2013 Dispatch #2
One of the best parts of the MR340 is that it has a high Daydream Quotient. The entire event only lasts about 100 hours from Safety Meeting to Awards Ceremony, but you get to spend far more time than that thinking and strategizing about the race. And reminiscing after it's over.
Spouses or partners have probably come to recognize that far off look when a paddler's mind wanders back to some moonlit stretch of river during a previous 340. And while it can be annoying to have your partner mentally check out like that, it may be preferable to the 100th retelling of a story from the race.
If this is your first 340, your mind might have a little trouble wrapping around the enormity of the event. There are a blur of checkpoint names you've never heard of, and all sorts of new vocabulary to learn. Boats, paddles, maps, foods, etc. Luckily, we have plenty of time to familiarize ourselves before the big day. Plenty of time for questions and answers so that when you actually get out there, even if you've never been on the Missouri River before, your surprises will be few.
Let's walk through the first 24 hours or so.
Monday, July 22nd there is a mandatory safety meeting as noted in the previous dispatch. Time and place can be found there so I won't repeat that. Let's talk about what you might do before and after that meeting.
If you're from out of town you should make a plan to find Kaw Point Park. It's very near the hotel where we have the safety meeting, but it may be the most confusing one mile drive on the planet. Mark that off your list early. Also, many racers will leave their boats there overnight so as to have one less thing to do in the morning. We have security at the park, watching over boats starting at 1pm.
After the safety meeting you should sleep. And set an alarm.
Activity starts at Kaw Point around 5am when it's still dark. The DJ sets up and starts playing music and the morning TV shows all send camera trucks and the reporters start interviewing paddlers. The solo boats start launching and paddling around the harbor.
By 7am there are lines at all the launch zones and most of the solos are in the water when the gun goes off for the Solo Start. Tandems and bigger boats continue to launch. By 8am, we fire the cannon for those boats and Kaw Point is empty and quiet. But there's all kinds of activity out on the river.
As discussed before, the first 3 miles of the race are probably most intense. There's a lot of andrenalin at the start... then you move from the slack water of the Kaw to the fast water of the Missouri and that transition can give people some trouble. After that there are the bridges of Kansas City which are bunched together and your surrounded by scores of other boats and it's exhilarating and awesome.
It's really a blessing to have so many boats because it keeps that feeling going for a long time on day 1. There's so much to look at and so many people around to talk to and interact with, that the first 10 miles goes pretty quickly.
But soon, reality sets in. It starts to get hot. You might start to feel some discomfort from being in your boat so long. The pace you've been setting may not be sustainable and you notice you're getting passed up by boats you had passed earlier. You start to wonder if you can do this.
Fear not! You are having a completely normal Day 1 reaction. Things will get better. But they will also get worse! Only a veteran of an ultra will understand that.
Fear the Reaper
Your first challenge is to get to Lexington before the cutoff time at 5pm. One of the first things a 340 rookie learns is that you do yourself no favors setting a pace you cannot sustain. The best paddlers go roughly the same speed from Kansas City to St. Charles. Everyone has a different speed. It depends on your skill level AND your boat. Some boats can glide very well. Others do not. Trying to push a boat past its natural glide speed is a waste of effort. Hopefully, you've been in your boat enough to know what that magic speed is. Usually, if you hear a bunch of loud water around your boat, you're pushing it past that speed. A quiet boat is an efficiently moving boat. Resist the temptation at the start of the race to go faster than you should and wear yourself out. Find a pace you think you'll be able to still make by sunset that day. Lots of folks will pass you that first hour or two. You'll see the white foam under their bow and hear that loud water. But 3-4 hours later, you'll be passing them.
It gets hot in July in this part of the country. You've hopefully trained in the heat and figured out what works for you in such an environment. The river water will likely be about 80 degrees and will feel pretty good on your body as the day heats up. Use a sponge or wet cloth to keep yourself cool. The sooner you get ahead of that curve, the better. Staying appropriately hydrated is important and that means you are replacing electrolytes with your fluids. Eating is also crucial and too many paddlers end up having to quit due to food problems. Understand that you are pushing your body to do something big. And that takes big calories. It doesn't have to be fancy sports food. In fact, if you're not used to pushing hard on fancy sports food, don't bring it along. Eat simple stuff that your body is used to. And eat steadily. If you have a partner in the boat, make sure you watch each other that you are both eating and drinking regularly. If your partner stops eating for an extended period because they don't "feel hungry" they are heading for trouble. That is an unsustainable situation and he or she will soon crash. Keep the calories going in. Steadily.
