Category Archives: Getting ready for the race

Last is better than DNS

I’m not much one for inspirational posters but I saw this one on the MR340 discussion board today and really liked it.

dead last

It’s only 9 days until we’re on the water in Kansas City and there are still people who are debating whether to enter the race or not – and those of us who are already on the starting list are encouraging them all we can. It really is all about starting. Most of us have have absolutely no hope of winning this thing. In the average year 1/3 of the starters drop out and last year 50% didn’t make it to the finish. But.. they STARTED the race.

That’s something the people at BirthChoice are trying to make possible for the women, and the babies, who come through their doors. With your help, they won’t be DNS – Did Not Start. That’s what I’ll be thinking about while I’m on the water. As I write this we’re at just under $1,000.00. We have a long way to go and I hope to get updates telling me that contributions are coming in. At the very least, pass the word to anyone you know who might be interested in helping with this good work.

So, what about the race? It starts at 7:00 am for the solo racers (8:00 for everyone else) on the 23rd and you’ll be able to track our progress on FACEBOOK or at RACEOWL. When you first go to Raceowl you’ll see the top 10 racers. To get the rest of us, you’ll need to click on the “View All” link. Then it’s a matter of doing a search for my boat number, 0726 or Christian’s, 3141. You’ll see the boat number, our names, last checkpoint and whether we’ve checked in or out of that checkpoint, the time in or out, our average speed, and the calculated time of arrival at the next checkpoint. Pretty cool stuff.

Once you have that info, it’s a matter of understanding where the checkpoints are and when we have to be there – there are cutoff times and if we miss any of those times we’re out of the race. Here’s the list:

  1. KAW POINT: The solo boats start here. The local news helicopters will be flying around and a huge crowd will be on the river banks to watch. It’s pretty exciting for everyone.
  2. LEXINGTON: 50/50. My shorthand here indicates that Lexington is 50 miles from the last checkpoint and we’ve traveled a total of 50 miles on the race. We must get there by 5:00 pm on Tuesday.
  3. WAVERLY: 23/73. The deadline is 9:00 pm Tuesday.
  4. MIAMI: 32/105. If we aren’t in Miami by 11:00 am Wednesday we’re out.
  5. GLASGOW: 36/141 and the cutoff is 6:00 pm Wednesday
  6. KATFISH KATY’S: 46/187 – Noon on Thursday but, by KK we’re half way to the finish and almost all those people who will drop out will have already done so.
  7. WILSON’S SERENITY POINT at NOREN ACCESS (Jefferson City): 36/223. by 7:00 pm Thursday
  8. HERMANN: 46/269. If we’re later than 10 am am on Friday we’re a DNF.
  9. KLONDIKE: 42/311. 6:00 pm Friday is the latest we can pass this checkpoint.
  10. ST. CHARLES: 27/338 and the deadline is midnight, Friday.

Late addition to this post – here’s a map. Click on the link at the bottom that says “view larger map” to get the full picture.

Notice that there’s a big time gap between Waverly and Miami. That’s to allow the racers to get some sleep. The reality is that no one who has slept at Waverly in the past four years has managed to finish the race. So, we’ll be pushing on to (or past) Miami to “bank some time” in case we have weather, physical, or mechanical problems that delay us.

That’s it. The boats are ready, Christian and I are as ready as we can be, and all we need to do is pack up the car for the drive. I probably won’t do any more blogging until after the race so, for the latest news, check our Facebook page.

Thanks so much for everyone’s support and encouragement.

Ned

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Lessons learned

The MR340 is nearly four days long. In fact, assuming I do it in 70 to 80 hours, it is almost exactly half a week spent either in a boat or getting ready to be in a boat. I know it will be strenous, and I know it will be mentally taxing, but mostly I know it will be long.

So, given the opportunity to spend two solid days on the water preparing my body and mind, I looked at the weather report and threw my stuff together. My plan initially was to put as many miles behind me as I possibly could. Just keep paddling, and when it gets dark find a quiet place to camp, and when the sun comes up paddle some more. I wasn’t going to put in any 18 hour days and four hour nights, but I knew being outside for that length of time would allow me to answer a number of questions. How should I pack my gear? Is the layout of my boat correct, or do I need to change anything? How will my hands hold up without gloves? What kind of food should I take? Am I physically ready?

Sometimes our experiences give us more than answers to questions we already have. Sometimes they provide us us with more questions. Ones we didn’t even know we needed to ask.

