Sat - December 9, 2006

7 Miles of Sprint to the Finish of 340 Mile Missouri River Race



Missouri River - St Charles

This picture may not look very exciting. A big river. A bunch of people waiting for something at a boat ramp. A rusty dock in a background.

Believe me, it was quite exciting there. We are looking at the finish of 340 mile Missouri River Race from Kansas City to St Charles. Bryan Hopkins just finished the race after a long 20 mile chase and escape. I was chasing him for the last 7 miles and lost. When he reached the boat ramp I stopped to shoot some pictures.

I was paddling my safari boat, Spencer X-treme canoe in the MR-340 race. I had decided to do the race in a cruising mode with my Pentax Optio W10 camera ready to shoot as you can see in my GPS/photo log. It was my first paddling on the Missouri River and I wasn't sure what conditions to expect. My X-treme can handle rough conditions of San Antonio Bay in the last miles of Texas Water Safari, but I wouldn't like to deal with these for 340 miles.

In the last day of the race I had a longer photo session at sunrise resulting in these pictures of beer cans on a beach at the river mile 76.5. I didn't expect to see any fellow racers on the river. It was a pretty lonely paddling. To my surprise I found Bryan Hopkins in his CLC kayak just above Washington. He was well in front of me for the most of the race. After some talking I passed him and kept cruising, although, perhaps, at a little higher speed. My boat seemed to be much faster than his 16' kayak. I stopped at Weldon Spring and talked to Connie and West Hansen who finished his solo race a day before.

Wind was growing up and some chop was appearing. At a wide river bend about 7 miles I noticed Bryan passing me. He got to paddle like crazy chasing me all time. My GPS track indicates a sudden jump of my speed at that time. It was a long sprinting against heavy headwind to the finish. My boat with a high seat and a loose spraydeck was slower against wind and chop at these final miles. I wasn't really fresh after 78 hours of paddling either. I am sure we provided some entertainment to spectators.

Bryan wrote a good report from his race. His story is much more dramatic than mine. I cannot compete with his writing. Here are just final paragraphs describing our finish:

Later, as I drifted by a notch in a wingdam a mile or two from Washington and where my family was to meet me, I looked to my right to see a long, black racing canoe and someone bent over it arranging equipment. We both just stared at each other, dumbfounded. I croaked, "Are you in the race?" He replied in a thick Polish accent "Ya." I told him Fawcett was out sick and then I drifted by. I could not believe it. Marek must have paddled all night to close that gap. We were only 70 miles from the finish and now he had caught me. Something clicked in my head and I dropped the hammer. Go, go, go! I got to the ramp at Washington with Marek only 500 yards behind. I yelled to Alma, "Throw me the water and food, I have to get going." If I can break him now, maybe I can still beat him. She waded into the river and threw me the supplies and I took off. I paddled and paddled and paddled, but soon I heard a gentle slap, slap, slap behind me. It was Marek, he had caught me with apparent ease. We talked for a while about what we do for a living, etc. All the while I am thinking "How did you catch me?" I did not want to paddle his pace and so told him I needed to get my long sleeve shirt off and dropped back and let him go.

Oh well third place is not so bad and this guy is an animal, built like a boxer and in a kevlar-everything racing canoe. Let it go. I met up with the family at ramp near Klondike and told Alma that I did not want to race neck and neck to the end of this adventure and that I wanted to enjoy 40 miles I had left to go. She simply stated "You could still catch him, you never know" and told me she was proud of me. I kissed the kids and set out to finish this great adventure. I even stopped to cleanup and get water out of my cockpit. Around 15 miles later, I passed the boat ramp at Weldon Spring and noticed that Marek's wife Connie was just packing up supplies on the ramp. She yelled support to me and clapped her hands. Wow. He can't be that far in front of me but I can never keep up with the hull speed of that 20+ foot racing boat of his. Then the wind began to blow and blow even harder, right in my face. Slowly it dawned on me that this wind would actually slow down his longer boat. Do I have a chance?

I rounded a couple of bends in the river with a fierce headwind and lo and behold, there he was. No way. 20 miles to go and we are gonna do a sprint to the finish!! I tucked my head down and started to pull, pull, pull, pull. I hit the runners wall and all pain slipped away. I caught Marek with only 7 miles to go and passed him on the inside of a bend in the river. Pull, Pull, Pull, Pull. The wind was fierce and I was pulling ahead. Then we would hit a doldrum, with the wind dropping off and Marek would begin to reel me in! Crap, crap, crap. Wind, wind, wind. Yes, yes, yes. I would tuck my head down low and pull, pull, pull.

The end result is I feel it was the river that gave me the chance. Without the head wind I never would have been able to compete with Marek. When he pulled up to the finish line, I said "Promise me we will never do that again. No one should ever have to sprint 20 miles at the end of a 340 mile race!" We talked several times over the next day and I respect him immensely. I have been changed by this race. I will race next year for sure, but next year the field will be full of extra powerful paddlers, of that I am certain. During this race, I became friends with pain and found I could push though it, and most of all the river is amazing, beautiful and remote and I feel blessed to just have been out there.

I was sprinting only for 7 miles. Bryan was sprinting for twenty ... That was fun. I believe that Bryan bought a new faster kayak, QCC 700x. I will probably stay with my Spencer Xtreme for long distance river racing. See you next year on the Missouri!

Meanwhile, you can visit RiverMiles.com for more stories from 2006 Missouri River 340 Race and their discussion forum for news about next year races.

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Posted at 12:05 PM    


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