Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Eighty-four hours, 43 minutes, and 24 seconds.
That’s how long it took for retired Col. James Dunivan to cross the finish line of the Missouri American Water MR340 2021 340-mile race July 23 in St. Charles, Mo, after four days of being on the water.
“I was the last person across the finish line, which in some ways it’s like, ‘Oh, I was last’ and in other way it’s ‘I’m glad I finished,’” Dunivan said. “I just thought it looked interesting and wanted to do it.
“It’s a challenging race, and it’s certainly out of the ordinary,” he said. “It’s not like signing up for a marathon. It’s 340 miles on the river, an opportunity to push yourself and to challenge yourself in a way that you’ve probably never done before.”
When Dunivan signed up for the race seven months ago, he had never even been in a kayak.
“I’ve never done anything like this, so that was part of the challenge to it,” Dunivan said. “As far as the practical experience, I jumped in with both feet.”
Dunivan, Command and General Staff College Department of Army Tactics instructor and team leader, said he first heard of the race before he retired from active duty in 2018.
The MR340 is an annual race where solo kayakers and teams of canoers race down the river across the state of Missouri from Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kan., to St. Charles. The race helps raise funds for Missouri River Relief. Racers have to check in at various points throughout the race or they’re disqualified, and they must complete the race within 85 hours.
After he signed up in January, Dunivan said he researched boats before buying his kayak, and then began practicing around March.
“I found a good group that meets once a week out at Shawnee Mission Park Lake, so I got to start learning the kayak, paddling, things like that and some of the basic skills,” he said.
Dunivan said he also prepared by entering a few shorter races including a few that took him down part of the MR340 course.
When race day came, Dunivan said he started out with a plan on the best way to approach the race, but as fatigue and other factors set in, there were times he doubted his ability to finish.
“By about 3 a.m. (July 21), things just start affecting you whether it’s the night, the heat, the dark, the time. And you’re tired. Whatever it is, you get a lot of different things going on, and then you have to start making decisions that change the plan, and then you can put yourself in a bind,” Dunivan said. “That’s really when I got in a bind is I wasn’t able to go as far as I had planned to go the first night, so then it put me about two hours behind, and from that point, I was just barely getting into the next check point on time.
“By the end of the race, I know, personally, in four days I slept a little less than six hours,” he said. “Mentally, you just start losing your edge a little bit, and you’re just trying to hang on and keep going.”
When he did cross the finish line, Dunivan said it felt amazing.
“Having a military background, I think we sort of feel like we’re resilient people, and we can just about do anything, and a race like this really tests you and makes you (push beyond limits),” Dunivan said. “Everything you do has a cause and effect, and you just learn that ‘I’m either going to do this or I can’t’ and you like to think you know your breaking point. You don’t want to get there, but there were at least two times I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish or not.
“But then you just decide, ‘no, this is what I said I’m going to do,’ and you just do your best. Then all of a sudden, something happens, and it works out for you,” he said. “It reinforced that you’ve got to stay committed to something if you really want to do it, and if you work at it hard enough, most of the time, it’ll work out for you.”
Dunivan said he’s not sure whether he’ll sign up for the race again, but he will keep kayaking.
“It is just peaceful. You’re out there alone with your thoughts. It’s quiet, and you’re literally sitting a couple inches on top of the water, so you see the river and the landscape from a different perspective,” Dunivan said. “We all drive across the Missouri River, and we call it the Big Muddy River, but nobody really appreciates it, and I never did either.
“But, when you’re out there and you see some of the landscape, be it the fields or the bluffs or the trees, and all the wildlife and watch the sunset and the sunrise, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s on par with some of the other natural wonders that you would see. It just gives you a different perspective and appreciation for what we have right here in our backyard.”
Dunivan wasn’t the only Fort Leavenworth-affiliated participant in the race. Ira Wagner and Chad Guendelsberger, both from the Mission Command Training Program, entered the race as a canoe team. Although they only completed half the race, Wagner said that finishing is not the only reason to participate in the race.
“The camaraderie among participants, the beauty of the river, and the opportunity to help protect (the Missouri River) are just a few (reasons to participate),” Wagner said. “There is a certain steadying aspect to swinging a paddle. … The most motivating part of the journey was feeling the rhythm of the paddle rising, falling, moving the boat forward and repeating.
“Knowing that every stroke meant one less stroke on the river. Knowing that sooner or later, one way or another, one of those strokes would bring us to the end of our race.”
For more information about the MR340, visit https://rivermiles.com/mr340/.