The annual Missouri River 340 (MR340) race has been something that our family has participated in seven times since 2008. Its a 340 mile canoe and kayak race from Kansas City to Saint Louis on the Missouri river. Its a non-stop race meaning that there are no mandatory stops, just a few checkpoints for safety. Of course you can stop anywhere you need to keep yourself fueled up and safe. This year, Danelle and Sonora are racing as a team in the Women’s Tandem division.
This blog post will be broken up into perspectives. While Danelle and Sonora are paddling, every good team needs a ground crew to provide them the resources they need to focus on paddling. This year, after racing 6 times, Hogan was going to experience ground crew.
Going Forward we’ll start each section with our name and, Hogan’s writings will be in this dark azure color. Danelle’s writings will be in orange (the color is a family joke for another time).
Hogan: We left St. Louis Sunday morning with our Kruger Cruiser on top of our RAV4 and pulling our trailer with a 19′ Grumman 4 person we call “The Beast”. Mike Dey from Texas asked to borrow the boat and I was happy to oblige. He and 3 college friends wanted to experience the race together. Also in the trailer were some supplies that I hoped would make the ground crewing more fun. A large cooler, a 10×10 foot pop-up tent and other large items that I didn’t need.
Like nearly all drives when I have a boat on the car, I tend to go slower. I always worry about the wind on the boats, and that leads to me being passed on the highway. Even on a Sunday when the race starts Tuesday, I get passed by a fellow boater.
When we arrived at Kansas City, my parents generously made space in their driveway to park the car and trailer keeping it off the street and hopefully safer for the night. This isn’t to say they live in a crime infested area, but why take extra risks.
My parents were happy to see us and always happy to see the grand kids. It didn’t take long before Sonora got spoiled. I think this was a birthday card/gift that didn’t get mailed so they waited until in person to see it.
Family is very important to us. Hiatt’s kids were in town and Sonora really wanted to hang out with Michaela. A quick phone call and Sonora and I were off with my dad’s car (so I didn’t have to move the trailer) to go pick up Michaela from Hiatt’s house so the girls could hang out for as much as they could before the race.
Its heartwarming to see two young ladies separated by thousands of miles come together and resume the friendship/family as if time stood still. It wasn’t the quantity of time they wanted to spend, but it was the quality. Puppy chow was made!
I distracted them long enough for a better photo.
Time went fast on Sunday. Danelle and I made ourselves busy preparing for the race and enjoying my parents company. I would normally be upset at Sonora staying up late (Michaela spent Sunday to Monday night), but being with her cousin was more important this day.
Monday is where the clock seemed to switch to moving on fast forward. Danelle and I committed to Mike Dey to be at Kaw Point to drop off boats at 10am. We started driving shortly after 9am because I don’t like being late and, as I mentioned already, I drive slow with boats. Normally when arriving at Kaw point, we would get there around 2pm on Monday to drop them off before the race and it was a bustling place. At 10am, we were among the first few that were dropping off boats. We got a prime spot for our Kruger and the Grumman.
Danelle: For some reason, Hogan is always eager to carry boats. He doesn’t just want to help. He wants to do it all himself and for as much distance as he’s allowed. Hogan was driving past some open ground, planning to unload the Kruger back in familiar territory further from the ramp, but I wanted none of it! While he has no problem standing in line patiently waiting for everyone else to put their boats in the water at the start of the race, I get frustrated easily just standing, then moving 12 feet, then standing… (but I’ll gladly sit and wait out the final hour in our floating craft).
When it was all said and done, we had the boat perched in a small space right at the top of the ramp that we eventually shared with two solo boats. I was grateful for our early arrival and the prime parking. To make it up to Hogan, I let him unload the Beast (probably 150 lbs) all by himself, with only a small, silent eye roll when I saw his huge, proud smile as he carried it to the grass.
Hogan: When Mike arrived, he wanted a different location as he wanted to work on the boat. We found some volunteers (everybody is super friendly and helpful at the boat ramps for races) and moved the boat under some trees about 1,000 feet away. There I left Mike with a handshake, my boat, and a bunch of tools I hauled for him to make adjustments. Quick Note, Mike is from Texas and the rest of his team from St. Louis. He has been in the boat only once before and wanted some comfort adjustments before the race.
The initial placement of The Beast.
Since parking would be difficult on race day, we followed the suggestion and scouted the route needed to park where the wasn’t congestion and come to the race start. It was only about 1/3 of a mile walk and doing it ahead of time helped with confusion later.
