The Tour du Teche race down Bayou Teche enters its sixth year this fall, but organizers have expanded the paddler’s marathon by offering an additional race, a long-distance, adventurous paddle down the Red River, the first of its kind for Louisiana.
Titled the “410 de Louisiane,” the race begins in Shreveport on Sunday, Sept. 27.
The 275-mile, round-the-clock marathon takes long-distance paddlers down the Red River until it reaches St. Landry Parish where it converges with the Atchafalaya River and Bayou Courtableau. The race must be completed within 100 hours.
At the end of “Tour de la Rivere Rouge,” the Tour du Teche begins, a 135-mile, three-staged race from Port Barre to Berwick, Oct. 2-4.
The combined races equal 410 miles, the first marathon paddle race of its kind in Louisiana.
The idea came from surrounding states, said organizer Ken Grisson. Texas, for instance, hosts the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddle down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, then a 10-mile stretch of open bay. Missouri has the Missouri 340 that stretches 340 miles across the state on the Missouri River.
Many of the athletes participating in past Tour du Teche races had competed in these more rigorous marathons, Grisson said.
“We decided that mixing them up adds a new dimension to them,” he said of the Louisiana races. “The character of the Red River race is so different from the Tour du Teche.”
The Red River extends south from Shreveport through Natchitoches and Alexandria, but in many areas there are no roads or towns nearby. Bayou Teche, on the other hand, curls through south Louisiana alongside roads and numerous towns such as Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville.
In both cases, there are few elevations and the water is slow moving, Grisson said.
“Our races are mostly flat water, which means there is very little current,” he explained. “You have to work it.”
For the Red River stretch, paddlers will work round the clock to make the finish line within the 100-hour limit. For the Tour du Teche VI, the race consists of three days within a set mile limit per day: Port Barre to St. Martinville on Oct. 2, St. Martinville to Franklin on Oct. 3 and Franklin to Berwick on Oct. 4. Paddlers may chose to race the entire three-day Tour du Teche or only a section of the race.
The Tour du Teche, however, is a fast-moving race, Grisson said, and even though it’s not as intense as its northern cousin, it’s not for the faint of heart.
“It is a race, not a pleasure cruise,” he said.
Both races do have their issues. There are dams and locks along the way; the Red River contains five and the Teche has one below St. Martinville. The Tour du Teche offers checkpoints to keep track of paddlers but the more rural Tour de la Rivere Rouge requires the use of Internet locator devices.
“We do that for safety and to make sure nobody cheats,” Grisson said.
Organizers encourage teams to include coureur de bois or bank runners on land to assist teams on the water, Grisson said.
“That’s something we strongly encourage all to have,” he said.
The Tour du Teche originated with the Teche Project, an organization that conducts periodic cleanups of the bayou and educational programs. The annual race has since contributed to the bayou’s enhancement and attracted more volunteers for the Teche Project, Grisson said.
“People come here (for the race) from all over the country,” he said. “They are bowled over by the beauty of the Teche.
“We don’t get all the credit, but we get a lot of the credit,” he added of the bayou’s resurgence.