Cow Paddy Pageant, March 21st 1999.

Susan Starbird is a world famous whitewater kayak racer who lives in nearby Sebastopol. She started the tradition of the "Cow Paddy Pageant", a race down the beautiful Estero Americano to the ocean and back. This tongue-in-cheek race is often scheduled for a low tide to force the "racers" to drag their boats through the mud. The race was canceled last year due to thunderstorms and had been canceled once before this year. But this year Susan re-scheduled it and we were blessed with reasonable weather on the second try.

The "non serious" racers were started a half an hour before the competitive ones. This included Maryly and I in my Kevlar Canoe. Maryly and I were the only people in a double so we were guaranteed to come in first (and last) in our class. Our plan was to take our time and sight-see down the Estero Americana which Maryly had never seen before.

The non-serous paddlers stayed together in a group, and all took the wrong turn down one of the shallow side channels. We had to turn back a few hundred meters and by the time we made up the lost time the first racing kayak was approaching. It was Susan and we perversely hoped that she would take the same wrong turn we took. Susan took all the right turns in her South African racing boat. Arno Rohloff came by shortly in a long thin Kevlar racing boat. They disappeared around the corners and beat us to the beach despite our head start.

In previous years the racers were required to kiss a shrine made out of cow paddies from the surrounding ranchland. (Hence the name of the race). The last few years the shrine has been less arduous. This year it was a stuffed cow holding a paddle. When you squeezed the cow in the right place, a mechanism inside played music while the cow wind-milled the paddle. Racers were required to rest at the beach for 15 minutes before returning. However most of us less serious racers spent an hour eating lunch, exploring the beach, and watching the huge waves crash in from the ocean. This made calculating our round trip time difficult to the point where the official racing times were a joke.

The Estero Americano loops around a lot near the take-out spot and I had scoped out a short-cut across one of these loops. On the way back this time I talked Maryly into trying this with me and we dragged the boat across the short cut to get 15 minutes ahead of the group we were with. We were easily able to get out of the water but on the other side we found a steep muddy bank with a vertical meter drop into the water. We ran along the bank for a while, until we were in sight of the "officials" at the take-out. Finally I slid down the bank and up to my thighs in muddy water. Maryly slid the boat down to me then I held it while she slid straight down into the boat. Finally I clamored in and we made the record-breaking time of one hour and fifteen minutes for the return trip. As I had predicted, the "rules" of the race are so tongue-in-cheek that a shortcut through the mud is OK. Our prize was a "Cow Pie", a chocolate candy in the shape of a cow paddy.

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All text and images Copyright © 1999 by Mike Higgins / contact