By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
By Chris Parker
By Sam Levin
Madrill and Rhaburn explained that they pulled out because they knew Belize couldn't beat the Texas team with five crewmen in a 350-pound boat. Already, the extreme effort had caused Rhaburn's nose to pour blood.
"I don't come to finish," Madrill said indignantly. "I come to win."
Click here for Carolyn Szczepanski’s account of how she reported this article and more tales from the race, including Richard Lovell’s fight with the river – and cancer.
As the sun started to rise and the undermanned boat charged toward Jefferson City, Rhaburn predicted that Team Belize wouldn't make it through the day.
Even if they did, they might not even beat the top solo finisher. Not far behind, Carter Johnson was starting to catch up.
Whipping through the water in a $4,000 kayak given to him by one of the top racing companies, Johnson wanted to beat the race record for a solo finish. He already held the Guinness world record for most miles paddled in 24 hours. He broke it by paddling in circles around a buoy in a California lake — for 152 miles. Why paddle in a circle for a whole day? "Uh, because it was there," he said with a smirk.
As the second day of the MR340 heated up, Johnson was scorching the benchmarks set by the previous men's record holder. Wearing a soggy white thermal set and a ball cap with flaps protecting his ears and neck, Johnson looked like a waterlogged stuffed animal as he sliced into Cooper's Landing just before 6 a.m. He shot out of his boat, staggered to gain his balance and announced, "There's going to be some public indecency here for a second."
He shucked off a pair of blue running shorts that had started to chafe. He scooped a golf-ball-sized glob of Desitin and shoved the baby rash ointment down the front and back of his sagging pants.
Then, his hand shaking, he chugged a Red Bull. He started to wolf down a sausage biscuit, but the diet of cheeseburgers and peanut-butter sandwiches — all eaten in the short time spent on shore at each checkpoint — was beginning to wear on his stomach.
He slipped back into his boat twelve minutes later, his blue shorts discarded on the boat ramp like a gutted fish. He reassured his father and his sister that he was doing fine. But there was one thing he wanted to change at the next stop, he told his family. Skip the burgers and bring soup instead.
After the race leaders cleared out at sunrise, the support teams for other boats filtered in. Many of the family members tapped to bring provisions to their paddlers hadn't slept the night before. They had driven back roads through tiny towns such as Lexington and Glasgow to make sure their racers kept pounding enough calories.
One woman hit a 400-pound wild boar near the Glasgow checkpoint, smearing hair and hide all over the front of her Ford F-150.
Cooper's Landing, the race's halfway point, is a watershed. Travis Worley, one of three race officials, explained, "To pull out here, you've got to be bleeding out of every pore."
Some people came close.
Erin Magee, an experienced paddler from Texas, arrived at the ramp at 12:35 p.m. and immediately flopped down on her back. She pulled a towel over her face. Her one-man support team, Jason, asked her if she was OK. "Nothing a little brain surgery won't fix," she said. Her left hand hung limp at her wrist, the skin on each finger ripped away between the palm and first knuckle, as if she'd grasped a red-hot iron and suffered a third-degree burn. Jason fed her pickles, holding them for her to keep her raw hands free.
Watching the ailing paddlers stagger ashore, Nate Stewart sat on a picnic table and worried about his team. His 63-year-old brother, Charlie, was one half of a kayak tandem called Grumpy Old Men. Charlie started racing ultradistances in the late 1970s. Back then, he competed against fellow Texan Richard Miller, who's now 60. In the late 1990s Miller's eyesight started to fail, but he didn't want to give up long-distance kayaking. So the former adversaries started racing together in 1998. Now that Miller has lost 97 percent of his vision, Charlie takes the back seat to steer.
Last year they set a record in their division at the Colorado River 100, blazing through the race in 12 hours and 22 minutes. But their first year on the Missouri River wasn't going as well. Miller started vomiting the first night. Charlie's shoulder was failing, and his heart rate had become erratic. At the last checkpoint, Nate had told them to keep going. He urged them to shoot for Cooper's Landing and then make a decision about whether to continue. As exhausted racers left their boats under the merciless noon sun, Nate feared he might have made a dangerous mistake telling Grumpy Old Men to push on.
Just before 1:40 p.m., their kayak touched ground. Miller's face and neck were flushed. With guidance, he trudged up the ramp to a picnic table and lay across the seat. "I can't keep anything down," he said. He hadn't slept. He retreated to the team's van, parked in the shade, and reclined in the front seat with his eyes closed for several hours.
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