With boats dropped off, Danelle and I had a sigh of relief. Things were going to plan. Our next step was driving to my brother Henry’s house and dropping off the trailer. I’ve been warned that pulling a trailer through the race is very hard with the crowded parking at the ramps. I decided like a pig head that I would take it, but not for the start of the race. So to Henry’s house we went to drop it off for about 24 hours. Then out for a quick lunch together.
Danelle: We ended up at Goodcent’s near Henry’s for lunch. It’s one of Hogan’s favorite restaurants and our preferred sub shop, but there isn’t one near us so we don’t get to go often. Afterward, we did our grocery shopping to get all of the last-minute food items we didn’t bring from home: fresh fruit, a selection of protein bars, Gatorade, and our caffeinated drink of choice. We ran through our checklists one last time, making sure we had packed all of the food and gear that we were counting on and that Hogan knew what Sonora and I each wanted ready at the checkpoints.
Hogan: The rest of Monday was a blur for me, but I got Danelle and Sonora to bed reasonably early, because we were getting up early to start racing on Tuesday!
When the alarm buzzed early Tuesday morning, I got up excited to see what the day held. I had other plans that I’ll reveal in a bit. But first order was to get the girls up and ready, then drive to the start of the race auxiliary parking and walk in. I opted to pull the cart to make sure the girls were as rested as possible before the start.
Its so early, Sonora and Danelle are walking into the sunrise for this epic adventure!
During this walk, we had to politely yell at other paddlers making the walk ahead of us that were going the wrong way. Shortly after we went by, volunteers were coming out to take station at important intersections and direct paddlers the correct way.
At the boat ramp, the air was electric with the energy. We arrived shortly before the 7am wave of boats were about to start. The girls were in the final 8am starting wave. They spent their time organizing the boat to their liking before getting in line to put the boat into the water for the start of the race.
Shout out to Charles Jacks on the left in the photo below for helping us get the boat down the ramp!
It was initially with mixed feelings at this point that I was leaving them do do their own race. However, after dropping them off and having them come back to shore for a cell phone that we both promised we wouldn’t forget in my pocket, I went to work. I spent the next hour till the start of the race helping other racers (most of whom I didn’t know) carry their boats down to the water. I looked for older racers and/or overloaded boats to decide who I would help. I didn’t really just ask, just said I’m going to help you carry your boat down.
I made a lot of friends in that short amount of time carrying part of other people’s load down to the water. I vividly remember being a recipient of such help in years past and was happy to finally be in a position to return assistance to my community!
Danelle: While Hogan spend the final minutes before the start racing up and down the ramp with other people’s gear, Sonora and I had tucked the Kruger into a slack water area just upstream of the safety boats. We talked about our strategy for the start (go slow to avoid the crazies and give ourselves lots of folks to catch up to) and triple checked our gear and supplies (which is when we noticed the missing cell phone). We didn’t talk too much, or at least I didn’t, because I was starting to lose my voice.
The start went quickly. We caught sight of Mike Dey and the Beast briefly, but then the starting gun sounded and we focused on business. And by business, I mean that we tried to avoid hitting other canoes as we journeyed from the starting area on the Kaw into the swifter water of the Missouri River. Less than a mile into the start, there was a water-based construction crew with several large craft in the river. The race officials had been in communication with them and told us what route to take to pass safely. Meanwhile, the construction workers took a coffee break to watch the crazy paddlers go by.
Hogan: Back on land, the race was about to start. I caught a team photo of Mike Dey and crew, they looked great.
After the starting gun went off, I stayed for about 5 minutes to watch them all leave. It looks like madness until the gun goes off, then all the boats point the correct direction and get moving in a semi-organized fashion.
Danelle: Sonora and I got into our groove quickly and set ourselves at a steady 7-7.5 mph pace as we passed the multiple bridges of Kansas City. We enjoyed the cheering and air horns of the friends, family, and support teams who stopped at various parking lots and bridges along this first couple of miles. We also enjoyed an adapted version of little game that we’ve played during several road trips to KC. I announced our distance traveled every time the GPS said we had completed another mile. Just to keep things interesting, I also announced every time we had completed another percent of the race, so when the GPS said 6.8 miles, I shouted, “2 percent!” This continued for every mile and percent until about 45 miles (6-ish hours) in when Sonora made me stop, mostly because my voice was getting worse, but maybe a little because it was getting annoying.
