Dispatch 6 [2016]

06/27/16 AT 13:20:31

3 weeks to go...

Yes, in 3 short weeks, we will all be gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn, Kansas City, KANSAS for sign in and the MANDATORY safety meeting.  Sign in starts as early as 1pm and goes until 6pm.  Safety Meeting starts promptly at 7pm.  It is typically standing room only and there are about 1200 folks who attend. 

The Hilton has a nice place to eat upstairs from the ballrooms and they also offer a pasta/salad meal down in the ballrooms.  There is table seating on the left side of the room and row seating on the right.

After the safety meeting folks disperse pretty quickly to try and sleep (hard to do) or make last minute supply runs, adjustments to boats, etc.  If you have last minute questions after the meeting we will have some veterans (ground crew and paddlers) available at the front of the room to field some questions and ease some jitters. 

On a related note, if you are a veteran of the race and are willing to come up after the meeting and field a few questions, that helps folks a bunch.  We tried this last year with great success.  Rather than a line of folks waiting for me, we had 5 or 6 veterans and we answered everyone in about 3 minutes.

Speaking of questions!  Many ground crews are trying to piece together their maps and plans for the upcoming ordeal.  Here's a great link from the forum that will do 90% of the work for you.

These ground crew guidebooks have been produced over the years by lots of great teams.  They are up for you to download and print.  Be aware that some of the information may have changed as road construction, etc. has evolved.  But it's a great starting point and you can just amend these with a pencil as you make your real life plans for the week of the race.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

PFDs are REQUIRED by the COAST GUARD to be worn at all times during the MR340.  It's part of our permit with them and part of our insurance.  This is the seat belt of paddling.  Can you still have a bad outcome with a PFD?  Yes.  But the odds are so greatly reduced that only a fool would not wear one. 

I am sure you are an excellent swimmer, but please understand that we often find ourselves swimming when our bodies are not at their best.  This race will grind your body up.  So imagine trying to swim to your boat with leg cramps from dehydration.  Or back spasms from being in the boat all day.  Or a blown out shoulder from a carp smacking you.  Or you've passed out from heat exhaustion.  I can keep going.  Just wear your PFD.

Yes, these can be hot, yes they can be uncomfortable, yes they can chafe.  Do you want your headstone to read, "At Least He Wasn't Chafing?"  Didn't think so. 

Besides, there are many good PFDs out there built for paddling.  AND there are many built for fishing that are similar.  Both have mesh top halves for easy arm movement.  Sweet little pockets in front for chapstick or a small flashlight. 

There are also the CO2 inflating PFDs.  These do meet our minimum Coast Guard requirements.  These often require action on the part of the paddler to inflate.  Pull a tab, etc.  Some paddlers will wear these during the day and switch to a traditional PFD at night when it's cooler. 


Kaw Point Park, our starting line, was not built with the idea that 1200 people would descend upon it all at once.  Parking is pretty limited.  We can probably fit about half of the likely 500 cars in there.  The rest will be parking outside the flood walls at the new Kaw Point Industrial Park that was under construction last year.  It is done.  They are allowing us to park there on the back (Missouri River) side of the building from 5am to 8am on race day. 

If you have a trailer or motor home, you will need to park there regardless.  Otherwise, it's first come first serve at Kaw Point Park. 

For this reason, it is highly recommended that you stage your boat at the park on MONDAY, the day before the race.  We will have security there to watch over the safety boats and the canoes.  This will start no later than noon. 

Folks will stage boats (stage is a fancy term for "lay it on the ground") along the shady trail that leads to the point.  Once that's full they will start staging them along the steep slope above the lower road or the grass on the upper level, etc.  DON'T leave your paddles or other expensive gear in the boat.  All that can be carried down on Tuesday.  Our security guys will have a roster printed with your name and boat number.  They won't question anyone carrying a boat in but they would find it highly suspicious if someone was carrying a boat OUT and would ask for name and ID.  We've never had a problem before and we can't be liable for damage or loss, but it's definitely to your advantage to get the boat off your car before Tuesday morning.

If this doesn't work for you, just plan to get to Kaw Point early on Tuesday morning.  Early like 5am if you want to get close and unload that morning. 

The lower ramp area will be closed to vehicle traffic starting about 5am.  This is per the Fire Department. 

Safety Boat Stuff

Our talented and veteran crews aboard safety boats are there for you.  Many of them start from Kaw Point and spread along the course for the entire trip to St. Charles.  Others are staged at specific spots along the way. 

At the start of the race, all the paddlers are bunched together and so our many of our safety boats.  As Day 1 turns into Day 2, you guys will be more spread out and we try to spread our boats accordingly. 

If you find yourself in need of assistance, you will need to get a safety boat's attention.  It's a big river and so shouting is not always effective.  We look for arms waving.  Not a wave like "hi" which is fine and we will wave back... but a more demonstrative wave like "Hey, over here!"  And we'll be happy to drift your way and assist. 

