MR340: Bart de Zwart and 20 Other Brave Paddlers Are About to Race 547km Across Missouri
Boss Man’s note: It’s only been 16 days since Bart de Zwart became the first ever SUP champion of the almighty Yukon River Quest, the 715km (444 mile) voyage through the Canadian wilderness, yet he’s already on to his second race of the ultra long distance season, the 547km (340 mile) “MR340” in Missouri, which begins tomorrow morning (Tuesday 19th).
On the eve of the race, here’s what the Starboard team rider had to say about his next epic challenge…
The next event in my season of chasing the world’s longest stand up paddle races is the Missouri American Water MR340, which stretches right across this Midwestern American state from west to east. We start in Kansas City and, as the name suggests, paddle 340 miles (547kms) to the town of St. Charles, which is just outside St Louis.
Although this race is shorter than last month’s Yukon River Quest (which was 715km/444 miles), the downriver current on the Missouri River is slower, so I actually expect to finish in roughly the same time of ~55 hours.
More than 500 teams will take part in the 11th annual edition of the MR340, including solo and double canoes and kayaks, along with a few 8-person “voyageur” canoes. There are 21 daring paddlers signed up for SUP division.
The conditions are very different to the Yukon. First of all it’s not the remote wilderness that we experienced in Canada — we start in Missouri’s largest city, end just outside its second largest and should have mobile phone coverage the entire way. There will also be some boat traffic on the river to contend with.
It’s going to be very hot in Missouri, with the mercury hovering around 25°C (77°F) in the middle of the night, and the daytime temperatures soaring up to about 37°C (99°F), so staying cool and hydrated is going to be key. Just to make it a little more interesting and challenging, there is also a high chance of thunder storms and fog along the river.
With such extreme heat, drinking enough water is critical. We can’t drink the river water here, so I’m planning to take 10 liters (2.6 gallons) with me and then “refuel” at the main checkpoints.
I also plan to splash myself with water from the river every 15 minutes or so. This is a technique I always use in long distance paddling, and I find it really helps regulate my body temperature and prevent over-heating (I’m actually surprised more paddlers don’t do this sort of thing).
But perhaps the biggest difference between the MR340 and Yukon is there are no mandatory stops, which totally changes your strategy. In the Yukon River Quest we had to stop twice (once for 7 hours and then again for 3), but the MR340 is literally a non-stop race. Obviously paddling for 60 hours isn’t an option, with most paddlers planning to stop every 12-24 hours to climb up the river bank and sleep in a tent or bivvy bag.
However I have decided to race as light as possible — I won’t be carrying a tent with me, only food, water and some extra clothing along with my usual safety gear.
My plan is to paddle for 24 hours, from the start at 7am on Tuesday all day and all night until 7am Wednesday, and then when it gets light again on Wednesday morning I’ll have a short sleep of roughly 2 or 2.5 hours. That way I will at least use the coolness of the night for a good portion of my paddling.
After that I will try to reach the finish line in another 24-28 hrs, so hopefully 50-54 hours total.
I just brought a survival blanket, which is very thick like a sleeping bag. It’s also waterproof, so I can sleep anywhere if I have to. My plan is to paddle to checkpoint 5 (“Katfish Katy’s”) before stopping for my one brief dose of sleep. I know 2 hours doesn’t sound like much sleep, however even that much can make you feel like a new person in this sort of event. We only got 1.5 hours during our second stop in the Yukon, and even that was enough to keep us going all the way to the finish.
Another key part of the MR340 race is staying with the main current of the river. The Missouri River is generally very wide and flows much faster in certain routes, so you can save a lot of energy by staying with the main flow.
The nights will be longer and darker than what we experienced in the Yukon, which was close to the Arctic Circle and the Midnight Sun. The MR340, by contrast, is in the middle of the USA with proper darkness between about 9pm and 6am, meaning we need to paddle with good navigation lights.
Paddling at night will definitely be more challenging in Missouri than it was in the Yukon, but that’s just one of the many challenges. This is a really tough race, and on average about one third of the teams don’t make it to the finish.
Just like in the Yukon there are cut-off times that we have to beat, otherwise we’ll be pulled from the river. The overall finishing time cut-off is 88 hours, however there are 10 check-points in total that all have their own cut-off times.
Another entrant in the SUP division is Joanne Hamilton-Vale, who was forced to retire after becoming seriously ill on day 1 of the Yukon River Quest. Jo was very unlucky, picking up a nasty bug after drinking the river water and suffering extreme sickness and dehydration. She has already started planning for Yukon 2017, but in the meantime is very determined to complete the MR340.
Shane Perrin, who is an accomplished long distance/expedition paddler and helped pioneer the SUP division at this event, will be competing on a custom four-man SUP board this year, which will be a unique and very interesting challenge.
Course record holder Blake Thornton will also be racing again this year. Blake set the record for the SUP division last year at 60 hours 28 minutes — you can read an interesting story about his effort that will give you some insights into how tough this race really is.
(There’s also an interesting article about MR340 in SUP the Mag from 2011, which talks about Shane Perrin’s efforts to pioneer the SUP division in this race. And you can watch the full documentary about Shane’s journey down at the bottom of this post.)
So yes, it’s another very long paddle for me this week. What I like about this race is that it’s a different concept with different strategies.
The MR240 is a totally different race compared with the Yukon. This is all about spreading your energy and finding a good balance between staying on the water and taking short rests. Staying fit in the heat will also be a big factor.
I will be using my Delorme Inreach tracker so you can follow my adventure — click here for the tracking map.
It’s now Monday, the day before the race (start time is 7am Tuesday morning). Joanne and I checked out the river and the surroundings yesterday, and we really are in the middle of America. Definitely a huge difference from my home on Maui or the wild Yukon where we paddled last month.
I’m going to pick up my board right now, which has come straight from the Yukon and has hopefully arrived in time for tomorrow’s start. Once again I’ll be paddling the 2016 14×25 Starboard All Star.
This should be a great adventure, and I’ll update you with how it all goes when I reach the finish…
Start list for the 11th Annual Missouri American Water MR340 – SUP division
Jerry Joe Alfafara
Bart de Zwart
4-man team: Shane Perrin, Nathan Woods, Dale Sanders, Jerico Lefort
Here’s some drone footage to give you a better idea about where we’re paddling:
You can also watch the full documentary “Stand Up Guy” about Shane Perrin’s pioneering race five years ago, which gives some great insights into what this race is all about: