Prime Time: Tlusty enjoys 'Top Adventure' on the Missouri|
It’s known as the MR340, and has been cited by National Geographic Magazine as one of America’s Top 100 Adventures.
Antigo’s Dave Tlusty wouldn’t argue with that.
Tlusty and his son, Kyle, along with Tanya Rasmussen as their one-person support team, completed the Missouri River paddle between July 23 and July 26, covering the 340-mile endurance trek in 79 hours and 25 minutes.
“It’s more mental than physical. Sure, 340 miles is a huge distance in a canoe but even those with little physical training can get to the finish line if they can deal with the mental challenges along the way. ” Tlusty said. “Honestly, we trained very little in the boat prior to the race but from past experience, we had a good idea of what to expect and just had to deal with those things. That’s why it’s such a great feeling for us and many others, to hit that finish line.”
Formally known as the Missouri American Water MR340, the course follows the path taken by early American explorers, meandering from Kansas City east to St. Charles, located just outside of St. Louis.
Participants are allowed 88 hours to complete the course, with nine mandatory checkpoints. With summer daytime temperatures approaching triple digits at times, it’s not for the faint of stamina. This was the eighth time the race was held and historically, approximately one third of the teams fail to finish.
Tlusty is familiar with the whitewater of the Wolf River, but the “Big Muddy” offered a different sort of challenge, both physical—being able to complete the race with minimal stops while maintaining a good pace—and mental.
He credited the team at Langlade Hospital’s Center for Health and Performance, who designed a series of special exercises to help with arm and shoulder strength for the former. For the latter, well, those who know Tlusty would never doubt his persistent nature.
Tlusty first became interested in completing the MR340 five years ago, when he spotted an article in a Kansas City newspaper on the race and later snagged a DVD of the event.
“I probably watched it at least 10 times, still wondering why people would take on such an event,” he said.
But the seed was planted and in January 2011 he and Kyle registered for the event.
While not finishing, that first year can’t be called a failure, since it was an excellent learning experience. Due to high water on the Missouri that raised safety concerns, a substitute 90-mile race was held in July on the much more shallow Kansas River. The duo competed in individual sea kayaks purchased for the event.
“All through the night we were hitting sandbars because the water was so low,” Tlusty said explaining that each time that happened, they had to dismount their kayaks and lug them into deeper water.
“That was exhausting,” he said.
They pulled out just short of the halfway mark, full of knowledge and confident of their 2012 chances.
That year, they tried the sea kayaks again, but ended at the 141-mile checkpoint due to slow progress and an unexpected and strength-sapping heat index of 115 degrees.
To compete again would require some rethinking, Tlusty decided, both in equipment and manpower.
“What we really needed was a boat for the two of us, that had room for us to stretch and move around in,” Tlusty said. “We needed a good, fast, stable boat that would be comfortable—unlike the sea kayaks—to live on for four days.”
They purchased a 28-year old, 17-foot, 9-inch Sawyer Cruiser canoe, a workhorse of a vessel that proved to be the perfect fit, augmented with lightest paddles available, 8.5 ounce carbon fiber ZRE paddles.
A good support crew was also key, they decided, and they found that in Rasmussen, a family friend from the Wittenberg area who had once lived in Missouri.
It was her job to meet the duo at all the checkpoints and keep them in food and water for days, handle any logistical concerns, and most of all make sure they reached the finish line.
“She told us that unless we were in need of medical assistance or a hospital, we weren’t quitting,” Tlusty said. “That was just the attitude we needed.”
The race started to the boom of a black powder canon, on a Tuesday, early and congested, with 350 boats lined up in the calm waters of the Kansas River at its confluence with the Missouri and its 3 1/2 mile per hour current.
They initially avoided stopping at Lexington, the first checkpoint 50 miles downstream by resupplying 10 miles upriver at a Corps of Engineers ramp, although they did pull in at Lexington for a five minute stop and a few bites of cold watermelon.
At that stop, and all the rest, Rasmussen met them with fresh food bags, cold water and enthusiasm. She also handled the check-in duties at each checkpoint, texting in the boat number, location and arrival and departure times.
“I think she got tired of me asking ‘did you check us in?’ each time we stopped,” Tlusty said.