From the start of the race, we were passing other racers. That’s what happens when you start at the back. Once we were a couple of hours into the journey, we started passing the slowest of the solo racers. One of the more unique boats that we encountered was a four-person pedal drive boat with the racers seated in pairs. They kept a similar pace to ours and we spent some time chatting in casual conversation. After a while, they suggested the Sonora and I should draft them along with a soloist who was nearby. Their four-person was so wide that both of us could draft easily (and probably another boat or two as well)!
Along the way, we met up with Mike and his friends in the Beast. We took turns passing each other, but neither boat could get more than about a quarter mile away from the other. Sonora and I wanted to beat these guys who were paddling in our boat!
Hogan: It was going to be a minimum of 5 hours before the girls will hit the first unofficial checkpoint where they might need me. That might seem like a lot of time, but like a fool, I packed it full of activities. Step 1 was to navigate to North Kansas City near the airport. There, I signed up for a 9 am CrossFit class. Why would I do this???
I’ve been working with a gentleman, Adam Orr, for several months now. He is a 100% remote employee for my company based out of Kansas City. We’ve become friends as well as co-workers with nearly daily video chats about life and work. Adam also does CrossFit as well as being an IronMan athlete. I thought it would be amazing to meet him in person and get in a workout while waiting for the girls.
I went to his gym and met him in person for the first time along with his son Everett. There, we caught up about life and the race and then proceeded to do a hard workout. After the workout, I grabbed a quick shower in his gym as I didn’t want to sweat all the way across the state! Adam took me to Scott’s Kitchen and Catering at Hangar 29 for his favorite barbecue brunch. There the three of us caught up on life and our workout. This was a wonderful way to meet somebody for the first time!
Leaving the meal with Adam, my next stop was my brother Henry’s house. There, I would pick up my trailer and get some ice for the cooler. Once I picked up the trailer at the house, I put my MR340 support flag on my window. It didn’t take long for me to be unhappy with the placement. It is slightly weighted and continued to hit the car. While getting ice, I moved it to the trailer.
I decided to set my sights on Lexington, MO as my destination. It was a bit over 50 miles into the race and the girls would want supplies there. Driving through downtown Kansas City, I received a text message from Stephan Bent. He is a family friend who is also doing ground crew for another paddler. He said he was at the Napoleon, MO ramp and asked how the girls were doing. I found a place to pull off the highway and do some research. It turns out that I could easily make it to that location before the girls did, cheering them on and seeing a friend.
I arrived knowing that I had a trailer and it would be difficult to park. I gave plenty of room knowing I only wanted a chair for myself to wait and walked a ways to the ramp happily. I found Stephan and we had a fantastic chat. He left earlier as his paddler, Anthony, was ahead of us but agreed to stay in touch. While the racers do everything to keep each other safe, the ground crews were in constant contact with each other doing whatever was needed to keep their paddlers moving down the river.
After seeing the girls pass and cheering them on, I was happy to seem them in good spirits. I casually walked back to the car and decided to drive slowly and take in all the sights on my way to Waverly. Not being ground crew before, I was enjoying the small towns and easy slow roads along the river. I found a historical marker and a peach stand on my drive. The marker was unremarkable, but the peach stand did have fresh peaches that I was looking forward to serving the girls as a surprise when they got to the ramp.
Danelle: Sonora and I had enjoyed having Hogan and a bunch of strangers (although no one is stranger than Hogan) cheer us on at the Napoleon. We had been mostly paddling according to our plans, each taking hourly breaks to eat and rest our hands. We started the race using our single blade paddles, but switched to double blades after a couple of hours, once the temperature was warm enough that having a periodic spray from the blades would be a welcome way to cool down rather than a nasty shock of cold. Using the double blades probably gained us 0.5 mph of speed. About two hours later, we switched back to the single blades. Transitioning back and forth between the two types allowed us to alternate which muscle groups were taking the most punishment, reducing fatigue and keeping us from slowing our pace.
One of the greatest challenges of long-distance paddling, particularly for ladies, is relieving oneself. I’ve followed the example of several amazing women racers and use the skirt method. By wearing a skirt, I can take care of my business with little concern for what other nearby paddlers or other passers-by may see. As we paddled down the river, I comfortably took care of business several times without re-routing the boat because the nearest racers were a few hundred feet away. They may or may not have known what I was up to, but even if they knew, they still wouldn’t see anything.
Sonora, on the other hand, felt uncomfortable with this method and ended up wearing athletic pants. These had the advantage of protecting her legs from the sun far better than my skirt covered mine, but we took a hit when it came time to relieve herself. Let’s just say that we had to leave the channel a couple of times so she could have a small amount of privacy in order to protect her modesty. I didn’t mind doing it, because on such a long journey, comfort is a priority, but I certainly preferred my own method.
