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Arts & Culture

Misadventures in kayaking: The bridges of Goliad County

Photo: KYLE SMART, License: N/A

KYLE SMART



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In March of 2007, I accepted a close friend’s invitation to venture to the small Texas towns of Goliad, Tivoli and Falls City for a long weekend involving some combination of bird-watching, junk-shopping, cheap motels and kayaking—an activity I’d never braved and figured I’d find a way out of. Late in the afternoon on the first day of this memorable excursion we found ourselves in Goliad gazing at the San Antonio River after some decent rainfall. Thanks to some words of encouragement, I swallowed my inhibitions and descended into a Frenzy (a compact, one-person Ocean Kayak) armed with a life jacket, a bottle of water, a walkie-talkie and a cell phone to coordinate my arrival roughly one mile downriver. “Once you’ve passed under two bridges, you’ll see the get-out point at Goliad State Park,” my pal explained as I set off paddling. “It should take you about an hour.”

The entire length of the Goliad Paddling Trail is 6.6 miles and can take between two-and-a-half and four hours to complete depending on water levels and flow rates. Not long after setting off, the flow picked up and I didn’t need to use the paddle much except to steer. Less than an hour after I’d departed, it started to get dark and I began questioning my bridge-counting abilities. If I counted a certain retired-looking railroad bridge along with the real-deal highway overpass, I had overshot my destination—and by a lot.

While the walkie-talkie proved useless, I was able to use my cell to call my friend, who (slowly) helped me confirm I’d passed the get-out point and needed to do a 180 and start paddling back upstream.

By this point it was completely dark and some of the only things I could make out with the flashlight (which I was holding in my mouth) were “NO TRESPASSING” signs posted on steep, muddy riverbanks, and jagged rocks and tree stumps rising up in the river. Although this stretch was shallow enough to wade in, I’d heard enough about alligator sightings (which become more likely as the San Antonio River approaches the Gulf of Mexico) to prevent me from getting out and pulling the kayak behind me. The current wasn’t exactly raging but it was strong enough to wear me out physically and before long I was overcome with a mixture of exhaustion and fear. Then I started seeing blinking lights in the distance and, in my delusional panic, I assumed my friend had found a game warden and that they’d lit flares as part of some kind of search effort. With my phone battery about to give up, I dialed him and he calmly explained, “No, that’s lightning.”

The idea of a storm enhancing this embarrassing experience really sent me over the edge (there may have been a little crying involved) and I started paddling faster, determined not to let the pinche San Antonio River get the best of me. Finally, my phone rang. “I can hear you,” my friend told me. “You’re getting close.” Minutes later I was on the banks—shaking, relieved and in dire need of a cocktail.

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