KANSAS CITY — On a dewy Tuesday morning, six Columbia area men unpacked gear, paddles and grub from a yellow van — dubbed the "Magic School Bus" — near the Kaw Point Park launch in Kansas City, Kansas. For the first time ever, the team of "Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop" was preparing to canoe across Missouri in the 12th annual MR340.
The MR340 is a paddling race on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles. This year's race started Tuesday with 525 paddlers in 373 boats, said Steve Schnarr, who works with Missouri River Relief. Competitors have 88 hours to finish the course or face disqualification.
Will Garrett of Ashland and Patrick Hanks, Zachary Mihalevich, Andrew Gunn, Blaine Chandler and Zach Cravens, all of Columbia, rallied around their 24-foot voyageur canoe, ready to embark on the journey before them. As longtime friends from high school and through mutual acquaintances, the members of the team are versed in knowing how to keep each other paddling.
"We are all guys, so we just make fun of each other," Cravens said with a chuckle. "We all know each other well and know personal ways to motivate each other."
As the time approached for the team members to guide their canoe to the water, they, with the help of family and friends, organized what they would need on the river in the spaces of the canoe.
"I’m always hungry, so I brought extra snacks," Chandler said.
Each team member has a role playing to his strengths. When they kayak alone, physical strength, steering and skill comes from one person. With a canoe, that responsibility is shared, Cravens said.
"We are going to be stacked on each other, so we are going to have to have our rhythm down," he added.
The team hefted the canoe, laden with supplies, and carried it to the water. Hanks held the boat steady as the other team members boarded the canoe. As the "first rudder" for the boat, Hanks sits in the back and steers the canoe, which can be challenging with the length of the craft.
"Very little movements have a large effect," Hanks said.
Once boarded, the team pushed off onto the river, finding a spot among the legion of other watercraft. Moments later, the final few vessels drifted in and the countdown started.
A shot fired from the starting rifle rang out as the countdown reached "one," and kayakers, paddleboarders, canoeists and the like took off down the river. "Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop" negotiated its way within the mass of competitors for a good position.
The boom of a cannon soon followed, reverberating through the crowd. Onlookers watched as paddlers receded from view down the river — the start of a long journey.
"Three hundred and forty miles all starts with one stroke," Garrett said.
The team was part of the second wave of watercraft to launch. The earlier wave of single paddlers left an hour earlier, at 7 a.m.
Competitors come from all over the U.S. and even different countries, according to the event's roster. Some have competed in the MR340 before, while others, like "Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop," are testing the waters for the first time this year.
Certain competitors, such as Lauren Milby-Palmer, a Missouri resident, have goals in mind for the race.
"I want to try and beat last year’s time," Milby-Palmer said. "But I also don’t want to be disappointed in myself if I don’t, just because you never know what is going to happen out there. The river has a mind of its own."
Milby-Palmer is competing in the MR340 for the second time. Her experience last year is part of her preparation for this year's race, such as wrapping her fingers in tape — a trick she learned to keep blisters at bay.
Paddlers are assisted by ground crews, which are stationed at checkpoints or follow individual paddlers or teams. "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" is being followed by David Hanks, Patrick Hanks’ father, who will provide the team with any provisions or assistance they need along the route.
"I will just kind of jump out in front of them and see how they are doing," David Hanks said.
Racers are required by the rules of the event to sign in at designated checkpoints along the route. This allows the progress of competitors to be tracked on RaceOwl.com and for safety crews to keep track of where everyone is.
At the first checkpoint in Lexington, Missouri, Steve Voss and son Will Voss are among the onlookers tracking the progress of the race on an iPad. Together, Steve and Will Voss watched the river for family member Dan Voss.
"It kind of motivates us to see other people doing these things," Steve Voss said.
The first to reach Lexington was the men's tandem team of Joe Mann and Dylan McHardy, at 1:28 p.m. — a time of 5 hours, 28 minutes.
"Can't Stop, Won't Stop" — racing in the voyageur division — reached the first checkpoint at 3:19 p.m., in a time of 7:19.
Supervising editor are Pete Bland and James Patterson.