Dispatch 2 [2014]

03/21/14 AT 12:55:10


Now is a good time to check the roster and make sure your information is correct.  Roster is found here:

You might note that several folks need to choose a new boat number.  There are 10,000 possible number combinations between 0000 and 9999.  But there are always duplicates, mostly due to choosing birth year or other quirky lucky numbers.  The numbers were granted on first come, first serve basis.  Use your browser's "find" feature to check if your new number choice is valid.  Then email it to me.

Also, there are many teams with members marked TBD who have not yet signed up.  Please also take care of this soon.  We are trying to place a tshirt order as soon as possible and also finalize the insurance.  We need this done by May 1st.  There are currently 50 TBDs on the roster.  And I'm just guessing on the number of folks on some of those boats.

Last time we ran through several topics including,

Dates and Times  (July 7th Mandatory Safety Meeting, July 8th Race Start, July 11 Awards Ceremony and numerous cutoff times)

Stay In The Boat

Don't Sleep in Waverly

Bank Some Time

In this Dispatch, we'll cover some nuts and bolts stuff and some more esoteric strategic concepts for those looking to finish in time for the Awards Ceremony (7pm Friday ~83 hours)

Staging Your Boat at Kaw Point

We will have security on site at Kaw Point by noon on Monday, July 7th.  If you'd like to leave your boat there overnight, you are doing so at your own risk, but we've never had a problem.  Our security guys will have a copy of the roster with boat numbers.  They are instructed to question anyone that is removing a boat from the park and to see some ID that would match the hull numbers.  They won't bother anyone who is dropping a boat off.  We advise that you NOT leave paddles and other gear.  Just the boat.  This option is to make your morning smoother, but is certainly not mandatory. 

However, on Tuesday morning the park will be extremely crowded and you'll likely have to carry your boat and gear from the upper parking area to the lower level where the boat ramp is.  Not a big deal if you have a ground crew.  Solos start first at 7am.  If you plan to arrive at 6:55 and drive down to the ramp for a quick put in, you're going to be in for a surprise.  There will be a long line at 6:55 with many solos not in the water when the gun goes off.  Not a big deal on a 340 mile race but some folks want to be there for all the splashing and crashing.  If you want to assure yourself of a wet boat at 7am, Plan on launching really early.  The first boats usually get in around 530am.  That doesn't mean you have to sit in your boat for 90 minutes.  Many folks paddle across the Kaw to a sandy area (water permitting) and hangout to watch the madness. 

It's really about whatever works for you.  And the good news is you don't have to decide right now. 

Please be courteous to those behind you trying to launch.  Have your boat packed and ready so that when it's your turn you can hop right in and paddle on out.  As mentioned in the previous dispatch, there will be many areas available for launching.  The ramp is great, but there's also a good spot out at the point itself where the Kaw and Missouri meet. 

One piece of advice... we see lots of folks being meticulous during launch about trying to keep any mud or sand or even drips of water out of the boat.  I get it.  The boat is your baby and you always keep her clean.  But I PROMISE you by the end of day 1 she will be muddy and wet.  And so will you.  Better to baptize yourself and your boat now.  Surrender to the filth.  You will not recognize the look or smell of your boat at the finish line.  The sooner you succumb to this reality, the better your overall experience.  Lower your cleanliness expectations right away.  Every boat should have a nice big car wash type sponge.  These are great for soaking up paddle splash and for rinsing the boat off.  Hop in your boat with with some muddy feet and spend the next hour sponging it out while you await the national anthem.

The official starting line is the boat ramp itself and an imaginary line across to the other side of the Kaw.  Stay behind this line please.  The Kaw has very little current here.  If you are a fast racer in a fast hull, it makes some sense to edge toward the front of the pack.  If you are not thinking you're a top 10% finisher, there's little reason to fight for that real estate.  Isn't it better psychologically to start in the middle or back and pass people all day rather than start at the front and get passed all day?  Starting at the front does buy you about 75 yards of real estate over the guy at the back... but not a big deal over the course of 3 days.  Tandems and larger boats that have launched prior to the 7am solo start should definitely be at the very back or parked on the sides.

