Hello Fellow River Friends,
Hopefully, you've had some time to digest all the great resources we tagged in Dispatch 1. And for some of you, there were questions answered in there that you didn't even realize you had! And maybe some new ones born from the avalanche of good stuff. We're here to help. This isn't some super secret society of paddlers. We're an open book and everyone is happy to share and get the new folks up to speed.
Let's march through what your first 24 hours of this experience might look like.
Monday, July 19 you'll come by Kaw Point Park anytime between noon and 8pm to drop off your waiver and pick up your tshirt and required safety card. We will also have you prove to us that you know how to "Check IN" via phone so your first check in will happen there at Kaw Point the day before the race. You are also welcome to stage your boat to make the next morning easier for you. We will have a presence at the park from noon on Monday, July 19 up until the 8am start the next day. We've never had an issue with damage to a boat but this is still at your discretion to leave your boat. Please do not leave gear or paddles. Just your boat to make race morning easier for you.
Prior to the race, we will be sharing an Online Safety Meeting and it will be required that all participants and ground crews watch this video.
The morning of the race you'll want to arrive at Kaw Point fairly early ahead of your start time. The parking lot will fill up fast and we will overflow along the curb of the NorthPoint building outside the floodwall. We've never had to exceed that.
For the 7am solo start, racers will start launching around 530am. Everyone thinks they can wait to put in at 645 but that won't work. A huge line will have formed by 615am and many will not be in the water for the start. That's no big deal. If you start a few minutes late you've got lots of time to make that up over the next 340 miles. But we recommend jumping in the line and getting on the water early.
The boat ramp is the obvious place but there are other ways to get on the water. Way out at the confluence is the actual "Kaw Point" and you'll find a nice, rocky slope into the river. There should also be a line of folks launching there. You can launch anywhere. Try to be as quick as possible with this. Have your gear all stashed and just slide in your boat and go hover with the pack.
The official starting line is anywhere upstream of the boat ramp. There is plenty of room for all of you. Typically, the Kaw if flowing pretty slowly so you'll have to work just a little to keep your boat above the ramp.
Race will start promptly at 7am unless a storm or fog causes a delay.
Again, Solo racers start at 7 am and all other divisions start at 8 am.
Chris Luedke has a good training video of the morning of the start. https://youtu.be/3pkYod_xkR8
By the way, his channel is FULL of great videos as you should already know! https://www.youtube.com/c/340Paddler
Your second minor challenge (after launching) is to make the transition from the Kaw to the Missouri River. The Kaw is usually pretty slack and the Missouri is moving pretty fast on that bend. When racers crowd too close together we tend to have a boat or two collide and sometimes flip over. Not a huge deal but an exhausting process for you to put your boat and gear back together and get on your way.
The mouth of the Kaw is quite large and there is plenty of room to put between you and the crowd. Everyone tends to aim for the middle and that's where the collisions occur. Consider a couple of options.
1. Choose the road less traveled. Take the north or south route. This is slightly slower water and a tad more distance but rarely do any of these folks have trouble.
2. Start the race slow and let the chaos and adrenaline happen in front of you. Once it subsides you'll have all the room in the world to operate.
Should you flip over, relax. Stay with your boat and gather your gear best you can. Hopefully, you made sure everything was secured and you've got your required PFD fitted appropriately. The Kansas City Fire Department is typically out there with 3 of their swift water rescue teams and they will help square you away.
Your 3rd challenge of the morning will be the gauntlet of bridges just downstream from the start. You'll negotiate 5 of them in rapid fire. This is very easy and we've never had anyone get in trouble through there. But with 300 boats anything can happen.
The water is really fast in this narrow bend and the bridge piers amplify this. So everything comes at you pretty fast. You'll want to line up your approach and again make sure you've got room between you and other boats. Should you end up swimming in this stretch, your priority should still be to move yourself and your boat so that you will not hit a bridge pier. Your fellow paddlers will help you until the KC Fire Department or one of our safety boats can assist.