Question: What am I doing?

Obviously, I spent more more than just the past few days asking myself this. I think about it almost every time I paddle. What would compel a person to prepare for a challenge? I basically was saying “I am going to be miserable for four days, and in order to get ready for that I need to make myself as miserable as often, and for as long as possible.” Now, that’s overstating it a bit, but you get the idea. About a third of the way through the first day I found one answer.

dam on lake lewisvilleGenerally at Lake Lewisville the winds come from the south, so paddling along the dam it almost always looks like this. I took the picture not because I always marvel at the expanse of calm water stretching out before me, but also because I like that you can just barely see my destination out on the horizon, with the dam stretching out to an undefined spot next to it. I get the same feeling when I can see a bridge or structure in distance. I know that’s where I’m headed, and it seems so far away, but I’ll get there eventually. It’s far and away my favorite feeling when I’m on the water. A lot of times when I’m paddling really hard I’m thinking about how this effort will pay off on the river. I wonder how I will stack up against other paddlers. A lot of times I’m just thinking about my form. But paddling just for the sake of getting to the next destination is when I am at my most content. It is its own reason to paddle.

Question: Am I going about this all wrong?

I realized very quickly I might have the wrong philosophy in my training. Obviously I need to be physically prepared, but I kept remembering the “First Rule of Finishing the MR340,” which is STAY IN THE BOAT. Read the comments on rivermiles.com for an hour, and you will probably see this advise from veterans given to novices three or four times. Stay in the boat. You have a current. Even if you aren’t paddling, you are moving. If you are on land you are dead in the water (so to speak) but if you are on the water you can finish. So… I changed my M.O. and decided that I would go for time in the seat, rather than mileage. I was going to push myself, but if I needed a break I would take one. If I needed to eat something, or filter water , or take a picture, or talk to another paddler I would do it, but I would do it in the boat.

Question: Who is running the show here?

I am. I have nothing but time, and a nearly endless expanse of water to explore, and for the time being I can go anywhere. At least, for the time being…

The combination of going to bed the night before at 9:00, and my less than comfortable sleeping conditions, had me on the water much earlier than I anticipated on day two. Right off the bat the weather conditions were concerning but not terribly so. I figured as the day warmed up the wind would die off, and by two I should be headed north to the toll bridge that loomed about four miles away. In the meantime, I would ride the wind into Little Elm. It was when I made it to the end of that branch that my troubles began. I learned that running the show means you also have to deal with everything that’s thrown at you. It was almost noon, and the wind wasn’t letting up.clouds over lake lewisville In fact I was looking at cloud cover that could spell trouble. I turned around and it was wind full in my face all the way to the Little Elm bridge several miles away.

One of the worst parts about wind is how you are never sure what direction it’s coming from. If you are on the south shore you think it’s blowing from the northwest. If you are on the north shore you think it’s blowing from the southwest. You can’t ever get any cover, and if you don’t read it right you will wear yourself out going back and forth trying to find it. After crossing the arm I was on three times, I realized I had not only judged it wrong, and was very, very worn out, but I was on the wrong side if I was going to get back to the marina where I started the day. My other option was to stay on the north shore and turn right. I would keep heading north, hope the wind would eventually let up, and cross at the toll bridge and be home by 6 or 7 pm. It would probably be a 25 mile day. It was at this point that I found I knew the answer to another unasked question. Do I know the layout of the lake well enough to properly navigate in a situation like this? Apparently I do. I didn’t need to pull out my map once.

I made the decision to cross to the south and get back to the marina, where there was cover from the wind. I also knew I could get help there if I needed it. I made the crossing, paddling non-stop. I don’t know how I wasn’t completely physically exhausted by this point. Adrenaline and beef stew out of the can seemed to be working!

After making it across I was forced to turn to the east, with the wind coming at me now from behind. It was at this point I was forced to admit that, even though I was running the show, things were out of my control. The boat was being almost continually turned sideways and then swamped with water. With my destination seemingly just around the bend I found myself floating next to a completely full canoe. Stay in the boat indeed! I swam, emptied my boat of both equipment and water, and called Matt, my room mate on my nearly dead phone. Luckily I didn’t need the shore patrol to come get me, which was my first inclination since I didn’t know exactly how far away from civilization I was.

canoe on lake lewisvilleConclusion: Let’s call it a learning experience.

