COLUMBIA — Imagine propelling yourself for 340 miles across Missouri in a canoe.
More than 100 individuals had the opportunity to do just that during screenings of a documentary about the Missouri River 340 Race on Tuesday night at RagTag Cinema.
The Missouri River 340 is the world’s longest non-stop river race and consists of competitors winding their way across the state on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles. Along the river route, participants fight currents, avoid colliding with hazards in the water, endure hot temperatures and push themselves to their physical limits.
“It’s like doing Everest right here in Missouri,” said Bryan Hopkins, watershed and wetlands coordinator for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and a participant in every year of the race so far. “Everyone who does it sees it as a life-changing experience.”
Jodi Pfefferkorn produced a documentary of the second running of the race in 2007. The film, her first documentary, “Down River & Up Hill,” was presented Tuesday night for free admission at the RagTag. Originally intended to be a screening followed by a panel discussion, a second showing became necessary after the demand far exceeded the theater’s capacity.
“We thought there’d be only 15 here tonight,” Hopkins said. There were more than 140 in attendance.
The film "was not supposed to turn out this good,” Pfefferkorn said. “The biggest complaint I get is that it is way too short.”
Her documentary is used frequently by race organizers to help explain the event and raise interest in participation.
“It gets shown to people all the time, and they end up wanting to do the race,” she said. Pfefferkorn is in the planning stages for doing a longer documentary about this year's race.
During the evening’s first panel discussion about the race and the film, Pfefferkorn, race organizer Scott Mansker and race participants Bryan Hopkins and Katie Pfefferkorn answered several questions from members of the audience and explained some changes that have been made to the race for this year — specifically, the reduction in the race’s time limit from 100 to 88 hours.
“I’m a high school teacher, and if everyone gets an ‘A’, the test is too easy,” Mansker said. “We found that everyone made the checkpoints with 2 to 3 hours to spare, so tightening up the race helps with the concentration of safety boats.”
The race is divided into eight checkpoints to ensure safety by keeping track of participants and providing opportunities to rest or receive aid if necessary.
Entries to this year’s race has been strong and steady. As of Tuesday, more than 170 of the 200 slots had been filled since sign-ups began Jan. 1. Mansker might choose to extend the boat limit if the kinds of adjustments to the race’s safety planning are feasible and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, who have already approved this year’s current 200-boat race plan.
Matt Fox, 20, and Andy Bramman, 21, both attended the screening with an interest in the race, but some concerns about the Missouri River.
“It looks terrifying, and you hear about barges and whirlpools,” Bramman said. Both had similar concerns about the river, but neither could explain where they had learned of these supposed hazards.
“When you talk about places to go swimming, it’s never the Missouri River," Bramman said.
After watching the film, Fox and Bramman decided they were going to sign up that evening.
“We were pretty gung ho coming in,” Fox said. “But now we’re really psyched.”
This year’s race is taking place from Aug. 4-7.