MR 340 Part II, The Race

It is a bit difficult to write a race port on this race in my typical adventure race format.  In AR’s, I am normally able to keep all of the details and happenings straight in my head — I think due to the transitions from one event to another.  I’m also typically more involved in planning and navigation than I was in the MR 340 — in this race I was just a paddling grunt.  (Happily, I might add!  It was nice to not have to do a ton of planning as is typical.)

So, to put it another way, since I’m normally reading maps and the passport, heavily involved in the navigation during the race, and because there are clear transitions, it is much easier to keep things straight in a normal AR than in this race.  In the MR340, while we stopped 7 times, I didn’t even get out of the boat a couple of times, and the ramps all kind of blend together in my mind.   So in this post, I’ll give a breakdown of times per checkpoint as kept by our ground crew, perhaps include a quick point or two, and throw in some photos here and there.

I’ll also include the same photo from the last post (part I) here for reference.

Race Start – Kaw Point

The race started at Kaw Point.  We chose to not go to the far river bank so that we could stay close enough to shore to allow us to enter the boat fairly late (close to the start time).  While the far shore definitely gives you a jump on the other competitors in terms of cutting the corner and getting to the fast water quicker, we felt that an additional 45-60 minutes sitting in the boat and fighting the currents was not worth it — especially when we were looking at a 40 hour or more race.

We all got in the boat a few minutes before 8 a.m., pushed off a bit, and then waited.  It was a bit difficult to hold the boat in the current and not collide with other boats, but overall we did pretty well.  At 8:02 the national anthem started, and at 8:05 the canon was fired and we were off!

It was certainly crowded, and when the Kansas River joins the Missouri River within a minute or two of the start, the high/fast current of the Missouri was playing havoc with some of the boats.  While we made it through fairly clean, we later learned that five boats capsized at this point, including eventual female solo winner and star paddler, Robin Benecassa.

I’d like to say we quickly settled into a groove, but in reality, it took hours and hours for that to happen.  However, with 20 paddlers, even though we were pushing nearly 5000 pounds through the water, we had enough power to get into a good groove and start picking off some of the boats that had gotten a jump on us.

Kaw Point to Lexington

The 1st checkpoint was Lexington, 51.1 miles from Kaw Point.  See the chart below for all the times in, times out, etc.

I recall from this section a few things:

Santo:  Santo Albright, the eventual men’s solo winner, drafted us almost the whole way on this section.  Every time I looked back, he was within a foot or two of our stern.  At times, there were several other boats drafting behind him.  This was a solid strategy for him — even though we were losing a little time to the front runners, including a couple of solo men in his division, he was biding his time and taking it easy.  340 miles is a long ways, and he would be fresh on the 2nd day.

Brad:  I noticed a solo man in front of us that was having trouble staying straight.  He was fighting the water the entire way, it seemed.  I couldn’t understand how he could be in front of us — I guess whenever he could keep it straight, he was flying!  We eventually pulled up beside him, and he asked us if his rudder was working.  As best we could see, it was.  A few minutes later I looked back and saw him pulling over, I suppose to check the rudder.  We never saw him, but later learned that he had dropped from the race.  The headline that was picked up nationally, and eventually, internationally read “Asian Carp Knocks Paddler” from race.  The actual story pointed more to the rudder as the main problem, but speculation around the post race area was on boat choice.

Lexington to Wavery to Miami to Glasgow … to St. Charles

Now it all starts to get a little fuzzy.  :-/

I can say going in to the 1st check point at Lexington, I thought our time off the water (at the check points) would be pretty high, as much as 20-25 minutes per stop.  Going in to our 1st CP, I said a stretch goal would be 12 minutes, but we made it out in 8!  Overall, we had amazing checkpoint times considering our crew had to refuel 20 people every time, and in many cases we could not get the boat in broadside — so everything had to come in from the bow.  Or people just jumped.

This is what we looked like coming in to a typical CP:

And this next photo shows a little of the controlled chaos of a CP — note the bottle being thrown in the air.  This is actually early in a CP before it got really chaotic.  At only one check point did everyone get out — typically a quarter to as much as half of us would stay in.  Others would jump out to use the restroom, or help with gear, or to just to stretch their legs.  Yet our longest CP was only 12 minutes.  Most of the credit has to go to the crew for this amazing feat.

And here we are just about to leave:

Here is a chart of all the CP’s and other relevant data, showing our average mph, time in the CP, etc.

We pushed hard the last 40 miles from Klondike in — well, really we pushed hard the last 100 miles or more.  Once we had crept into 3rd place, we did not want to give that up!  And even before then, I recall Will saying a few times “We only need to pass two more boats to secure our place on the podium,” so we pushed hard for a long long ways.

We tried really hard to break 38 hours when we realized how close we were, but we came up just short at 38:05.  I have to say the last couple miles was an amazing, exhilarating time.  We really came together, paddling hard an in sync, and the energy level was unreal.  I think the whole boat was yelling and screaming, and chanting out various words such as “hit,” “stroke,” “arrrgh” an the like, to keep us all in sync.  I certainly hope someone has a video of us coming in under the last bridge.  They said they could hear us long before they could see us.

We had a bit of an anti-climatic finish, as we misjudged the current in the eddie, so we got pushed back up river about 20 feet instead of hitting the shore right at the finish.  But it was only a few strong paddles to put us right where we needed to be.

Considering our original optimal time goal was 40:00 hours, and I thought we could be as much as 48 hours, we really rocked it!  It was good enough to win our division (well, we were the only Dragon Boat!), and get 3rd overall, behind two incredibly fast and talented tandem boats.  We were all certainly pleased, and I think we proved to the entire paddling community that not only is it possible to finish a race like this in a dragon boat, but that in future years, a dragon boat just may win it.  With a few tweaks here and there, I’m certain that is the case.  And, while we were at it, we just happened to shatter the previous world record for distance covered by a dragon boat!

Here is a photo of me getting out at the end — falling back into the boat.  I knew my legs were going to be rubber — in fact, when Joey and I had been switching seats the past few hours, I only did it while sitting and him standing.  I had tried once on the last leg to stand, and the legs just weren’t there.  It wasn’t that I was that exhausted or anything, I just didn’t have land legs.  So I had grabbed my paddle to brace myself as I came out, but it still wasn’t quite enough!

Again, much of the race is a blur, and I don’t recall everything that happened in the order it happened, so in my next post, I’ll offer a few anecdotes and post some other photos…

(to be continued)

7 thoughts on “MR 340 Part II, The Race

  1. Amazing, Sean! What an adventure. And to set a world record in the process. Congrats! Thanks for all the pics and the report. Really enjoyed it!

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