After 33 sleepless hours, canoe team shatters Missouri River 340 record | St. Louis Public Radio

After 33 sleepless hours, canoe team shatters Missouri River 340 record

Jul 26, 2018

A team of three Missourians and two Texans this week paddled nearly 33 straight hours to shatter a course record in an annual canoe-and-kayak race across the state.

It’s only the second time in 13 years that Missourians have finished first overall in the Missouri River 340. The endurance race began in Kansas City Tuesday morning. The course stretches 340 miles along the Missouri River to its finish in St. Charles.

When the winning team, River Fitness, landed ashore near the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum, it had beat the previous record by more than 90 minutes. The team’s crew — an assortment of friends and relatives — helped steady the dead-tired boaters as they stepped onto the landing’s muddy bank.

Team member Michael Matthews, of Branson, said he was pleased with how well the team performed — and utterly exhausted. When asked what he planned to do next, Matthews said, “Sit down for a little while, and stop paddling.”

The team is comprised of Matthews, fellow Missourians Brad Daniels and Dylan McHardy, and Texans Wendell Smith and Phil Bowden. Bowden set the race's previous overall record in a tandem boat in 2015. McHardy and Daniels both placed first in their divisions in 2017.

Phil Bowden, at center, set the course record in 2015 as part of a men's tandem team. This year, he joined four other paddlers.
Credit Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

“Perfect” conditions for a grueling race

MR340 spokesperson Brian Russell said the conditions were perfect for boaters to make good times this year.

“The forecast is perfect, the river is up high, it’s not going to be too hot,” he said.

The river race is “the longest canoe-slash-kayak race in the world” that allows continuous paddling, Russell said. The race has made National Geographic’s list of “best American adventures.”

Each year, the race aligns with July’s full moon so that competitors can paddle through the night, if they want. Around 550 people start the race each year; about a third drop out before the end.

“Some of these teams will literally get on the river, start paddling — and they won’t stop paddling until they reach St. Charles,” said Russell.

The 340-mile race begins at a park in Kansas City and ends at the St. Charles riverfront near its main street.
Credit Mapbox, Open Street Map | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Competitive teams, like River Fitness, that skimp on sleep, can finish within 40 hours.

“You can sit in the boat from Kansas City to here and never get out. That can be brutal,” said River Fitness team member Phil Bowden, who added that this would likely be his last MR340 race. The team opted to stand every 30 miles but kept most breaks to two minutes.

Not everyone aims to break a record

Many teams choose sleep over speed and trickle in under the 88-hour mark. The vast majority of competitors arrive between the third and fourth days of the race.

Trent Sturms and Brian Forsee took a selfie at the start of their MR340 run on Tuesday morning.
Credit Brian Forsee

St. Louisans Trent Sturms and Brian Forsee are taking the slow approach: They plan to sleep onshore for at least four hours every night. Their goal is “just to finish,” said Sturms.

“We’re gonna win the hardest-partying category,” added Forsee.

Before the race, they said they planned to pack a big jug of cold-brew coffee and a pile of canned beer. They said, perhaps in jest, that they might eat hot dogs the whole way instead of taking time to cook.

As of their checkpoint Thursday morning, the duo was 48 hours into their race and about halfway through the course.

From the river, Sturms and Forsee said that they’re feeling good and trying to decide whether to paddle through the night. They are on track to finish the race before the midnight deadline on Friday.

“It’s just monotonous,” said Sturms. “Kinda the same thing over and over.”

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Brian Heffernan contributed reporting to this story.