KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tuesday morning, hundreds of paddlers left Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas, to begin the 16th Annual Missouri American Water MR340. The 340-mile long race along the Missouri River is the longest, continuous canoe and kayak marathon in the country.
Two of the paddlers will make the trek on a dug-out canoe hand carved by Churchill Clark, the fourth great grandson of William Clark, who, along with Meriwether Lewis, explored part of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase along the same river in 1804.
“It’s amazing how disconnected people get from the river,” Clark said. “I love to see them getting back on the river.”
Clark spent the past four months at the Blue River Forest Experience in Overland Park, Kan., hand-carving the canoe from the trunk of a cottonwood tree. Students at the forest experience and the two men paddling the canoe in the MR340 race all helped carve the tree. Clark said everyone who works on the project learns a unique lesson.
“Teamwork, they get their creativity going, problem-solving. Especially when I get one-on-one with a kid, I really let them talk to the tree and figure it out,” Clark said. “I know most of the lessons, but I still don’t know them all. The tree always teaches me something.”
The MR340 race benefits Missouri River Relief, a non-profit which promotes exploring and restoring the river.
Participants from 37 states and numerous countries are competing in this year’s race.
Paddlers have 85 hours to complete the race. Leaders will cross the finish line in St. Charles, Missouri, in about 40 hours, relying on ground crews to meet them at certain points along the route to re-stock on supplies and food.