Mark. Set. Paddle! Some really different strokes in Belize

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Dig in: Competitive paddlers go all out during the four-day, 170-mile La Ruta Maya River Challenge in Belize. Photo from the Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio.
Dig in: Competitive paddlers go all out during the four-day, 170-mile La Ruta Maya River Challenge in Belize. (Photo from the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio.)

The Belize equivalent to the Tour de France is currently underway: The annual Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge.

No bicycles here.

This is a four-day, 170-mile canoe race on the Macal and Belize rivers, starting in western-most San Ignacioat the towering Hawksworth Bridge and ending in Belize City at the Swing Bridge.

Canoes sprint down the river in the Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge.  (Photo courtesy of larutamayabelize.com.)
Canoes sprint down the  Macal River in the Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge. (Photo courtesy of larutamayabelize.com.)

There are hundreds of participants,  from sponsored pros to recreational paddlers. The race began early Friday morning and ends Monday, which is a national holiday, Baron Bliss Day.

The river challenge has grown from humble beginnings in March 1998 to a beloved national tradition.

As the race slogan says: “It is more than just a race.” It is the path of Mayan trade routes going centuries and knits together the country and its diverse peoples and cultures, from San Ignacio, to the capital Belmopan, to Ladyville to Belize City.

Paddlers camp each night at places that just tickle the imagination: Banana Bank, Double-Head Cabbage and Henderson Bank before the sprint home to Belize City’s Swing Bridge. They pass by Baking Pot Ferry, Big Falls,  Lords Bank and Iguana Creek Bridge.

We’ve been watching the coverage on TV and for the serious competitors this looks brutal. The three-person canoes are paddling in full-sprint mode.

Like the Tour, the River Challenge has fixed start and stop points each day — but even if you spread the distance evenly over four days that’s 42-plus miles a day at full speed ahead!

Since first hearing about this event last September it has been rising on my Belize Bucket List.

Not the competitive race.  (As Samuel Jackson would say, “Oh, hell no!!”)

At this point in life I am strictly recreational.

This post from Ka’ana Resort, just upriver from the starting line for the Challenge, gives a nice overview of the race and bit of historical perspective.

I’d love to hear about the experiences of anyone who has participated in La Ruta Maya River Challenge.

Anyone up for forming a threesome for 2015?

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