I learned a lot over those two days. I finally feel comfortable giving instruction to Tim and Steve Murray, my ground crew, regarding what I will and will not need during the race. I found out that my seating position, along with too much trail mix gives me indigestion. I learned it’s better to bring your pee bottle into the tent with you, so you don’t have to go outside three or four times in the middle of the night.

But most importantly I realized I have all the tools I will need to finish this race, as long as I stay in the boat. July can’t get here soon enough.

Christian.

Qajaqs and kenus

On July 23 Christian and I will take off on one of what National Geographic has listed as one of the 100 great American adventures. He’ll be in his canoe and I in my kayak. Many people who hear about this think the idea of 340 miles on one of the great rivers of the world is looney. What they don’t understand is how very reliable small these boats are. Here’s a little interesting (I think) history of these boats.

Kayaks got started in Siberia about four thousand years ago. The original design (the umiak) was about like a kayak except that the top was open. So, a kayak is , in fact, a type of canoe. Closing the top made the umiak useful for voyages out into the frigid arctic seas. Those early skin on frame boats were probably the most advanced hydrodynamic watercraft in the world – and the Wright brothers would have appreciated the technology as they rigged up their aircraft.

Qajaq is the Inuit word for hunter’s boat and they were extraordinarily effective. They could be paddled into arctic oceans and used to silently approach seals, walrus, and other prey. The Eskimos and Greenlanders would take them out for days at a time, even learning to sleep in them by laying our off to the side of the boat – floating the upper body on the water. The most important requirement, though, was stability. Imagine yourself in a small boat, on sub-freezing water, in the open ocean. Anything that isn’t rock solid stable can mean a quick death for the kayaker!

My boat was built by a company in Tacoma, Washington – specifically for use in the Pacific ocean. It’s a 17′ 5″ composite fiberglass boat, weighing 45 pounds, with two watertight bulkheads for floatation. I can flip the the boat, sure. But, by bracing myself with my paddle, I can stay upright even under some pretty rough conditions.

What’s the downside to this design? First off, I can’t really move my legs much. They’re inside the boat and stretched out in front of me. My rear end is about two inches above my heels and I’m sitting upright. I guess I should take yoga more seriously! Also, because I’m sitting at the level of the water, I can’t get as much leverage on the paddle. Kayaks are, however, so much cooler than canoes!

Christian is taking another tactic for the race – the canoe. His boat has an even older pedigree than mine. We, in the U.S. think of canoes as indian boats but the oldest known canoe excavation dates to about 6,000 years B.C. – from Holland! Those earliest canoes were basically dugouts. Heavy and slow, but tough. Variations of them have been used all over the world. The American Indians took them to another level by building them of bark. They were lighter and faster – and could still be built big enough to carry many people and large loads. The other advantage of their construction was that they were easily repaired when punctured.

They’re “open decked” so, not as adapted for rough water. But the Missouri River is fairly smooth – until the wind kicks up or a barge comes by. For those conditions he’s rigging up a skirt. The front and back of his boat will be covered with waterproof fabric that will keep at least most of the water out! When he’s passing a barge he’ll tuck in behind a wing dam and take a break while I’m out playing in the rough water. He’s sitting higher in the boat, so he’ll have better paddle leverage and, best of all, he’ll have the ability to move his legs around.

When most of you think of canoe you most likely think of the aluminum “barges” you plowed around as a kid. Those things weighed up to 80 pounds, were fat, and very stable. If that’s your vision of a canoe you wouldn’t recognize his ride for the MR340. It’s a carbon fiber composite and weighs about 30 pounds. It’s long – about 22 feet – skinny, tough, and fast. That long part makes it difficult to turn, though. And, if the wind or river current does start to turn it, it’s tough to keep straight. To cure that problem, he has a rudder. While I’m paddling on one side to turn or maintain a straight line, he just kicks the rudder and keeps his paddling cadence going – less wasted effort. The skinny part, and the fact that he’s sitting higher, means it’s tippy. But, heck, a bicycle is tippy! He’ll be able to blaze along and take more breaks to stretch his legs. His canoe doesn’t have the watertight compartments of mine so, to keep it afloat should it fill with water, Christian is installing floatation bladders. They won’t keep the water out but, if the water does get in the boat won’t sink completely.

Those are the ships of the White Rock Navy. I mentioned in an earlier post that our goal is to finish the race in under 75 hours. What do you think? Who’ll be in St. Charles first – the qajaq or the kenu?

