Thursday, January 18, 2018
Outdoors

Distance paddlers inspires others to big adventures

PINELLAS PARK — Rod Price thinks sleep is overrated.

"They recommend 1 ½ to 2 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period," he said. "But I think you can get away with less. … Give me 30 minutes, and I'm good to go."

Price isn't your typical weekend warrior. He has never been on a "leisurely" paddle. He's a racer. When he paddles, it's hard and fast, for days at a time.

"People think it is beyond their capability," said Price, author of a new book called Racing Around Florida. "But their only limitation is what's between their ears."

Price, a 54-year-old office supply salesman from Orlando, is the epitome of the new breed of adventurer, an ordinary guy who does extraordinary things.

The author and paddler extraordinaire drew a crowd Thursday at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, where he offered tips on how seemingly unremarkable people can achieve remarkable things.

"You just have to commit," he said. "Find a race, pay your entry fee as soon as registration opens, then you have no choice but to move forward and do it."

Price has won more than 200 races during his 30 years of competition. In 2009, he gained international acclaim after winning the inaugural Yukon 1,000, the world's longest canoe race.

He also has competed in the Great Amazon River Raft Race (approximately 125 miles), the Adirondack Canoe Classic (90), the Yukon River Quest (444) and the Missouri River 340. But Price said his favorite paddle is still Florida's own WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, scheduled to begin this year on March 1.

The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition-style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats that begins at Fort De Soto Park and ends in Key Largo. The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles, depending on the route the paddler chooses.

There's a time limit of eight days. All contestants are required to sign a waiver and read a warning: "The physical demands of the race, combined with sleep deprivation, heat, cold, water dehydration and exhaustion, often cause participants to become disoriented. Amnesia, hallucinations, hypothermia and other debilitating conditions are not uncommon."

Price holds the WaterTribe record for the fastest finish in the Class I tandem division, covering the nearly 300 miles from Pinellas County to the Florida Keys in 3 days, 6 hours.

"People always ask me how do I do it?" he said. "I've always found that the biggest challenge is mental. Once you summon your courage and submit to doing a long race, your whole perspective changes."

Price said he tries to stay in "decent" shape. "I just want to be healthy at the starting line," he said. He knows his greatest challenge in any long-distance race will always be sleep deprivation.

"You are usually okay as long as the sun is up," he said. "But between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. is when the sleep demons come. … I try to just make it through to daylight, then start all over again."

Price paddles a specially designed Superior Expedition canoe that measures 17 feet, 9 inches in length and weighs 65 pounds. It cost him $3,500.

"The seat comes out so you can sleep in it if you have to," he said.

Price, the only paddler to have completed North America's five longest races, plans to do the Everglades Challenge again next month and the 260-mile Texas Water Safari in June.

"Most people think what I do is beyond them," he said. "They say they like living vicariously through me, but I tell them adventure has never been easier. You don't need anybody else. You can do an expedition of one."

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