July 26, 2007


Doin' Ground Crew
text & photos by Vicki Richmond

Missouri River Relief has, as a central part of its mission, the desire to simply bring people to the wonderful river that connects us all. If you’ve had a shower, a glass of water or some ice, you’ve probably been a user of the river today.

I am always intrigued by other ways to get people to the river that don’t involve trash! A boat ride, sunset on a ramp, a swim, a bit of sandbar archeology serve the purpose. In Kansas City this Tuesday morning, 75 adventurers found a great way to meet the Missouri- by competitively canoeing 340 miles of her from Kaw Point, Ks to St. Charles, MO.

This race, called the MR 340 is billed as the longest flat water race in the country. Last year, the inaugural race attracted 15 competitors, 1/3 of which did not complete the race. Paddlers must check in at 9 points along the way and complete the journey to St. Charles in 100 hours. It is a test of endurance. Many paddlers compete just to complete the trip.

Paddlers began arriving at Kaw Point Park at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers about 5 am. By 7, the ramp was jammed with canoes and kayaks of all types. Ground crews and paddlers worked on strategy, locating re-supply points and packed coolers, readying for the race gun. The calm waters of the Kaw began to show slicing wakes as paddlers took to their boats and warmed up.

Jeff Barrow, MRR coordinator, avid paddler, river rat, esteemed author and buddy of mine had planned his strategy for weeks. He would be paddling for Missouri River Relief and our crew was on deck to be ground support. I had the enjoyable task of being on hand at the start and his first re-supply stop. We met on the ramp amid the mayhem that precedes a race.

At 7:55, the strains of the National Anthem rang out as paddlers and supporters turned to face the flag flying at the Point. Kansas City, Ks Mayor Joe Reardon made brief remarks and Pro Bowl Lineman Will Shields began the countdown as the gathered crowd counted along.

5,4,3,2,1 CRACK-

With a splash of paddles and yells of encouragement, they were off. I’ll not soon forget the sight of 75 boats, all headed straight for the beautiful downtown skyline. It didn’t take a fine piece of camera equipment to capture the scene.

As soon as they all got into the channel, we headed fast for Berkeley Park. everyone was still in a group and 75 boats are impressive when they are all headed in one direction. That was something Kansas Citians never see. We stood on the levee and watched as the boats passed by, yelling encouragement to our friends.

I headed for home to pick up supplies for Jeff’s first stop. He started the race off light and we had a secret spot to re-supply. After picking up frozen water bottles, sports drinks, fruit and sandwiches, we headed off to La Benite Park in Sugar Creek.

Jeff called in as he passed La Benite without stopping. He was making good time and we would rendezvous 10 miles down river at Alligator Cove, home of Captain Brey and Beanie the dog. I did stop at La Benite in time to see the last half of the pack pass by. More shouts of support from shore rang out as lawn chaired cohorts encouraged their racers. After a check in to see how other friends were faring, I hopped in the truck and headed for our re-supply point.

I arrived at Alligator Cove in plenty of time to have a swim with my dog before the first of the paddlers passed by. First came the hot tandem rigs with performance attired paddlers never missing their rhythm, then the solo kayaks, followed by the less professional duos, then the pack in the middle- where Jeff was solidly placed. I went for a swim after filling Jeff's cooler and was paying attention again as the last few came by- the Old Towns with summer paddlers. Folks seemed pleased to hear my clapping and shouts of support from shore. Surprisingly, at only 25 miles into the race, about 2 hours separated the leaders from the back of the pack.

Jeff called from Boonville Wed. evening about 7. He was sticking to his plan of paddling at night and sleeping in the heat of the day. He was about half way there and sounded good. Slave and Skylar had re-supplied him during the day. I handed him off to Nancy, who promised a pizza and more cold drinks at the next stop.

Next year I’ll be there in some form or fashion. I am a summer paddler and don’t have the endurance or fortitude required to make the trip by paddle alone. But, MRR has boats, willing to be pressed into service as a support boat.

I’ll do that 340. I just might resort to a motor!

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