Dispatch 4 [2017]

07/05/17 AT 10:24:30

Now that July is here the race seems much closer.  We can now say "next month" which puts racers and race directors into a cold sweat with the long list of things to prepare and mark off the list in the next few weeks.

As usual, we ask that you check the roster and verify there are no issues with your entry.  We still have several TBD racers to get registered.  This really needs to happen fast.  Also, some of you chose numbers that were already taken.  We need a new number choice so we can finalize rosters for our safety teams.

Here's your roster:

Remember, there are no refunds for non participation.  We are locked and loaded for the 12th Annual MR340. 

We would also like to remind everyone of key milestones leading up to your eventual finish in St. Charles.

Boat Staging at Kaw Point
Highly recommended you stage your boat at Kaw Point Park the day before the race (August 7th) We will have our usual security guys down there starting at noon.  Their job, with roster in hand, is to watch for boats LEAVING the park.  If you are dropping a boat off, they will politely ignore you.  If you are loading a boat up to leave, they will ask to verify that your ID matches the name on the roster for that boat number.  This is the security we have offered for several years with no problems.  But ultimately, your boat is your responsibility.  It could still get damaged or sneakily removed or a storm could come and blow it away.  But the odds are it will just be sitting there all night waiting for you to show up and put 340 miles on it.  Ramp and parking lot will be ridiculous come Tuesday morning and you will not be able to drive your boat to the water.  Better to offload it Monday afternoon or evening and have one less thing to worry about.  Do not leave paddles or expensive electronics or pfds with boat.

Race Check IN for ALL Participants.  Anytime August 7th between 2pm and 6pm at the Convention Center adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn.  530 Minnesota Ave, Kansas City, KS  Lower level.  Follow the smell of sunscreen and adrenaline.  Avoid the line and get there early.  We will likely be ready by 1pm for early birds.  Line will get LOOOONG if you show up at 530. 

Mandatory Safety Meeting
August 7th, 7pm, Hilton Garden Inn Convention Center.  This is typically a one hour deal.  A couple sponsors will speak and you will cheer wildly for them.  Then we will go through the safety presentation which is a quick summary of what we've been talking about in these dispatches.  It's a fun meeting with standing room only and well over 1000 people in attendance.  If you're not pumped about the race, this will get you there.

Tuesday, August 8th, Kaw Point Park  7am start for all solos.  8am start for everything else.  All finish times calculated based on your division start time. 

Ok, let's talk barges and dredges.

The Missouri is a navigable inland waterway and as such has barge traffic moving up and down between St. Charles, MO and Sioux City, IA.  You will see barges.  Some years we've seen as few as two.  Some years we've seen 5.  If you count the smaller sand barges that are servicing the sand dredges, then we will see anywhere from 5-8 barges that you will have to pass. 

The river is pretty huge and there is more than enough room for you to share it with a barge.  Please note, these barges have to pass each other.  If they can manage that without incident, then passing you is no problem.  IF you behave in a manner that is predictable to them.

Have you ever come upon a squirrel in the middle of the road?  It sees you coming and darts left, then right, then left, then right.  Flattened squirrels happen because they don't commit early and get out of the way.  Yes, this is a metaphor.

The barges, by their very design, are obligated to stay in the designated channel of the river.  This is the deepest and fastest water and by staying in this channel they know they won't hit the bottom of the river or a wing dike.  Soooo, all we have to do when encountering a barge is to remove ourselves from the channel.  Yes, you can keep paddling if you choose to.  But you should be well out of the channel in the shallow, slower water. 

It's always necessary to assess the wake behind the towboat pushing the barges.  Sometimes, this wake can be huge and create water that will capsize a boat. This is typically a very heavy load being pushed upstream.  Sometimes the wake is negligible.  This is typically a light load being pushed downstream.  And sometimes the wake is fun size and the waves are just right for a few minutes of fun to break up the long miles. 

If you see tall standing waves and white water behind the tow, you might opt to just pull off to the non channel side, do some body maintenance like stretching or sunscreening.  If the water looks manageable, then paddle on your way, avoiding any squirrel like behavior. 

Sand Dredges

If you live within a hundred miles of the Missouri River, odds are your driveway, sidewalk and basement were once just Missouri River sand.  This sand is harvested daily from the river bottom by huge, rusty, noisy, angry machines anchored mid river.  These dredges are held in place by anchors attached to rusty cables as big as your wrist.  They generally only operate 7am to 5pm, but they remain out there all night. 

When operating, they suck sand from the bottom and pump it into sand barges parked alongside.  When the barge gets full, a towboat comes to pick it up and drop off an empty.  The full barge then gets a short ride, usually a mile or less, to the shoreside processing facility.  This goes on all day. 

So, when you approach a dredge, be aware that if it is operating then there is likely a towboat moving nearby. 

