Photos and text by Brett Dufur, who finished his fourth MR340, racing in the men’s solo class in 79 hours, 25 minutes. The Rocheport, Mo., paddler guides on the Missouri River for Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals, works as an editor for the Missouri Department of Conservation and is finishing a Master's thesis on the MR340 for a graduate program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

On Tuesday morning, July 31, nearly 400 misfit paddlers, weekend warriors and river rats from 37 states looked fresh and eager to take on the MR340—the world's longest, nonstop ultramarathon paddling event. Under the whirring blades of Kansas City news helicopters, a Civil War cannon fired and we were off.

It was simple really: Paddle like hell for 340 miles across Missouri, nonstop, from Kansas City to St. Charles. Nine checkpoints. Miss one and you were disqualified. Extreme heat, relentless headwinds and a low river, however, stripped those looking for glory of breaking records or personal bests. By Day 2, it was clear this was a race that would reward simple efforts to stay hydrated, and to paddle, and then paddle some more—slowly making headway on a race that alternated between agony and ecstasy. The evening paddling on tranquil stretches under full moons renewed spirits and elevated us to a level of flow and paddling ease that was the highlight for many. Yet, by the end of the week, more than 100 had dropped out. Those that made it to the finish line in St. Charles had been changed, transformed. Many, still shaky with exhaustion, were already talking about next year, as they ate a celebratory meal, held in bandaged, blistered hands.

This was my fourth MR340 race. I entered it once because it seemed too insane, too irrational, too, well, right up my alley. Now I find myself going back each year not only to test myself against the river, but to paddle with my amazing river tribe, and to push myself to extremes seldom explored in daily living. The MR340 reminds parts of me lying dormant that there are still rivers, indeed deep parts of myself, that remain unexplored, and that pondering unfathomable questions on endless rivers is sometimes better than finding the answers we seek.

Click HERE to read more, and to view photos and videos on the MR340. And click HERE to visit the MR340 forum and see the schedule for next year's race, register and check out training tips. And check out the race from the perspective of the few standup paddlers who competed HERE.