But all this will be over in a few minutes. You'll clear the bridges and settle in to your pace. The racers will all assume a pretty straight line of boats. You'll pass a few boats and get passed by a few. Pretty soon you are in your groove with others who have similar speed. You might be stuck with some of them for days so make friends.
After about two hours of this, the fastest boats from the 8am start will begin whizzing by you. This will go on for awhile and is a fun part of the dual start. Pretty soon these bigger boats will find their spots in the conga line. If you're a solo with a chance to draft off a heavy tandem or triple, go for it. You'll see lines of boats bow to stern all drafting. This allows you to use less effort to maintain a similar speed to the boat in front of you.
Don't wear yourself trying to stay on a draft that is too fast for you. There's bound to be a tandem that matches your pace and allows you to save a few strokes while maintaining a good cruising speed.
Remember that every boat has a different hull speed and you want to keep your boat at an efficient glide for the race. If you're trying to push your boat past its efficient hull speed you are wasting a lot of effort with little return. As you prepare for the race, find your sweet spot where the boat is most efficient. This isn't necessarily a gps thing because some of us train on lakes or slower water. It's more of a feel and listening thing. If your bow is making a bunch of noise and throwing a big wave, you're probably trying to push that boat too fast. Remember, this race is 340 miles. Your goal should be to move the same speed in the first 20 miles as you do in the final 20 miles. A consistent, steady pace all the way to St. Charles. You will see folks that are straining hard at the start throwing a big bow wake and passing people the first 5 miles or so. Then they will slow down and you'll end up passing them as they try to recover from this burn.
Efficiency in all things should be your goal. Some things to consider.
1. Weight. There is a time penalty for every ounce you load on your boat. The less you carry checkpoint to checkpoint, the easier it will be. If you have a physical ground crew, this is much easier to accomplish. You can carry just the bare essentials to get you to the next checkpoint. If you have a virtual ground crew, you can still do your best to carry minimum needed before you can resupply. And remember, the heaviest thing in your boat is you. Dropping 5 pounds between now and July will pay off in many ways.
2. Time on shore. Consider the river as a big, fast conveyor belt. It is doing half the work for you. But when you pull of the river for any reason, you lose that advantage. Stay in the boat. Yes, there will be times when you have to pull off to get supplies or sleep. But those are the only reasons! Do everything possible in the boat while letting the river help you. If you haven't figured out how to pee in your boat yet, start working on it. You simply cannot pull over to pee ever few hours. It wastes time but more importantly, landing and launching is exhausting. You will quickly run out of energy. Guys and girls both can do this. There are many great products out there for women that work very well. And guys too will need to practice if you're in a kayak. An empty gatorade bottle or Planter's Peanut jar can be very handy. You can certainly eat in your boat. If your ground crew hands you an amazing sub sandwich with everything you've been craving for 40 miles, jump back in the boat and eat it while the river pulls you at 3mph towards your goal. Biggest mistake we see at the back of the race is folks spending way too much time on shore doing stuff they could do on the water.
3. Efficient, present, ground crew. Every boat is required to have a ground crew. Your ground crew may be a physically present ground crew or a remote, virtual ground crew. The ground crew's primary job is to be aware of the paddler's health and location. For physical ground crews this is pretty easily done. They will see their paddler at agreed to locations and there will be an appraisal of their well being. For a virtual ground crew, this looks a bit different. In a virtual set up, the ground crew and paddler arrange for text or voice contact and regular intervals. If your virtual ground crew doesn't hear from you when expected, they are to call the safety boat hotline and report it.
Obviously, having a physically present ground crew gives you a big advantage. There's someone to carry all the gear you might need for a rainstorm. And to resupply your food and liquids so you don't have to carry so much... and to cheer you on and keep you moving.