Here the rules for barges gets a little wacky because the dredge may be slightly off channel.  You will have lots of time to make a non squirrel decision about which side to pass the dredge.  He ain't moving so that helps, but his cables out front will often rise up and down out of the water for several yards.  So keep well clear of the front.  Watch for the service towboat to come or go.  We will pass 3-4 of these sand operations.  One within the first 10 miles of the race.  But they typically don't start operating until we pass that morning.  We radio them when the last boat goes by and they wave to you and fire it up.

At night, these usually do not operate.  Last year the one above Jefferson City was operating.  First time we'd seen that happen in the entire 10 year history of the race.  We don't expect it but always be prepared for it.  They are supposed to leave a bright light shining on the bow and stern overnight.  But these can fail.  Always listen and keep a good LED flashlight near. 

Parked barges also warrant a paragraph.  Most of the barge traffic pulls over at night for the race.  These could be on either side of the river.  Definitely marked with navigation lighting and the towboats are very well lit.  But sometimes there are barges parked on shore, just tied to trees with no towboat.  These are also supposed to be lit but lights can fail.  Again, this is just an awareness thing.  You'd be unlikely to be hugging the shore at night anyway.  At night, it's generally good practice to stay near the middle of the river. 

Here's a great Chris Luedke video about barges that all should watch:

For barges and other purposes, we treat the river like a 5 lane highway.  Lane 1 is on your far left, right up against the shore.  Next is lane 2.  Lane 3 is the exact middle lane.  Then lane 4 on your right and lane 5 hugging the right shore. 

Chris Luedke has another great video that illustrates this nicely.

Typically, lanes 1 and 5 are for avoiding a barge (whichever lane is off channel) or for finding some shade during the heat of the day or for avoiding some big wind.  Lanes 2,3 and 4 are usually the fastest water, depending on which side is the channel for any given stretch. 

Sometimes lane 1 or lane 5 is the fastest water if the bend is tight.  But too close to shore will slow you a bit. 

At night, lane 3 is usually a safe bet if you're confused about the channel or if you lose the moon for a few minutes due to cloud cover.  There are exceptions to lane 3 being clear.  This happens in places like Lisbon Bottoms or Berger Bend.  These are good places to look at on Google Earth and get a feel for.  Or just stick with some other paddlers.  Odds are you go through these during daylight most likely. 

More on Lisbon Bottoms:

A reminder that under full moon conditions with light or little cloud cover, the river is very well lit and it's pretty easy to see the water, the shore, the trees, etc.  If conditions deteriorate and you are struggling to see the treeline and water surface, it might be time to get some rest. 


Sometimes I think there's a misconception that folks have if this is their first adventure race or ultra marathon event.  I think there's a feeling that if there's bad weather, the race officials will clear the course and there will be shelter provided, etc.  This is not possible.  We will not start the race in a storm but once the race is started, storm safety is on each racer to administer for themselves and their boat.  Treat the situation as though you were on a solo adventure on the Missouri River.  A storm is clearly approaching.  You see lightning and hear thunder.  The wind is picking up.  What would you do?  It is likely, on this hypothetical solo adventure, you'd find a place to pull over.  You'd secure your boat.  You'd put on the rain gear you packed.  You'd get out the tarp or tent you packed and you'd hunker down and let the storm pass.  Same protocol should be in place during the race. 

We have rain at some point along the course during every year of the race.  Some folks are ahead of it or behind it and never get wet.  But every year, somebody gets rained on.  Sometimes hailed on.  Sometimes wind so strong it crashes them into the rocks. 

In our modern world it has never been easier to know what the weather is doing.  Odds are you have access to HD doppler radar on your phone.  Certainly you have an app that does weather forecasting for the night ahead.  If there is a chance of rain or storms, grab what you need from your ground crew for that night.  Rain suit, tarp, small tent, whatever your preference.  You can hand it all back to them in the morning. 

When a storm hits day or night we are assuming that you are off the river as needed and you will get back on once the storm clears.  During a storm we cannot send a safety boat to pick you up because you are cold or wet.  It's not safe for the safety boat to go out in high winds or lightning.  Obviously, if someone is hypothermic and shivering uncontrollably we want to know so we can have the nearest boat ready to go as soon as the wind calms enough.  But the expectation is that you are prepared for the weather just as you would be on a training run. 

There are hundreds of great stories from this race of long stormy nights spent huddled in a space blanket under a canoe, in the mud, wondering if the sun would ever rise.  While miserable hours are spent in such conditions, the stories always seem to be told with a huge grin on the face of the teller.  In other words, don't fear the weather.  Respect it.  Prepare for it.  You'll live to tell the tale.  And it will be one of your favorite MR340 stories. 

Fog is a similar story.  Please take 5 minutes to watch this excellent video about the MR340 and FOG:

Ground Crews

Thing One:  Every boat is required to have a ground crew.
Thing Two: Ground crew can be either physical or virtual.

