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“A.J., AT THE START, go right to get away from those other canoes,” shouts Bob Miller, a leader of Venturing Crew 313 from Bogalusa, La., to Scout A.J. Holmes, one of the novice paddlers tensely awaiting the start of the annual Boy Scouts National Invitational White River Canoe Race. A spectral fog covers the river here


below Bull Shoals Dam in northern Arkansas, where the release of frigid water (despite the July heat) creates a swift current. Race officials warn the paddlers to beware of rocks and


stumps and especially the dock on the river’s left side a few miles down. Eighteen boats are poised to


start one of the oldest canoe races in the country, a three-day, 120-mile marathon that’s been held annually in Arkansas since 1966. Miller, a retired Marine colonel,


has led teams here since 1977, and his Bogalusa Venturing crew ranks as the defending champ in the race’s top class: Open Cruising. The 84-year-old Miller keeps bringing teams back for many reasons: the camaraderie, the nightly cookouts, and, of course, the


crucible of character that the competi- tion provides. He’s not alone. For many teams like the families and Scouts from Bogalusa, the White River Canoe Race has become an annual reunion in addition to a competition—a chance to renew old friendships, refresh fading memo- ries, and experience again a seminal moment in their young lives. All in three exhausting and exhilarating days. A.J.’s father, Mark, watches from the bank as his 14-year-old son and his son’s paddling partner pull ahead of the other racers in the Novice class. Mark competed in the race from 1979-82. “We all come up every year,” he says. “It’s a family thing.” Stephen Lynn of Russellville, Ark.,


helped organize the race. He agrees that the impression lasts a lifetime. “I did the race [from 1973-76] when I was a Scout, and it still stands out as one of the best accomplishments and neatest events I’ve ever done,” says Lynn, who still races canoes. “It was just a monu- mental undertaking for a teenager.” George Latus, another orga-


nizer, brought a team from nearby Batesville, Ark. The race and the prepa- ration that goes into it are special to him. “I’ve done a lot of Scouting activi- ties,” he says. “This is one that has a tremendous value for these kids. They learn determination. They learn team- work. Heartbeat for heartbeat, stroke for stroke, breath for breath, you have to become one person in that boat.” Those heartbeats soon accelerate


as the racers take off in staggered heats, each with a handful of adult leaders who paddle their own canoes alongside the boys for each leg of the race. A.J. competes for the Bogalusa


crew in the Boys’ Novice Aluminum


Anticipation builds at Bull Shoals Dam on Day 1 as Advisor James Short (above) announces the starting lineups for the 17-mile first leg. Later, Venturers encourage and signal incoming team- mates as they prepare to switch paddlers (left), a frantic scene reminiscent of IndyCar pit stops.


34 S COUTING ¿ SEPTEMBER•OCTOBER 2011


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