By Phil White
In July, the Midwest kayak race calendar is dominated by the Missouri River 340 (aka the MR340), the longest river event in the U.S. that runs from Kansas City to St. Charles, Mo. But with the Missouri breaking its banks at numerous points and the high tide obscuring dikes, buoys and other obstacles, founder and organizer Scott Mansker was forced to postpone the contest until September.
Soon afterward, Masker reached out to volunteers and paddlers to gauge interest for a new race: 100 miles down the Kansas River, or the Kaw as locals call it, from Manhattan, Kan. (home of Kansas State University) to Lawrence, Kan. (where the Wildcats' sworn sporting enemy, the University of Kansas Jayhawks, resides). His inbox and the MR340 forum lit up with positive responses, so it was game on for the inaugural Kawnivore 100.
"We were able to put it together quickly because of our experience administering the MR340 and our knowledge of the Kaw River," Mansker said. "Also, the towns along the way were excited by the prospect and took up a lot of the slack for us."
At 6 p.m. on Friday, July 22, 190 racers in 125 boats lined up at the start in Manhattan. It has been a horrendously hot summer in the Midwest, and the thermometer flirted with triple digits as the racers got underway.
Unlike the swollen, fast-running Missouri, the Kaw River was a frustrating mixture of high and low water, with racers needing all their skill and concentration to navigate the channels. The challenge increased as the light faded and darkness descended on the water. "As soon as the sun went down, just after the checkpoint at Wamego, it was impossible to determine the correct channel, even with a substantial bow light," said Texan racer West Hansen, who quickly broke away from the men's single pack with Paul Cox in pursuit. "After I passed all the tandem boats [which had a 30-minute headstart], it was just a matter of hitting a sandbar, standing up, dragging the boat and searching for the deep channel."
At the final meeting point in LeCompton, just 1.5 miles from the finish, Hansen and Cox were neck and neck and decided to sprint the last leg to decide the winner. Upping his cadence, Hansen pulled out a two-minute lead and held it, crossing the finish line in 15:04 to Cox's 15:06. Veteran racer Chuck McHenry came in third in 16:35.
It was Hansen's third podium finish of the season, following his win in the Men’s Solo Unlimited division in the 260-mile Texas Water Safari, and second place in the Men’s Solo Unlimited division in the 39-mile Texas River Marathon.
"Throughout the sprint, I didn’t know where Paul was, so I just kept pushing," Hansen said. "Turns out, he tried to cross the river to head me off and encountered yet another sandbar, which set him pretty far back. He’s a great paddler and I really enjoyed his company throughout the race.”
In the women's solo division, Karen Exon demolished the field, with her winning time of 18:55—an hour-and-a-half faster than Iris Franco in second. Traci Lynn Martin was third (22:14).
The women's tandem race saw a dream team take first place. Di McHenry (wife of Chuck, who was third in the men's solo, and world record for the longest distance paddled by a woman in 24 hours—204 miles) and Katie Pfefferkorn, whose record McHenry broke, were in the same boat for the first time. As expected, they won comfortably in 16:54. “Di is top notch and such a force to be reckoned with—not only is she an incredible paddler and athlete, she is always positive and quick to smile," Pfefferkorn said. "Di also has Sacagawea-accuracy in reading the current and paddling with her is such a pleasure." The duo plans to compete again if conditions allow the MR340 to go ahead.
In the men's tandem, Kevin Schwartz and Matt Green held off the challenge of Pappy and Yancy Scroggins to win in 15:16, with the latter seven minutes back and the Corey Hackett/Russ Clevenger boat next in 17:04.
The top three teams in the mixed tandem weren't close to each other, with winners Melanie Hof and Allen McAdams' crossing the Lawrence finish line over two-and-a-half hours ahead of second place Linda and Joe Mann (15:36 to 18:09). Next came Josh and Sarah Pennington in 20:01. In the voyager division, Dragon Boat crew Krista Patterson, Michael Maples, Kelly Sumner, Rick Wise, Christina Glauner, Eric Farris, Will Murphy and Lisa Grossman (the only such team in the race) finished in 20:34.
In addition to the seated paddle craft, there was a new type of craft for a Mansker-organized race this year—standup paddleboard. Shane Perrin from St. Louis, Mo., who trains with six-hour-plus runs up and down the Meramec River (and P90X workouts to boost power and strength), explained the challenges unique to the SUP category.
"My board has a 9-inch fixed fin, so I spent a lot of time getting acquainted with ALL the sandbars on the Kaw," he said. Even worse, Perrin hit a tree stump at mile 38, knocking him off the board and shattering its nose. In a one-hour repair job, he used a tube of epoxy to patch the hole, waited for it to dry and getting back into the water, with 40 or more boats passing him during the enforced break. Despite this setback, he finished in 23:58 and is hopeful about the future of river-based SUP competition. "I’m trying to do bring stand up paddle boarding to the Midwest by creating a whole new class of marathon racing," he said.