If you're lucky enough to have a ground crew, make the most of them. Make sure they have a foldable wagon or something to carry all your stuff over long parking distances at the more crowded checkpoints. Make sure you have good communication with them about what you'll need at each checkpoint so that there is minimum delay. Ideally, you hit the ramp, they help you pull your boat out of the way, you wander off to the bathroom while they attack your boat removing all the trash and empty containers and replacing everything. You come back, help launch the boat, tell them what you need at next meeting and they hand you that sub sandwich and you're gone. Minimal time wasted.
Assuming you've dialed all this in before race day, you're cruising along to your first meeting. You've spent some time leading up to the race toughening up your hands with some long distance paddling. Or some free weights. Or some pull ups. Or some good manual labor. You're aware of any hot spots that are starting on your hands and adjusting your grip to spread the damage out. Your hands will be hamburger by the end of this but your goal should be to avoid the worst of it for as long as possible. You're drinking on a regular schedule that you've worked out with your training. You are also eating every 20 - 30 minutes to avoid bonking out. You're burning a ton of calories and have to keep the fire stoked. If you've got a partner in the boat you're making sure they are eating and drinking on schedule. As the heat begins to build you make sure you're staying cool. You dip your hat in the river and let it keep your head and neck wet. You applied a bunch of sunscreen at Kaw Point and plan to reapply at the first stop You've got a tube of chapstick in one of your PFD pockets. Sunglasses with a cord so you don't lose them. Sun gaiter on your neck to keep the sun off and to use as a mask if needed at checkpoints. Everything clicking along nicely. You've got the RaceOwl app on your phone showing the channel and you're right on it. As you round another bend you see the front end of a barge come in to view.
Barges and Dredges
Barge traffic on the Missouri is minimal but it is increasing. We will see 2 or 3 that week and potentially more. They come in many configurations. Some are long haul and travel night and day. Some are short haul and just going a half mile back and forth from a sand dredge. Let's look at both.
Sand dredges operate mostly during normal daylight work hours. These are large noisy contraptions anchored night and day midstream. We will pass one the first morning. The dredge itself doesn't move but the cables that anchor it to the sandy bottom will rise and fall out of the water so you need to keep your distance to one side or the other. The dredges auger up sand from the river bottom for use in construction. The sand is deposited in sand flats (barges) tied alongside the dredge. As the flat is filled, a small towboat will bring an empty to the other side of the dredge, tie it off, then grab the full one and haul it to shore for offloading. So if you see a dredge pumping sand, look for the towboat and try to stay out of their path from shore to dredge and back.
At night, the dredges do not usually operate but they will still be there in the water. They are supposed to leave a light on both ends but you can't count on this as the lights can fail. You'll want to use your eyes and ears and be ready to grab that strong LED flashlight if needed to light up the river if you need to.
The other type of towboat will be pushing 2-3 barges for long distances, running night and day. These are bigger and tend to throw a larger wake if moving upstream with a heavy load. If you see a barge going upstream OR downstream, you need to exit the navigation channel and stay a safe distance away.
Due to the nature of the Missouri River the towboat will be constrained to the navigation channel to assure it will have the depth to proceed. You, being a tiny little boat, are not constrained to this channel. So if you move out of the channel you are almost assured of not being in the way. Typically, the off channel side of the river will be the inside of bends. Here's a great explainer video from Chris Luedke's 340 Paddler channel.
After the barge let's imagine you're getting to the first rendezvous with your ground crew. Missouri is blessed with some pretty good boat ramps and adjacent parks. But the 340 tends to overwhelm the parking and ramp size so we all have to work together to keep the ramps functional. We all have to work together to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
The big problem tends to be at the bottom of the ramp where folks are landing and launching and repacking boats all in a tight space. We have to leave the bottom of the ramp open so folks can land. So, once you land, grab your boat and carry it up the ramp to a spot out of the way. Then you have time to work on the boat before jumping back in the launch line to get going again. Only the fastest racers will get there early enough to have the ramp to themselves for the ground crew to service the boat at the waterline. The rest of us will be crowded and will need to come up the ramp to a clear spot. Please help this happen.
