This year is an exceptionally strange year. COVID-19 has caused lots of social and safety issues. I was thinking about paddling in the MR340 with Jo Jo. Then Melissa Nilson called me and suggested Jo Jo and I join her on a dragon boat for the race. After talking with Jo Jo, we decided it might just be the fun change we were looking for. Somehow in the mix of things, I talked my wife, Danelle into joining the dragon boat. Next thing I knew we were performing a training run with 10 people in Joe Ringling’s boat Colter’s Run.
Coming back around to COVID, the team started falling apart. Concerns over COVID caused a few team members of the dragon boat to change their minds about being in a boat in close proximity of several other people. In a frantic evening of phone calls between members, it was decided to disband the dragon boat and go our own ways. The race was offering deferments of registration till next year, but that didn’t seem good. Jo Jo, Danelle, and I decided we would still paddle the race. We have a friend that has let us borrow has aluminum C4 canoe. We made a call and had a boat reserved. Now all we had to do was get one more paddler.
We have lots of friends that would join us, but first on our list was Cyndie Guffey. We were trying to talk her into the dragon boat and she was on the edge of saying yes and started making plans to join us. I didn’t want to let her down, so she was our first choice. I called Cyndie and asked her to make a decision in the next 24 hours. A very strange request, but necessary to get the registration for the race done in time. The next day, Cyndie called me back and said yes to the race. Our team was set!
We had a few training runs for the race, but we were primarily going in unprepared. In order to be prepared, we tried to get any paddling in that we could before the race. Sometimes the training was just in 2 person canoes. Danelle and I did the Freedom race with Melissa Nilson and Mark Fingerhut. Its a 63 mile race mostly on the Missouri river. After that race, I realized that my back was not going to be able to handle the MR340 without a rudder.
A week before the MR340, I left the boat with Jason Locke who was helping our team add a rudder to the boat. It was going to be a tight deadline, but we needed some help. One week before the race, we got the boat back from Jason. The rudder was better than I expected. Jason made a nice wooden rudder that was exactly what we needed. It didn’t have any foot controls like a traditional rudder system for race boats. My idea was to use rope and create stirrups to put my feet in and steer the boat. We had a test paddle that night and the rope system for the rudder worked. I could steer the boat, but it needed some serious adjustments.
I took the boat home and waited till Thursday due to rain. Unfortunately the rain caused the wood to swell and the rudder was locked in position. I called Jason for advice and he suggested baking it in the oven at low temperature. Friday morning, I was finally able to break the rudder free and by Friday evening, I was able to pull it fully apart. From there, I sanded down the rudder parts until there was lots of play and the swelling of the wood would not lock it up. I also water proofed it again to attempt to protect it from future use.
Saturday morning, we had our final test paddle in the boat. I tried to get the rudder strings right and it was not working. I decided I would just work through it. Worst case scenario, I could use a hand to pull on the rudder line and make minor adjustments and protect my back from being overworked. Now all we had to do was wait for the start of the race.
I spent a frantic Saturday and Sunday packing and getting ready for the race. This is the most stressful time for me. Did we remember everything? Do we have all the required equipment. Did I mention thinking that I forgot something. Its my 6th time doing the race, but it never gets any easier. In addition, all the packing is done with Danelle and we both want to know where everything is!
When Tuesday morning finally arrived, I was ready for the race to start. We got to Kaw point about 6:30am. Jo Jo and Cyndie slept at Kaw point the night before. We brought them fresh coffee and started taking supplies from the car to the boat. Its always a mess with that many people getting ready to start a boat race and get all their supplies in order. When we had all the supplies in order, Jo Jo got in line for loading the boat on the ramp. When she got to us, then we moved the boat in place. I should mention that my 3 race partners are lovely ladies, of small stature. The boat with all the gear was too much for them and required us pulling the water out of the boat to make it easier to carry. I’m guessing the boat weighed 200 pounds with all of our gear in it.
