Anderson and Robinett were among the 373 paddlers who participated in a three-day canoe and kayak race on the 340-mile section of the Missouri River. Sponsored by the largest private water company in Missouri, the Missouri American Water Missouri River 340 [MMR340] is one of the longest races of its kind. It began in 2006 and its proceeds support three environmental stewardship and education organizations: Missouri River Relief, the Healthy Rivers Partnership and the Lewis and Clark Nature Center and Boathouse in St. Charles.
The event is a test of endurance in which the opponent is the river as well as fellow paddlers. To finish is an accomplishment.
Anderson finished second among men’s solo paddlers in 45 hours, five minutes. Robinett finished fourth in 45 hours, 50 minutes. The race began on Aug. 9 and continued day and night until 7 p.m. on Aug. 11. Finishing at 50 hours or under is the goal for most solo paddlers.
“There’s a 50-hour club,” said Robinett. He and his wife, Ellen, and Anderson were inspecting their boats at Frontier Park along the river in St. Charles on a sunny afternoon after finishing the race on Aug. 10. “Once you get in there at that time you know you have put a hell a lot of work into this. It’s not your family’s float trip.”
Robinett’s kayak seat is 13-inches wide. The boat has an outrigger that allows it to float with some stability; without it, the boat rolls over. “If you’re good, you can stay up a few seconds,” Robinett said.
Both men were happy with the race results. “It was fun, we had gorgeous weather,” Robinett said. “Today’s hot, the day before it was not. It was even cold at night.” Anderson, who is from Calgary, Alberta, said, “That’s debatable.”
Robinett lives in Lexna, Kansas, not far from Kansas City and the river, where hot August heat is normal. “Canadians don’t count,” Robinett said with a laugh.
While the weather wasn’t typical, they said some things about the river never change.
“It’s muddy,” Ellen Robinett said. But it’s by no means a benign muddy float.
“It’s a monster,” Anderson said. “It will come up and bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. All [of a] sudden, a big boil will open or the water will surge; there was nothing there and all [of a] sudden you hear a big whoosh and there’s like a foot tall standing wave right in front of you.”
There also are whirlpools. Last year, Robinett had a whirlpool open up right next to him. “I stuck my paddle in and swoosh, I swear to God I went down about three feet,” Robinett said. “It will kill you if you don’t have a [life] vest on.”
Nights are dark, but the paddling doesn’t stop.
“Once the moon is up, it looks about like this out there,” Robinett said. “It is as bright as day.” But the hour-and-a-half period as the moon rises is a bit shady. Robinett said it’s easier to navigate once a person’s night vision adjusts. Paddlers also have safety equipment and help from shore if needed.
“You still get scared,” Anderson acknowledged.
“Especially night two when you start to hallucinate. You go ‘why are these boat docks out here I’m going to go right through them,’” Robinett said.
Anderson said what’s scary to him are the trees along the banks. “I don’t know about you, but that second night every tree is a beautiful sculpture of a dinosaur or a cartoon character, it’s just endless,” Anderson said. “It’s just amazing.”
Boils, whirlpools, haunting trees and jumping carp weren’t deterrents this year. The river was low, which meant a slow current until the Gasconade River dumped water into it. “You’re cruising at eight or nine miles an hour and all the sudden you’re doing six,” Anderson said. You travel at the speed the river wants to go.
“Part of the fun to me is that you think you’re isolated but honestly civilization is not but a stone’s throw way over a cliff,” Robinett said. “You get out there and you think, ‘God, I’m 100 miles from everybody;’ next thing you know it’s ‘where did that person come from?’ and ‘there’s a house over there.’”
Part of the fun also is the relationships that develop between paddlers and ground crew, who often participate in other big name races in Texas and on the Yukon River in Canada. The competition is informal and paddlers often help each other.
“It becomes a family that’s the best way I can put it,” Ellen Robinett said. Anderson added, “You can’t go wrong with a paddler.”
But you can go wrong with the river.
“If you respect her, she’ll love you back,” Robinett said. “If you don’t respect her and you’re arrogant and you go out there unprepared, yeah, you’ll get killed.”