You can also call our safety dispatch on your phone and we will send the nearest boat.  It helps if you have your approximate mile marker.  This is why we collect "boat color" information from during registration.  It's much easier to find the boat that called if we narrow it down to a color. 

If you are on shore and need help it's especially tough to miss you.  Keep your beached boat in plain sight even if you are up in the shade of the treeline.  Our safety boats are instructed to investigate any boat pulled up on shore.  This can be annoying if you're just taking a nap or answering nature's call up in the trees... but it's essential to making sure you're ok and not in distress of any kind. 

Often, especially day 2 and beyond, our boats will pass you and offer a "thumbs up."  We typically do this to a paddler that is isolated without company in sight behind them.  We want to make sure you're doing well.  If you see us give the thumbs up, we are asking you to return a thumbs up so we know all is well.

If you're surrounded by other folks, we typically don't do this.  That's because the best safety net out there are your fellow paddlers.  One of the great advantages of 400 boats is that you are rarely alone.  There is always someone watching you.  Someone you just passed or someone about to pass you.  Every paddler is eager to help a fellow voyageur out on the river.  If you aren't feeling well, ask for help.  Also, if you see a paddler who doesn't seem to be doing well, call us or wave us down. 

As mentioned before, safety boats will happily share water with you if you've run out between checkpoints.  But getting our attention is the key.  Especially after day 1, you can't count on a safety boat being right there when you need it.  It would more likely require a phone call.  You can also ask a fellow paddler if you're desperate for fluids.  Toughing it out and having medical distress is a bad decision.  Always ask for help if you need it. 

One more thing about our safety boats.  Yes, they produce a wake.  For those who have driven motorboats, you know there are two ways to minimize your wake.  Go extremely slow, which is what we do most of the time... or go extremely fast.  Going fast lifts the boat up and out of the water and so displaces less water and produces a smaller wake.  So, you will mostly see our boats going very slow... or going very fast.  We only go very fast if something has come up and we need to be somewhere quickly.  It is not likely you'd see us going medium speed because this produces the largest wake of all.  Rest assured, we do not seek to rock your boat.  But at times we have to create some waves to get somewhere fast.

Kids and Safety

Kids love the MR340 and seem to thrive as ground crew, catching frogs and lightning bugs, getting muddy, staying up late, etc.  Be sure to watch your kids and everyone else's when driving around checkpoints.  Also, a couple checkpoints have train tracks that run through them.  Waverly especially is dangerous.  It's easy for a kid to get distracted and be in the wrong place. 

Finally, we've had a couple close calls with kids swimming at checkpoints.  It's fun to cool off and splash on the boat ramps but know that the boat ramps continue to slope down deeper into the water and are usually very slippery the further down you go.  Kids lose their footing and suddenly their floating, not standing.  And then the river starts to move them away from you.  Shoes are also essential along the river bank as there are sometimes fish hooks or bits of glass. 

Random Tips and Tricks

Use sunscreen.  You should start the race slathered in it.

Use sunglasses.  Have extra.

Use SPF lip balm.  Keep it with you.

Wear wicking, light colored clothing.  Long sleeves are good. 

Wear a hat.  Bring an extra.

Pay attention to your hands.  Deal with hotspots early before they become problems.  Adjust your grip to protect trouble spots.  Have duct tape or other means to protect hands as they slowly get destroyed. 

Use hydropel or other similar lube to coat all your nether regions.  This will save you from chafing and sores.  Reapply frequently.

Do everything possible in the boat.  Eat, drink, pee, rest.  Far better to rest while the river pushes you 3mph than to sit on shore for an hour and go nowhere.  Shore is for sleeping only.  Though I've seen some tandem teams figure out how to sleep one paddler at a time while underway.  This is not recommended allowed for solos.

Don't pull over to sleep until you KNOW you are tired enough to sleep.  There's a difference between "tired" and "TIRED."  TIRED means you are starting to nod off while paddling and any patch of sand or mud will have you snoring.  As opposed to "tired" which means it's past your normal bedtime and you yawned.  If you try to sleep somewhere when you're just "tired" you will toss and turn and be uncomfortable.  But TIRED brings the most glorious sleep you've ever known.  Instant dreams as soon as your head hits the mud.  This is tough to achieve until Day 2.  But you know your body. Sleep when your body tells you it's time. 

Treat your partner nicely.  Only call them the names you'd want to be called.  Only tell them they smell like things you'd want to be told you smell like.

Love your volunteers.  Shower them with praise.  They are there because they love the race and like to watch crazy people have fun. 

AND...remember to have fun.  Don't turn the race into a death march of self imposed deadlines or goals.  Enjoy the camaraderie, the sunsets, the sunrises, rain showers, shooting stars and the gorgeous moon.  Even though you'll have some of the most miserable moments of your life out there, they are always balanced by some real epiphanies about who you are or who you will be. 

And nothing beats a good hallucination from time to time. 

More soon.


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