MR340

Dispatch 4 [2015]

07/02/15 AT 15:53:41

Race is almost here! 

Important dates:

July 27th, MANDATORY SAFETY MEETING.  All must attend and sign in beforehand.  Hilton Garden Inn, Kansas City, KANSAS.  520 Minnesota Ave.  Sign in between 2-6pm.  Meeting starts at 7pm.  There will be music!  Miner's Bluff Band will be back by popular demand in the Grand Ballroom playing river music to pump you up.

We will have security at Kaw Point starting at noon for you to stage your boat so you'll have one less thing to do the next morning.  Just leave the boat.  No fancy paddles or electronics.

July 28th, RACE STARTS, Kaw Point Park, 7am solo start, 8am everything else.
Folks will start launching at 5am.  Get there early for parking and to be on the water by the cannon!

The River

Getting lots of questions about the status of the river and things have been very crazy this season with rain.  We've definitely had enough rain to wreak havoc in the area but so far, the location of the rain has been favorable.  Last year it was the stretch of river upstream of KC from Sioux City to Omaha that was getting pounded daily.  That led to a swollen river here that was on the razor's edge of postponement for several weeks leading up the the eventual deluge that ended it. 

This year the rain is mostly downstream of KC so while things are pretty solemn in central and eastern Missouri, things are improving in KC.  KC will be falling pretty steadily over the next two weeks thanks to the Kaw finally calming down.  That will soon help central and eastern Missouri as well.

Our threshold for going on July 28th is that the race course from KC to St. Charles is out of the flood zone.  Current river forecasts have that happening in the next 6 days.  More rain is forecast, however, so we will keep a close eye on that.  But I feel we have a very good chance at July 28th. 

The highest the water has ever been during an MR340 was in 2010 when it was 95,000 cfs at Kansas City.  Many people fondly remember that race as being fast and fun.  Current forecasts have the river closer to 70,000 cfs by race day.  Still a very fast river.  Let's hope the forecast is correct!

TEXTING IN AT CHECKPOINTS

I've been slow to get this dispatch out because we're finalizing the new and greatly improved www.Raceowl.com ; This will be a much more robust product that has lots of cool new features.  It's still in final testing so I don't have all the details for you yet, but it will be a great way for your friends and family to monitor your progress down the river from home. 

All they will need to know is your boat number and division and they will be able to track your progress.

Raceowl allows us to track racers at each checkpoint and to predict their progress to the next.  Pretty cool.

At each checkpoint, racers or their ground crew send a text message to a designated phone number which we will let you know soon.  There is a specific format required to include your boat number, the checkpoint and your time in/out.  We have used this system the last few years and it has worked very well.  Raceowl is designed to take the perfectly formatted text and enter it directly into Raceowl for instant updating.  Any text that strays from the format is queued to be read by a volunteer and entered manually.  So if you were pulling out of the race at Jefferson City, you could indicate that in the text and it would be manually handled by a human.  But a standard format text would be logged instantly and automatically.

Also cool this year is an improved smartphone app from Jon Marble that will handle a lot of the text in chore for you.  It's available for Android and Apple and is FREE.  Search MR340 in your app store.  Pretty handy and very cool.  But any text message will work so any phone that can send texts is sufficient.

Checking in is VERY important and is the crucial backbone of our safety plan we've filed with the United States Coast Guard.  They are impressed with how we track racers and account for everyone. 

When a checkpoint closes...like Lexington at 5pm on Day 1, we look through Raceowl to determine what paddlers have not checked in.  Ideally, all would be accounted for.  Any that are not have to be hunted down by safety boats and shore volunteers.  We will call your cell, your ground crew's cell, you emergency contact, etc.  Almost without fail, a missing paddler is discovered to have quit the race, loaded his boat and is on the way home when we call.  YOU HAVE TO text and let us know you are withdrawing.  Sometimes the paddler tried to send a text but their phone failed, etc.  Make sure the text goes through.  If your phone doesn't have a signal or battery is dead, don't leave the checkpoint until you've borrowed a phone from race staff and gotten yours charged back up.

Don't be overwhelmed by this.  It's a very easy procedure and once you've practiced sending a text at the safety meeting, the process will already be in your phone and you'll simply copy the format with each subsequent text.  If your ground crew doesn't know how to text you've got a few weeks to get them trained!

Unsupported Racers and Virtual Ground Crews

Everyone is required to have a ground crew.  Most will have a physically present ground crew to help them at checkpoints and to monitor their progress.  Ground crews serve an important role in that they are the first to realize if a paddler is late and possibly having problems.  Your ground crew becomes very good at predicting when you will arrive at a checkpoint.  If your are an hour or more late they will typically inform the safety boat team on site and we can begin to see if there is an issue. 

But for unsupported paddlers, it's different.  There is no ground crew on site to monitor them.  They are therefore the most vulnerable to long delays in getting assistance.  We wouldn't know that unsupported paddler was "late" until the checkpoint closed.  Therefore we require all racers to have a ground crew, even if they aren't on site.  This means that if your ground crew is home, you still need to have a plan to contact them on a regular basis.  An unsupported boat MUST maintain regular contact with their virtual ground crew.

This is easily done with text messaging.  Let's say John is an unsupported soloist doing the 340.  His ground crew is Sara at home with their kids.  John tells Sara he will text here at each checkpoint and let her know his plan to the next checkpoint.  So John arrives in Lexington.  He texts in to Raceowl that he has arrived.  He then text Sara:

Made Lexington.  On to Waverly.  Should arrive there by 7pm.  Love, John.

