Hundreds take on the ‘Big Muddy’ during annual river race
by Whitney Barnes
It was 5:38 p.m. on Tuesday, July 24, when someone yelled, “I see a boat!” In the distance — what looked like just a spot in the Missouri River to the naked eye — was actually Missouri native Joe Mann riding the current around the river bend in his kayak.
At 5:44 p.m., Mann pulled his kayak to shore at the Miami checkpoint, becoming the first of over 500 boats in the Missouri American Water MR340 to check in.
The Missouri American Water MR340 or MR340, is a 340-mile kayak and canoe endurance race across the state of Missouri. Starting in Kansas City, and finishing in St. Charles, racers have 88 hours to complete the course. According to the MR340 website, “This ain’t no mama’s boy float trip.”
The race includes nine checkpoints, where paddlers are required to sign in and sign out. Racers can restock supplies, eat and sleep at the checkpoint areas.
“I think Miami and Katfish Katy’s in Columbia are not required checkpoints,” race volunteer Liz Elson said. “(At the checkpoints) they just have to let the officials know they have gone through the checkpoint. For the last three or four years, they have been doing it electronically. They used to have to sign in on a clip board, but they don’t do that anymore.”
Through GPS, Elson said racers can be tracked throughout the 340-mile stretch. Boats also have team members on the ground, traveling to each checkpoint, as well as safety boats on the river.
There are no dams, locks or portages on this stretch of the Missouri River, according to the MR340 website. “This doesn’t mean that the race is without danger. Any time you put yourself on the water, especially moving water, you assume a certain amount of risk. The MR340 course is all on Class I water. The current is about 3 mph and there are no rapids. The biggest hazard to paddlers would be motorboats, mostly fisherman, and the occasional towboat pushing barges. In river obstacles would include wing dikes, buoys and bridge pilings,” the site states.
“Early on, we had a lot of barge traffic,” Missouri Department of Conservation Regional Supervisor Tom Strother said of the challenges racers could face on the Missouri River. “Over the last few years, the barge traffic has declined. But the first couple years, that was tough for some of the canoers and kayakers, with the barges making a lot of wake. Besides that, high water can be a danger. This year, the water is higher than normal, so it’s flowing faster. ... And then it’s just being in the natural elements, the sun just beating down on you all day long. ”
To complete a race such as the MR340, Strother said it’s important for racers to know how to read the river.
“Knowing where the dikes are,” he said, “and knowing where the shallow water is, and stuff like that.
While the race may have its challenges, Strother said it’s a great way for people to enjoy all that the scenic Missouri River has to offer.
“It’s just a neat way that folks can connect to the Missouri River,” he said. “You know, just get out and enjoy the resources in a different kind of manner. It’s been going on for several years.”
According to race volunteer Wayne McReynolds, who has worked the checkpoint in Miami for the past 10 years, this year marks the 13th year of the MR340.
Several Saline Countians are competing in the event this year, according to the roster, including Caleb Berger and Aaron Kleinschmidt, both of Marshall, and Duane Vogelsmeier, of Sweet Springs. Also competing was Sabrina Davenport, daughter of Nelson residents Dale and Jeanie Griffith.