Dispatch 3 [2019]

Flooding update:  Heavy rain approaching KC as I type this  Will set back our progress on reservoir releases.  Hoping for minimal rain and hoping worst of it heads to Osage Basin vs. Kansas Basin.  We will know more in a few days.  River down close to where we need her to be.  Department of Conservation has begun putting the parks back together.  LOTS of mud and sand that has to be cleared to make them fully usable.  But progress!

Let's talk of the things we CAN control. 

If there's one thing we've learned over the previous 13 years of MR340s it's that you can plan and plan and plan your race to the nth degree, right down to the Thai food you have scheduled to order at precisely noon on Thursday at Cooper's Landing.  But the river will get you there on her time.  Your elaborate plans will be shredded by night 1 and you'll have moved from Plan A to Plan F. 

Here's the deal.  That's ok. 

It's good to have a plan and a schedule but it's also good to be resilient and flexible.  The river will take away things that you were counting on but then it will give you things that you weren't expecting.  The trick is to not waste too much physical and emotional energy on throwing yourself at the hard paddling and definitely take full advantage when the easy paddling is there for the taking. 

It's like a running play in football.  Play is designed to sweep right but you see a wall of defenders there waiting and a wide open gap to the left.  Cut left and take the yardage where it is given to you.  Don't marry yourself to something that is clearly not working. 

We discussed this in a previous dispatch as it applies to sleep.  Many racers have a sleep plan going in.  That's great!  You should actually have 3 or 4 plans.  And that's just for night 1.

Plan A.  I might sleep at Hills Island
Plan B. Hills Island underwater.  I will sleep at Miami.
Plan C. Feeling good at Miami.  Will head to Glasgow.
Plan D. Got foggy.  Slept in the trees somewhere between Miami and Glasgow. 

Part of the challenge is managing your ground crew.  We love our ground crews!  If you're lucky enough to have one, you want to keep them happy.  And they obviously want to do a good job.  So there are tons of emails flying back and forth from ground crew to paddler right now, forming a race plan. 

If you're a ground crew reading this, thank you so much for taking this on.  You will love it.  Your job is to make your paddler as efficient as possible.  You want their stops to be quick and for them to have everything they need for the next leg.  The lighter you can keep their boat, the faster they will get there.  Their thinking will get slower as the race goes on so what they need is for you to think for them.  And mostly, get their butts back in the boat and tell them you'll see them at the next stop. 

As a ground crew, help them to be flexible with their planning.  Often the paddlers feel obligated to stick to a predetermined plan they've made with you weeks before the race.  "We will sleep 4 hours at Miami, from midnight to 4am.  So it is written, so it shall be"  But then they get to Miami at 10pm and they aren't tired and they want to go on.  You've set up the van for sleeping... you did a great job... but they are not ready to sleep.  They don't want to appear ungrateful.  And they're NOT ungrateful.  But it will do nobody any good to try to force reality to conform to the plan for the sake of the plan.  The plan is to get to St. Charles as quickly and safely as the river allows.  Everything serves that plan. 

So you can tell your paddlers that you'll head to Glasgow and fall asleep there.  When the get there they can knock on the  van and wake you up.  You climb out, they climb in.  36 miles closer to the finish line.  The entire schedule for the week blown up in a good way.  Who knows where you'll be tonight?  That's the fun of it.  Things change hour to hour and you roll with it.  Problems come up and you solve them.  The river gives you 36 extra miles on a beautiful moonlit night, you take it.  Because it might take them all back the next night with thick fog or a thunderstorm. 

Keep sketching out scenarios and plans but don't get married to any of them.  Be ready to swipe left at any time.


The wisdom of veteran racers is, you do NOT want to try new foods during the race.  Stick to stuff you know.  Don't buy some energy powder or drink mix that you've never raced with before then swallow it down when your body is taxed.  It can end your race. 

If you've trained extensively with the supplement or magic potion that's one thing.  But introducing strange chemistry to your struggling body is not a good idea. 

You already know what kind of food you like.  And you'll crave things that you normally try to limit as a healthy person.  But you're burning so many calories so fast that you need to keep a steady supply up or things will start falling apart. 

A good metaphor is a campfire.  Think of your metabolism as the perfect campfire that is keeping you warm.  Starve it for fuel and it will go out.  Once it's out, no amount of wood will get it going again. 

On the flipside, if you have a good fire going, then you back a dumptruck up to it and drop a load of wood too quickly, you can put it right out.  The best practice is to keep a steady flow of fuel to that fire so that it burns hot and efficient. 

Don't be afraid of greasy, fatty food that you would otherwise not let yourself eat on a regular basis.  I've watched ground crews hand cooked T bone steaks to their tandem teams.  Each guy got a steak in his lap.  They each grabbed it with their hands and ripped a bite out, set it back in their lap and started paddling.  That's what they were craving and that's the fuel they needed.

Burgers and hot dogs that some of the checkpoints serve are a great source of calories.  And the non profit groups that host these are grateful for your support.

Salty foods go down well.  You will be losing lots of salt.  Electrolytes is a fancy word for this. 

Sweet stuff is good but too much can make some people queasy out there.  I've seen a lot of granola and cliff bars in the trash can on day 2.  But they have their place and are good to have as an option.

Fruit can be a game changer and bring a paddler right back to full strength.  Apples are super easy to eat and manage in a boat.  Cold watermelon or cantaloupe is also a hit. 

Casey's gas station pizza becomes like gold out there.  If you're a ground crew and you pass a Casey's, go get some slices, wrap them in foil and stick them in the cooler for the next stop.  You could make someone's whole race with a well placed slice of pizza.