Now Sara knows to expect another text from John at 7pm.  She also knows that if John is 15 minutes late, it's no big deal.  This is John, after all.  But she also knows that if John were going to be much later than that, he would stop paddling and text that to her.  If John was really late and Sara wasn't getting a response, she would let race officials know and we would be watching for John via safety boat. 

So Sara is doing a job that our safety team could never do.  She is tracking an individual paddler to the minute on his planned arrival to a checkpoint.  She is watching closely over him among the 399 other boats in that field.  A physically present ground crew does this as a matter of course, standing on shore watching the boats come in.  Sara is doing that as well, via her phone.

Repeat:  UNSUPPORTED PADDLERS MUST HAVE A GROUND CREW IN REGULAR CONTACT WITH THEM DURING THE RACE.

Also, regarding unsupported racers, every year we see wonderful ground crews "adopt" the unsupported that are paddling in the same crowd as their team.  These unsupported boats would be thrilled if they could get a crew to pick them up a few items and have them at the next checkpoint.  It saves them a bunch of time and helps them keep up with your team and keep them company out there in the lonely miles.  Thanks ahead of time for helping where you can.

Crowded Checkpoints:
This year we will have about 70 more boats than we've ever had before.  That may not sound like a lot, but it will impact the ramps, especially at the first 3 checkpoints.  As the first racers come through you'll see very efficient ground crews grab their empty jugs and trash and quickly replace with full jugs and food.  Then the boat is GONE, barely having stopped for 30 seconds or less.  Many experienced ground crews will skip crowded checkpoints in lieu of other ramps between checkpoints.  (The ground crews, however, will still be at the regular checkpoints to check their teams in.) 

As the fastest racers go by we start see the boats that will stay longer at the checkpoints and so crowds develop at the ramp.  The ramp needs to stay as clear as possible for boats to get what they need and move out.  At Lexington, there is lots of muddy shoreline where boats can pull up and so crowding is not as big an issue.  But at Waverly and Miami it's almost exclusively the ramp and then things can get very busy.  In Waverly or Miami, if you plan to stay more than 2 minutes, you'll need to have your boat carried up and off the ramp then relaunch after you've got what you need.  The ramp will need to stay clear for boats making quick stops and for boat trying to launch after extended stops. 

Waverly and Miami have teams of ramp volunteers to assist this process.  Robin Kalthoff's Missouri Stream Team will be managing Waverly and the City of Miami volunteers will be covering Miami. Both sites will have a boat corral cordoned off near the ramp where boats for those staying more than a few minutes can be stored.  Please work with these volunteers to keep the ramp clear and functional. 

Creative ground crews will be willing to meet their boat in muddy, rocky spots up and down from the immediate area of the ramp.  Your boat will arrive and be looking for a familiar face.  Flag them down and point to where you want them to land. 

Remember too that it't not required that you stop at a checkpoint.  If you have enough food and water to make your next rendezvous, you can just make verbal contact with your ground crew and keep going.  All teams must make verbal contact at minimum.

Things will spread out a bit by Glasgow but throughout the race, the ramp etiquette must be maintained.  The ramp cannot be clogged with boats lingering more than a couple minutes.  If you get out of your boat for any reason, you should haul it up the ramp and out of the way.

Above Normal Water

With water anticipated in the 70,000 range we can expect good flow and good finish times.  Staying in the boat will have an even bigger payoff... and a bigger penalty for those that stand on shore.  As you wander around the checkpoint, your competitors on the water will get further and further ahead. 

Normal flow for this time of year is about 50,000.  So 70,000 is going to scoot you right along.  Again, we've done the race at 95,000, but 70,000 is nothing to sneer at.  This means that you have to be especially vigilant when going under bridges or negotiating other obstacles.  Things will happen faster than you think.  When going under a bridge it's important to give the piers a wide berth.  There is no good reason to get near a bridge pier.  Often, there will be debris pinned to these piers and strange currents near the debris.  Stay as far as possible from these. 

This is especially the case during the first 3 miles of the race.  You will go under several bridges, one after another.  This is a big reason why we now do two starts.  It's much easier for 250 boats to negotiate this space than for 400.  While it is a race, it's not necessary or even prudent to sprint out of Kaw Point like a madman and try to pass everyone in the first 3 miles.  Ideally, you're paddling a stroke rate that you can maintain for 340 miles.  So cross into the Missouri and find the channel, which is more or less the right side of the river as you enter the Missouri.  Usually, the boats sort of form a conga line and are no more than 4-5 boats abreast as they go under the bridges.  Give each other the space to maneuver under these structures and soon enough the river opens up and becomes more vanilla.  In fact, bridges become something to look forward to after a few hours.  There's that whole 2 seconds of shade under there that you'll really enjoy. 

The race start is always lots of fun.  Lots of adrenalin and excitement.  We are looking forward to seeing everyone there at 530am as the DJ starts the music and the news trucks start filming.  We are in the home stretch now!  Keep preparing as best you can and keep your fingers crossed that the rain goes away and we have another great MR340.  Best ultra marathon in the country if you ask me!  The towns along the way are PUMPED to see you all and to cheer you down the river. 

More to come, soon!

Scott

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