COLUMBIA — Their boats will be their beds, with many racers forgoing sleep in order to paddle through the night. Their boats will be their kitchen, stuffed with energy bars and jugs of water to sustain the racers on their 340-mile journey.
In essence, for up to 100 long hours, their boats will be their homes. And they would not have it any other way.
Other Columbia competitors:Charlie Lockwood, men’s solo; Bradlee Twigg, men’s solo; Paul Piercy, men’s solo; Jeff Barrow, men’s solo; James Kaufman, men’s tandem; Nicholas “Danger” Recker, men’s tandem; Missourian editor Scott Swafford and Rick Wise men’s tandem
At 8 a.m. this morning, a rainbow of 150 colorful kayaks and canoes will depart Kansas City for St. Charles in the third annual Missouri 340.
The objective is simple — make it to St. Charles in less than 100 hours. Along the way, the participants must stop at nine checkpoints set up on the Missouri River. If a boat fails to make it to a particular checkpoint by deadline, it is disqualified.
Since it began in 2006, the Missouri River 340 Race has grown quickly in popularity.
The first year, 15 boats competed. Last year, the number climbed to 75. By the end of this past May, all 150 spots on the roster had been filled. Those who didn’t make it were put on a waiting list.
“From what I’m told from these racers, we are now considered one of the top races to go to,” said Scott Mansker, race director.
Unlike many races of its type, the Missouri 340 restrains its participants with a few rules regarding boat design and dimensions.
“It’s sort of a Wild West style canoe race,” Mansker said.
While there have recently been concerns that floodwaters would create added dangers during the race, Mansker said this is no longer an issue. “I was nervous when the river was higher,” Mansker said. “Right now the river is down.”
The race has six divisions: men’s and women’s solo, men’s and women’s tandem, mixed tandem and team division. Boone County is represented by participants in three divisions.
Anyone interested in watching the race can do so at Cooper’s Landing south of Columbia. It is difficult to say for certain when participants will reach this checkpoint, but Mansker estimates racers will be trickling in all day Wednesday and Thursday.
SOME FACES IN THE RACE
BRYAN HOPKINS, 43: Men’s solo
Bryan Hopkins is a local hopeful, but no one knows what Hopkins himself is hoping for.
“He’s being very secretive, even with me,” his wife, Alma Hopkins, said.
This is Bryan Hopkins’ third year in the race. Last year he placed fifth in the men’s solo division.
As in many sports, a lot of this race is mental.
“I can’t be in this thing to win, because halfway through, you’re dead, you’re tired, you’re exhausted and all of those petty little reasons for doing this just get stripped away by the event,” he said.
Bryan Hopkins says he believes his connection to the Missouri River might give him an advantage over competitors who are coming to race from other parts of the country.
“This particular river isn’t just some river ... This river means a lot to me,” he said. “I don’t care how much pain I’m in, that’s where I’d rather be.”
He has raced in the Missouri River 340 Race since its inaugural year.
The first year Hopkins raced for the experience in a homemade boat. He decided to enter only three weeks beforehand. However, he was “not a newbie on the water,” Alma Hopkins said.
The second year Bryan Hopkins’ goal was to shave 20 hours off his previous time. He succeeded finishing his second race in 58 hours.
This year, he said, “I have a full-on racing boat. I want to really see what I can do.”
He said that winners in previous years have had specialized gear, This year, he will as well.
Hopkins’ “phenomenally fast” kayak weighs in at 20 pounds. His paddle — or “blade,” as he calls it — is not flat, but curved. This prevents water from slipping past and increases efficiency. It uses the same technology airplanes use to get lift.
Hopkins also intends to be more disciplined in how he uses his time. When he stops at the checkpoints, he plans to be in and out. He also plans to sleep as little as possible. Last year Hopkins slept six to eight hours of his final time of 58 hours.
Hopkins’ family is highly involved in his racing. His son Tomas, 9, has two kayaks of his own. “They’ve talked about a father-son team,” Alma Hopkins said. “That’s just talk right now.”
His family will also serve as part of his ground crew, which he will be highly dependent on. The only items with him in his boat will be four hours’ worth of water, some energy bars and a life jacket.
SCOTT SCHIEBER, 36: Men’s Tandem
Scott Schieber is rather laid-back about this race.
“I’m not in it to win it,” Schieber said. “I’m just looking for a vacation. I’m gonna relax and just float down the river.”
Schieber said most competitors use the word “paddle” as in “I paddled from here to there” or “I paddled this river.”
“I always say float,” Schieber said. “I don’t like paddling.”
Schieber says he believes these word choices reflect two different perspectives on strategy.
This is Schieber’s first time entering the Missouri River 340 Race. In fact, he said, it’s the first competitive canoeing race he’s signed up for.
Schieber, a construction project manager, and his teammate, Kenny Brown of Platte City, are entered in the men’s tandem division as The Outlaws. They will be using a “regular canoe” — the kind used on recreational float trips.