Real Sugar Mountain Dew or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.  These are hard to find.  But they are instant energy to a wiped out paddler.  Avoid stuff with high fructose corn syrup.  This is hard to digest under the best of circumstances.  Out there we've seen lots of bad stuff come from it.  Cramping etc.  Some of the off brand gatorade copycat stuff will have corn syrup because it's cheaper.  Read the label.  Real sugar is better.  I know Wal-Mart carries the Throwback Mountain Dew in the vintage can with real sugar.  Sometimes they have the Pepsi and Dr. Pepper.  Slide an ice cold can in your paddler's hand as they leave the ramp.  They'll get to the next checkpoint 4% faster, guaranteed. 

Safety Boats:

Thank heaven for our safety boat fleet and our amazing captains and crews.  Some of them have been with us for 10 plus years!  This race doesn't happen without them. 

Their role is to support you out there and, in a situation where you can't make the next checkpoint, they can pick you up. 

Typically, we will have a safety boat at each checkpoint and even at most of the non checkpoint ramps like Miami, Cooper Franklin Island, etc.  As the race moves downstream, these boats travel between checkpoints and scour the shore looking for any paddlers pulled over who might need assistance.  You'll see a bunch of safety boats at Kaw Point before the start of the race.  They all fly yellow flags with the skull and cross paddles so they are easy to identify. 

As the safety boats go downstream and pass you by they might offer you a thumbs up as means of asking from a distance, "Are you good?"  They are looking for you to return the thumbs up to say, "Yep, all good"

If things are not good, we ask that you set your paddle down and wave your arms to signal that you'd like them to come closer.  They will do so.  You might want to get picked up and taken to the next downstream checkpoint.  Or you might have run out of water.  Or you might have some other minor problem.  They can help. 

They are instructed to check on any boat they see pulled over to the side of the river.  Most of the time this is just a paddler resting or possibly relieving themselves up in the trees.  But we don't know so we are obligated to check.  Checking looks like this:  Boat spotted.  Steer towards it.  Look for paddler near boat.  If paddler spotted, give thumbs up.  Positive response?  Move on.  No response?  Stop and clarify.  Arms waved?  Stop and help. 

We ask that if you pull over at night you keep your boat's navigation lights on so that we can see it and check on you.  Obviously, if you pull over at night in need of help, you'd want to be as visible as possible. 

What if you need help and there's no safety boat around?  Get your required cell phone out and call the safety boat hotline.  This will be given to you at the safety meeting on a waterproof card.  Calling a safety boat should only be done if there's a situation for you or a fellow paddler that requires a safety boat to pick you up and move you down to the next available ramp.  An exception might be that a broken rudder or similar repair is needed and the safety boat could help with a tool or other expertise.  But mostly, a call to the safety boat hotline means a racer would like to be picked up due to not being able to finish.

Depending on the situation, the time from the call being answered to a safety boat arriving could be lengthy.  Most often it's less than 30 minutes.  But if there is fog or bad weather or it's night time, it could be longer.  For this reason, we always require that paddlers carry with them gear needed for a safe night of camping out on the river.  Enough food and water... a mylar emergency blanket... means for starting a fire... cell phone.  Flashlight.  Etc.

Remember too that we consider all of you out there to be safety boats for each other.  If you see a paddler in distress, you are obligated and no doubt willing to help.  Often paddlers helping paddlers are the best stories and the most rewarding.  Maybe it's just to borrow a phone to tell ground crew a change of plans.  Or an extra set of hands to adjust a rudder cable.  But sometimes it has been a more serious situation where a paddler made the difference when a situation required it.  So thanks in advance!  And don't hesitate to ask for help. 

Some more random hints:

Put some reflective tape around the shaft of your paddle.  If you drop that black paddle in the middle of the night out there, the little bit of tape might be the only way you find it with your flashlight. 

Bring a spare paddle and keep it aboard.  If you lose that main paddle and you spot it bobbing 10 feet away, how do you get to it?  This really just applies to solo boats.  The spare paddle can be small.. Just enough to get you there.  Or, what some solos do is have a double blade paddle and a single blade.  Switching throughout the day to change up the muscle groups.  So one is always your backup. 

Here are some great Nav Lights that have worked well out there.

You need a red and green for front of boat.  White for back of boat.  These batteries last 100 hours.  Turn them on night one and forget them. 

They are bright so another tip is to put some black tape over the portion of the light that shines towards the paddlers.  This includes the rear light as it will light up your paddle and reflect into your eyes and harm night vision.  You need your boat to be visible from 360 degrees via these lights.  But you don't need to see the lights from where you are sitting. 

Your boat numbers should be reflective.  This helps us see you at night.  Additional reflective tape here and there on the boat is also a good idea.  Many production boats already have this.  Go shine a light on your boat in the dark garage.  You'll see pretty quick if its there.

Keep a good flashlight in your boat.  If you see a motorboat that you think may not see you, use it to signal them.  In some plastic kayaks, you can turn the flashlight on inside the cockpit and it will light up the whole boat in a pinch. 

Be prepared for a worst case scenario where you are separated from your boat and unable to catch it.  Maybe it's being blown by the wind.  Don't worry, we can get it later.  Take care of yourself first.  Get to shore.  But now what.  Do you have your cell phone?  Do you have a small flashlight?  Do you have the safety card?  It's a good idea to have bare essentials as part of your PFD.  A PFD with pockets makes this easy. 

We've been getting lots of great questions from paddlers and ground crews.  Don't hesitate to ask.  As the race approaches we will keep the dispatches coming.  We are about a month away from the safety meeting.  Keep the faith!

We're here to help!

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