The Tlustys paddled through the first night, taking advantage of a full moon.
“We had lights along but didn’t use them much. The river is so big and so wide and there was a lot of moonlight bouncing off the surface to show us where we were. The current, flowing around channel buoys or rocks in the water made noise, at which point we would turn on our lights to see and avoid those things,” Tlusty said.
A couple of hours of fitful sleep followed early Wednesday morning at the third checkpoint and then it was back on the river to the fourth checkpoint at Glasgow—the stop where they had pulled out a year earlier due to heat and exhaustion.
There were no such problems this year and, after another hour of shut-eye, it was on to the fifth and sixth checkpoints.
Fog forced them to pull out of the river, deep in darkness, around 3 a.m. Thursday morning at a place called Coopers Landing, which came complete with a bar and restaurant specializing in Thai food.
“We slept on the ground for a few hours, but not good sleep,” Tlusty said.
Just shy of an hour later, after a great, hot breakfast at Coopers, they were back on the river, continuing to the sixth checkpoint for a 50 minute break.
“Kyle and I both got a couple minutes of sleep at Jefferson City,” Tlusty said. “The air temperature was very warm but not so bad that we were exhausted. I think we were both getting enough food and water to keep us going.”
At the great little town of Hermann, the seventh checkpoint, 46 miles farther downriver, the Tlustys had some brats and burgers at a food stand and then, thanks to Rasmussen’s scouting, found a city park a mile or so from the landing for a short break. At 2 a.m. on the last day, they left Hermann for a 42-mile stretch to the second-to-last checkpoint at Klondike.
By then, the paddling and lack of sleep, coupled with a long, boring stretch of river began to take a toll, Tlusty said.
“Kyle started looking like a bobblehead in the front of the boat, head drooping and then jerking back upright as he woke,” Tlusty said. “I finally told him to sit down in front and take a nap. He did, actually five naps of about a half-hour each.”
After a 45-minute break at the last checkpoint, the Tlustys were back on the water for the final 27 miles to St. Charles.
“Knowing we were going to finish, we were starting to perk up a bit,” Tlusty said. “Kyles napping helped him a lot and we both paddled that last 27 miles a bit fired up. It was starting to feel good.”
Also encouraging was a painted sign at the final checkpoint, pointing the way to the finish and promising, real food, cold beer, showers, beds and a party. “Showers, yes! You can imagine the fragrance of unshowered bodies after four days without,” Tlusty said. “So bad that Tanya even shot us with Febreze while at one of the checkpoints!”
Rasmussen started her victory celebration in St. Charles a bit early, telling the Tlustys via text that she was “enjoying a glass of wine near the finish line.”
“She deserved it. Kyle and I would’ve had a hard time making it to the finish line without her great support efforts,” Tlusty said, “Traveling strange, winding roads along the river at all hours of the day, finding places to buy supplies for us, going without sleep and then sleeping in the car when she could …she did a super job for us.”
The Tlustys finished the last leg of the race at the same speed as over the first 50 miles, just a hair over six miles per hour, arriving at the finish line at 3:25 p.m. Friday afternoon.
“Because boats were finishing at the rate of about one every half hour or so, and because there were spectators and other boaters who knew what it meant to finish, people started whooping and hollering and applauding as we were still a hundred yards from shore,” Tlusty said. “When we finished, we were treated almost like royalty. Volunteers helped us out of the boat and even carried the boat up the hill for us. There were a lot of handshakes, pictures taken and congratulations exchanged. It was a great time!”
So what’s next?
“I’d like to try it at least once more with this boat,” Tlusty said. “We know exactly where we ‘wasted’ time and can improve on that. Out of the 79-plus hours total, we spent 19 hours out of the boat. That’s too much.”
Tlusty added that with more training, they could also boost their speed by at least a half-mile per hour. That doesn’t sound like much but over 340 miles that little speed increase amounts to just about 4 1/2 hours.
“Finishing around 60 to 65 hours this year would have put us in the top 10 in our class,” Tlusty said. “A top 10 finish would be great and I really think that’s possible for us. This year we finished right in the middle, 33rd out of 66 in our class. “
The 2014 race starts July 8.
“After that, I might want to give it one more try in a fast solo boat,” Tlusty said, “before I get too old for this stuff.”
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