JEFFERSON CITY — Their bloodshot eyes are fixed on land. Sweat glistens on sunburnt foreheads, and medical tape conceals blistered palms.
Some of the slowest paddlers in this year's Missouri River 340 aim their boats toward the fifth of nine checkpoints in the event. When they reach shore, they subject themselves to a challenge not produced by nature.
First time racer Thomas Selva of Columbia, who built his own kayak for the event, dropped out after checking in at Miami, the third of seven checkpoints.
Brad Krog and J.D. Goulet, who traveled 23 hours from Maine to compete in the men's tandem race, dropped out after Hermann, the seventh of nine checkpoints.
Joe Zellner from Grand Marais, Minn., won the men's solo race, completing the event in 46 hours and 15 minutes.
Robyn Benincasa from Cardiff, Calif., won the women's solo race, finishing in 46 hours and 22 minutes.
Allen McAdams and Melanie Hof from Roswell, Ga., won the mixed tandem race in 45 hours and 5 minutes.
Dave Anderson from Seattle and Will Anderson from Lynnwood, Wash., won the men's tandem race in 43 hours and 36 minutes.
Team Midwest Mayhem with Joe Mann from Denmark, Ryan Slebos from Olathe, Kan., and Mat Dresslaer from Grain Valley, won the team race in 40 hours and 46 minutes.
Team Lone Star with Andrew Condie from Cuero, Texas, Wade Binion from College Station, Texas, Michael Paddack from Spring, Texas, Michael Vandeveer from Cuero, Texas, and Jay Daniel from Katy, Texas won the voyageur race in 39 hours and 40 minutes.
For complete results go to 2012 MR 340 Live Race Updates.
“The hardest part of the race is getting back in the boat and continuing on,” said Joe Wilson, a volunteer who helped set up and run the checkpoint at Noren Access on the north side of the Missouri River in Jefferson City.
About 300 boats began the race at 7 a.m. Tuesday, which started in Kansas City and ends in St. Charles. Participants are given 88 hours to complete the 340-mile race.
“Is the heat a factor? Yes. Are these people crazy? No,” Wilson said. “They just accept the challenge.”
Bob Marsh, 59, competed in the race in 2009 and finished it in 81 hours and 14 minutes. This year, he is not worried about where he places. He said his goal is just to finish.
“The sun on the first day, late in the afternoon, zapped my energy,” said Marsh, who plans to reach St. Charles on Friday afternoon before the 11 p.m. cutoff.
About 110 boats have exited the race so far, including Jeff Schrader from Kansas City, who averaged 2 hours of sleep each night and made it to the checkpoint in Jefferson City before he quit.
“Your arms feel like they’re going to fall off,” Schrader said. “When the wind isn’t blowing, you’re baking in your kayak and when it is, you’re paddling into headwind.”
Wilson said this summer's excessive heat has been a challenge for paddlers, as well as the low water levels, which have slowed down the current. While entrants are finishing slower than in past races, race coordinator Katie Mansker said the dropout rate has remained about the same.
“The heat has slowed down the finishing times, but the dropout rate has remained at around 30 percent, which isn’t any higher than previous years,” Mansker said. “It’s a testament to how tough these paddlers are. They are not backing down.”
After Marsh refueled with food and water, he got back in his boat and continued on.
At night, Wilson and other volunteers gaze at the Missouri River and watch the steady flow of racers approach the checkpoint. Because the paddlers attach lights to their boats, the volunteers refer to the constant movement of lighted boats as “river pearls.”
“The sight makes me emotional because I’m right there with them,” Wilson said.