Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Missouri River 340 2010

Now that the year is almost over and I haven't even been on the water for a month, I suppose its time to update the blog. 2010 was my inaugural running of the Missouri River 340, which is the longest non-stop river race in the world. The course stretches from Kansas City, Mo, to St Charles, Mo. It works out to about 340 miles, and stretches across the entire state of Missouri. Along the way racers are required to sign through checkpoints, but nobody has to stop until they reach the finish line.

2010 had a field of 244 boats.

I started at 6:00 am with a bagel and peanut butter for breakfast at the starting line, loaded and prepped the boat, and shortly thereafter was on the water where I would remain for nearly three days. Dad was running shore duty for me, hauling my extra gear from checkpoint to checkpoint, procuring food and water, and generally trying to make my life a little easier.

By 7:00 am the Kaw River confluence (where the Kaw meets the Missouri in KC) was beginning to fill up with boats. It wasn't long until easily over a hundred boats and their paddlers were out cruising the Kaw and warming up. News crews were filming, and helicopters were photographing from above, adding to the excitement. Right before 8:00, the national anthem was sung, and the remaining seconds were counted down. The race was started with rifle salute, and we were off!

The race begins!

244 boats surged forward and were drawn into the Missouri River, which was flowing above 90,000 CFS. Even merely floating I clocked 4.5 mph and with a bit of effort could easily make 8 mph, although I did hit 13 mph at one point in the race. Only 10-15 miles into the race I suddenly realized I was pushing way too hard to be able to maintain my pace for 340 miles, so I had to force myself to slow down to conserve my energy, spirit, and muscles. The first 50 miles flew by in 6 hours, and I checked through checkpoint 1 which was a beehive of boats and shore personnel. CP2 was about 30 miles further, and I made it several hours before the cutoff. I was pretty happy about that, since I didn't have to make my next checkpoint until the following morning. I made CP 3 late that evening, and decided I was going to try to sleep. That was definitely a mistake. The checkpoint was pretty active, and noisy, and although I did sleep, I would have been better off if I had stayed on the water, since I really didn't feel too tired yet.

Still, after a 3 hour nap I took off again to paddle into the night.

The river was lit by a big full moon, which made navigating easy, and the next morning at 8:00 I had put 135 miles behind me. So far that had been my longest 24 hour distance.. I arrived at CP4 mid morning, ate some cheeseburgers, and had a Pepsi while my water and food was being reloaded, and I was off again. By early afternoon I was starting to feel it. Minor aches and pains had begun to settle in, and things I didn't even notice when I started were beginning to annoy me. However, the current was swift, there was no contrary winds, and the scenery was amazing. The river had begun to descend into a deeper channel, which gave rise to occasional bluffs and steep, tree-covered hills.

Leaving Glasgow, Missouri on day 2

The second day I was determined I was going to reach Jefferson City, which would leave me with roughly 120 miles for the third day. Feet that had been soaked for two days resting in the bottom of the canoe with pressure on the heels were beginning to get very painful, and the pockets of my elbows were a little sore, and I was feeling generally fatigued but really in good spirits. I pulled over and stopped for a bit and rearranged my boat to help keep my feet dry and get a little circulation back into them, and kept on going. Darkness fell long before I reached Jefferson City, and around 9:30 or 10:00 pm I found myself paddling alone. Our checkpoints were marked at night with a flashing blue strobe light, and I was really looking forward to getting to Jefferson City for a nap and maybe some food. Finally at long last I rounded a corner and about 3-4 miles ahead noticed a flashing blue light. Spirits boosted I pushed on faster. I was passed by a kayaker, who I noticed went right by the strobe. I thought to myself that perhaps he was fatigued and didn't notice it, but I would let the race officials know when I got there.

I made straight for the light and to my suprise I couldn't find the landing! I clenched my flashlight in my teeth searching the shoreline as I paddled along, but to no avail. Suddenly of all things, a train drove straight through the checkpoint! I was a bit befuddled until I realized I was searching for a landing on the railroad tracks, and the strobe was a rail marker. A little disappointed I turned back into the river, and discovered the real checkpoint about a mile further downriver. After a sandwich, and another three hour nap I was back on the river, but not for long. After an hour out (2:00 am), thick fog rolled in, and almost instantly I was in a whiteout. I became disoriented, and tried to decide the best course of action. I went river left, but realized at that point there were wing dikes in the water, so I blindly paddled back across the river hoping to find refuge. Suddenly, mid-river a brief burst of breeze parted the fog, and I saw shore! I pulled hard on the paddle, and sprinted for shore as the fog closed back in. Amazingly I found a wrist thick mooring cable hanging looped around a tree, and tied my canoe to it. With nothing better to do, I wrapped myself in my space blanket, and laid in the boat and slept. I can't begin to describe how great that five hours of deep sleep felt. I awoke feeling great, and well rested, and saw that the fog was beginning to lift.

Missouri River fog on morning 3

Well rested, and in high spirits I pushed on the remainder of the way to the next checkpoint. I talked to my Dad, and decided we would do touch-and-go stops, lasting just long enough to grab some water and food, and I would be off. My next checkpoint might have lasted a minute, while Dad restocked my water, I ran up the hill on now-unsteady legs and grabbed three cheeseburgers and two cans of Pepsi from a concession stand. I had one burger eaten by the time I ran back to the boat and was nearly through the second as I climbed in. Unfortunately fatigue was beginning to get the better of my stomach, and the rest of the race was a bitter battle to keep my food down. Finally in late afternoon, I arrived at Klondike Park. Final checkpoint. 27 miles left. My abs cramped violently as I tried to get out of the boat, and my legs gave out as I attempted to stand. I threw everything I could out of the boat, Dad dumped a half gallon of water into my jug, and I jumped back on the water. I went hard. After 310 miles I knew I didn't need to save myself for another night, or many more miles. The GPS kept climbing, 10, 11, 12, finally 13 mph every now and then. I should have slowed down a bit. A few miles later I was exhausted, and had to slow down again, although I still ran up over 10 mph frequently. Finally I was too wrecked to go that fast anymore, and slowed down to a 7 mph cruising speed.

Night fell, and the river stretched on forever in front of me. A moored barge helped briefly, shining his massive spotlight downriver to help light the way. Finally I realized no one was visible in front or behind me, and whatever position I held in the race at that point was the one I would end with. Elated in knowing that I would finish this race, I decided I would just take it easy and enjoy the last six miles. A bright moon filled the starry sky, and the cool night air was a relief after a hard day. I felt pretty good right then. At last the finish line drew into sight, and I pulled into the finish, welcomed by my Dad and fellow racers. I had a couple slices of pizza, and stumbled around for a bit trying to get my legs back under me, then went to the hotel, a hot shower and warm bed. After 61 hours, and 38 minutes in the race, I could finally get some decent sleep.

I slept like a baby.

Finish Line Hermann Checkpoint

Racing canoes

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