Finding Flow on the Mighty MO

I’m 250 miles into a 340-mile kayak race. It’s Day 3. The intense July heat is taking its toll. I’m drifting slowly, my paddle motionless in my hands. The tension is unbearable. “This is ridiculous!” I finally holler, with an air of finality. “Then get out,” comes the terse reply. I’m arguing out loud with myself. Some part of me is done. Drifting past the boat ramp at Portland, I finally give that pesky little voice in my head the boot. Moments like this become the new normal — the MR340 normal. My body, now free from my internal critic, finds a perfect paddling pace. Everything else falls away. The line blurs between me, my boat, and the river. The next 40-mile stretch becomes e ffortless and one of the highlights of the trip.

It’s before dawn on a Tuesday morning in July. Nearly 500 chiseled athletes, misfit paddlers, weekend warriors, and river rats from 37 states look fresh and eager to take on the MR340 — the world’s longest, nonstop ultramarathon paddling race.

We’re at Kansas City’s Kaw Point, at the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri rivers. Under the whirring rotors of Kansas City news helicopters, the scene is a commotion of boats, biceps, and blades (paddles). Beat-up old aluminum canoes sit next to pedal-powered kayaks, high-dollar Hawaiian-style catamarans, stand-up paddle boards, tandem kayaks, canoes for six paddlers… it’s all here.

The race is about to start. Paddlers, many already with 1,000-mile stares, rummage through huge gear piles in one final frantic push to ditch some weight. There are true racers, cruisers, bucket listers, lifers, newbies, and race veterans returning to beat their best time. Cheering ground crews buoy them up with hugs and smiles, as well as some last minute taping up of hands.

I paddle my 18-foot kayak to the starting line. All of the competitors are in their boats now, with a mixture of smiles, concentration, and relief to have so many months of training and planning done. Now we can just lean forward and paddle. A blissful simplicity — enjoy the camaraderie of paddlers from all over the country and make miles.

A number of paddlers in wrestling masks and capes add to the carnival feel of the moment. We wave our goodbyes and thumbs-ups to family and friends on the bank. A Civil War cannon fires and we’re off. It’s simple, really. Paddle like