ST. CHARLES — An annual, 340-mile race down the Missouri River is usually a packed summer event with hundreds of participants. But on Saturday one icy boat pulled across the finish line.
In July, about 550 boats were on the roster for the 14th annual Missouri American Water MR340. It would have been the event’s biggest year ever, said race director Scott Mansker, if not for the near-record-high water levels that kept pushing it further back on the calendar.
By the time the race began at 7:03 a.m. Friday, only four intrepid oarsmen competed, in three boats: one men’s tandem canoe, one men’s solo canoe and one men’s solo “pedal drive” boat.
After a slight delay due to a passing barge, the race kicked off at Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, along the Kansas-Missouri border.
The November conditions posed challenges, said Brian Russell, a spokesman for Missouri American Water, a sponsor of the race.
Russell said that normally there are about 30 safety boats stretched along the length of the race. This year, each boat was assigned its own safety boat.
“This race is usually held in the summer, and your fear is overheating,” Russell said. “It’s a total 180 from that.”
One paddler — the current men’s solo record holder — had to pull out somewhere around Boonville because his boat was covered in ice, Mansker said.
It’s not out of the ordinary for a participant to stop short. Even under normal conditions, usually about a third of the entrants don’t finish the race.
Another paddler had a big lead and was on pace to break the course record of 33 hours.
“We started to see some erratic paddling,” said Mansker. “He was under the impression that there was a lot of fog on the river, and there was no fog.”
Even though he had worn eye protection, the paddler’s eyes had been irritated by the reflection of sun on the river.
“With 50 miles to go — and he had an eight-mile lead — he made the painful decision that it just wasn’t safe for him to continue with his limited vision,” Mansker said.
The remaining boat was manned by Jeremy Vore and Steve Landick.
They landed at the finish line at the Lewis and Clark Nature Center and Boathouse in St. Charles at 6:31 p.m. Saturday, meaning they completed the course in about 35 hours and 30 minutes, according to an online race tracking program.
Completing the race in under 40 hours is a big accomplishment, Mansker said.
“Especially with sub-freezing temperatures,” he added.
The race benefits Missouri River Relief and the Lewis and Clark Nature Center and Boathouse.