The national anthem was sung, the rifle sounded, the crowd cheered, and more than 500 people put paddle to water and let their arms do the rest.
Some 520 people in about 350 kayaks and canoes, some holding up to 12 people, took to the Missouri River at Kaw Point Park on Tuesday to embark on what claims to be the longest nonstop river race in the world –– the Missouri American Water MR340.
The race is a four-day, 340-mile trek across the state from Kansas City to St. Charles.
And it’s as hard as it sounds.
The heat, the exhaustion and the mental struggle are only some of the obstacles competitors face. For paddling pair Kevin Ditzfeld and Brian Eisenloeffel, mental toughness is the main focus.
“I don’t think you can prepare enough for this,” Eisenloeffel said Tuesday before the race started. “But we’re probably more mentally prepared than physically.”
Even though they’ve prepared for months, they don’t lie to themselves about the difficulty of the four days ahead, and Ditzfeld admitted that the nerves were sinking in as they waited to enter the water.
“Yeah, we’re well aware that this is going to suck,” Ditzfeld said, smiling. But come hell or high water, the two plan to make it as long as they can.
This is the eighth year paddlers clambered down the boat ramp at the historic Lewis and Clark site. Scott Mansker, race director and founder, said about 40 states and three countries are usually represented.
“I’ve been paddling on the Missouri River since ’89,” Mansker said. “Once we started this, it just took off and was more successful than we ever thought.”
Although he doesn’t compete in the race, Mansker said he has done the 340-mile stretch more times than he can count, and the thing that keeps people coming back is the river’s beauty. He said only about 30 percent of paddlers see all its beauty –– not everyone finishes the race.
Mansker is hoping cooler weather will make for a slightly easier year on paddlers. Last year the temperature got up to 105 degrees. Mansker said they have more than 20 motorboats checking on paddlers and ground crew following as well.
The race brought out fathers and sons, lifelong friends, couples, first-timers and veterans, all pushing themselves to the limit, looking for an experience.
“It brings a lot of people to Kansas City,” Mansker said. “It’s really struck a chord here.”
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