Dim moonlight lit the banks of the Missouri River as Jeff Barrow left Glasgow, paddling his way through the evening in his long, pointy canoe. The light fog hovering over the water’s surface made steering especially difficult, even for the intermediate canoer. The heat-filled day of paddling he had just completed, combined with little sleep put Barrow in a mysterious situation.
“I had gotten back in my boat after an hour of sleep in Glasgow,” Barrow said. “I was so sleep deprived.”
Besides gazing at the stars and eagerly awaiting the sunrise, Barrow pushed to find a smooth paddling rhythm on his nearly 60-mile trip to Cooper’s Landing. Barrow noticed the river’s scenery, but what he saw surprised him.
“I saw trees with square tops,” he said. “I saw castles on the side of the river. I saw seals on wing dikes. And, I saw islands.”
But none were real. He was hallucinating, and he knew it.
“I knew I wasn’t seeing seals,” Barrow said. “I knew I was seeing things that weren’t there. I knew I was hallucinating. It all just got to me. But, I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that if I started trying to get out of my canoe because I thought I saw an island, one of the four guys I was paddling with would stop me. But, the most dangerous part of it all was losing my sense of reality on a very real river.”
Barrow, on the second day of the Missouri River 340, was paddling to reach the race’s fifth checkpoint. The race began at 8 a.m. July 24 in Kansas City, Kan., and ended at noon July 28 in St. Charles, giving racers 100 hours to travel across the state. Of the 74 boats entered in the race, 14 did not finish.
Adding to Barrow’s troublesome situation, he began to question the river’s current. He saw swirling motions in the water, and the hallucinations were still clouding his mind.
“The night current was kinda weird,” he said. “The current was around 3 miles an hour, and I was going about 5. But, it felt like I was going backwards at times. I felt like the river was going the wrong direction, like I was paddling upstream. I began paddling much faster. And, it was very scary not being able to read the river.”
According to Barrow, he reached Cooper’s Landing around 11 p.m., where the hallucinations finally stopped and he enjoyed some pizza.
Looking back, Barrow saw humor in the situation.
“I didn’t see any hula dancers on the island,” he said with a laugh. “But, it was a really solitary exercise. It was an inner challenge with little material reward. And, I got to see what I’m made of, and I made it through the race.”
Barrow, a Columbia resident, finished the second annual race in 96 hours, 53 minutes, arriving at 8:54 a.m. July 28. Barrow took time off the water for a book signing at the Ragtag theater in Columbia. “From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers” is about co-author and environmentalist Chad Pregracke.
But, Barrow wasn’t the only racer who experienced the effects of little sleep and excessive time on the water.
Curtis Bourgeois and Drew Lemberger also found themselves in a “hairy situation.”
The Rocheport pair got turned around as they passed through Jefferson City.
“We had been on the water for 44 hours,” Bourgeois said. “We were getting close to Cooper’s Landing around 2 (a.m.) and had a hard time figuring out where to go. We stayed up too late.”
Lemberger added that while the two weren’t in any danger, their depth perception was diminishing, causing hallucinations.
“It seemed like the water was going backwards,” Lemberger said. “And, we probably lost an hour because of it.”
Bourgeois and Lemberger finished in 79 hours, 4 minutes in the men’s tandem division, arriving at 3:04 p.m. July 27
Other threats lurked in the water for other paddlers.
On the first night of the race, Scott and Lisa Swafford of Columbia left the race’s second checkpoint in Waverly around 10:30 p.m. Aware of the dangers of the the water, Lisa Swafford was apprehensive about travelling through the night. She kept a flashlight on the river, spotting buoys along the way. But, even a spotlight and two sets of eyes couldn’t catch everything.
“We hit a partially submerged log,” Scott Swafford said. “It spooked me a little, but she was really spooked. It could have been really bad. It got my mind wondering about what else we weren’t seeing. And, it gave us a good reason to give pause.”
After not finishing in 2006, Scott and Lisa Swafford arrived at 5:28 p.m. July 27 in 81 hours, 28 minutes, the only finishers in the mixed tandem division. Scott Swafford is a city editor at the Columbia Missourian.
Seven Columbia boats were entered in the race. Katie Pfefferkorn finished second in the women’s solo division, arriving at the finish line in St. Charles at 6:57 p.m. July 26, in 48 hours, 57 minutes. She completed this year’s race in about half the time that she finished the 2006 race.
Bryan Hopkins finished at 6:57 p.m. July 26, placing fifth in the men’s solo division in 58 hours, 57 minutes. He cut his 2006 time by 20 hours.
Scott Myers finished in 81 hours, 10 minutes, coming in at 7:33 p.m. July 27. Will Lamm did not finish.
Through all the conflicts, the racers said they found a deeper meaning to the race.
“It was spiritual and about the human connection,” Barrow said. “And, it was heartwarming and humbling to feel love from total strangers...who offered showers, food, and drinks.”