COLUMBIA — For Linda LaFontaine, the Missouri River 340 was never about a kayak race. It was an adventure on the Missouri River with her friend, Camille Ronchetto. They saw eagles, river otters and migratory birds — a true nature experience, she said. At night, LaFontaine would gaze up at stars.
"It was magical," she said.
A veteran of the past two Missouri River 340 races, LaFontaine remembers people cheering from the shore as she paddled past Cooper's Landing and Katfish Katy's.
"Everyone who knew anyone in that race was down there," she said. "The Missouri was a big deal for us. The fact that it was on the Missouri River made it really special."
After turning 60 earlier this year, LaFontaine wanted to prove she could still race 340 miles down the Missouri River. She'll have to put that test on hold.
Flooding on the Missouri River, expected to last at least into August, has forced Missouri River 340 race staff to relocate the event to the Kansas River. The 150-mile revised race will take place July 19-22, the original Missouri River 340 dates, race coordinator Scott Mansker said.
"We were looking at not having a race, period," Mansker said. "We're hearing from all sides that the Missouri will be unusable in August and that September would be marginal. September is an unsafe time to have a race anyway, though, because of temperatures and darkness."
The permit from the U.S. Coast Guard that Mansker needs for the race requires the river to be below flood stage.
"The river is going to be well above the tree line for months," Mansker said. "If you have 400 boats on the water and there's nowhere to land in sight, and there's a storm, then there's no place to pull off."
The revised race would start in Manhattan, Kan., and finish at Kaw Point. If flooding makes the Kansas River too dangerous, the race will move to Aug. 9.
The Kansas River's shallow bed and slower current poses its own challenges, and 150 miles on it is equally grueling to 340 miles on the Missouri River, Mansker said.
LaFontaine has never been on the Kansas River, but said she knows it's a slower, more difficult paddle. She said she is going to scout it first, but will probably go ahead and enter the race.
Charlie Lockwood, 64, of Columbia, is pleased with the switch. He has raced on the Kansas River several times and attempted the Missouri River 340 in 2009 but pulled out at mile 105 because of a shoulder injury.
"It's kind of a boring trip," Lockwood said of paddling the Missouri River. "The Kansas River is going to be a little more interesting in terms of boating skill. It adds a little excitement. The first 100 miles is going to beat everybody senseless."
The route on the Kansas River — also known as the Kaw — features sections over which racers have to carry their kayaks.
"On the Missouri, you can eat a sandwich and drink a Coke and still float along at three miles per hour," Mansker said. "On the Kaw, you have to earn that distance. It's going to take a different kind of paddler to win this race."
Still, Mansker said he's bracing for complaints.
"There's no doubt, I'm disappointed," LaFontaine said. "I feel bad for the people managing this because a lot of people will be disappointed."