Jane Monroe and Jody Carroll are getting ready for an adventure next week that makes many people ask: “What makes you think that’s a good idea?”
For months they’ve been kayaking and lifting weights, training for a grueling 88-hour endurance race, paddling 340 miles on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles.
They’re calling their team “Blistered Sisters.”
The answer to whether it’s a good idea is understood by another 20 Lee’s Summit residents who also registered for Missouri American Water MR340 that starts July 8 at Kaw Point on the river.
There’s the appeal of meeting a challenge, said Justin Hazen, a Lee’s Summit firefighter who entered and completed the race a few years ago as a solo racer.
“Then there’s the historical aspect, you’re going down a river that used to be plied by steam boats, up and down, and the old explorers,” he said.
The paddlers go alone or in pairs in canoes or kayaks, sometimes homemade contraptions, like a canoe made of plastic 55-gallon drums or crews in larger boats. One year, two racers lashed bicycles to their kayaks, made the race, then pulled them back to Kansas City on the Katy Trail, he said.
The race draws people from the area, U.S. and the world.
Chase boats follow behind the several hundred entrants who have to maintain a pace to reach checkpoints along the river in minimum times or they’re disqualified.
They set their own strategy. Some travel by night, sleeping during heat of day on the riverbank, others paddle straight through with as little sleep as possible. They have to dodge motorboats or occasional towboats and barges. It can be stifling hot during the day, cold at night in damp river air. A sizable number drop out.
Monroe and Carroll have been practicing at area lakes, like Lake Lotawana, paddling for hours or working on techniques for getting water out of their kayak if it tips over. They decided “Don’t roll the boat,” is the best idea.
Does training get dull?
“No, because my sister’s with me, nothing gets boring when the sisters are together. We’re working with weights also, so it’s not just paddling,” Monroe said.
Monroe and Carroll plan to paddle the first 30 hours straight. One might take a moment to doze in the kayak while other paddles.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to shake out,” Monroe said.
Monroe’s husband and Carroll’s partner are their ground crew who will meet them at the nine checkpoints to change out equipment, and provide water and snacks for the next leg of the race. Racers try to keep weight down in their craft on the river.
It will be their first attempt.
It will be first also for Councilman David Mosby, who is using the event as a fundraiser for the National Children’s Cancer Society.
Mosby has no delusions about winning. He said he takes float trips on one of Missouri’s rivers in the Ozarks every year and wanted to try the race. He’s going solo.
He’s making practice runs in his canoe from La Benite Park in Sugar Creek to Lexington, Mo., running 30 to 50 miles hunks of river at 4 miles per hour.
“If you don’t have patience, it’s not for you,” Mosby said. “It doesn’t go real fast. If you see a bridge, you’ll be seeing it for an hour.”
He said he doesn’t slap on headphones to listen to tunes. Being alone on the water has its rewards.
“I can hear trains and animals on the shore. You see all kinds of birds and ducks. You see all kinds of things as you glide down the river,” Mosby said.
Incredible scenery and isolation along uninhabited stretches is one draw to the race. There’s also camaraderie among the racers.
Mosby ran into a couple of Lee’s Summit police officers on the Missouri River training and discovered they are registered to race also.
There are seven Lee’s Summit police officers entered, including Brett Brines, Aaron Ide and Travis Burks who have all entered before. None of them finished. Yet.
They said the keys are building up endurance, good equipment and traveling light. The difficulty comes from having to paddle constantly while on the river. Its flow is about three miles per hour and paddlers need to go at least four to six.
“If you just float it, you’ll never get to the checkpoints in time,” Brett Brines said.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, from a mental standpoint,” Travis Burks added.
“The reality sets in during the day. It’s not as easy as when you’re sit there and plan it out,” Ide said.
They said they’re determined to reach St. Charles this year.
“I kind of got hooked. it’s peaceful, you get to see the river ... It’s listed as one of National Geographic’s top one hundred adventures and it’s in our back yard,” said Brines, who is in his third race.