Richmond native endures mighty Missouri River race in kayak

With just three weeks to prepare, Gary Sanson signed up for the MR 340 and completed the trip down the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles in a kayak. (Provided photo)

With just three weeks to prepare, Gary Sanson signed up for the MR 340 and completed the trip down the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles in a kayak. (Provided photo)

By David Knopf/Richmond News

Gary Sanson, a 1983 Richmond High School graduate, is 47 years old. With little notice and just three weeks to prepare, he registered to compete in the MR 340, paddling a kayak from Kaw Point near downtown Kansas City to the St. Louis area.

He tells the story below, mostly in his own words with some minor editing for space and newspaper style. (Sanson’s story originally appeared in similar form in the Excelsior Springs Standard.)

He lives in Excelsior Springs now, where he owns and operates S&M Electric.

It had been 15 years since Sanson had even been in a kayak, let alone think about braving the treacherous Missouri River – a waterway pocked with legendary whirlpools, floating debris, dikes, jumping Asian carp and unpredictable currents that steamship pilots respected, even feared.

“I have a 20-year-old mind inside a 47-year-old body,” said Sanson, laughing at his recollection of the time a carp flew out of the Missouri at night, hit him under the armpit and nearly knocked him into the water. “That was crazy, that was one of the times I wasn’t expecting.”

Sanson might not have anticipated the carp incident, but he said he did notice how intimidating the water seemed that day. “The water looked angry. You remember when you were young and were scared with what was under your bed? It was like that,” he said.

Turns out that angry water concealed a high-flying fish of substantial size.

As he describes below, his preparation for the trip included two weeks practicing at Watkins Mill Lake, a gentle bath compared to the Missouri. One of his practice items was recovering himself, his paddle and equipment from the water should his kayak tip over.

To accomplish that, he repeatedly tipped his 15-foot-plus kayak onto its side in the lake water.

“There was a lady on shore who probably wondered what was going on,” he said. The woman even asked if he needed help.

Sanson’s parents, Betty and Jerry, coordinated his travel distance and speed so they could wave to him from the Lexington Bridge. They and his brother Dale, also an RHS grad, met him at the conclusion of the trip and brought him home.

Here’s his story:

Some background

The Missouri 340 is an endurance race across the state on the Missouri River. Competitors start in Kansas City and finish, some of them anyway, in St. Charles. You have 88 hours to complete it. The MR340 has been picked as one of the top 40 events in the USA by National Geographic magazine.

Building up endurance for the race was a challenge. I decided three weeks out I was going to do the race. Ray Smith, a good friend from St. Louis, mentioned he was doing it, so I said why not? I was already training and working out on a regular basis.

Could I do this? Everything I read said I didn’t have enough time to prepare. I was up for the challenge. I went out and bought a kayak (15 feet, 11 inches long, less than two feet wide) and hit the water. I went out to Watkins Mill and did 10 miles a day two weeks before the race and went down the Missouri River for the first time for 25 miles. The stories you hear about river boils, swirls, whirlpools, barges and flying Asian carp are all true.

When you travel down the Mighty Mo’ you will see the water erupt in front, under and all around you. Buoys, dikes and loose brush are hazards you have to watch for. Any of these can be catastrophic if you get knocked out of your kayak. The energy wasted recovering your items floating downstream and getting back in could be the beginning of the end!

If I was going to complete the race, I had to do it in a well-thought-out plan. I knew it was going to be physically and mentally challenging.  I had 88 hours to travel 340 miles.



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