Dispatch 1 [2014]

03/19/14 AT 22:35:31

2014 MR340 Dispatch #1

The 9th Annual Missouri American Water MR340 is less than 4 months away.  Plenty of time to stare out the window at work and dream about those beautiful/horrible nights on the Missouri that you've scheduled a date with.

Whether you're a grizzled veteran of earlier campaigns or a "bring it on" first timer, these dispatches will have something for you.  They are here to reassure you that everything is going to be ok...and it WILL.  But they are also here to remind you that some preparation is in order for a 340 mile canoe trip.  Which also happens to be a race!

This will be the 9th running of the MR340... so there's lots of collective wisdom out there for the taking.  Unlikely you can think of a question that hasn't been asked.  Unlikely there's a mistake you can make that hasn't been made.  Understandably, many first timers are nervous about the race.  We're hoping this dispatch and the ones that follow will calm nerves and build confidence.  The race is not easy.  But it's also not rocket science.*

*rocket propulsion is not allowed

We will start nice and easy with the basics.


Mandatory Safety Meeting:  Hilton Garden Inn, Kansas City, KS  520 Minnesota Ave.  July 7th, 2014.
All racers must sign in between 2-6pm and pick up tshirts, etc.  Meeting starts at 7pm and is over by 8pm.  We call it the Mandatory Safety Meeting because attendance is MANDATORY.  It's part of our safety plan with the United States Coast Guard to conduct the training and to account for you being there.  So just be there.  It's actually quite fun to see all the paddlers and ground crews assembled in one place.  It's pretty impressive.

Typically, the hotel offers a pasta buffet prior to and during the meeting which is a great pre-race meal.  Also, the hotel is obviously the most convenient place to spend the night Monday.  They offer a special MR340 rate and the hotel always sells out to paddlers.  Might not be a bad idea to book a room there soon.

Race Start:  Kaw Point Park, Kansas City, KS.  There will be two starts.  The 7am start is for all solo boats.  This will be approximately 240 canoes and kayaks.  We will have 3-4 launch zones active, including the ramp.  You will have to start getting in the water well before 7am for all 240 boats to launch in time.  Plan accordingly.  There are usually sandbars on the opposite shore for you to paddle over and beach to wait.  There will most certainly be solos still waiting in line when the gun goes at 7am.  That's ok.  You'll get in and paddle out as quickly as you can.

The multi-person boats can start putting in at any time.  We may have a few launch zones dedicated solely to the 7am start up until the 7am gun, but there will be other zones that are first come, first serve.  If the water is down there will be more real estate for launching creatively. 

8am gun will also go off on time, regardless of how many boats are still trying to launch.

The most technical portion of this race is the first 3 miles.  It involves the transition from the slack water of the Kaw River into the fast water of the Missouri, followed by a series of closely placed bridges through downtown KC.  When I say this is the most technical portion of the race, that doesn't mean it's difficult.  It just means that the remaining 337 miles are very boring in comparison. 

The confluence of the Kaw and Missouri is tricky only because there will be so many boats crowding each other there.  As the boats hit the fast water, the current pushes them downstream and then there are collisions and paddles knocking together and folks lean into a stroke that misses the water and we have boats flipping, etc.  Please note that the mouth of the Kaw is quite spacious and there is plenty of room for boats to make this transition without a pileup.  We can't have 240 boats try for the same line.  If you want to avoid the cluster, choose a more upstream entrance where there will be less people.  Or, let the madness happen ahead of you and then proceed as the way opens.  It's not a difficult transition.  Just keep some speed up and don't be hesitant.  You want to minimize the time that half your boat is in the Missouri and the other half is still in the Kaw.  This is where you end up with a boat getting pointed the wrong way, etc.  But if you go at it with some moderate speed, your boat will behave and you'll be moving down the Missouri without a hitch.

Under the bridges we ask that boats steer clear of the bridge piers as they tend to hurt if you hit them.  Give each other room to maneuver.  The swift water rescue teams from Kansas City will be under these bridges to assist if there is a need. There never really has been. 

Checkpoints and Cutoff Times:

Kaw Point, mile 367, Race Begins, 8am (7am for solo) Tuesday, July 8th.   

Lexington, mile 317, (50 miles) 5pm Tuesday   Leg avg.  5.56mph  Total avg. 5.56   

Waverly, mile 294, (23 miles) 9pm Tuesday  Leg avg. 5.75mph  Total avg. 5.62   

Miami, mile 262, (32 miles)  11am Wed.   Leg avg. 2.29mph  Total avg. 3.89   

Glasgow, mile 226, (36 miles) 6pm Wed.  Leg avg. 5.14mph  Total avg. 4.15   

Katfish Katy's, mile 180, (46 miles) noon Thurs.  2.56mph  Total avg. 3.60   

Wilson's Serenity Point at Noren Access (Jeff City), mile 144, (36 miles) 7pm Thurs.  5.14mph  Total avg. 3.78    

Hermann, mile 98, (46 miles) 10am Friday  3.07mph  Total avg. 3.64   

Klondike, mile 56 (42 miles) 6pm Friday  5.25 mph  Total avg. 3.79   

St. Charles, mile 29, finish line, (27 miles)  Midnight   4.50mph  Total avg. 3.85 mph


The MR340 is a big, complex puzzle with a million solutions that shift and evolve as the race unfolds.  There is not a singular "correct" way to do the 340.  There are as many different approaches as there are racers and trying to exactly copy someone else's strategy would likely not work. 

