COLUMBIA — Megan Cruse-Luedke's 9-month-old, Millie, sits on a wooden picnic table at Cooper's Landing repeating the sounds, "Da Da, Da Da," as she flashes a toothless smile toward the Missouri River.
"Da Da is coming!" Cruse-Luedke assures her daughter.
Cruse-Luedke's husband, Chris Luedke, is a paddler in the 2014 Missouri River 340, a 340-mile boat race down the Missouri River beginning in Kaw Point, Kan., and ending in St. Charles.
Once a cross-country runner and ice-hockey player, Luedke's doctor recommended he pick up a more low impact activity after those sports damaged his knees.
After searching the Internet and stumbling upon the forum for the race, Luedke decided to pick up paddling.
Since discovering the race, Luedke and Cruse-Luedke have made the trip to the Missouri River every year from their home in Nashotah, Wis. This will be their third consecutive year as participants, this time with Luedke as a paddler and Cruse-Luedke acting as his one-woman ground crew.
"Paddling is what keeps him sane, so I'm willing to make the trip with him to do this race every year," Cruse-Luedke said.
Cruse-Luedke spends the three-day race meeting her husband at every checkpoint, refilling his water, carrying snacks and making sure he has what he needs.
The first year the two participated in the race, Cruse-Luedke discovered she had vasovagal syncope, a condition which causes the body to overreact to some triggers, resulting in a drop in heart rate and blood pressure which often leads to fainting, according to Mayo Clinic.
"People in the race or anyone engaging in high physical activity might take electrolyte supplements to hydrate their body," Cruse-Luedke said. "I have to take those just to get through the day."
That race was the only time Cruse-Luedke couldn't meet her husband at every checkpoint. She had to take a night during the race to camp and recuperate.
"I went days without sleeping and my legs were swelling from dehydration," Cruse-Luedke said. "By the time we made it to Lexington I thought I was going to pass out."
Cruse-Luedke tries to spend more time at the shadier, less crowded checkpoints to stay comfortable. She said that's why she choose Cooper's Landing over the official checkpoint at Katfish Katys Campground.
During the second race, in 2013, Cruse-Luedke was five months pregnant with Millie.
"But that year I hit every checkpoint," Cruse-Luedke said.
The purpose of the checkpoints is for paddlers to restock on supplies, but they also act as an opportunity for racers to halt paddling for a few minutes. Paddlers often experience heat exhaustion and hallucinations during the race.
Luedke met paddlers Matt Thompson and Kyle Boos during last year's race. While they closed in on the finish, Boos experienced the hallucinations for himself.
"Kyle started seeing 6-foot ducks at the end of the race," Cruse-Luedke said. "Matt and Chris started quacking at him to make him go faster."
This year's race saw another member added to Luedke and Cruse-Luedke's team: their daughter Millie.
Cruse-Luedke said Millie was generally well-behaved until it came time to sit in her car seat, which made it difficult for Cruse-Luedke to help her husband at the boat ramp.
As Millie and her mother sat at their table at Cooper's Landing waiting for Luedke, Millie fidgeted and squealed.
"Da Da is coming!" Cruse-Luedke assured her once again.
The next stop for Luedke and Cruse-Luedke is Jefferson City. Cruse-Luedke expects that her husband will finish the race by Friday afternoon. The deadline for paddlers to finish is midnight on Friday.
When the race is over, they will stay at a hotel in St. Charles. On Saturday, it's back to Wisconsin.
Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.