While you hover and wait for the starting gun, there will be loud music playing to pump you up and the 4 local TV stations all have their camera trucks there to interview the lunatics about to race across the state.  There will be news helicopters too so smile big.


This will be the third year for our Text In system for tracking racers.  The purpose of checkpoints is to make sure all racers are accounted for.  As each checkpoint closes we look at what racers have NOT checked in and we work to find out their status. 

All racers and ground crews will be provided a phone number for texting in at the designated checkpoints.  Here is how it works:

Racers with Physically Present Ground Crew:
Boat arrives at a checkpoint, ground crews serve their team, boat departs, ground crew texts in the required information.
Boat Number
Time In
Time Out (or intended time out)

So a sample text might look like this:
Boat 2217, Lexington, In 217pm Out 225pm


Boat 2217 Lexington, 217pm in and out (for a paddler who doesn't stop for supplies)

This text is then converted by our system to an email which goes to our staff of 4 volunteers who enter that data into ;  Race Owl then processes all this and displays it in an easy to read format.  It's a fun way for family and friends back home to track progress. 

The system also allows us to text back to your ground crew if we have a question.  So if they forget to put the boat number, we'll text back and say "What boat number please?"  It's a much better system than the old paper and pencil check in.  Far more accurate and after the first checkpoint, your ground crews will be pros. 

Like last year we'll have some volunteers in yellow vests at Lexington to assist folks who have trouble.  I know we have many older folks on ground crews who have never texted before.  We are proud of the fact that in the last two years, we've trained lots of folks who otherwise would never have done it!  So you can thank us when grandma texts you on your next birthday.

If you do NOT plan on actually stopping at the checkpoint, make sure you paddle close enough to shore to make verbal and visual contact with your crew.  You do NOT want any confusion on their part if they've seen you or not.  Otherwise they will stand there for hours waiting when you've already passed.  It's a good chance to holler out what you'd like to have at the next checkpoint.  And for them to make sure you're ok.

For Paddlers with Virtual Ground Crews

Everyone is required to have a ground crew.  Either physically present or at home or a little bit of both.  Here's a short primer of how a virtual ground crew works.

Purpose of a virtual crew is to track racer's progress such that if the racer became injured, sick, etc. the ground crew would know it long before the checkpoint would close and our safety system would kick in. 

To that end, the racer and their crew should have a simple system in place to know if there's trouble.  Some folks use hi-tech satellite "SPOT trackers" or similar gear.  These are great and do the job.  But the system can be as simple as the required cell phone. 

Example system:

Virtual ground crew knows the racer will start at 7am.  He has indicated he believes he will be at Lexington by 2pm.  At 2:30pm he arrives in Lexington.  He texts himself in to the race system.  Then he texts his virtual ground crew: "Made it to Lexington.  Doing good.  Heading on now to Waverly.  Guessing I will arrive at 7pm."  Virtual ground crew then sets her alarm for 7pm so she knows to expect a text or call soon.  She has the phone number for the Rivermiles Safety Team in case she has concerns due to a late paddler. 

Repeat process for next checkpoints. 


If we have a concern from a ground crews about a tardy racer, we will deploy a safety boat to sweep the section of river that their progress would indicate they might be.  Usually they are just a few miles around the bend and running late due to equipment problems or a quick nap.  It's rare that there are any significant problems.  Especially with so many competitors on the water together.  There are lots of boats around to help a sick or injured paddler.  This is not always the case at the back of the race or at night. 

If you ever have trouble and need to pull over and wait for help, be sure to be visible to a safety boat or fellow paddler.  At night, be read to signal with a strong flashlight to get our attention.  In daytime, try to keep your boat out of the tree shadows and wave your arms to indicate need for assistance.

