Stories from the river

Competitors battle exhaustion, dehydration in Missouri 340 River Race
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | 7:01 p.m. CDT; updated 3:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The flow of the Missouri River has brought in more than just the usual boats at Cooper’s Landing. Along with kayaks and floating logs, the current has brought in tales from the 3rd annual Missouri 340 River race.

The race is a 340-mile canoe and kayak test of endurance that began early Tuesday morning in Kansas City. Competitors have up to 100 hours to paddle to St. Charles, stopping at nine checkpoints along the way.

Cooper’s Landing, south of Columbia, is the fifth checkpoint, 197 miles from the starting point.

Tish Turner, ground crew member for the Z Team, a four-person team with members from Missouri and Kansas, has been experiencing the challenges of the race firsthand.

“Part of our job is cheerleader, and part is yelling at them,” she said.

As part of the ground crew, Turner helps paddlers replace water, Gatorade and food at each checkpoint.

“Each paddler picks their own food,” Turner said. “But we give them proteins, fats and carbs.”

According to Turner, the hardest part is getting the competitors to eat the food.

Everyday items such as aspirin and stomach medicine are necessary as well since paddlers sit for hours under the heat of the sun.

Overall, the Z Team has had few complaints, though crew member Maria Crusius of St. Louis said the competitors are voicing issues with the weather.

“They want us to change the weather,” Crusius laughed. Turner added, “They’d like there to be a tail wind. It’s all about the wind.”

Still, the presence of a ground crew to either supply food or just be a listener for useless complaints is a luxury some do not have.

The ground crew for the Z Team has been leaving food at each checkpoint for the cousin of Z Team paddler Zaiham Abdullah’s. Abdullah’s cousin is competing in the men’s solo division. Since his ground crew dropped out at the last minute, the Z Team is trying to help out.

“You meet people along the river, and you help out who you can,” Crusius said.

The crew is unsure if Abdullah’s cousin has been getting the food, but they plan to continue to leave some at each checkpoint.

The Z Team was hoping to be among the first in their division; however, this feat was made more difficult by the six-person boats, Team Texas and Team Belize, competing in their division.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the two larger teams were ahead of the Z Team by eight hours, leaving them in third place.

Still, the six-person teams have not been without their troubles.

They arrived neck and neck at 4 a.m., with one team leaving after four minutes and the second team leaving a minute later, according to Brian Elkington of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of the checkpoint until 9 p.m. Thursday.

Although the two teams left Cooper’s Landing in a dead heat, Team Belize has had some difficulties that make its outcome uncertain. Half of its team members have dropped out and there have also been health issues, including a bloody nose that would not stop.

Bryan Hopkins, one of the Columbia hopefuls, competing in the solo division, had not slept when he pulled into Cooper’s Landing on Wednesday morning.

While some competitors were in and out at the checkpoint, Hopkins stayed for almost an hour to take a quick nap.

Similar to the Z Team, Hopkins was focused more on paddling than hydrating himself.

“He was feeling terrible because he wasn’t eating and drinking,” said Hopkins’ wife and ground crew member Alma Hopkins.

Alma Hopkins said Wednesday is the most difficult day of the race.

“You’re hallucinating, you’re exhausted,” she said. “Everyone slows down at this point.”

Race director Scott Mansker said this has been a common issue.

“There’s been the usual dehydration,” Mansker said.

The challenges inherent in the race have already caused 23 paddlers to drop out, according to Barbara Edington, who is in charge of updating race results.

Despite the challenges, paddlers are making the trip in less time than previous years.

“Times are better,” Mansker said. “There’s going to be a lot of records broken.”

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