You'll see lots of safety boats out there on Day 1 as the group is still in fairly tight formation. Their job is to monitor you as they pass. They all have certain assignments as to where to be at sunset and they are instructed to keep an all day pace to minimize their wake and maximize their time underway, watching.
The one boat to really watch for out there will be The Reaper. This boat will be keeping the minimum pace required to meet the cutoff time of each checkpoint. If the Reaper is behind you, you're ahead of the pace. If it's in front of you, you are in jeopardy of not making the cutoff time. All boats that hit a checkpoint AFTER the Reaper are disqualified.
The Lexington checkpoint gets very crowded with boats and support vehicles. For that reason, many paddlers opt not to stop there for support, instead stopping at one of the boat ramps upstream of Lexington. All boats are required to check in via text message when they pass Lexington, so your ground crew will be there (or your home based ground crew will be watching) as you pass. Be sure to pass near enough to shore that your ground crew can discern you from the other boats if you are not planning on stopping. I've seen some teams use those 2 mile walkie talkies with success to talk to ground crews when they don't stop. Handy for telling them your status and what you'd like at the next checkpoint.
Typically, Lexington has a local non-profit group selling grilled foods and water/soft drinks at the ramp. This is handy for those who don't have a physically present ground crew.
Common mistake at the first checkpoint is to take an extended shore leave. You've finished the first 50 miles, which is a fairly good chunk of the race, but you're sore and hot and it feels so good to be out of the boat and you are reluctant to get back in. Many pull out of the race at Lexington for this reason. They just can't imagine 290 more miles. And that's fine. No shame in paddling 50 miles. But if you intend to continue, sitting at the boat ramp is not a good strategy. You've worked so hard to arrive there ahead of the cutoff time. Every minute you sit there is making your next cutoff time more lethal. Try to make your time at checkpoints as short as possible. Let your ground crew refresh your boat while you walk around and stretch. But then back in the boat as quickly as possible. A burger in one hand and a cold Coke in the other. Drifting towards Waverly while you eat. Looking over your shoulder for the Reaper.
Waverly is your next checkpoint and the cutoff is 9pm. If you made Lexington by 5pm and didn't stay longer than a few minutes, you should make Waverly before the cutoff. Here paddlers are faced with a decision that may determine their fate for the remainder of the race...how long should one linger in Waverly?
By 9pm, it's getting dark. Waverly will likely have the boy scout food grill setup similar to Lexington. There are flush toilets and running water near the top of the hill. There are also train tracks running right through the middle of the park, making sleeping difficult.
The last 4 years, we've had nobody stay the night in Waverly. It's just a bad decision. Most who wake up in Waverly on day 2, quit that morning. It's a long haul to Miami, the next checkpoint, and it would be a big push to make that in time. Those that do attempt it are usually pulling out at Miami or Glasgow later that day. The race will have left you behind if you stay in Waverly. And it's so hard to be motivated when you can't see any other paddlers ahead or behind you.
So, what are your options? Well, there are racers who paddle all night. That may or may not be for you. Difficult to say unless you've done this before. You won't know until you are out there. But many people have surprised themselves and their ground crews by doing this. Ideally, you will have practiced night paddling during your training and will be comfortable with your lighting system, etc. But short of that, you will also be around other paddlers who have done it before and you can simply follow them through the night.
If you're unsure about the river at night, how about a safety boat escort? The last two safety boats in Waverly will be the Reaper and the Jupiter. They usually leave there by 11pm or so with the last paddlers out. They can shepherd you through the dark and you'll be in good hands. Their destination is Hills Island, about 12 miles downstream. Hills Island is a big, treed island with a large sandy beach. It is only accessible by boat, so ground crew can't join you there. It's quiet (no trains) and we always keep a big campfire going there all night. It lends itself to a good couple of hours of sleep. And while it may not seem like much, that extra 12 miles sets you up for a much better Day 2.
Of course, many people reading this will go much further than Hills Island on Day 1. Miami will be busy all night (105 miles) and Glasgow will start seeing paddlers as well. (141 miles) the very back of the race will be at Hills Island.
If you catch some rest at Hills Island and want to move on before sunrise, we will be moving a safety boat around 2am from there to Miami and you are welcome to tag along. Another boat will leave Miami and head for Glasgow late night as well. A third boat will travel all night from Glasgow to Jefferson City. All other safety boats will be moored at the various checkpoints and available to assist you with any needs you might have.
As always, feel free to post questions and comments here. More soon.