So, as you can see from the above examples, you are not required to stop at the mandatory checkpoints.  You are only required to check in.  This is done by text message.  It can be done by your ground crew on shore or by yourself if your ground crew is not present.  Paddling past a crowded checkpoint can be a good strategy if you've arranged alternate spots to meet ground crew.  You can meet them anywhere as long as it's a place where a car can drive (no resupply by boat) and it's not trespassing.  There are many boat ramps between checkpoints. 

Hopefully you're cogitating with your ground crews about a strategy for day 1.  It can be as simple as meeting them at Lexington, Waverly and so on... but there are many more layers of ground crew strategy to explore.  I'd say you definitely want to have some maps.  These are the best in my opinion:

They show the boat ramps and roads and towns along the course.  Perfect and simple for ground crews.  Print them off and make a few copies.  You can even shrink down and laminate some for you aboard the boat.  It can be handy in an emergency when you need to improvise a meeting place.  You'll be able to see where you are in relationship to roads your ground crew can drive on.

There is a temptation to get very detailed maps that show every wing dike on the river.  These are truly not needed and will just distract you from the task at hand... which is paddling...What we suggest instead is to take the maps I've linked to above and make notes on them of places that you think you might need.  Islands and sandbars, etc, where you might camp on a dark stretch of river.  Or possible places you could meet ground crew.

No reason to carry all the pages.  Just have your ground crew give you the one you need for that stretch. 

In your planning sessions for Day 1, look at options for meeting your ground crew at alternate places.  A good ground crew will surprise you at multiple spots for moral support and in case you have any needs.  Ground crews get very good at knowing where you will be and when.  The crews for different racers get to know each other and start to pal up and travel together.  It's really a party on shore and it can be a lot of fun.


The reason the ultra detailed maps are not needed is that it's really tough to get lost on a least a navigable river like the Missouri.  There are mile markers almost every mile.  And you have very little else to do while paddling than to look at mile markers and count down to the next checkpoint.  Many paddlers do not carry maps at all and instead just carry a list of checkpoints, boat ramps and islands with respective mile markers.  Then they can just glance at this list and know how far to the next spot. 

Staying in the "fast" water is important.  If you are in water just .25 mph slower than your competitor it will result in finishing hours after them.  The Missouri, for better or worse, has been engineered to have a fast, deep channel for barge traffic.  This is usually on the outside of bends.  The barge traffic follows this marked channel.  It is marked with large diamond shaped signage at each bend and crossing.  The barge essentially play a game of dot-to-dot with these signs to stay in the deeper water.  You can play the same game.  The faster water is easy to find.  But if you're unsure, just stay in the middle. 

The barge channel is great for paddling but it's a big river and you are by no means limited to the barge channel.  In fact, there are times when you absolutely do NOT want to be in the barge channel.  Like, when a barge is coming.

Barge traffic on the Missouri is rare but you will see 3-4 barges for sure during your race.  Some will come from downstream of you and some from behind.  You need to be aware of both!  For this reason we do not recommend you use earbuds out there.  You need to be able to hear.  There are lots of waterproof speakers if you want music.  But make sure you can hear the ambient noises of motorboats and barges.  And your fellow paddlers!

If you detect a barge, be sure to get out of its path.  Not where it is the second you see it but where it WILL be when your paths intersect.  If you understand that the barge must stay in the designated channel to have enough depth, then you know that you can simply paddle outside the channel and be relatively safe.  So remove yourself from the channel side of the river and paddle in the shallower water where he can't go.  If crossing the river to do so, make sure you have time to make the maneuver. 

But simply avoiding hitting a barge is only one part of barge safety.  Some heavily laden barges pushed by powerful towboats will have enormous wakes behind them that can capsize a canoe.  As the barge approaches, and you are out of his way, begin to assess his wake.  If it seems large and sharp, start finding way to avoid it.  Best approach is to tuck behind a wing dike.

Wing dikes are rock structures built to channelize or speed up the water flow.  So wing dikes are good for paddlers in that regard.  Behind and between the dikes will be very slow water and that is obviously to be avoided.  However, these slack water places are handy for getting out of stormy water or out of the way of barge traffic.  Tucking behind a rock dike can protect you from a nasty barge wake.  And that time need not be wasted.  Pull up on the beach and make use of it.  Reapply sunscreen or some body lubricant for those chafing spots.  Stretch your back.  It's better than flipping over in a barge wake.  Once the water settles down hop back in and be on your way.