A funny thing happened on the way to Waverly

In 2010, on our way to the hotel in Kansas City, we drove across the Missouri River. I looked down at it and realized I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t really paddle 340 miles in four days. I very nearly suggested we turn the car around and give up on the whole idea. Of course there was no way I could really say that, so the next morning I was in the boat ready to start the race.

The first checkpoint was Lexington, 50 miles from the start. I was tired, sore, and scared when I pulled in. I was grouchy and snapping at my crew and, knowing I still had 290 miles to  go, was even more convinced that I was in way over my head. I watched much younger racers loading their boats and giving up and it started sinking in that I couldn’t go the distance. The next checkpoint was Waverly. It was “only” 23 miles further and I figured I’d at least do that before calling it quits. So I let Sharon,Tim and David prep me and the boat and pushed off again. They told me later that, after I left, they all agreed I’d never finish the race.

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A funny thing happened on that leg. I started thinking about Miami – 32 miles from Waverly – and our planned stop for the night. If I could get THERE, I’d find the tent and sleeping bag ready. I was in a lot better mood when I pulled in to Waverly and told my ground crew to rig the lights on the boat – I’d push on into the night. When I got to Miami I was thinking about Glasgow and wondering if I should keep it up for 32 miles and maybe sleep there. But, Tim and David were settled in so I crawled in my sleeping bag and slept better than I had in a long, long time.

From then on it was one stretch at a time, one boat ramp at a time. Just paddle to the next bridge, around the next bend in the river. I threw away the maps I’d been carrying of the whole distance. I’d pull in to a check point and ask Tim “How far to the next check point?” I quit worrying about the entire race and just took it one bite of 30 or 40 or 50 miles (or less) at a time.

I’ve already blogged about how motivating it is for me to see the numbers of people who tune in by subscribing to the blog (about 30) and liking the White Rock Navy on Facebook (we just passed 50). It’s a kick for me every time I see the numbers go up but I’m greedy and want big numbers! When I’m out on that river and it’s 105 degrees I need to know there are lots of people behind me. So, do me a big favor and help spread the word.

One person at a time from now until July 23. Then it will be 1 mile at a time for me.

Thanks,

Ned

The MR340

This blog has been “on the air” for three and a half years and now we’re headed back to where it all started – the Missouri River and the MR340. Most of you already know what that’s all about but, for our new recruits a recap is in order.

The MR340 is the longest non-stop river race in the world and is one of National Geographic’s top 100 adventures. Racers start in Kansas City, MO. and have 88 hours to make their way to St. Charles (a little northwest of St. Louis). They can go straight through or stop anywhere along the way to rest and sleep. The record is around 37 hours but some folks take the entire 88 to finish. Racers run the gamut from young guys who have arms as big as my legs, paddling high tech carbon boats, to older guys out for an adventure in their heavy aluminum canoes. They are both men and women (a lot of those women will beat us guys by a large margin!), in solo boats and in teams of up to six paddlers in a boat. The interesting thing is that about 1/3 of the starters don’t make it to St. Charles – and many of those are the people you’d expect to finish fast, young bucks in fast boats.

The organizers say it’s “just you and your boat thrown against 340 miles of wind, heat, bugs and rain. This ain’t no mama’s boy float trip. This race promises to test your mettle from the first stroke in Kansas City to the last gasp in St. Charles” and that’s about right. The racers will tell you it’s 90% mental and that the other 10% is – mental and they’re right, too. Along the way we’ll find out about whirlpools and boils, barges, hallucinations caused by exhaustion, cramps, blisters, sunburn and dehydration, isolation, and river bouys and bridge pilings that want to eat us. We’ll roast in the afternoon sun and be chilled at night when the temperatures drop and we’re wet. We’ll be ravenous with hunger but have to force ourselves to eat. We may have to sleep on rocks, in parking lots, in the mud, or in the weeds.

We’ll also see spectacular sunsets, make amazing friends, sleep better than we ever have, and watch the Missouri sky at night with stars that are usually obscured by city lights. We’ll see Missouri from a perspective that few get – on one of the mighty rivers of our country. We’ll see our ground crews giving up a week of their lives, dedicating themselves to OUR dreams, and appreciate their sacrifice more than they can imagine. We’ll get in better physical and mental shape, and accomplish something many of us doubted we could do.