Once you're back on the water and on your way you'll be heading to your first official checkpoint. Waverly, MO is a blessed town in that it has TWO boat ramps. The first is upstream of the bridge. The second is just downstream. You can choose either one. Both will have food available for sale from the local boy scout troop. Please support them! And both ramps will have restrooms available. So it's really a preference but you'd want to have worked it out with ground crew ahead of time. Or, have them text you with whichever location they scout that day.
Protocol at a checkpoint is no different. Help keep the ramp clear and be efficient. The difference is that at a checkpoint, you are required to check in electronically using text messaging or the RaceOwl app. We will talk more about the app in a future dispatch.
Checking in is a crucial part of the 340 safety plan. Your first check in will have happened earlier that morning at Kaw Point Park before the starting gun. Everyone will need to check in so we can confirm you started. Volunteers will be there to help you at Kaw Point should you have a problem. So by the time you get to Waverly, you will have done it once already.
The Waverly cutoff time is 8pm. This is 13 hours for the solos and 12 hours for everyone else. If you don't make it there by 8pm, you are out of the race. So efficiency day 1 is super important. One of our safety boats, The Reaper, acts as a pace boat and will run all day long at precisely the speed needed to make the 8pm cutoff. Hopefully, you never see the Reaper behind you. And we really hope you never see it in front of you. If the Reaper beats you to Waverly, you are out. Plan and train accordingly.
Here's a Chris Luedke video on the Reaper https://youtu.be/4dKkbbstC_0
This is the second year of the 8pm Waverly cutoff. Last year it only disqualified one boat. It was a 4 person team from the 8am start. No solos were disqualified. Waverly is the most difficult checkpoint to make. So efficiency from Kaw Point to Waverly is crucial! Plan to meet your ground crew somewhere and only for a couple of minutes. La Benite, Cooley Lake, Napoleon, Ft. Osage, Lexington... all of these are good options on the way to Waverly. A good ground crew will be at the place you planned but will also be watching from another place just in case you need something. The key if you need to stop, is to make it super quick. Hand them your empty jugs, let them put the full stuff in and then go.
But yes, it will be work. And when you glide into Waverly ahead of the Reaper, it will be well earned. And then, you get your first night of the race!
With everyone in by 8pm, it's unlikely we'd have anyone considering spending the night in Waverly. There will be still be about an hour of decent light. It will be hot, muggy and noisy at Waverly. And you've got another cutoff time to beat tomorrow at Glasgow. Better to make some miles in the evening and overnight if the weather and other conditions allow.
Night travel requires navigation lighting. Here's another great Luedke video on night paddling which includes a primer on navigation lights.
You'll be surprised by the second wind you get once the sun goes down. You're surrounded by paddlers and with the heat of the day fading, everyone gets a little boost. The moon comes up and you wonder why anyone would ever want to paddle in the daytime. Some of your best miles will come at night. And guess what? The Reaper takes the night off. She usually parks at Hill's Island about 12 miles downstream of Waverly and doesn't pick up your trail again until 6am. So, if you paddle most of Tuesday night, odds are you won't see the Reaper again. She simply can't catch you.
So that's a busy day 1. You checked in twice. Once at Kaw Point and once at Waverly. You passed a sand dredge and maybe even a barge. You met your ground crew a couple of times. You peed in a bottle a few times with no mishaps. You ate and drank on a good schedule with plenty of electrolytes and food you could tolerate. And you got through the heat of the day and into the night.
By sunrise of day 2 there will be racers from Hills Island (mile 281) to Jeff City (mile 144) An unbelievable spread. And by dinner time of day 2, the first boat will finish. And the back of the race will be in Glasgow. A spread of 199 miles from first place to last.
You'll be somewhere in there. The training, research, planning will all be paying off. The mental toughness of gritting through the pain and staying in the boat will your biggest challenge. But along with the bad hours there will be great hours! Second winds that come out of nowhere and propel you along to the next checkpoint.
More to come soon! Try to get on the river if you can! There are races and training runs happening all the time. Check the facebook group!
We're here if you have any questions.