Eventually, we made it to the bottom of the ramp, shoved ourselves in it and got settled. It was now about 8 minutes before the race started! I tied the rudder sturps too long and they were not useful. They wanted me to fix them right then, but I also had to steer as we were in the largest field of boats we would see for the whole race. So I deferred keeping us from running into any other boats out there for the race. We anxiously waited for the starting gun.
Like in years past, the gun went off and we just sat there. It feels wrong not to paddle like a mad person(team) when the gun goes off, but that is what I’ve always done. And it paid off. Team Tandemonium flipped where the Kansas and Missouri rivers met. Not sure the details, but to our benefit, we were not in any danger of hitting their boat or having to divert around and cause another wreck. Jo Jo and I have been here before twice together racing and always found the slow start strategy a smart one to use. Instead of bumping other boats, we waited and started slow. Since its a 340 mile race, we counted on passing people as they got tired and stopped.
The race was a long slow blur all the way through the first checkpoint, Waverly. We passed by without stopping around the 6pm hour. Note I don’t have an exact time. I want to take a moment to point out that I’m no longer part of Raceowl. I turned the site 100% over to Jon Marble around November of 2019 and never looked back. Jon has made fantastic strides improving the site and adding features I was too lazy to add, but all of that advancement comes at a cost. Raceowl had some issues to work out and Jon spent most of the race writing code updates and fixing incorrect data. Our timestamps for the first checkpoint are in conflict causing me not to know what our time was. I’m sure Jon will make lots of improvements and it’ll be even better next year. I wish him the best and offer support any time he asks me for it.
About 5 miles after the Waverly checkpoint, things got interesting. We noticed two boats about 200 yards in front of us flip at almost the same time. This race is 100% about helping each other and our 4 person boat has helped a capsized paddler before. With 4 people, its easy to have lots of hands facilitating. This was completely different. I slowed the boat as we got closer as a 4 person boat has a lot more mass to slow down and stop and I didn’t want to hurt anybody.
As we pulled up on the 2 capsized boats, we asked if they needed help. Only one paddler responded yes. My view (from the back of our boat) was two paddlers in the water stuck between two different boats. The situation was worse than we could have imagined. One of the paddlers had a seizure and the other person immediately jumped in to help. In the effort of jumping in, he got tangled in rudder lines.
Jumping into action, here is what I remember happening over the course of the next hour (verified by the timestamps of phone calls made). Danelle quickly got on the phone to the safety boats asking for immediate medical help and reporting our position. Cyndie and Jo Jo worked together on the paddler that had the seizure. First to help keep her head above water, but also to untangle her from her boat via 2 different lines. I worked in the back to ensure that we were not going to hit anything being in the channel. Additionally, I helped John (the guy that jumped) get untangled from her boat and to stay above water. He was struggling as he had kept her above water and was tangled up, holding on to his own boat for all he was worth.
Eventually, I was able to get John free and move his boat to the other side of our 4 person aluminum boat. There I worked with John to get him re-mounted into his own boat. On the other side of the boat, Cyndie and Jo Jo worked to pull the lady into our boat and keep her warm. Somewhere along there, John came back around the back of our boat and help push her in from the water. It took both Jo Jo and I to unroll one of our safety blankets and cover up the lady who was still having episodes of a seizure inside our boat. Cyndie did an amazing job comforting her physically and emotionally while the rest of us continued to work.
I should mention here, that there were other boats that were on the scene from the beginning. Bernie Arnold comes to mind, but there may have been others. We eventually delegated John (the guy that jumped in to save the lady) to some of the other kayaks to focus on the lady in distress. Danelle got the call that the safety boat wanted us to go to shore and wait for them so we didn’t drift any farther than necessary from the checkpoint they were coming from. Thanks to all the other boats that assisted John, I did see that he was able to get warmed up from being in the water and finish the race!
Now we were down to just my 4 person aluminum boat paddled to the shore waiting for the safety boat to take the lady back for medical attention. Eventually after what felt like an eternity, the safety boat was coming down the river. We did all that we could to ensure that they noticed us and came over. The Walter Birmingham came and made a wide circle to come over. Unfortunately, they hit a submerged wing dyke twice and had to back up. Then on the second attempt at a different spot they bottomed out again. At that point, they throttled down to think. At that point, we were able to yell that they could hear if they would like us to paddle out to them.