Finding what will work for you is the best plan.  And then having plans B, C and D in your back pocket just in case.  Because everyone dips at least into plan C once or twice during the race.  If they deny it, they are lying to you.

The best philosophy in the fewest syllables is this...

Stay in the boat.

Sounds easy.  The river does a good portion of the work.  How hard can it be to stay in the boat and enjoy the scenery and the peace and the camaraderie of your fellow paddlers?

But it's tough.  It's tough mentally and physically to stay in the boat and keep it moving.  You are allowed 88 hours to complete this race.  The winners will do it in around 38.  The difference between first place and last place will literally be over TWO DAYS.  How is this possible?

The people who struggle to make the cutoff times demonstrate an aversion to staying in the boat at every checkpoint.  At Lexington, the very first checkpoint...just 50 miles into the race, the mistakes begin.  Let's examine 3 different paddlers at Lexington.  Let's say for the sake of argument that they all arrive at exactly the same time.

Paddler A: She paddles close to shore where she sees her ground crew standing.  She hollers out "I've got enough to make Waverly.  Can you get me a pizza and have it waiting there for me?  Oh, and some Coke.  I'm craving an ice cold coke."  Ground crew yells, "Ok!  See you there." and then texts them through the checkpoint.  They probably met earlier in the day at a non-checkpoint ramp to resupply.  Smart because Lexington is CROWDED and busy.  So they planned to just make visual and verbal contact here.  Time lost: 0:00

Paddler B: She did not meet ground crew anywhere and is planning to resupply at Lexington.  The ramp is full but there is room along the muddy beach.  Her ground crew is there waving her in.  They've got the cooler on wheels right there already and have the fresh jugs and food bag handy.  The canoe pulls up.  The crew reaches in and grabs the empties and the trash.  Efficiently places the fresh, cold jugs in place.  Gives a few words of encouragement.  Paddler B says, "I'm feeling good.  Probably 3.5 hours I'll be at Waverly.  It would be so great if you had a Quarter Pounder and fries there!"  and off she goes.  She eats the banana and the sandwich they handed her once she gets back out into the fast water.  Eating a bite or two, then paddling a few minutes before taking another bite.

Time lost: Only 3:14.  Paddler A is now a small dot up ahead but she hopes to catch her.

Paddler C: He pulls up to the ramp.  His ground crew is nowhere to be seen.  He extracts himself from the boat.  Wanders up the ramp.  He finds his ground crew sitting in the car reading a book.  Ground crew gets out.  Opens the back of the car.  Paddler says he needs his other sunglasses.  They unpack the trunk to look for them.  After awhile they find them but they aren't the ones he meant to bring.  Put them back.  Ground crew hands him the food.  He doesn't want it.  "Is there a McDonalds in town?"  Ground crew says yeah.  They drive into town and get food.  Come back to the ramp to sit and eat it while staring at the river.  Finally walk back down to the boat.  "I'm carrying too much weight."  They unpack the entire boat, go through all the gear.  Debate the usefulness of carrying two chapsticks vs. just one.  Repack the boat.  Decide to remount the nav lights real quick.  Paddler then wants to change his shirt.  Back to the trunk. Finally, the ramp is starting to thin out.  The paddler arrived an hour before the cutoff time but now the cutoff time has just ended.  He talks to a couple of folks who missed the cutoff time.  They compare aches and pains.  He finally decides to get in the boat because he barely has enough time to make Waverly.

Time lost: 1:03:55  He will never see Paddler A or B again.

This is not an exaggeration.  We see some version of this every year.  The true analysis of what's going on in Paddler C's mind is "I am hurting.  I do not want to get back in the boat."  But he DOES want to finish.  The illogical part is that you get no closer to finishing by wandering around the ramp.  Eventually, this pattern ends in either a time disqualification or with the paddler quitting... simply not having any fun being constantly pinned against the cutoff time. 

We are not saying that there are no appropriate times to get out of the boat and take a break.  There absolutely are!  But that time should be efficient and should be things you can't do in the boat.  But you can eat in the boat.  You can drink in the boat.  You can pee in the boat.  You can stretch in the boat.  You can rest in the boat.  And all those things can happen with the river moving you at 2-3 mph. 

That's what we mean by stay in the boat.  Do everything you can while in the current.  Shore is for sleeping.

This is most especially true on Day and Night 1.  The first 24 hours of the race is crucial.  More people drop out in the first 24 hours than during any other span of the race. 

Your mindset for the first 24 hours should be to go as far as possible (safely) so that cutoff times the rest of the race are not a factor for you.  We call this "banking time."  There are hours built in to the cutoff times to allow for sleep.  But if you can use a few of those hours for paddling, you've banked some time for sleeping later. 

