Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Canoe Races!

Jambo, guys and girls! Who’s ready for a safari?

Well, I am...but you aren’t going on one with me today. Sorry! That privilege is reserved for folks visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom...but I have heard that a couple folks with video cameras on my truck will be youtube-ing their adventures soon. I’ll let you know if footage of me on the savannah makes it to the cloud (i.e., the internet).

Recently, I had the good fortune to participate in a long-standing Disney tradition that few people outside the Cast Member sphere know about. No, it wasn’t sweeping up the rivers of blood that run through the Magic Kingdom tunnels, or visiting Walt's cryogenic-frozen body beneath the Geosphere at EPCOT: it was the Canoe Races of the World!

These races have existed since 1963, when cast members would race at Disneyland resort in California. The idea for these races was brought over to Walt Disney World in 1973, and has since grown tremendously: this year, 75 teams competed in six divisions, from pro, rec, men's, women's, and co-ed groups. Space is extremely limited for this event, and this year the sign-ups (filled out online) were full within two minutes of the page being accessible. I was lucky enough to be quick on the mouse finger, and successfully registered a team to compete.

I recruited from the Kilimanjaro Safaris cast of game drivers, and we attended two practice sessions before our qualifying race last week. We had been told before arriving that the canoes wouldn't be quite like other canoes we may have been in before, and they were certainly not exaggerating. These 3,000 lb, cement-lined, 10-person canoes were once used for a themed journey around Tom Sawyer island that guests would embark on with a coonskin-capped guide. Though the ride is no longer in operation, the canoes still get used annually for these races.

Because this event takes place on stage, it must be done prior to the Magic Kingdom park's opening, which means that teams are arriving at the park before 6 AM. Never mind that challenge...once we got there was when the fun really began. It's a rare occasion for a person to see the Magic Kingdom when it's not stuffed to the brim with tourists, but on these days there was not a soul to behold: around the castle, on Main Street USA, through Adventureland, you name it, it was empty. I got some great pictures (check out the photos page linked on the right for some of those!), and it was really nice to get a look at what can be a pretty peaceful place just after sunrise.

Rowing these behemoths around the Rivers of America was a challenge that we relished. Learning to work as a team and get our oars in sync with one another was half the fun, and it was especially nice to hang out with folks outside of work. One particular highlight of the event was the DJ that would play music for a team before they set out, and if you've been on Safari, you know that we do have a musical element on our adventure. WELL, after hours of scouring the internet for the Swahili song that plays on our truck, I succeeded and it was our anthem as we rowed. Stuff like that adds a really nice touch to the whole event.

My team, Safari Ferrari, was named after one of our trucks (#28) that has the best speed, audio, and air circulation. All told, we had 12 racers throughout the two practices and one qualifying race. Most of us were College Program kids, but there were a few part-timers and one coordinator. It was an incredibly fun time and everyone that had braved the nether-hours of pre-dawn really enjoyed themselves. There were some grumblings in the car on the way over, but I had many thanks from the folks that I had to practically drag out of bed on those mornings for forcing them to have fun. A truly unique experience, to be sure.

One of the drivers on our team was awesome enough to actually design shirts for us, which you can see best in the photos on picasaweb. Incidentally, those photos really capture some of the best parts of this whole experience, and though I am proud of the role that words play in my life, I must concede that in some circumstances, pictures speak louder than mere participles are able. Check them out!

I've got several posts on the drafting board right now, so check back next week for something new!

Until next time...

Have a wild time out there!