I took the most unusual vacation of my life last week, piloting a safety boat during the Fourth Annual Missouri River 340. In case you haven't heard of this event, it's the world's longest nonstop canoe/kayak race - 340 miles of heat, wind, fog, bugs and barges.
Besides being available to help paddlers in trouble - which never happened - my job was to help documentary filmmaker Jodi Pfefferkorn, of Flaming Fiddle Productions, capture the event in an hour-long documentary. As Mel Brooks so memorably said, "Work, work, work!"
Highlights along the way included:
- Watching a team of six over-60 contestants paddle an authentic, 30-foot Chinook Indian canoe to a second-place finish in the team division.
- Greeting two ecstatic girls - ages 12 and 14 - as they crossed the finish line in their bid to raise awareness of breast cancer.
- Realizing that two guys who built their huge, blue canoe out of plastic rain barrels were more than just hilarious extroverts; they were serious paddlers, finishing in the top fifth of the men's tandem division.
• Cheering on the women's solo winner, who had stepped into a kayak for the first time just six weeks earlier.
- Witnessing the spectacle of a full moon painting the river silver each night.
MR 340 racers had 88 hours to paddle from the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers to Frontier Park in St. Charles. Nearly three-quarters of the 255 entrants finished, stoking the imaginations of spectators who lined riverbanks along the way.
I don't claim to understand what drives the racers. I do know that part of the appeal is going above normal human endurance, pushing past pain and on beyond euphoria. Whatever the motivation, it makes for an amazing spectacle.
340 organizers are looking for volunteers to help run the 2010 event. To learn more, visit http://www.rivermiles.com/.