With a reply of yes, Danelle and I focused on paddling our boat back out to the channel where the safety boat could reach us. Note that Cyndie and Jo Jo were not mentioned in paddling. Cyndie was comforting our patient and Jo Jo was holding on to her boat. Once out in the channel, we were handed a rope to tie up her boat so it wasn’t in the way. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to transfer the lady to the safety boat. After some consideration, we were handed the string for her boat and asked to tie it up on shore and they would come back for it. So we left her and paddled back to the shore.
At the shore, Jo Jo jumped out and tried to put the boat up out of the water, but it was too heavy and a delicate composite boat. I jumped out to help and barefoot, kicked a rock. After a minor curse, we got the boat out of the water and tied to a tree. With a huge sigh of relief, we pushed off the shore and drifted the most we would drift this whole race thinking about what happened and how we were able to help.
Just a quick note here, all of the details above are my memory of what happened. I’m sure I forgot details, but it wasn’t on purpose. If you’re reading this and had a part, sorry I left out your help. Reviewing this event, our team feels she was very lucky. First that John was there to jump in nearly instantly and ensure that she didn’t drown. And second that our giant barge of a boat was behind them. Having a large stable boat made it easier to perform the actions we did. Also having the extra hands of a team boat were fantastic.
BACK TO THE RACE
Night came on and we were back paddling and enjoying the cool weather. It didn’t take long for the dark to take hold. We used Pro Paddler this year to add confidence to our location on the river. Our speed was maybe even slightly faster during night than the day as we moved along. The fog came and went, but it was never a total whiteout. We were able to see the shore or other boats at all times. Additionally, I felt that having the app showed us the channel and where to be. There were not any boueys out at this point and we knew based on reports that no barges were in the area. By the time we got to Glasgow, we were all exhausted and decided that it was time to stop for the night.
Once we pulled into Glasgow and stopped paddling, I started shivering. My pants had gotten wet from switching sides paddling all night and my shirt was slightly damp from sweating. It turned into a more violent full body shiver. My mind felt fully clear, but I understood that my body was having issues. I planned to put on my rain pants and curl up on the ground and shiver till I was warm and sleep.
My team and ground crew had other ideas. I tend to try and leave it out there when I race. That meant that my body looked broken when I walked from a sore back and shivering on top of that. I was promptly put in a running car with the heat on. My team followed suit shortly. We slept for a bit over 2 hours before getting up and getting up ready to paddle the next day. I decided to walk to the heated bathroom and started shivering again during my walk. With some hot chocolate in me (no coffee as caffeine is for night only), I warmed enough. We got some delicious food from the vendor and set off for the day.
The fog was gone and once I started paddling, I warmed up very quickly! From Glasgow, it was almost 12 hours of paddling until we reached Jeff City. This felt like a reply of the Freedom Race from about a month earlier, but without the wind. There was a parked barge in this section. While going wide to avoid it, we watched a paddler in a epic that got too close to and L Dyke get pulled over by the current. We watched over our shoulder hoping another rescue was not required, but the paddler appeared to be OK. I think I remember going past our second barge of the trip during this section as well. It was like a mild roller coaster that didn’t bother our large boat.
Jeff City was a refreshing break. We brought the boat on shore with the help of the amazing ramp volunteers for a 30 ish minute turn. This gave some time to eat dinner, organize the boat, and a bio break for a few of us. Leaving Jeff City, we had about 2 hours left of sunlight before our final evening paddle was going to happen. After the success of the previous night using pro-paddler, I wanted to get it started and ready to use. I turned on my phone and go the app ready and my phone freaked out. I’m not sure what happened, but it wouldn’t turn on. The battery wasn’t dead but I was a bit worried.
