2007 Missouri River 340 began at Kaw Point, the confluence
of the Kansas and Missouri rivers in Kansas City. Seventy-six
canoes and kayaks were entered in the race’s second running.
Somewhere in the
darkness, Chuck McHenry’s dream literally ran aground. Only
18 hours before, he and nearly 100 others had climbed into their
canoes and kayaks in Kansas City with aspirations of being the first
to reach St. Charles in the Missouri River 340, an ultra-marathon
Now at 2 a.m.,
Chuck was in third place as he paddled south of Glasgow and into
a stretch of the river known as Lisbon Bottoms. Here, the floods
of 1993 and 1995 had scoured a side channel that was to be avoided
by the racers. With no moonlight and an ever-thickening blanket of
fog reducing his visibility, the 56-year-old dentist scanned the
pitch-black night and spotted a marker. He paddled toward it and
into the channel that flowed beside it.
But soon the gentle
grind of sand against the bottom of his kayak unmistakably signaled
that Chuck had paddled off course.
“It was the
bad chute,” recalls
the Black River Electric Cooperative member from Ironton. “I
got totally lost. It was just like being in a swamp.”
Paddling 340 miles in less than 100 hours can wreak havoc on
the body. Even with gloves taped in place, blisters can occur.
kayak had taken on water, but when he got out and attempted to
empty it, he slipped in the mud. The craft slammed across his
chest, dislocating two ribs.
Injured and lost
in a backwater maze, Chuck fought his way back to the main channel.
Time and time again, he bottomed out as water gave way to sand and
“I even did
a little hiking through the brush trying to figure out where I was,” he
says. “I probably lost four
hours. That was the end of the race for me. By the time I got out,
the race was gone.”
tale is more dramatic than most, the authentic adventure a paddler
can have on the Big Muddy is why the Missouri River 340, held this
year from July 24-28, has become one of the top ultra-marathon races
in North America.
Dubbed the world’s longest nonstop river race,
the 340-mile race is designed to test paddlers’ equipment and
willpower, says race organizer Scott Mansker of Olathe, Kan.
“It appeals to a wide range of folks,” he says. “You’ve
got the people who travel the country and enter these
races to win it. Then you’ve got the people who have never done anything
like this before, and their goal is simply to finish and learn a lot about
A self-described “river
avid Missouri River kayaker, Scott had followed ultra-marathon
paddling events across North America — from
the 120-mile AuSable River Canoe Marathon in Michigan
to the 260-mile Texas Water Safari to the 460-mile
Yukon River Quest in Canada — and
recognized the potential for a Midwest event.
River 340 began in the shadow of the Kansas City skyline. The
race ended less than 100 hours later across the state in St.
Louis. The event is the longest non-stop paddling race in the
races were the Big Three,” he says. “I
thought the Missouri River would be the perfect
venue, so I took what I liked from all those races
and put it into the 340. Now, we’re one
of the Big Four. We’re right up there in
just our second year. It’s on everybody’s
The race format
is simple: Paddle from Kaw Point in Kansas City to the Lewis and
Clark Nature Center in St. Charles in fewer than
100 hours. Along the way, racers must stop at
eight checkpoints in Lexington, Waverly, Miami, Glasgow,
Cooper’s Landing, Jefferson City, Hermann
“The Missouri is a great
river for a race like this,” Scott
says. “There are no locks, no portages,
no rapids. It is conducive to paddling at night,
and it’s also mapped out well.”
Only paddle power is allowed in the Missouri
River 340. No rowing, sailing or other propulsion
is allowed. There are no design restrictions
on a racer’s canoe or kayak, and many of the serious paddlers
race custom-made boats that can cost upward
Racers must compromise
between speed and stability.
Paddlers may stop
anywhere along the course and receive supplies from their ground
crew, but no assistance can be accepted while on
the water. A ground crew’s responsibilities depend on the philosophy
of the racer.
kaleidoscope of kayaks wait at the river's edge in Kansas City.
On one end of the
spectrum are the competitive racers, whose stops can be as choreographed
as a NASCAR pit crew. On the other end are the more
recreational racers, who will stop, get out of
their boats and take breaks.
In its inaugural
run last year, the race attracted 15 teams, 10 of which paddled all
the way to St. Charles. This year, Scott stopped taking entries after
registering 76 boats.
