Dispatch 2 [2019]

Dispatch 2:

Flood update:  The river and reservoirs have made great progress in the last few weeks.  We have major rainfall slated for the next 48 hours that will undue some of that progress but with 39 days to go, we are hopeful we can evacuate more water and get a safe river for September 10-13.

Please check the roster to verify correct information for your boat.  Some of you have bad boat numbers due to choosing one that was already taken.  Some folks are still missing a partner.  Some folks have both problems.  Here's the roster:

In this dispatch we'd like to cover sand dredges and barges before continuing our march down the river. 

You will encounter a handful of dredges over the route.  These are giant, noisy contraptions anchored mid river to harvest sand for construction and other useful applications.  The dredge calculus for a paddler seems pretty simple... steer away and give the beast plenty of room.  However, this calculus, like pretty much all calculus as far as I'm concerned, gets complicated. 

In the daylight, the dredges are active meaning they are sucking up sand.  That sand gets deposited in a "sand flat" or barge pulled alongside.  When the flat gets full, it is retrieved by a tow boat and an empty is placed on the other side.  So this towboat is busy all day running to the dredge with an empty and leaving with a full.  It will take this up or downstream up to a few miles and drop it off to be scooped away and made into driveways, sidewalks, bridges, etc.  If you live anywhere near the Missouri River, you're house foundation is probably sucked off the bottom of the river. 

So it's not as easy as just avoiding the stationary dredge, you have to be aware of the servicing tow and her path to and fro.  Also important to note that the dredge is anchored in place with long cables that reach forward into the swirling current several yards ahead of the dredge.  As these flex up and down with variations of wind and current the cables can surprise a paddler who has gotten too close.  So make your decision to avoid the dredge with plenty of time to spare. 

At night, the good news is the dredges shut down and so do the towboats.  (although one year we had one operate all night near Jeff City)  The bad news is that when the shut down they are almost completely dark.  They are required by law to have a visible white light at each end of the vessel so that it can be seen by other traffic.  But these lights seem to be somewhat unreliable and generally dim.  And you are so used to seeing random white lights on the banks from houses and whatnot, that one more white light in the middle of nowhere can fool you into false confidence. 

Our ears are especially important at night on the river and dredges are noisy fellows out there in the dark.  The sound of water rushing should alert every paddler that something potentially hazardous is up ahead.  We'll have the moon and the moon, when up and visible, reveals a dredge nicely.  But there will be times before moonrise and after moonset that you will have less of a heads up for what's up ahead. 

When you hear water it's time to grab that kick ass LED flashlight you've got stashed in your boat so you can do a quick sweep ahead and see what's going on.  Flashlight pricing has gone nothing but down and quality has gone rapidly up since we started this thing in 2006.  Folks used to routinely drop $250 for a high end flashlight back then.  Now, a much better light might cost $25.  So get 2 and keep one with your ground crew as a backup. 

Besides dredges, here are other things that make creepy noises at night that you will want to steer away from.

Wing dams/dykes:  These are rock structures jutting out into the current.  They are installed to artificially narrow the flow of the river so that it is deeper and faster for barge traffic.  It's possible these will be mostly underwater during our high water year but there will undoubtedly be places where the water is flowing over the top or around the tip of these and making noise.  You'll see the turbulence easily during the day, but at night, use your ears or just be sure you're staying in the channel. 

Buoys:  These giant 7ft steel tubes painted either red or green are anchored out in the river to warn barge traffic about shallow areas.  We generally don't have to worry about which side of this warning to be on as our boats are only drafting inches not 6 to 9 feet like barges.  They come in handy only when you encounter an actual moving barge because it shows you where she MUST go and then you know where to NOT go.  At night, these are easily heard and when you hear one, shine your light.  They are reflective and stand out well.  Swing away because hitting one is not as exciting as it might seem.  They outweigh your boat 50 to 1 and often have logs and other debris pinned to them that is tough to see in the dark. 

Bridge Piers: Luckily, bridges are easily seen for a couple miles before you get there.  They have lights set in such a way that a red light indicates a pier or a no-go space and a green light indicates the clear path.  However, the piers at night have given paddlers trouble from time to time due to the turbulent water around them.  And sometimes there are rafts of logs pinned to these that make it worse.  But the green light is dead center over the navigable span between piers and so going right under this light is a nearly sure bet.  But it is always a good idea to approach with caution and use your light to verify. 

