This is not your weekend float trip.
For one, most float trips don’t begin with a Lewis and Clark re-enactor firing an old-time musket as a starting gun. And few have participants who insist on paddling across an entire state wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask and standing on a surfboard.
This is a hardcore river race, and the competitors who paddled down the Missouri River Tuesday morning with canoes, kayaks and paddle boards are serious.
From Kaw Point Park, at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, more than 500 began a 340-mile trip across Missouri, to end Friday in St. Charles, Mo. The Missouri River 340 started its seventh year as the world’s longest nonstop river race, with more racers this year than ever.
Scott Mansker, the race organizer, said everything went “picture perfect” at the launch Tuesday morning.
Racing teams ran from solo paddlers and pairs to teams of more than six, competing for prizes including $1,000 in the men’s tandem division.
Nonstop isn’t necessarily to be taken literally, said Dave Anderson of Seattle. Most racers will pull up to the river bank to pick up fresh water and supplies. Some will camp overnight.
Others won’t, Anderson said, “if they’re serious about winning.”
Now on his fourth race, he and his twin brother, Will, are team Pineapple Express, racing a white outrigger canoe with a blue flame job. They plan to eat on the move, and they have a 40-hour playlist ready on a waterproof iPod.
There are only two boats Anderson knows of that they can’t beat.
Team Lonestar, a six-man boat from Texas, is a favorite to win. So is Team Powerbar, a pair of competitive rowers.
“The race has grown and attracted some really fast people,” Anderson said. “My brother and I — we are not international-caliber.”
Even more than the competition, the biggest challenges on the river are heat and fatigue.
“It just eats your body up,” Anderson said. It takes at least a month to recuperate from the race, he said, even if you’re young. “And my brother and I,” he said, “are 49.”
Yet they aren’t the oldest guys on the river this week — not by a long shot.
Horst Bloch, 62, of Hermann, Mo., is half of another two-man canoe team, the Hermann Germans.
His daughter and son-in-law, Wendy and Ben Noelke, are running a support team. They’ll be meeting up with him daily to deliver food and supplies, and there are safety boats and other racers nearby. Also, everyone has cellphones.
The biggest challenge, as they see it, is the heat. It was close to 100 degrees across the race route Tuesday, with a similar forecast today.
“We’ll see if he makes it through the whole race,” Wendy said.
No joke: just finishing the race isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s why the Andersons have been training for months. Beginning in November, they’ve been putting in 10-hour training sessions every week.
“That’s part of the deal,” Anderson said. “You have to put your time in. Most people don’t.”
Other challenges include navigating the river in darkness and fog.Night introduces a whole other set of problems. Rock dikes, buoys, barges and debris lay in wait in the dark water. After dozens of hours of paddling in 100-plus degree heat, it would be easy to make a mistake. Add fog to that, and only the current would keep you from getting lost.
Racers say the greatest challenges come from within. Two days into the river, with bug bites and sunburns and achy arms and feeling sore all over, passing by Boonville with more than 200 miles to go, you have to make a decision about how serious you are about finishing the race.
“Everybody runs into the question sooner or later,” Anderson said. “It gets into the back of your mind.”
You can follow the race live athttp://rivermiles.com/
, where organizers post race news and track the boats.
The Missouri River 340 is supported by Missouri River Relief, a conservation group that has been organizing cleanups along the Missouri River for 10 years, from the Mississippi River to Yankton, S.D. The race is also sponsored by Missouri American Water, the largest water utility in the state.