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class, and he and his partner follow Miller’s instructions, furiously pad- dling to pull away from the other canoes and take the lead. Bogalusa’s teams are easy to spot in their bright yellow T-shirts. Other teams go with neon orange, lime, and powder blue. The race’s first leg spans 17 miles to the small town of Cotter, where crews change paddlers. Then it’s 13.3 miles to Buffalo City, and another change, before the third and final leg: 12.3 miles to Norfork. Here, racers know a group dinner awaits near Lake Norfork Dam.

AT THE TRANSITION SITE for the second leg, Jim Stillwell waits and watches for the first crews as he chats with Miller. Stillwell, whose son is 12 and not old enough to paddle in this race, brings his family back every other year or so to cheer on the team from Bogalusa. His experience dates to Miller’s first year, 1977, when the Bogalusa and Faribault, Minn., rivalry was the biggest. Stillwell remembers that Faribault was the first team to use offset paddles but offered to teach the boys from Bogalusa how to use them. “We were competitors,” he says, “but they wanted us to know how to use those paddles. It was a camaraderie.” Now, he notes, Bogalusa and

Russellville have become the fiercest competitors. Though Bogalusa came into the race as the defending champ, Russellville won the five previous years, including in 2008 when it demolished a 25-year-old speed record by complet- ing 120 miles in less than 12 hours. At Cotter, crews hop out of

canoes, sometimes lifting them over their heads to dump water from the bottom, and switch pad- dlers. Shannon Perry, Advisor for Venturing Crew 27 from Little Rock, Ark., stands on a piece of the rocky shoreline cheering for the incoming teams and watching for her crew,

With bows aimed downriver, eyes ahead, and paddles dipping in unison, racers focus on finishing quickly. No worries—there’s plenty of time to admire the scenery after the race.

which includes her daughter, who is here for her third year. Perry, another race alumnus, com-

peted from 1983-85. Her crew climbs rocks and does other activities in the winter and then begins training for the canoe race in March, weather permitting. Canoeing as a team, Perry says, builds leadership. “The kids who do the race for us, those are going to be our officers next year,” she says. “It also gives kids a chance to succeed when they’re maybe not succeeding in other places and they don’t fit into other Scouting programs.” Bogalusa has a good first leg. The

crew’s Open Cruising team finishes nearly a minute in front of rivals from New Brighton, Minn., and Russellville. In the Novice category, A.J. and his teammates earn first in their leg, more than nine minutes ahead of second place. And as the grueling first day ends,

the novice Bogalusa crew leaves its competitors in the wake with more than an hour’s lead. But in the top class, Open Cruising, only 38 seconds separate the three teams, with New Brighton taking the lead going into the evening’s pizza party on the camp- ground at the dam.

THE NEXT MORNING, 19-year-old Lilly Manns tapes protein snacks to the inside of her canoe before the second leg of the race—18 miles to Calico Rock. Her team from New Brighton formed a Venturing crew just to compete in this race. Back home, they’re usually paddling against tougher competition. “In Minnesota, we’re the kids who show up to race the adults,” she says. “Here, it’s nice to meet other kids from around the country as crazy as us. This is my favorite race of the year.”

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