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Mississippi Record Race! --Students Try Brains Over Brawn

May 15, 2014


I've been following and posting on my FB Page about a big adventure going on right now. But I better get it up over here, too.

The MSU Outing Club has recently started doing more locally relevant action which has been very pleasing to me, and to Michigan, I daresay. ...A couple years ago they started the Campus to Coast Challenge, where they canoe 150 miles from the campus down to the Lake Michigan coast in early April. Yeah, it's over the top but it's local and Michigan! (They've been pushing a lot of climbing, mountaineering and other non-local action in recent years, which must make Michigan cry.)

I think such Big Canoeing got them to thinking even BIGGER about canoeing. Well, one of their ex-club presidents has been, anyway. When Tim Muhich graduated he did a big summer canoe trip with a friend. When the friend had to drop out, Tim just kept going. He started paddling near here where he's from then ended up in New Orleans! This gave him an idea.

He presented his idea to a few club cohorts and the Huge Idea was born...

They're going for the Mississippi Canoe Record!

The Team: Tim Muhich, Tom "Boot" Baweja, Clint Adams, and Colin Bright!

Right now the record from the Headwaters to Mile Zero is owned by the Bradford Team of veteran canoe racing endurance adventurers and it's 18 days 5 hours for about 2300 miles!

Tim and his pals are trying to solve the puzzle in a different way. They're using a 24-ft long kevlar canoe that can hold 4 paddlers. But one of them can be resting or sleeping in shifts in the area behind the bow-man. So they're going to try to stay moving ALL the time!

The Bradfords left the fast center of the river several times a day and paddled sometimes MILES out of their way to get to shore for food and sleep. They also stopped to sleep a few hours each day. Still, with their monstrous fitness and power they were able to paddle 125 miles a day, on average.

The MSU Team, by staying in river-center and keeping moving, hopes to go faster down the river! In short, they're not as strong as the Bradfords but they might have a more clever plan!

Of course, the MSU Team isn't alone. They have a Shore Crew of Moms who are driving along in an RV and using a "special system" to get food and dry clothes out to the paddlers. (I've heard there one idea that a "fueling" canoe might paddle out to meet them. I dunno.)

And there's the Desk Team (Pat Harrington) running the Interwebs back home.

(I note that there are 3 sets of conflicting river-mileage systems in use on the Big Muddy. Somehow they end up measuring the river differently. So there's 2300, 2350 and 2500, approx. And as you go down the river thru the various map systems one of them puts Mile Zero at the confluence with the Ohio, for instance. So heads-up.)

When the Bradfords set their record 11 years ago in 2003 the concept of the 4-man fast canoe didn't exist. Nowadays several companies, including Wenonah, are making them and it's a growing race category. So it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, but it's human power and it's canoeing. An earlier record was held by a team of British kayakers paddling in relay, so pretty much anything goes. It's a long way and it's just plain hard to make a boat go fast, so people try different tricks to solve the puzzle.


Who knows, maybe this effort will have its own popular spin-off. I'm into it! I could see the potential for, say, 3- or 4-man fun canoe outings. If the river is big enough to fit the boat, why not? (A rudder can help, as ever.) I'm not just thinking of racing but of fresh air fun. With 3 in a boat, one could be just lounging in the middle, if they felt like it. They could make lunch or even cook. Or play a guitar or read out loud or watercolor or enjoy the shade of an umbrella. It's more of a party or picnic. ...Rather than having both people have to work all the time or have one person paddling two people along. A boat with someone resting could easily go all day, so you can explore more of a river. But a 2-man boat with someone resting, or making lunch, is hard to trim or control (yes, a rudder helps, but it just bogs way down). As canoes get bigger and longer they become a LOT more stable while gaining speed. As a boat gets just a couple feet longer it can hold exponentially more gear and not lose speed. So the 'dead weight' of one lounger isn't really noticeable. In short, it's a fun new concept with a wide range of potential. (Back when canoeing was king in the 1800's there were a lot of different, and bigger, canoes. Sails on canoes were very common, too. Indeed, it was the national sport for a time.)

You see, this notion of Record Racing can be seen to have multiple dimensions that all tie together. A race isn't always just a race.

So our team of intrepid students has been racing for 5 days now! ...Yeah, I'm behind the times in posting this.

They knew their big, long, heavy canoe would have a tough time of it in the narrow, shallow headwaters and at this point they are a day behind the Bradfords. But they have undoubtedly scheduled for this. I haven't heard when they hope to pull ahead. They're just above Minneapolis and the river is getting bigger and straighter now and they'll start to put on steam. They've already notched a 100-mile day. What'll happen now that they've hit big water?

This is not an easy river, you know! There are tons of fast, long, multi-unit BARGES and various wing-dams, bridges and such.

Here's the Bradford Archive website that details where they were each day: www.mississippichallenge.org/racearchives.html

The two teams started within a day of the same day so date comparisons are ALMOST easy.

So, the RACE IS ON!

Will the MSU Students pull ahead of the Tough Racers?

Where do you think they'll do it?

Let's root for the youngsters! ...The Bradfords are! The old river-dogs have been helping the newcomers solve the problem and are being generous with river-lore. It's all in good sport. And, of course, the Bradfords will still keep the 2-man Record.

So here's what you need to follow the action in LIVE TIME:

Their Facebook Page:

www.facebook.com/pages/2014-Mississippi-River-Challenge/211194215737391

And their SPOT Page:

share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0tSIsbM4ho6AiyqbAqkaxOvKl70qFu7Jx

(no homepage)

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