The Outlaws chose their boat number, 9959, from what they jokingly predict their finish time to be — one minute less than the maximum 100 hours allowed. “I wanna get the most out of this trip,” Schieber said.
Despite his relaxed attitude, Schieber said he and his teammate — who went to high school together — have been thinking more competitively since a number of their high school friends and acquaintances signed up for the race.
The Outlaws have considered lowering their time goal to 80 hours. This would have them arrive at the finish Friday night, just in time for the free supper the race staff is providing those who have finished.
“We don’t think we have a chance to win,” Schieber said. “We (just) want to paddle strong and hard.”
MARK PEDERSON, 28: Mixed Tandem
Mark Pederson is not afraid to make a wager.
He and partner Kristina Werner are using the same boat that fellow racer Drew Lemberger and Curtis Bourgeois used in last year’s race. As a result, a lot more is at stake than just Pederson’s own self-satisfaction.
“Let’s just say there are cases of beer involved,” Pederson said. “For every hour difference the loser has to buy a case.”
Although Mark Pederson has been paddling for 10 years, he is a rookie to the Missouri River 340. In fact, this is his first competitive race ever. After signing up last year, he dropped out at the last minute and joined Drew Lemberger’s ground crew.
“I watched those guys do it last year,” Pederson said. “It looked so intense.”
Even with another year of paddling under his belt, Pederson was getting nervous as race day neared.
“I think about it right now, and I get butterflies in my stomach,” he said.
While Pederson said he has been trying to get out on the river three or four times a week, he and Werner have had very little practice time. Still, Pederson isn’t concerned.
“She’s the front motor. I trust her with my life,” Pederson said. “She’s got the competitive spirit in her — and she’s in better shape than me.”
Their strategy is simple.
“We’re just going to paddle,” Pederson said.
DREW LEMBERGER, 38: Men’s solo
Drew Lemberger leads a simple life. He holds a nine-to-five job as the cellar master at Les Bourgeois Winery, is a family man at heart and has trouble turning down the occasional beer.
Still, in other respects, most see Lemberger’s talent as extraordinary. Tucked away in his workshop behind his home in the country, to the sound track of barking dogs, Drew Lemberger crafts beautiful wooden boats.
Lemberger uses his business, Missouri Boatworks, to sell his creations to the public. In his spare time, he makes boats for himself.
This year, he is participating in the Missouri 340 aboard a wooden solo kayak he has been working on for months. Although he and boss Curtis Bourgeois took part in last year’s race in the men’s tandem division, Lemberger is looking forward to doing it alone.
“Last year I looked at the back of my partner’s head the whole time,” Lemberger said. “I’m sure there will be times when I will want to talk to somebody, though.”
With a finish time of just more than 79 hours last year, Lemberger would like to do better. His goal is to make the trip from Kansas City to St. Charles in fewer than 60 hours. To help him in his efforts, he has been staying active.
“I’ve done a lot of aerobic activity, a lot of running,” he said. “Just overall healthy living.”
Although he says he hopes to remain pretty competitive in the race, the prospect of finishing in his new kayak is equally as exciting.
“There’s a really unique feeling you have after building something yourself then using it,” Lemberger said. “Especially something like a race or an endurance event, it just makes it that much more rewarding to finish in a boat you made yourself.”
BRETT DUFUR: Men’s Solo
Brett Dufur has no ground crew. And he’s not carrying much food in his boat. But he’s not worried.
His friends who are racing have ground crews. And he’s been to many a rivertown potluck on the more than 1,000 miles he’s traveled on the Missouri River.
Dufur has already experienced the kindness and generosity of people along the river.
“People are always willing to drop everything and help you,” Dufur said.
For Dufur, this race is about the relationships — his relationship with other people who love the river and his relationship with nature.
“My love for the river is what brought me to Rocheport in the first place,” Dufur said.
Dufur, mayor of Rocheport, is editor and publisher of Pebble Publishing, a company that produces outdoor guidebooks. In the summer months, Dufur also runs a guided canoe float service.
Dufur decided to enter the race after standing by and watching his friends race for the past two years.
The increasing influx of out-of-staters also contributed to his decision to enter the race.
After Dufur saw “these Texas boys coming in and poaching the prizes,” he said, he couldn’t sit on the sidelines.
Since none of Dufur’s own boats were fast enough, he borrowed a touring kayak from a friend and fellow competitor, Bryan Hopkins.
Dufur said there are risks involved in the race, especially since things taken for granted, such as easily accessible medical facilities, aren’t readily available. Boats and the river are very predictable, Dufur said. The only danger, as he sees it, is himself, so he just needs to be safe and make good decisions.
“It’s just a good, old-fashioned test of man versus nature,” Dufur said.
Dufur says he hopes to commune with nature on this trip. He’s looking forward to the full moon that will occur on Friday during the race.
When the wind dies down, he said, the river is like a big mirror.
“It’s otherworldly,” Dufur said.
Beyond that, Dufur’s goals for this year’s race are not competitive.
“I’m just kinda going into it as a student,” Dufur said. “I’m in it to learn. Anything else is just icing on the cake.”