Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Through the Rain and the Night

Racers recount 340-mile, Missouri-crossing odyssey

With water flowing fast and pushing flood levels all summer, Missouri American Water MR 340 organizer Scott Mansker was doubtful that this year’s 340-mile heartland odyssey from Kansas City to St. Louis could even happen. The planned start date in July was out, with the Army Corps of Engineers breaking levies to reduce the river level, though Mansker created the first 100-mile Kawnivore race down the Kansas River later that month to keep the race’s fanatical competitors paddling. But the MR 340 faithful still pushed Mansker to reschedule their beloved race for later in the year. August and most of September passed with the Missouri still raging, but in the final week of September, the waters subsided enough to make racing safe again.

On October 11, 105 boats lined up like a makeshift military flotilla along the now-calm river in Kansas City, Mo. It was unusual for returning competitors to start off in more temperate, 65-degree conditions; temperatures for the MR 340 typically soar into the 90s and often break triple digits. However, the weather soon turned.

“We had an incredible storm Wednesday night with hail and heavy rain that knocked many paddlers out of the race,” Mansker said.

Thankfully, the ever-fickle Midwest skies soon cleared.

“After the storm, we had incredible weather with a nice tailwind,” Mansker continued. “The moon rose exactly as the sun went down and made night-paddling easy. Most paddlers were prepared for the cold and the extra four hours of darkness.”

In the men’s solo, last year’s mixed tandem winner West Hansen (who, with David Kelly, completed the 2010 event in a course record) was the pre-race favorite, but dropped out early. Matt Dressler took the early lead, with Glenn Phaup, a third-year MR 340 entrant and resident of Ashland, Mo., in pursuit. Phaup caught Dressler at Jefferson City, but as the two were side by side, he realized that something was wrong. “Matt was really sick, and wasn’t paddling as he normally would,” Phaup said. “I got out the boat for about half an hour to make sure he was OK before I started racing again.”

Despite taking time out, Phaup was still in the lead. However, his ground crew soon let him know that he wasn’t home free, and that with 115 miles still to go, his friend Joe Zellner was closing fast. “I know Joe’s a faster paddler than me, but I stuck to my game plan of keeping a steady pace rather than trying to sprint ahead,” Phaup said.

His tactics proved wise as he crossed the line first in 43 hours, 6 minutes, with Zellner coming home in 44:10.

Click here to read the rest of the story at Canoe & Kayak

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