Most of the time the barges pull over at night during the race.  We expect they will do the same this year.  But be ready for anything.  It's tougher to judge distance at night so be extra cautious.. Also, please note that a parked barge is also dangerous.  The raked front end is not a place you want to be pinned by the current.  You will likely get pulled under in such a situation.  So alertness for barges is a 24 hour/day job out there. 

Similarly, we watch out for sand dredges.  These are physically similar to a barge but are anchored in stream and are mining sand from the river bottom.  The dredges operate during daylight hours but remain in the river at night.  They are usually lit up but not always as brightly as you'd prefer. 

During the day while operating, they are serviced by small towboats that haul away the full sand barges and replace them with empties.  You can usually see the sand "plant" on shore where the sand is processed.  Watch for these empties and fulls to be moved back and forth from the dredge to the plant.  Avoid this path.  Also note that the dredges often have cables that reach ahead of them into the depths.  Skip these as well.  Again, plenty of room for everyone on this big river.  We're just giving you some knowledge to work with... eliminating as many surprises and questions as possible.

Storms and Fog

Weather makes the race exciting.  We often have storms that become the kernel of many stories heard around the finish line.  "Where were you during the storm?" is a common question at the end of the race.  Be prepared and smart about weather and fog and don't let it end your race.

You and your ground crew should pay attention to the weather.  If there is a chance of storms one night, plan ahead.  Have the right clothing along with you.  You will get colder than you think.  Rain gear is very important and some dry clothes too.  You may have to hunker down for a couple hours on shore if the storm is bad.  How are you going to handle that?  We require you have aboard your boat at least one "space or foil blanket" for each paddler.  These are amazingly effective if used properly.  A small tent is not a bad idea if storms are forecast.

When we get rain at night we invariably get calls for our safety boats to go get folks who are shivering in the dark.  Even on a dry night, folks can get cold out there.  You are burning so many calories so quickly that your body gets cold if you stop eating and slow down.  Dress for the night and keep eating and paddling.  If you start to shiver, EAT and paddle harder until you warm up.  We will talk at length in the next dispatch about eating and drinking.  There are many things about your own body that you will learn on this race... and one is how it uses food as fuel.  And how that affects you when it can't get enough or the right kind.

If you see signs of a storm coming, get off the river.  Storms around here can come on strong with high winds.  You do not want to be out in the middle of the river in the dark dealing with white caps and wind.  It will not end well.  Start finding a likely place to weather that first punch.  It usually only lasts a half hour or so, then settles into a steadier rain. 

Again, behind wing dikes or on a sandbar can be good places.  Even the steep shoreline is better than out in the water.  You do not want to be on a river with wind at night.  Our safety boats will be pulled over and unable to assist until the storm abates. 

Regarding Fog.

We've had fog every year.  Some years mild, others bad.  Fog usually starts in the very wee hours.  You'll see little wisps dancing on the water at night.  Time to prepare for a break off the river.  Don't wait until you can't see your hand in front of your face.  You will be disoriented and you won't even know which way the current is flowing.  If you think I'm exaggerating, ask a veteran of the race.  It's a very uncomfortable feeling.  And dangerous.  Remember those parked barges?  Bridge piers?  Wing dikes?  Buoys?  Dredges?  They were easy to avoid when you could see them.  Now, you see nothing. 

Before the fog builds, plan an exit strategy.  Start scanning the shore for good spots to land.  You can keep paddling, but keep your eyes open for good shoreline.  If the fog increases, cut over to the shore and hunker down.  Again, time need not be wasted.  Set your alarm and catch some sleep.  That sleep will be sleep you won't need later and so net loss of time.  Be safe and smart. 

Enough for this dispatch but we will keep them coming.  Many details to discuss.  Please forward these to your partners and ground crews. 


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