The Epic Shootout is one of the many races included in the Midwest Paddle Racing series based out of Missouri. It is a 51 mile race from Kansas City to Lexington, MO. Each year the weather has been very contradictory, ranging from low temps, to snow, to temps in the 80's. To highlight, the 2015 race started off with the sun shining but quickly turned into a thunderstorm with heavy rain coming down a mere 10 minutes into the race. This is the first big race of the season for most Midwest racers so the weather and distance are a nice combination to kick off the season.
The 2016 Epic Shootout is one for the record books. Not only was the race spectacular, but the weather made for one of the best years yet. Friday night a few folks and myself went for a short paddle upriver covering part of the course. Some debris was making its way down as a result of heavy rain up north.
When Saturday morning rolled around, I was very eager to enjoy the race having dropped out 10 miles from the finish the year prior due to thunder, lightning, and heavy rain pushing me to initial symptoms of hypothermia. This was a year for personal redemption and to a victory for completing this 51-mile segment of the Missouri River between Kansas City, MO and Lexington, MO.
When 9 am rolled around, the racers, friends, and family were all scrambling to get boats down to the water for a 9:15am start. I quickly made my way down to get on the water to allow time to get a few warm up strokes in and continue mingling with a few others on the water. As always, it was rather amazing to see 75 racers in 48 boats and SUP boards successfully be on the water ready to go in the 15 minute goal to be on the water.
The gun went off as scheduled at 9:15am. I took off quick to beat the crowd to the point a half mile down the Kansas River where it converges with the Missouri and to avoid the wash stirred up by the mass of boats. As usual, the quickest solo paddlers and tandem teams were ahead of me within seconds and making their way onto the Missouri River, vanishing around the bend in the River. This was the first race of the season for me so I knew better than to try to keep up with them so I held my pace maintaining 8th place for the first chunk of the race.
I was within a short distance of the 6th and 7th place paddlers who gradually pulled away from me as we hit the half way mark. I tried picking up my pace to gain ground on the 7th place position again but wound up burning myself out a bit as they continued pulling away not realizing the 9th and 10th place overall positions were closing in on me.
Temps climbed quickly into the 60s, and moved into the 70's and 80's as the race progressed into the afternoon. The light headwinds were very welcoming as it helped cool me down as I reached the 40-mile mark when 7th place was now a dot along the shoreline with consistent flickers of sun bouncing off the paddle blades. At this time Tom Selva and Doug Robinett cruised up along my side. I was at the point of getting tired but was intent on not giving up my position as I had already with those ahead of me. I kept pace with the two of them for a couple miles before Tom Selva pulled away from Doug and I. Doug tried to pull away and catch Tom but we were left behind in a hurry as he soon put time on us and caught Eric Sutter in 7th place overall.
Doug managed to gain quite a bit of ground on me as we were about 3 miles from the finish line. Doug and I have raced together several times and we've always been close enough to one another to keep pushing and battling until the end. At this point it was to claim 10th or 11th place overall. I picked up the pace enough to gradually close the gap and yet conserve enough to leave myself with a final boost of energy at the end. Doug had no idea I was still behind him, let alone closing the gap to a mere hundred yards coming into the last mile of the race. I made a final push and pulled up next to him within a couple hundred yards of the shoreline. "Ready for a sprint?" I asked as the nose of my boat pulled up within his peripheral vision startling him. His response "Oh crap" ensured me he had no clue I was there and he sounded exhausted. I started turning my blade as fast as my arms could go pulling away from him at full speed for the shoreline. I was relieved as my boat nose reached shore and I swung a foot over the side touching the ramp.
Doug and I have had a friendly battle going the past couple years since the South Dakota Kayak Challenge in 2013 when I beat him in the last couple hundred yards pulling into the finish. Over the past couple years, he returned the favor beating me in a few races in the last couple miles including the Chattajack in 2015.
I waited at the shoreline as Doug pulled up next to me to give him grief and to thank him for once again being there to push me for what I felt is one of my best races since I started paddling a surf ski in the summer of 2014. We made our way up from the shoreline only to learn that there was some confusion on what the actual finish line was...touching shore or an imaginary line across the river.
When the final results were posted, we learned that it was an imaginary line across the river and it literally came down to inches between Doug's boat beating mine across the finish line.
Despite Doug's continued success of beating me to the finish, it was a phenomenal race. I finished in just over 5 hours in 11th place overall. My 11th place time still beat the previous overall record on the course while Dylan McHardy and Shorty (Jim) Short set a new overall course record being 28 minutes ahead of me in a tandem kayak and the first place solo boat was only 18 minutes ahead of where I finished. I averaged 9.8 mph which was a huge personal success knowing my winter training paid off and put me that much closer to the leaders.
The race couldn't have been any better! Temps in the 80s, the sun shining the whole day and seeing several good friends for the first time this year being the first big race of the season.
Full results and the roster can be viewed at www.midwestpaddleracing.com
Photos: Ellen Robinett