Hogan: When I arrived at the Lexington, MO boat ramp, it was easy to tell that I was there. There was a long gravel road leading down to the parking/ramp area and it was full of dust from the vehicles traveling along the path. I found an easy to park location away from most people and set up camp to wait for my girls to get here.
While I was waiting, I purchased 2 hamburgers, some brownies and walked a few laps around the parking lot to get a feel for it. While waiting, I made friends with the lady and her young child in the white car behind me in the photo above. I offered to let them hang out in my shade while waiting for their paddler. I had cut up fruit for the girls during my wait and put it in the cooler. Apples, grapes, and peaches were waiting for them.
My friends next to me came back to their car with their paddler, he looked beat after his long paddle. I insisted that he take refuge under my tent and cool off in my chair. After a moment’s hesitation, he gratefully accepted my hospitality. I also provided fresh fruit for him. At the time, I hoped that I could provide enough to help him get back on the water and have a great race. I’m impressed and surprised to find out, that the gentleman I helped out was Michael Williams. I had never met him before and probably didn’t introduce myself. But he took the time to find me and send a message thanking me for my help. This was unexpected and appreciated. It turns out that Michael wasn’t able to finish the race, but was in high spirits and is considering a rematch next year!
Danelle: I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but Sonora is daddy’s girl in many ways. For the purpose of this trip, the most apparent way that she is like Hogan is in her desire to push herself and put her all into competitive activities. As an example, during one of my short food breaks, I noticed that our speed actually increased when I stopped paddling. I foolishly thought that we happened to hit an area of faster water in the channel. What really happened is that Sonora doubled down to pick up the slack when I had stopped. She has heard Hogan telling stories of doing this very thing and was following his example.
As we approached the Lexington ramp, Sonora and I checked our supplies and decided that we didn’t need to stop. We both still had water in our jugs (as well as a couple bottles of Gatorade and a spare water jug in the middle of the boat) – the weather had been cooler than expected, so we weren’t as hot/sweaty/thirsty as normal for mid-July. We also both had plenty of food in our boxes. It’s hard to know what food is going to sound good when you are on the water, so our solution was to have a variety to choose from. Considering that we had what we needed and that every stop adds time to the finish line, we waved to Hogan on the ramp and kept on going.
Hogan: Watching my phone, I knew when the girls were about to arrive thanks to the Garmin InReach satellite tracker they had on the boat. I loaded the wagon with replacement water and food. I got to the ramp and hung out impatiently waiting for their arrival ready to do my job as ground crew. I was a bit saddened when I realized they were skipping this unofficial checkpoint and waiting until Waverly to resupply. I also worried that they would run out of water as they now had 20 more miles to go and it wasn’t in our original plan.
Back at the car, I unloaded the wagon and learned that I knocked over the water and drenched their hamburgers. The only thing to do was throw away the soggy bread and eat the meat. I secured everything and headed for Waverly, MO for the first official checkpoint. I want to point out that there is a time limit to encourage the paddlers to keep moving the first day. It meant the girls had to travel around 6.7 mph for the first 72 miles to make the cut off. This was slightly slower than their average speed for training runs, so it was going to be cutting it close.
Ohh, Waverly, MO. This boat ramp is much smaller and on a decent hillside. After making a first pass, I knew I was never getting the car and trailer anywhere close to the ramp. I knew going in that I would have to walk and park far away, but this was my first real experience of limited parking for the race. I expected this ramp, Miami, and Glasgow to be crowded, then for it to ease up. I parked on what I called the third tier. It was about 3 stories up from the main parking above the river. Even being that far away, I still had to park a ways down the road. Of course, this is what I signed up for.
I’m starting to like this ground crew thing. I stop to talk to lots of people because I have time to do just that. I also like helping out. I managed to share bananas with another ground crew that was short a few. Then she mentioned wanting to get a caffeine drink for her paddler. I mentioned that I had one that we would never use (took a chance and Danelle said NO to coffee flavored Coke), and gave it away. Time was getting short and I was nervous even with the tracker.
Danelle: I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the race, I just stopped thinking. Or at least I stopped remembering. We had conversations with other paddlers, including a couple who had been on the Paddle MO trip with me a few years ago, but I can’t remember anyone’s names or what we talked about. And I’m sure there were other things that happened, but none of it made the kind of impression that lasted through the events that followed.
So the next occurrence of note was when we both ran out of water. I think Sonora finished her jug about 5 miles past the ramp where Hogan had been with our supplies. I emptied mine about a half hour later. We both still had Gatorade, but it was a bit of a wake-up call to us.
