COLUMBIA — The cool October weather greets cars pulling into the parking lot at Katfish Katy's, just south of Columbia. Many of the cars are decorated with writing in their windows — messages of encouragement. They have come as members of support crews for the participants of the sixth annual Missouri River 340 race, which passed the Huntsdale checkpoint Wednesday morning.
Many of them have bags under their eyes after driving frantically from checkpoint to checkpoint, following friends or family members competing in the event. It's a grueling affair for everyone involved.
Participants use canoes, kayaks or other paddle-powered watercraft in a five-day competition that takes racers 340 miles on the river from Kaw Point Riverfront Park in Kansas City to St. Charles. There are nine checkpoints along the course, which contestants must finish in 88 hours. Participants come from throughout the state, but others traveled from as far away as Denmark to take part in the event.
There are fewer racers this year because of scheduling problems related to unusually high water levels this summer. About 400 were signed up to compete in July, but after the event was postponed, only 118 set out at the start of this year's race Tuesday morning. The deadline to reach St. Charles is Saturday. Only two-thirds of last year's entrants completed the race.
"Yeah, when I raced in 2008, I had some hallucinations," David Kriegh, a Raytown resident, said. "It was at night, and I looked across the river and saw the trees walking with me down the river. One of my other friends who raced it too said that the logs turned into animals. You're just so tired and exhausted, because you can't sleep."
This year, Kriegh was at Katfish Katy's as part of a support crew. Racers usually take a quick 30-minute nap at checkpoints, and if they're lucky, their support crew will have a makeshift bed made in the back of a car.
Don Ingerson, a retired Missouri high school teacher who now lives in Minnesota, was at Katfish Katy's helping his friends Mark Jacobi and Joe Zellner. Driving from checkpoint to checkpoint to provide racers with food and a place to sleep can leave support crew members tired, too.
"I've only had three hours of sleep," Ingerson said as he prepared a bed for Jacobi. "But I would do it again in a heartbeat. The sleep deprivation isn't bad, but I'm retired, so I can sleep whenever I want to."
It can also be important for solo racers to have someone to talk to.
"It's really important to be able to relate to them on an emotional level," Ingerson said. "I've done these kinds of races before, so I can relate. I'm here to empathize with them. I look at it from a standpoint of what they get out of it and the fact that I can help them attain what they want to get out of this. That's really what this means to me."