Parked barges:
These are sneaky and require your utmost attention.  Sometimes we see a towboat attached... parked along the river bank.  These are almost impossible to see at night because they just look like a shadow along the treeline.  Again, these are supposed to have a white light marking them but these can fail or be confused for something else.  We advise folks to stay out towards the middle of the river when paddling at night in part to avoid the goofiness that is in the treeline shadows.  The danger of hitting a parked barge is that the raked (sloped) front end makes a dangerous trap for a paddler and if pinned there it's possible to be pulled under.  This has never happened during the race.  Because our paddlers are cautious and vigilant and always evaluating the path ahead.  But poor visibility is always a possibility due to clouds, rain or fog.  Paddling in thick fog is the epitome of bad decision making.  You can rely on a gps or chart plotter to keep you on the river, but it cannot see dredges, barges or buoys.  In poor visibility, be smart and get off the river and rest your weary bones.  The rest will pay off when the visibility improves.  Nothing more exhausting than the terrified, tentative paddling through fog. 

Negotiating a Towboat and Barges:

This is probably what brings the most apprehension to a paddler on the Missouri River... what do I do if I encounter a barge heading upstream or down?  In our minds as we ponder this, without experience, it seems a near impossible challenge.  How can I squeeze past an enormous machine like that on the river.  But when you come face to face in the moment, you'll see that there is a lot of river where the barge isn't.  And that's where you should go. 

The first thing to realize is that the towboat captain will be keeping his boat and cargo in the navigation channel.  Which, if he's lucky, makes up about half the river.  So for you, the river is half full of barge and half empty for your canoe.  And half a Missouri River is plenty of room for a canoe.

Your second task is to know just where this navigation channel is.  Because where it is, is where he will be.  And the channel changes sides of the river with each bend.  Which means when you first see the barge he might be on your left coming upstream at you.  But when you meet he might be in the middle on his way to your right side where the channel will be when he gets there. 

But if you know that, it becomes easy.  See where the off channel water is and head over that way.  Even better, find a place between wing dams (you KNOW he ain't going there) and just pull over and watch him go by.  This is especially a good idea if he's throwing a large wake behind his boat.  A heavy load being pushed upstream by a big towboat is going to displace a lot of water and leave a mess of confused waves behind it for miles.  Many canoes and kayaks have tipped over taking on these waves.  Depending on how big they are and how stable your boat and your skill level should determine whether you pull over or press on. 

A barge coming at you from behind is moving with the water and tends to not have a large wake.  Same strategy.  Determine where the channel is and how his path is constrained by this.  Move out of the channel to the slower water.  Allow him to safely pass and then get back on your way. 

If you encounter a moving barge at night it is absolutely best to get off channel on the wing dike side of the river and pull over.  It's confusing at night and he'll be sweeping the river with a retina melting spotlight.  Your night vision will be toast and it's better to just layover and let the madness stop.  What a great time to stop and stretch.  Or sleep.  Or text your ground crew.  Or put on a jacket.  Find something to do that's productive toward your goal.  Chris Luedke at 340paddler on youtube has a video about it.

By the way, Chris has about 100 videos about the MR340 on his channel.  You should watch them all!  The whole collection is here:

You'll find every topic we cover in the dispatches plus so much more.  We can't thank Chris enough for all his hard work on this. 

When we left you in the last dispatch you had made your way through Day 1.  You survived the start at Kaw Point, you chose to meet ground crew at strategic locations...  You made good time with the pack and departed Waverly with an eye for Miami or beyond.  We talked about Hills Island about midway between Waverly and Miami as a possible layover but water levels may not allow this.  But with a sunken Hills Island comes faster water that perhaps makes that way station superfluous.  And Miami a more reachable target for many.  Miami does lack the train tracks running through the park, which helps with noise... but the race turns the park at Miami into a county fair ground with an all night rodeo.  So don't expect an idyllic place to catch any sleep.  You'll hear car doors slamming, engines running, people hollering, pancakes flipping and canoes dragging up and down the ramp. 

The strategy you hear repeated by veteran middle of the pack racers is pretty consistent.  If weather and river conditions allow, keep going on day 1 for as long as your body allows.  Night paddling under a full moon with hundreds of boats is about as good as it gets.  The miles tick right by.  Are you sore?  Yes.  But this is the best you're going to feel. 

