2023 MR340 – 7/30/2023

The MR340 (Missouri River 340) is a 340 mile canoe race from Kansas City to St. Louis in the state of Missouri.  This year is my 7th time participating in the race. I was originally signed up as a solo participant, then switched to be in a team, and finally switched to mixed tandem. I have other posts that talk about the reasons for switching, but I’m going to focus on the immediate race as mixed tandem.

My ground crew, Danelle (wife) and Sonora (daughter) took the train to Kansas City to hang out with family earlier in the week. I was hanging out by myself packing for the race. But first, I offered to help a people get to KC. I started on Sunday meeting. I met John at his parents house about 45 minutes south of St. Louis to pick up his Wenonah C4. I put it on the trailer next to my Kruger Cruiser and promised to deliver it safely to KC the following day. I explained that it was next to my boat and would be treated the same as my own boat. I spent the rest of the day packing all of my gear in the car/trailer for the drive.

Stressed with packing for the race without Danelle to help, I eventually called it good enough. I hopped in the car and started driving to the finish line of the race. There, I would meet JoJo (my race partner) and Dave who I was giving a ride to the start of the race. There were others meeting at the finish line for the same purpose. We made friends, decorated the windows and eventually got everything loaded and left for KC.

We had a mostly uneventful drive to KC. Okay, we almost ran out of gas. I love my RAV4 hybrid, but it gets horrible gas mileage when towing large boats.  I was getting about 16 mpg with a 12 gallon tank. When we pulled into the gas station in Columbia, MO, I had a zero mile range (for over a mile). I filled a LOT of gas. This is especially stupid because I passed several stations just to get to a specific one I had in my head while driving. Glad we didn’t run out, or I would never hear the end of it.

The rest of the drive was us going slow (cause I do that with boats). I lost count (but probably 4 or 5) of other cars with boats on top going to the start of the MR340 passing us. We arrived at Kaw Point and I started prepping the boat for unloading. I called John to let him know his boat arrived safely. Everybody has happy and unpacking commenced. Dave informed us that his team was on the way, but had car issues and will have to nurse it to the start (they did eventually make it).

We took the trailer to dad’s house and unloaded all of the gear. Then JoJo and I went to [my brother] Henry’s house to drop off the trailer until some time after the race. We picked up some Mexican food for dinner that night and went back to Dad’s. After a great Mexican dinner, we all went to bed so we could get up early and race.

Race Day has arrived. Danelle, Sonora, JoJo, and I pile into the car with our gear for the first several hours of racing. Even on the 7th time of knowing I’m racing (eight if you count ground crewing), I can feel the excitement and am ready to race! As always, we’re chasing that elusive 50 hour finishing time. A feat I’ve only accomplished once before with JoJo. The solo paddlers take off and we’re quick to get in line and get the boat down the ramp and into the water. We filtered quickly through and put ourselves in the water. We paddled to the far side of the river to wait and finish organizing the boat on the water. We’re excited and weary of the task in front of us.

Its been seven years since JoJo and I paddled together as mixed tandem. We were a few years younger and better trained. Still I wanted to best our previous time of 49:48. One minute faster was the goal we were reaching for and it would be a struggle for sure! As before, the start goes off and we loiter in the back of the pack. This saves us from congestion of crashing with other boats and possibly flipping over. As an added bonus, we’ll pass more boats the first hour as we even out our pace against everybody else.

Funny how to this point my mind is clear. Now as the race starts, things go a bit blank. What I do remember are the strongest most consistent head winds I have encountered on the Missouri river. At times, we were barely pushing 4mph. We passed a lot of boats. Some time around 2pm, JoJo mentions that she’s tired. She is used to afternoon naps. I told her to take a quick nap. Its better to take care of your body and be ready for night paddling. The first nap didn’t work, however she did try again about an hour later and that nap lasted about a half hour. During that time, I had a team of 3 guys paddle up next to me in a Minnesota 3. It was a great and fast boat. They commented wondering why I was keeping up with all 3 of them with a sleeping passenger. I suggested kindly that they paddle harder. Of course it was only about 10 minutes of paddling next to them and I was pushing myself without showing on my face, cause we’re racing.

We made our first stop at Waverly, MO at the first checkpoint. We both opted for a bio break while Danelle and Sonora refreshed the boat. The wind was really kicking our butts and we left the checkpoint (after about a 15 minute stop) 41 minutes before the cutoff. This was about 90 minutes slower than our 2016 run.

I told ground crew we would be skipping Miami and paddling on to Glasgow. We had the supplies for it as we left. It didn’t take long till we paddled into the evening as it progressed to night. It looked like it was going to rain. We were prepared. At some point past midnight. JoJo was ready to sleep. I assured her I was up to the task and cracked open my first Red Bull (and first caffeine drink in about two months). I had a sip every few minutes. As I paddled, the storm continued. After we passed Miami, I decided to wake up JoJo and get her opinion on the weather. It was nearly constant (at least every minute) lightning. We’re in a boat on the water. I took some comfort that there was no accompanying thunder and I didn’t see anything that appeared to do anything more than cloud to cloud.

JoJo thought we were good to continue, but I wanted her approval as she was risking with me. Some time around 2:30am, we felt the storm was about to break over us. The wind was picking up. We found a tiny piece of land, more of an island, and pulled the boat up. She took the emergency blankets and slept next to the boat for a wind shelter. I slept in the boat under the spray skirt. Of course, I forgot to dry the bottom of the boat first and got a wet butt. No surprise to me, I was up right at 5am. Eventually JoJo stirred and we were back in the water shortly after 5am.

When we arrived at Glasgow, we did a quick refresh and learned about our standing. Something like 140 boats were DNFed at Waverly the previous night. No way we could beat 50 hours now, but we were in 67th place overall. I/we decided to adjust our goal to being top 50 in the race. This was very much achievable as there was more than half the race left to paddle. We agreed to meet again in Jefferson City, Mo (about 80 miles downstream) and took off.

I took a nap in the boat some time in the late morning for about 30 minutes to get prepared to go through the next night. We were slowly passing people and still in great spirits. Just the same, the wind continued to punish as it had done the previous day. Some time after 2pm, we got a call from Danelle. I don’t tend to leave my phone on during the race, so JoJo took the call. I only got half the call, but it didn’t sound good. Turns on the race officials cancelled/completed the race at that moment. There were lots of safety issues the previous night and the rain rose the river several feet downstream. There was lots of debris and more on the way. Add this to the fact that storms were predicted for the whole race course the coming evening.

We were shocked. As we came up to Katfish Katy’s ramp, we were asked to leave the river. Knowing that Danelle had to go home to St. Louis to empty the car before she could fit our gear and boat, it would be a minimum 4 hours before she could get us. We declined to pull off the river and said we would paddle 10 more miles to Cooper’s Landing where we could get food and beer while we waited. They didn’t like us paddling on, but couldn’t stop us. We were advised that we were on our own and unsupported. We understood their position and accepted the risk. We took an easy 2 hour paddle to Cooper’s Landing.

We had much to talk about as we dodged debris fields of wood down the river the next 10 miles. Cancelling the race in place was the best/worst decision the race organizers could have made. The number or rescues that would have been required the coming night with more storms and wood debris (think whole trees going down the river) would have been high. It probably would have been unsafe for the safety boats to rescue people in the dark.

We arrived at Cooper’s Landing amongst friends in the same situation. But they had a bar and food. We each got dinner and a beer and spent the evening reminiscing with paddling friends about the recent events. While it stinks that we didn’t get to “finish” our race, I was grateful for what I did get to experience.

I’m not sure what else to say, so watch our time lapse video of the race.

Hogan Haake