Walt Birmingham, one of the legends of the race, talked about it in his blog and it’s worth a read, click HERE to take a look.

That’s it in a nutshell. That’s what Christian and I are aiming for in less than six months. If you’ve signed on for updates or are clicking over from our Facebook page we truly appreciate it. As I said in my last post, we’re attempting a solitary sport but we count on you for encouragement.

By the way, I see we got our first contribution to the fundraiser. It’s just ten bucks from an anonymous donor but it’s a start! If you’re “pro-life” you’ll want to support this cause. If you’re “pro-choice” you should remember that Birth Choice of Dallas provides many women a choice they didn’t think they had, and think about helping out.

Ned

Why?

It’s a little after 4 in the morning and I’m awake on a Sunday. It’s hard to get used to sleeping in when you get up early for work every day. I’m sitting in the quiet thinking about why I’d want to enter a 340 mile race across the state of Missouri.

This is a project that really is pretty selfish. Once the weather warms up I’ll be out on White Rock Lake several evenings a week and most Saturdays getting in shape. That will continue until the end of July. My wife gives me the time for all this solitary activity and then, along with some friends, gives up a week to sit around isolated boat ramps waiting to take care of me in the race. Yeah, it’s selfish. Yet I’m a pretty social guy. I enjoy being around people and certainly don’t see myself as selfish. So, what’s the attraction for me of spending hours alone training and then days alone on the race?

I’ve found that this blog is a big part of it. Being able to share the adventure with so many of my friends – and people I don’t even know – and reading their comments to my posts is a tremendous motivator. The other big reason is the feeling that I’m doing something unselfish by promoting a good cause.

Sharon has had a dream of doing sonograms for a crisis pregnancy center for the last few years. A few months ago she found an opening at Birth Choice Dallas. They’re a non-profit, so money is always tight, and the cost of good training for her was a stretch for them. God answered her prayers from an unexpected source and a friend donated enough to pay for her classes. Unfortunately she’s only working 20 hours a week – and they have two locations. Do the math and you’ll understand that they need 3 more of her to fill the hours they’re open.

So, I’m in this thing for the personal challenge and getting the word out about the need. Don’t worry about me asking you for money. I figure that if a lot of people subscribe to this blog and “like” the Facebook page the donations will come in. My job isn’t to pick your pocket. I’ll just try to entertain you a bit and let you decide if this is a cause you want to back.

That’s it. I’m being selfish about a personal goal, I’m asking a lot of people to follow along from now until the end of July, and I’m praying that some of them decide this is a cause worth supporting.

Ned

To see the most recent post, click HERE

Welcome to 2013

Most people stay up until midnight on December 31st to have a glass of bubbly and ring in the new year. Registration for the MR340 opens at midnight, so guess what I was doing.

It’s official. I’m entered. Now the planning starts and the workouts begin in earnest. The great news is that the teams are pretty well set up. For the 2013 MR340 it will be:

  • The White Rock Navy Captains: I’ll pilot WRN I (my 17 1/2 foot sea kayak) and Christian will be in his 20′ racing canoe, the WRN II.
  • Chief Communications Officer: Elisabeth has talked about flying in from California to see the race from the banks but, at least for now the plan is for her to handle communications. We’ll all keep her updated and she’ll post the news here on the blog.
  • The Seabees: I thought we’d call the ground crews marines but Tim says he doesn’t want to be a jar-head. Seabees they are, then. The Commanders will be Sharon and her sister, Katie Calandro for my effort. Sharon’s a  veteran of this stuff and Katie’s a first timer who’ll be great at it. Commanders Tim Murray and Glenn Horton are assigned to Christian’s boat. Tim’s the other veteran and I’m glad he’ll be along to take care of my son on this long race. Glenn, of course, will be there to take care of Tim.
  • The Shore Patrol: My sister Liz Kory and her friend Mary Adams will be along to pick up the pieces. They’re not assigned to either boat but will be prowling the checkpoints to see where they can help and/or where the most interesting things are happening.
  • Last but not least is Ensign Ben. We’re not sure what our grandson will be doing but…. we’ll think of some way he can contribute as we get ready. He’s one of my inspirations for this thing.

That’s it. Now we’ll spend the cold winter days trying to get back in shape, making lists of thing we’ll need, poring over maps, and thinking about what everyone will be responsible for when the gun goes off in KC and the race starts.

203 days till the gun goes off at Kaw Point.

Ned