Two hundred years ago, the Missouri River was the interstate highway of its time. Today, it remains a vital waterway for barge traffic, as well as the racecourse for the longest nonstop river race in the world, the Missouri River (MR) 340.
Ken Lanning, from Clinton, Mo., completed the race this past summer. “You can use a kayak, a canoe, a stand up paddle board—just about anything you can paddle,” he says. No motors are allowed, just old-fashioned human power. The race begins in Kansas City and goes downriver 340 miles to St. Charles.
“You’ve got 88 hours to finish the race,” Lanning explains. “You can go straight through, or you can stop to sleep if you want.” The top solo paddlers often don’t sleep as they complete the run in about 35 hours.
If you believe years of experience are necessary to enter the MR340, you’re wrong.
Lanning works at Golden Valley Memorial Hospital in Clinton. He enjoys athletic challenges and the grueling MR340 fit the bill.
“It took me 75 hours, and I figure I may have slept five hours. So it was about 70 hours of paddling,” he says. His wife met him four times along the river to give him food and supplies. When he did sleep along the shore, he used his life jacket as a pillow.
The MR340 is held on a Tuesday morning through Friday at midnight, so encountering recreational crafts is rare. Lanning said he only saw a few barges and anglers, and he was rarely out of sight of other competitors.
“The race is always arranged around the full moon in late July or early August,” Lanning says. “So if you’re lucky, you’ll have a cloudless night.” He says most of the time he could see to navigate, though it was a different experience being on such a large river after sunset.
So will Lanning participate in the MR340 this year? “I think I got it out of my system for now,” he laughs.
It’s an accomplishment that has piqued the curiosity of many Missourians, a challenge Lanning completed on the first “interstate” highway that linked our nation.