently own six canoes - a Bell Yellowstone tandem that serves as my primary expedition canoe, a Wenonah Argosy that was my solo racer and still carries me on a lot of flatwater day trips, my Dagger Genesis, which is my primary whitewater playboat, an Old Town Appalachian 16-foot tandem whitewater canoe that I use as a wilderness whitewater expedition boat, my SOAR S16, which is my big water expedition boat and my SOAR S12 whitewater playboat. Over the years I have also owned a Buffalo 16-foot tandem canoe, Old Town Cascade tandem converted to solo canoe, Old Town H2Pro whitewater canoe, Mohawk XL-12 whitewater canoe and Osagian 16-foot tin can that was my Texas Water Safari boat in 2008. No boat is pefect for every type of trip, but these are some of the best I have ever experienced, and I loved each one.
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