A physical ground crew is one you see at checkpoints and they take care of you.  They cheer, they cajole, they pretend you don't stink... and they make your odds of finishing much better.  Also important!  They are a human being that is aware if you are late getting to a checkpoint and that something may be awry. 

Without them observing your lateness, we wouldn't know there was a problem until the checkpoint closes.  And that could be hours or for some checkpoints, over a day. 

So your ground crew is an important part of the safety net.  But not everybody can convince someone to be along as a physical ground crew.  Thus, the virtual ground crew.  They are NOT there to give you a back rub but they are "there" on the other end of a phone and so they are paying attention to your progress with pre-arranged text messages that you agree on ahead of time as the race unfolds. 

There are fancy satellite tracking products that could help a virtual ground crew monitor your progress but essentially, a good old text message will do the trick. 

Example:  Race starts, you have told your VGC that you expect to make it to Lexington by 3pm and you will text her then.  At 330pm she starts getting nervous but BOOM there's your text message.  "We made it!  Will text you again at Waverly.  We think it should be about 7pm.  So, she jots this down on the cool map you gave her.  And voila!  She gets a text at 645pm.  You're early!  "We made it to Waverly.  We are going on to Miami.  Will text you next at 11pm. 

But then...  a storm brews up and you decide to wait it out at Hills Island.  Sure enough, 11pm approaches.  So you text VGC.  "Storm has us on Hills Island, Mile 281.  We will text when we leave."  She writes this down on map next to Hills Island. 

4am you shove off from Hills Island.  Text "We are heading to Miami.  Will be there by 7am."

You get the idea. 

Now, let's say 7am comes along and she doesn't hear from you.  She knows that you might be late so she gives you some time.  But then it's 8am and she still hasn't heard.  Now she texts you but you don't reply.  She calls but it goes straight to voicemail.  Now she's nervous so at 815 she calls the safety boat dispatch. 

Hi, I'm worried about boat 4334.  They were supposed to text me at Miami at 7am but they are over an hour late and they aren't answering. 

Our order of operations would be to call our sweep safety boat that left Hills Island at 6am.  Their job is to scrape both shores of the river and makes sure there are no boats between Hills Island and Miami.  We'd tell them the boat number and color and they'd keep an eye out.  Our safety boats in Miami would also get a call and they would start looking at the boats parked in Miami.  At 815 on Wednesday morning there will be well over 100 boats parked in the grass there. 

99 times out of 100 the boat is there with the guys asleep.  They thought they sent the text but it didn't go through.  Phone is turned off now to save batteries.  False alarm.  But the good news is, the system worked and had there been a problem with an illness or broken boat, we would have a head start on solving it rather than waiting for Miami to close at 11am and then wondering where they are. 

This is even more important at subsequent checkpoints that are open for 30+ hours. 

So your VGC is really just a fan.  He or she wants you to succeed.  They follow your progress either by fancy satellite tracking or by simple text communication.  They have the race phone numbers.  You should make it YOUR priority as a racer to check in with them as diligently as you do with your normal checkpoint texting.  If you are going to be late, let them know.  If your phone stops working beg another paddler to send a message so that there is no worrying.

Checking in at Checkpoints:

All racers must check in at each of the 8 checkpoints between KC and St. Charles.  This is regardless of Physical or Virtual ground crews.  There must be a text message sent to race officials at each checkpoint. 

This data is uploaded to where the race data is compiled and checked against rosters and our safety plan.  If a paddler is not checked in when a checkpoint closes a series of phone calls get started as well as a search of the river.  This all pulls resources dedicated to racer safety and focuses them on finding the boat in question.  In all the history of the race, such a search ends with us finding a paddler who simply forgot to check in or didn't confirm that the phone message went through.  Happy ending every single time but frustrating as it pulls our people away from keeping the rest of the group safe. 

Sometimes things happen that won't let you text.  Maybe your phone got wet or you don't have a signal.  No problem!  Your ground crew can text you in if they are there.  Most ground crews do this anyway for their paddlers.  If your ground crew is virtual or they are simply not there, just ask a safety boat at the checkpoint to text you in.  Or ask another paddler or ground crew.  All will be happy to help.  It's simple and takes 10 seconds. 

Please watch the following tutorial about the text in procedures:

Finally for this week, let's talk about checkpoint atmosphere and etiquette.  And again, we thank Chris Luedke for an illuminating video.  Please watch.

We are getting there!  Lots to do but we're all going to pull this off together.  Keep working on your boat and your body and your mind.  Nobody that finishes this thing regrets it.  If this is your first time, BE EXCITED.  There's a reason that almost everyone does this more than once.  It will be among the toughest things you've ever done but it will also be one of the most inspiring catalysts for whatever you do next.  Don't be overwhelmed or anxious.  We're all a team and helping hands will be everywhere. 

Let me know what questions you have.  Look for the next dispatch soon.


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