A bit further on, we were about an hour outside of Waverly, the first official checkpoint. Based on our pace thus far, we were going to get there at least an hour before the cutoff. This was right on track with our plan. I asked Sonora how she was doing and tried to plan with her for the evening. We had left ourselves with two options, depending on when we needed to stop and sleep. Sonora said that her wrists were hurting. I told her to take a long break, that we were far enough ahead of the Reaper (the cut-off boat) that we could afford to slow down a bit. After five or ten minutes, she was back to paddling again, but I could tell that things weren’t better. I asked her about it and she said that, while she wanted to keep going, she thought we would need to pull out of the race. While I was willing to stop, I didn’t want either of us have regrets later that we hadn’t considered some option. I told her that I was still doing fine and would be glad to paddle us to the next stop while she rested, especially if she would steer. My legs were a bit tired from being in the same position all day long on the food pedals to control the rudder. That did not entice her. I suggested we could each take long breaks at night, taking turns, each paddling for 15-30 minutes while the other rested. Nope. I can’t remember all of the choices I gave her, but she was in a lot of pain and didn’t want to do any more damage to her wrists.
Hogan: I rolled my supply cart down the hill with extra water since they didn’t get any at Lexington and the snack bags. Pro tip for ground crew, take your wagon down large hills backwards. So the cart is in front of you and you’re letting gravity do the work. Steering is weird at first, but you have way more control. I figured they would get out this time to stretch their legs for a few minutes. My excitement elevated as I was finally going to get to do my job. I parked the folding wagon with supplies at the top of the ramp and got a visual on the girls. I walked down to the bottom of the ramp and they did indeed want to get out of the boat.
Shortly after they walked up the hill out of the boat, I learned that they were pulling out of the race. I asked some gentle questions, but their minds were made up. Well, Danelle was feeling okay, but Sonora had lots of pain in both of her wrists. It was now around 7pm and the cut off time was 8pm for this ramp. I knew there was no way that I could get the car and trailer down here for a while so we needed to just hang out.
While we were hanging out, we learned the Stephan’s paddler missed the cutoff. I offered to take the boat back with us that night since I had a trailer and it would be simple for me to haul it. I also found the ground crew for Mike Dey’s boat and they asked if I could haul some supplies back which I had no issue with.
Lots of little interactions happened between the girls deciding to DNF (Did Not Finish) and around 8:15pm when we decided it was time to get the car. I walked up to get the car and trailer and stopped a few times to chat with people before remembering that I was supposed to get the car. When I got down to the ramp area, it was still busy, but I had help. Several other ground crew people unhooked my trailer and turned it around while I turned the car around then re-attached it.
We loaded 2 boats on the car and lots of gear for the long drive home. The girls both wanted to get home that night and I didn’t totally mind that idea. Before I knew it, I was driving I-70 back home to St. Louis.
I was secretly relieved that I didn’t have to unpack the tent and figure out how to get decent sleep that night, but also sad that the girls were not going to finish.
Danelle: I’m actually very proud of Sonora for the decision she made. She was conscious of the condition of her body and recognized that she had pushed past her limit. This takes a level of self knowledge that I find impressive in such a young person (16 years)! She apparently had more self-knowledge than her mother. When we were on the drive home, I noticed that I was feeling rather unwell. My voice was still not normal, my nose was runny, and I felt like maybe I was getting a fever. When we got home at 1am, I swabbed my nasal passages and ran a COVID test. Yep, I was positive. I have no idea where or when I got it and I’m glad to say that nobody else in the family got it from me (either in KC or in St. Louis). I spent the rest of the week isolating in the bedroom. I didn’t feel too bad and may have been okay to paddle, but it is probably better for me and the other paddlers that we pulled out of the race.
Later in the week, Sonora went to an orthopedic doctor to have her wrists checked out. She came home with a pair of wrist braces and instructions to rest them. That means no paddling, no violin, no discus throwing, and no cross fit (so no fun).
Hogan: Fast forward to Friday and the finish line. While the girls were not getting awards, I love to see all of my paddling friends at the finish, and I needed to pick up my Grumman canoe and drop off the one I brought back. I didn’t stay as long as I liked, but that is life.
Then I saw a Facebook post on the race page asking if somebody left their rudder. Turns out that I know the fool that didn’t pack the rudder with their boat. But lucky for me to get 5 more minutes at the finish line!
I could and have talked way too much about this race. I’m happy every opportunity I have to participate and look forward to my next time in whatever capacity I can get!