“We could have easily had 100 boats. I was telling people ‘no’ every
day since June 1,” he says. “We
had someone from every corner of the
U.S. in this race, including some of
the biggest names in ultra-marathon
paddling. Everyone who finished in
2006 was back this year.”
the returnees was Katie Pfefferkorn
of Chaffee. A senior studying chemical engineering
at the University of Missouri, she finished the
2006 race in 98 hours and 36 minutes. This year,
pre-race goal was to be more competitive
and finish under 80 hours.
I was flying by the seat of my pants, but to be competitive in an
endurance race like this, you have to plan,” says
Katie, who also has competed in marathons and triathlons. “You have
to foresee a lot and be logical
beforehand. You can’t just count
on intuition when you’re
out there, dehydrated and sleep-deprived.”
made several changes while preparing
for this year’s race.
She pared down her equipment
and rid herself of heavy items
that slowed her down. But more
importantly, she enlisted her
mother, Mary Jo, as her ground
A 340-mile float
trip offers many challenges. Paddlers must
navigate sand bars, wing dikes,
bridge pilings, other boaters
and barges. During this year’s event, one tandem team collided
with a barge that was headed upriver. While neither paddler was injured,
their kayak was destroyed.
the Missouri is a magical time for racers. As day gives way to
night, temperatures become more comfortable for paddling.
Racers must overcome
heat, humidity, fog and storms. They must withstand mosquitoes,
biting flies and other insects. Some may
even have to dodge flying carp.
The trip takes
a physical toll. Hands become blistered and refuse to take any shape
other than that of the paddle you’ve gripped for
hours. Skin burns, muscles
cramp and joints ache.
But beyond physical
stresses, racers must also deal with mental fatigue. For much of
the race, paddlers can be alone on the
river, left only to their thoughts.
As sleep deprivation takes hold, so too
know if everybody does this, but I start seeing people,” Chuck
says. “I’ll see a kayaker, but
as you get closer, it turns out to be a stick or something.”
all of these trials, the racers also experience the
Missouri River like few do. Spending
extended time on the river, they
see places that still feel as
wild and untamed as when Lewis
and Clark journeyed west.
are big and the scenery is so beautiful,” says
Di McHenry, 51, Chuck’s
wife who competed
with Natalie Courson,
31, of St. Peters
in the women’s
the limestone bluffs,
it’s the farmland.
It’s so Midwest.
I love that.”
are the many river
towns that have
welcomed the Missouri
River 340 into
has been great,” Scott
year, the Boy
Scout troop at
a cookout for
the racers and
crews the first
other towns also
had events. I
really see this
becoming a yearly
can build some
at their boat
the end, the
boat ramp that
all the paddlers
craved to see most was
the one in St. Charles.
Of the 76 boats that
began this year, 61 completed
the 340-mile course.
Times ranged from 44
hours, 27 minutes for
the first team to 97
hours, 6 minutes for
the final paddlers.
Despite his injury,
Chuck continued on and completed the race in 57 hours, 14 minutes,
placing fourth in the men’s solo division. “I
out at Washington,” Chuck says. “I was so
I was beat down and tired of the pain. If not for my support, I probably
have finished. One of my goals was to be the first Missourian across the
line. I thought that was worth doing, so I stayed with it.”
Katie Pfefferkorn, a 22-year-old college student from Chaffee,
has competed in the Missouri River 340 twice.
off the pace set
Magee of Martindale,
Texas, Katie shocked
many by cutting nearly
40 hours from her 2006 time,
completing the race in 58
hours, 57 minutes and finishing
second in the women’s solo division.
At one point in
the middle of the race, however, Katie actually passed Erin, who
had stopped at Miami to catch some sleep.
“I was really
glad to see someone like Erin come out for this race, and I hope
she enjoyed it,” Katie says. “It was inspiring
see her out there, but I couldn’t let her go back to Texas
people that Missouri races were easy. I’m just thrilled
I was even moderately close to her, so call it a win in my book.”
participating in next year’s race or volunteering to help at checkpoints.
need a good sponsor to really do everything we want to do, but I think 100
boats sounds reasonable for next year,” he says. “With
from the agencies involved, this can really become a huge event for Missouri
and a huge event for the Missouri River.”
in paddling the Missouri River? Visit the Lewis and Clark Water
Trail at www.missouririverwatertrail.org.
For more information on the Missouri River 340, go to www.rivermiles.com/mr340 or contact Scott Mansker at (913) 244-4666.
|Chuck McHenry of Ironton
paddles past the state Capitol in Jefferson City. Despite
injuring himself, the 56-year-old McHenry still
was the first Missourian to finish the Missouri River 340.