Sleeping isn't easy day 1.  You'll hear many veterans say, "We tried to sleep an hour at the checkpoint but we just couldn't... we thought we were tired but we were too amped up and it was noisy with all the activity.  We wasted our time." 

Lots of folks make the mistake of trying to sleep at Waverly.  The cutoff time is 9pm.  It's just getting dark.  They've gone 73 miles.  The next checkpoint is Miami, 32 miles away.  They've got 14 hours to get there and by their math, they think it will take 7.  So why not sleep for 7 hours and leave at 4am.

Terrible idea.  Here's why. 

You'll get in your tent or van at 9pm and try to "sleep."  The train tracks run right through the checkpoint so there will be a train horn every 25 minutes or so.  There is also tons of noise from people talking, cars starting, doors slamming, etc.  It will be fitful sleep at best. 

Worst part, when you went to bed at 9pm, the ramp was full of boats and paddlers.  When you get up at 4am it will be empty.  EMPTY.  Not only will you be in absolute last place, you likely won't see another boat all day.  The race will have left you behind.  And that will really end your race right there.  It's mentally devastating to be that far behind.  There's an energy that comes from being in the pack.  Once that leaves you, it's nearly impossible to recover.

Because we've seen that happen to good folks, we set up a great system to help you avoid that pitfall.  It's known as...

Hills Island

A mere 12 miles downstream from Waverly is this little gem on the river.  It's a large wooded island with a big sandy beach on the channel side.  The last few years we've sent a safety boat there early in the day to gather wood and stage a nice respite for weary paddlers.  The benefits of pushing on to Hills Island are many.  Let's take if from the perspective of the paddlers who tried to sleep in Waverly.. how different would their world be had they pushed on?  It would probably have meant 2.5 more hours of paddling, in the dark.  But they would have been with a bunch of people, talking, passing the time, etc.  The time would have gone quickly.  They would have landed on the island at 11:30pm.  Now, they are only 20 miles from Miami.  A much easier distance to contemplate.  The island is quiet.  The fire is warm.  And they are now tired enough to sleep.  Sleep comes quickly and therefore so does the payoff.  They set their alarms for 4am and are in Miami eating pancakes by 8am. 

So as you start planning your 2014 MR340, please, please, please... make Hills Island your minimum distance for Day 1.  Just 85 miles from the starting line.  It will be your shortest day.  Nobody finishes who sees the sun rise in Waverly.  You will be doomed. 

Night Paddling

I can hear some of you thinking that paddling at night on the Missouri River sounds crazy and dangerous.  Under most conditions, it is safe and enjoyable.  If there is a good moon, no fog, no storms and you are not alone, then the conditions are perfect. 

The Missouri River is not a technically difficult river.  It's wide and the bends are gradual.  You'll spend 13-14 hours on day 1 (in daylight) learning the river and her pattern of rock structures and bends.  As dusk begins you'll be a relative pro.  You'll have the required Coast Guard navigation lighting (red/green bow and white stern) and a good strong flashlight.  You'll also be surrounded by dozens of other boats doing the same thing.  Always a great idea in this race to paddle in or near a group of other boats.  This is a huge morale boost and a pack always manages to travel faster.  Night 1 is so much fun for this reason.  We are all close together and there are boats and navigation lights dotting the water everywhere.  Groups of people who have never met are telling each other their life stories under a big moon on the biggest adventure of their lives.  It's a blast.  We hear singing and laughing all night long.  We'll talk more in future dispatches about how to prepare for night paddling, but I add this section now just so you can start considering the possibility that you will try it.  I know you will.  Everyone does it and loves it.

Think about this.  The days are HOT.  Especially from about 1pm to 6pm.  That's the worst.  You'll have to paddle that on day 1 and you'll hate it.  But if you paddle deep into the night you'll have banked up a bunch of time.  Maybe you'll spend 3-4 of those hot hours on day 2 sleeping in an air conditioned van at Glasgow... while the poor guy that tried to sleep in Waverly is desperately paddling in the heat to make the Glasgow cutoff time.

Factor that in as you continue to plan strategy.  Not just where you want to sleep but when.  For some, it's a much better choice to sleep during the heat of the day than the cool of the night.  And you earn that privilege by paddling far in the first 24 hours. 

There is much to cover and we've got lots of times in the days ahead.  More dispatches will follow and we'll dive deeper into more specific strategies to help you finish.  But I wanted to get that initial thought in your brain of the importance of day 1 distance.  Move that goal past Waverly and on to Hills Island or Miami or even Glasgow!  Nobody ever says, "The mistake I made was going too far on Day 1."  Never heard that sentence out there.

To review...

Know your dates, times and locations for the MANDATORY safety meeting and the start of the race the next morning.

Stay in the boat.

Don't sleep at Waverly.

Bank some time and sleep during the hot hours.

More dispatches to follow.  Ask me anything.


03/21/14 AT 12:55:10

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