Canoeing the Texas racecourse was challenging enough. But the Abu Dhabi Camels also had to overcome snakes, dehydration and hallucinations so serious that one team member thought he had been transported to another planet. About 260 miles (420km) and 100 hours after they began paddling, the sleep-deprived team of James Dauman, Simon Dowker and Jean-Marc Laventure crossed the finish line of the Texas Water Safari. They were in 48th place out of 93 teams. Yet as 44 other teams did not even finish, it felt like victory.
"It was the most challenging thing I've ever done, in terms of physical and mental levels," Mr Dauman said. "It was not a couple of days paddling for fun. All of us went through varying degrees of pain and anguish." The Water Safari, held this year from June 13 to 17, pits entrants against one another as they paddle through the Texas wilderness, down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers. The teams raise money for charity; the Camels collected more than Dh50,000 (US$14,000) for the Red Crescent Society and a further Dh21,000 for the Calvert Trust, which sponsors outdoor activities for disabled children.
Team members slept only a few hours in four days. On the last night of the race, Mr Dauman believed that his mate Simon Dowker was "on another planet" and started "talking gibberish". Mr Dowker also started seeing things. "I did have quite a bad hallucination, since I was sure there was someone else on the boat," he said. Mr Laventure said the experience was still sticking with him. "I keep waking up thinking 'I'm in a canoe'," he said.
The harsh environment in what is billed at the world's toughest river race posed other obstacles, including some long Texas snakes. "The boat was also getting stuck in logjams, which made it very difficult at night," Mr Dauman said. "A lot of things there were slowing us down, and loads of people got damaged boats and quit the race." "Eventually, it got to a point when it was not about fitness or racing, but about survival," he added.
The three-member crew, who work in the financial sector, met when the founder, Mr Dauman, recruited the others after he failed to finish the race in 2007. His wife, Charlotte, served as the Camels' land-based support team. "It was extremely worrying to wait at the checkpoints [for the team to arrive] in terms of being a support member," she said. "When they finally got to the checkpoints, all they wanted to do was sleep."
But just days after the exhausting finish, the team said they would do it all again. "We may do some different races, stuff that's more fitness-oriented, and raising more for charities," Mr Dowker said. email@example.com