Take Me To the River

The course of the Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race is the 22 miles of the Neches in Anderson County between Lake Palestine and U.S. 79, where the muddy channel winds through thick forest.
Take Me To the River
Photograph by Charlie Llewellin

Ed Furman checks the mirrors carefully as he backs a shuttle van up the dirt track that leads down to the Neches River by Texas Highway 75. “I don’t want to run anyone over on my last day as club president,” he says. His silver hair is slicked back into a thinning rockabilly quiff. The 2010 Neches River Wilderness Canoe Race is over; the last stragglers are drifting wearily over the line, medals and T-shirts have been handed out, and this busload of canoers and kayakers is being ferried back to their cars, left at the start. For the past twenty years, Furman, with his wife, Bettie, and Candy Dillon, of the East Texas River Runners, have organized the “toughest little canoe race in the Republic of Texas” and during that time raised approximately $30,000 in scholarship funds for students of the Palestine campus of Trinity Valley Community College. These three were presented with plaques commemorating their hard work at a heartfelt ceremony before the race began. Most of the people there were participants, many of whom were from the surrounding area.

In fact, there were only a handful of outsiders present—two from the Austin area (myself and veteran racer Erin McGee, whose kayak bore a sticker that read “I make boys

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