The rules of the Missouri River 340 are simple:
Paddle from Kansas City to St. Charles in 100 hours or less. You can accept food and supplies at stops along the way, but not on the water.
Beneath this superficial simplicity are dozens of human dramas. For 100 hours each summer, the ribbon of water through Missouri’s midsection becomes a 340-mile mirror that reflects each paddler’s inner being. Those who confront the river’s uncompromising realities head-on garner something that is rare in a world of pre-packaged, sanitized experiences—an authentic adventure.
Here are a few personal stories from last summer’s world’s longest nonstop water race.
West Hansen, 45, Austin, Texas
Custom Builder, Men’s Tandem—44:27
After majoring in psychology in college, Hansen worked in that field for 15 years before changing direction and devoting his time to building custom horse barns. He played football in high school and was a cheerleader in college. He took up competitive paddling in 1992 because it let him combine his love of athletic competition and nature.
One of the nation’s top ultra-marathon water racers, Hansen competes in dozens of events annually. He won the men’s solo division in the 2006 MR340, but found it “kind of lonely.” He and partner Richard Steppe won the men’s tandem division last year.
“It’s beautiful,” Hansen said of the Missouri River. “I love the hills and cliffs. It’s daunting because of its size; it’s such a mass of water. While it doesn’t require as much technical skill as a smaller, faster river, it does require quite a bit of alertness.”
Hansen isn’t young or especially fast. What sets him apart is his capacity to work through pain. He attributes this to the larger perspective that comes with age.
“When you are little and you scrape a knee, all you know is that you are in pain now. As you get older, you have to do more difficult things like school, jobs and marriage. It changes your perspective. When you are out there and hurting, you realize there are more important things than the pain you are going through right now.”
Erin Magee, 44, Martindale, Texas
Secretary, Texas State University, Women’s Solo—55:33
Magee’s story supports Hansen’s theory about ultra-marathoners. “I got into it for all the wrong reasons and stayed in it for all the right ones,” she said.
“The wrong reason to do any kind of ultra-distance event is to impress somebody else. At some point, the race becomes so long that you come face