It's a lot like a road trip where you're trying to drive across country.  You make mile until you are too tired to safely drive.  When you find yourself lacking focus at 75mph on a dark highway, that's a bad deal.  Pull over and get some rest.  Same thing on the 340.  You'll know when it's time to sleep.  And when it's time to sleep, any patch of muddy bank will do.  But if you're just pulling over to sleep because it's midnight and your race plan said sleep at midnight... that might not work.  So be flexible and listen to your body.  If you're in a groove and paddling with a group and half of them are saying, "Let's go to Glasgow" and the other half are saying, "Let's stop in Miami" then you've got the best of both worlds... you get to decide.  Not based on when bedtime is at home on a Tuesday night, but on how you're feeling in the moment.  Maybe you're head's nodding and it's time to exit the river.  Or maybe you're amped up and having fun and feeling alert so you push on with the plan to sleep Wednesday afternoon somewhere downstream.  All options work and there are infinite ways to eat this elephant.  That's what brings people back year after year...  It's never the same race, never the same plan, never the same conditions. 

Wherever the sunrise finds you on Day 2, congratulations!  You made it to Day 2!  And Day 2 inevitably leads to night 2 and that's where the new racers really begin to understand what it means to be TIRED. 

So, consult with your ground crew or other racers regarding weather, etc.  Weather should constantly inform your strategy out there.  Are storms expected night 2?  What time?  We can sleep during the storm!  But only if we make miles first.  Or, is there a storm mid afternoon?  Let's hustle to meet the ground crew and sleep from 3-6pm during the rain and then get back on the water for what is supposed to be a clear night.  Our mantra out there is "Proceed as the way opens" the wonderful quote from the book River Horse by William Least-Heat Moon, a mid Missouri author... It got him and his boat across the country and it can get you across Missouri. 


You'll hear lots of talk on the forum and facebook about hallucinations on night 2.  What is this madness? 

It's really not as dramatic as it sounds.  By night 2, you're pretty sleep deprived with mid pack and back of the pack racers maybe only having 4 hours of sleep or so since the race started.  Sure enough when it starts getting dark night 2 folks start seeing weird creatures in the trees. 

We've all had it happen and it's typically pretty tame.  You're paddling along and you see what you're convinced is an alligator just sitting there on shore.  You might even mention it to your partner and then they see it too.  But you mention it to a third paddler and he can see that it's just a log and tells you as much.  But you saw the gator and now you can't unsee the gator.  Your brain has filled it in as best it can and it's always gonna be gator.  Sitting right there next to the mermaid.

Often what is needed is a quick reboot of the old brain.  This can be a short nap or some food or both.  Generally, we're on our way from one checkpoint to the next and so the goal is to get there and get some rest.  If you're with a group the mirages are less scary than if you're alone.  If you're seeing strange things and you're all alone out there, we advise pulling over and getting some rest in the first reasonable safe spot to do so.  If you've got a partner or are paddling with a group, try talking, singing, etc. and make sure you're sticking close together as you get to that next checkpoint and get some rest. 

It's not as common in the daylight but it can happen.  The best thing about this part of the race is that when you pull over for a nap you can instantly fall asleep.  You don't need a tent or a pad or a bag.  Just some shade in the mud and you're snoring.  Instant vivid REM sleep dreams.  Super restorative sleep.  Unlike when you tossed and turned trying to sleep night 1 at a crowded ramp, your night 2 sleep comes easy and regardless of sounds or location.  You can tell your ground crew to wake you up in 3 hours and it will feel like 3 minutes.  You will refuse to believe them.  They will show you the clock.  They will show you the sun.  You still won't believe it.  But your body will know it slept 3 hours of deep, restorative sleep.  Equivalent to 6 hours of the toss and turn stuff you get at home. 

Asian Carp!!
Does it seem odd to break up this dispatch with a random section about Asian Carp?  Well guess what?  That's the very nature of Asian Carp.  You're cruising along, minding your own business and all of sudden there's a giant (anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds) FISH in your face. 

Asian Carp are an invasive species that didn't really exist in the inland river until the mid to late nineties.  I had one land in my lap for the first time in 1999.  Scared me to death.  Fish don't jump into canoes.  Well, they do now.  But they didn't back then.

Now they are super common on the Missouri River and you will certainly see them or hear them.  Their tendency to jump out of the water is their fear response when spooked.  They escape predators by jumping 6 feet straight out of the water.  Problem is they sometime hit paddlers on their way up or down.  Not sure which is worse.  Probably on the way up because they are strong and moving fast out of the water. 

We've had good paddlers knocked out of the race by carp.  Yep.  Shoulder injuries, mild concussions, no joke.  But mostly grown men just scream like children.  But we want you to be aware, especially when paddling close to shore or in the slack water behind wing dams, carp are lurking.  And you scare them first.  Then they scare you back. 

We've covered some good ground.  Your homework is to visit Chris's channel and watch some videos while your boss isn't looking.  We'll be back with more soon. 


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