Lucky for us, Jo Jo also had the app on her phone. So while continuing to steer the boat by hand, I also got her phone set up to ensure our night paddling would be with minimal drama!
The only fog on this stretch is in my mind due to being tired. I downed a Red Bull and watched as team members took turns getting naps. We blew by Hermann around 2 am as I was still awake and feeling good. The consensus was that we would probably stop at New Haven for an hour of sleep. By the time we got to New Haven, Jo Jo and Cyndie were asleep. I decided that Danelle and I could keep paddling. I was fully awake and enjoying the peace of the night. Interesting note, when I went to bring the boat into the New Haven ramp to tell ground crew, it took me a few tries to get to the ramp. During that effort, Jo Jo woke up. I assured her we would be great and she went back to sleep. Dad didn’t see us pull up as he only saw a boat with 3 paddlers in it when we pulled up. Cyndie was laying so flat in the boat and she didn’t wake up at all during this process.
With the sun coming up past Washington, I took a nap in my seat leaning over a dry bag and got a 15 ish minute nap and was ready to power to the finish. Or so I thought, a few minutes later, I took one more of the same nap and was then ready to go!
With a short stop at the Klondike ramp, we started the final 27 miles of the race. Its always our goal at this point in the race to make sure that nobody passes us. We had a scare with a team boat behind us, but pulled together and created enough of a gap that we didn’t get passed.
Of course after a race this long, energy ebbs and flows. We were back on a low with the finish line nearly in sight. I told the ladies that we would go full race speed from the I-70 bridge into the finish. They resigned to the fact that I was going to drive us hard to the finish. When the bridge hit, I started pulling hard on my paddle. I was told that the people watching for boats to finish thought it was a motorized boat at first and discounted us.
I’m very proud to say that we finished strong. I was in pain and out of breath. I had trouble walking due to the exertion that I put out and that made me happy. Overall, we finished the race in 50 hours 7 minutes and 21 seconds. We placed 38th overall, 9th in our division and 3rd in aluminum division.
Factoring in the hour that we lost performing the rescue, we would have moved up several spots, but I’m very satisfied with what we did!
I’m very grateful that my dad and kids could follow us down the river as our ground crew. After seeing the race, both of my kids are more interested in the paddling that I’m doing. Corvin wants to paddle with me and be my new race partner. Spending time with family is the most valuable thing I can do with my life. This means that my racing will only be better going forward!
Reminder, the words written are what I remember. The 3 ladies in my boat will remember things differently along with all the others.
Sometimes we just go paddling cause its fun. Today I got Danelle out with several friends.
At the waterfall where Simpson lake drains into the Meramec river.
Mark in the background.
Paddling with Danelle
Melissa in the foreground and JoJo and a friend in the background.
We had a great time going out on the river. The friend that Jo Jo brought ended up having a flat tire. We all too turns coaching her through changing it. Eventually we were all ready and back on the road to resume our normal lives.
Sometimes you must need to paddle on the river. Today was one of those days. Jo Jo, Mark, and I went out. We got upstream. After a while,we took a detour on Fishpot Creek. The water was high and we were able to paddle back a ways. We stopped to try and identify a very rusty car on the shore.
We never did figure out what type of car it is, but it was fun exploring.
August celebrated our 129th Sunset Race on the second Thursday of the month. This month, we were going downstream from Greentree ramp in Kirkwood to the Meramec Marina. There, we’ll tie up the boats and get some pizza and beer before heading back upstream. Eight paddlers made the trip. its always interesting taking over the marina tying up boats anywhere we can get space.
Look closely and you’ll actually see three kayaks in this photo.
Bernie didn’t waste any time getting to his beer. His shirt is soaked from the workout, so its okay.
Melissa has never been here before and loves the vibe!
Jason behind the umbrella post, Jay, and JoJo.
Melissa wanted to see how to get from the marina to land, and loves it.
Overview of the marina.
Looking upriver on the way back. JoJo is in the middle with Melissa in front of the canoe. We had a fun time chatting and paddling.
The Sunset Race is always a blast. Join us any time and paddle with friends!