Well, it hasn’t been quite a year since I last posted, so not too bad.
Let’s get up to date. In my last post I said I was going to do the Dogwood Canyon trail run, and then the Bass Pro Marathon. I did in fact run both those events. Last summer starting in July and going all the way to the marathon in November I actually trained. I know! Weird, right? I used the Hanson’s training program. You can look it up.
The trail run was in October and I didn’t do too bad (for me). It’s a great couple of runs swag wise, and very substantial participation medals. It’s actually a very nice event in all other aspects as well. If you can get in I would recommend it. Sign up early, it fills up fast.
The marathon was in November and it was my best marathon yet. So here’s the thing. I was training to run eight minute miles the whole race, but about 2 weeks before the race I saw that my Boston qualifying pace was about 7:50. I was all like, dang! That’s not too far off. So new plan, run 7:50s.
Things went really well up until mile 19 and then the wheels fell off. I just couldn’t hold on and got slower and slower. I ended up running some slower miles there at the end, but I didn’t feel like I was dead or anything. I missed Boston by ten minutes, but probably effectively missed getting in by fifteen minutes. Either way, at 3 hours 35 minutes it was my best marathon yet, so I guess training pays off.
Now for the real reason for the post. My wife suggested I write this down so that I would remember what happened. I thought this blog was as good a place as any.
Last week, August 8-11, 2017, I participated in the MR340. What’s that? Well, it’s a paddling race from Kansas City to St. Charles, 340 miles across the state of Missouri via the Missouri River. You can paddle a canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board, or peddle boat. Nothing with oars, sails, or motors of course. I was in the solo men’s division, but there are tandem and other divisions as well. I paddled a 16′ Perception Vizcaya kayak.
As faithful readers of this blog you know that I go on ad nauseam about completing an Ironman race, but know this, the MR340 was the toughest race I’ve ever completed. It was painful and required way more patience and grit than any other race or training day I’ve ever experienced. Now, I trained way more for the Ironman race, so I know that made a difference. I mean, I had been in a kayak maybe 10 times before embarking on this trip. But my Ironman was over in about 13 hours and 50 minutes. The MR340 took me 75 friggin’ hours!
So how’d it go?
At 7Am on Tuesday, 8/8/17 we took off from Kaw Point in Kansas City. It’s a little spit of land where the Kansas meets the Missouri and if you look closely you can see the footprints left by Lewis and Clark when they landed there.
About 8 hours and 51 miles later I stopped at the first check point, Lexington, MO. You’re not required to stop, but you do have to check in via text as you go by. My ground crew (my wife) met me there, fed me, rubbed my shoulders, and sent me on my way. The plan was to rest about 15 minutes and that’s what I did.
The next stop was Waverly, MO, 23 miles downstream, and again my wife met me there, gave me my supplies, fed me, and sent me on my way.
Let me insert this here. That first day on the water I thought I was going to have a medical emergency. Why? Well, I couldn’t get my blasted bladder to empty. When you’re in a kayak for 8 hours or so, you inevitably have to piss. The plan, which is pretty common, and something I’d actually practiced, was to pee in a Powerade bottle. Oh my goodness, I cannot convey to you how painful it got trying to pee that day! My bladder so wanted the urine to flow but the other parts of my body just wouldn’t let it go. The flesh was willing but my mind was all like, we don’t pee sitting down in a kayak with our ding dong stuck into a Orange Blast Powerade bottle. I really thought I was going to have to find a place to land and pee standing up. I finally got it figured out and after that first day peeing in a bottle became second nature. In fact, when I got back I had a little trouble going in a toilet. Well, almost.
At a little after midnight I arrived in Miami another 32 miles downstream from Waverly. At this point I’m just a little ahead of schedule. I was supposed to sleep in Miami. I arrived wet. It hadn’t rained or anything, but just from paddling all those miles and the water dripping off my paddle had gotten me pretty damp. And that night was unseasonably cool. It was probably in the sixties that night, which for Missouri in August is very cool. I tried to dry myself the best I could around the fire they had going, but at some point I gave it up and tried to sleep. By design I didn’t bring much. I had a towel and a mylar blanket. I used my life vest as a pillow. I laid down on the ground and I think I had just fallen asleep when these knuckleheads (I mean that in the kindest way) started airing up mattresses right beside me with these battery operated pumps. Grrr! So now I’m awake, and still cold, so I’m all like, screw it! might as well get back on the water. It’s about 3AM.
So I get some dude to help me carry my boat down the ramp and I launch. Now I’m heading toward Glasgow, 36 more miles away.
Paddling the river in the dead of night is something you should do, or not. It’s up to you. More on that later. Honestly, this first night of paddling wasn’t bad because we had so much moon.
I got to Glasgow and now I don’t remember what time because like an idiot I went and deleted my check in/out texts. It was probably mid morning. My wife met me at Glasgow again and because I slept so poorly the night (morning) before I slept a little in the van. My wife said I slept an hour and a half. It didn’t seem that long. So I load up and I’m off again.
This was the leg I dreaded the most. Fifty-six miles to a place called Cooper’s Landing. This was going to be my longest leg. This is where things really started getting painful. Anyone who asks me about the race always mentions how shot my arms must be, but it’s actually your shoulders that bear the brunt. My neck and shoulders are still sore. I paddled and paddled and paddled that day (Wednesday). There’s bluffs along the river in this section and at one point there was a guy and his wife sitting on their porch perched upon one of those bluffs and he’d yell down with a police bullhorn, “Hello, where are you from?” I yell back, “Clinton Missouri.” He seemed bored with that answer and then wished me good luck or something.
I stopped very briefly at a boat ramp to turn my lights on, otherwise I was in the boat until Cooper’s.
Night fell on the way and we had way less moon this night. There was one freaky part where I’m paddling along and I can tell something’s not quite right but I can’t make anything out. Next thing I know I ground out on sand. Full and complete stop. Five or six other boats come up to that area and just stop, looking around and trying to figure out what’s down river. No one is worried about rapids or waterfalls or anything exciting like that, but there are these things called wing dykes that the Army Corps of Engineers build out into the river to force the water into the channel. They’re made out of large rock with jagged edges and have been known to sink kayaks and canoes. Finally we see some other boats hugging the right bank and getting through, so we all make a 90 degree turn, head over to the bank and make our way down (that’s after I poled my way off that sand bar or whatever it was).
I make it to Cooper’s at about midnight. My wife was supposed to meet me at this stop but I told her to never mind since I was so late. Again, I slept on the ground between my space blankets. I slept a little better this night.
I’ll mention that at Cooper’s Landing, a private camp ground, there is a Thai restaurant, just in case you’re ever paddling the Missouri and get a hankerin for some Thai. Also, I met a guy there who was building a dugout canoe.
Again, about 3:30AM I decide to get out of there. As luck would have it another guy was getting ready to leave as well. He had two, shall we say, mature ladies with him, who I found out later were his mother and mother-in-law. I figured he was going to need help carrying his boat, so I suggested we help each other. He agreed. Once in the water he asked if I wanted to paddle with him. I said sure, but I’m very slow. He said no problem.
This was Anthony’s 5th time doing the MR340 and he was a much better paddler than I. He told me about a trip he and his brother took down to Lake Pontchartrain just to paddle across it. As impressive as that was, the most impressive thing I learned about Anthony was that he is a HEART TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT! What the heck? I truly didn’t know heart transplant recipients could be active. He told me the whole story and it was fascinating. I won’t repeat it here but it was amazing.
At any rate, Anthony and I stuck together all day Thursday. We stopped in Jefferson City, 26 miles down from Cooper’s, for just a bit. My wife met me there and I got a Chic-Fil-A sandwich. We’re off again, next stop, Hermann, 46 miles away.
Getting to Herman was another brutal leg. I was just so worn out. I can’t even blame the weather. We had great weather the whole trip (just one spot of rain). It wasn’t hot or anything. I was just in way over my head.
On the way to Hermann we passed a barge coming upstream. Once we got by him we noticed a three-man kayak had capsized in its wake. We paddled over to see what we could do to help. They seemed to have it in hand so we continued on.
I was using my Ironman backpack as my deck bag and another paddler saw it and asked me about it. He said his wife had done the same race the same year I did. I thought that was a pretty big coincidence. Then he asked me which one was harder because he’d been having that argument with his wife. Well, I relayed to him my thoughts as articulated above.
We get to Hermann and again I stop just long enough to eat and re-supply. And now we’re off and the plan was to make it to Washington, 30 miles away. It gets dark along the way and looks like maybe it could rain. We get to Washington sometime after midnight and I get my bunk all ready for sleeping. The volunteer gives us the weather and it sounds like a storm is coming. Anthony suggests we press on to Klondike, 12 miles away. At this point I am literally dead. Literally. I had to be resurrected. Well, I was mostly dead. But, heeding the advice of the well seasoned paddler I load back up and we’re off to Klondike. Unfortunately we didn’t beat the storm.
Long story short, we got stormed on and we confronted a barge and in the dead of night with no moon it was just a little disconcerting. I mostly didn’t want to get ran over by a sand barge. Now back on Wednesday or early Thursday I would have welcomed it because then my race would’ve been over, but I was too close to the end now. The barge was just passing the ramp and Klondike when we encountered it and then the rain started pouring down.
We made it up the ramp and here I have a bit of good luck. Anthony’s uncle met him there with a camper trailer. They invited me to sleep in the camper and I happily accepted. However, we didn’t sleep very long. Anthony told his uncle to set an alarm for 2 hours (he’s kind of a hard ass).
At about 5 AM we’re off again. This is where Anthony and I parted ways. He wanted to set a personal best and I just wanted to survive. He took off down the river and I just kept cranking away at my normal slow pace. I met and talked with a couple other fellows along the way but mostly just paddled alone on into St. Charles. That last leg was a mere 27 miles.
Officially I landed at St. Charles at 10:07 AM on Friday, 8/11. 75 hours and 7 minutes. For perspective, the fastest guys will finish in around 40 hours. You have 88 hours to complete the race. My wife met me there and took me over to the hotel room where I was finally able to wash off all the funk. Man, I don’t think I’ve stunk so bad. It’s a very special kind of funk. BO mixed with river water. It’s pretty bad.
So there you go, my MR340. People have been more interested in this race than anything else I’ve ever done. I think there must be something enchanting about the river, I don’t know. Today a fellow named Andrew McCrea interviewed me for his radio show, American Countryside. It may or may not air sometime in September and could be available at AmericanCountryside.com. You know how these things go, he may not use it but I was flattered to be asked to record the interview.
People keep asking me if I’ll do it again. The answer is no, not solo. I might consider doing it in a tandem kayak or a canoe, but no more solo runs. I got that out of my system.
It really is a neat event. All of the paddlers share a sense of camaraderie as do all the ground crews. You get the sense that the ground crews are having just as much fun as the paddlers (and why wouldn’t they?). It’s kind of a party all the way down the river, but with more pain. And as always the volunteers are great! Can’t say enough about them. A big shout out to my wife and Mike and Sue, my father- and mother-in-law. My wife was my ground crew and Mike and Sue minded the kids and all of their activities while we were making our way across Missouri. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Do I recommend you try the MR340? Heck yeah! Do it! Why not?