West Hansen, waiting for the start of the Missouri River 340
(photo by Fran Mattox)Age: 44
Home: Austin, Texas
Occupation: Owner – Hansen Barn Construction (hansenbarns.com)
Education: Southwest Texas State University (Psychology)
Texas Water Safari (texaswatersafari.org)
– completed 13 out of 14 attempts
- current record holder in the USCA C-2 class (260 miles in 36:27)
- overall winning team in 2005
- won unlimited solo class in 2000
- won tandem unlimited class in 1995
- won mixed class in 1996
- a ridiculous number of 2nd place overall finishes
I’ve completed several 26.2 marathons, one Endorphen Fix adventure race and 15 years of marriage to the same hot babe, Lizet Alaniz. My proudest accomplishment is being the dad to our 7 year old daughter, Isabella, who paddles a mean USCA C-1 around Town Lake, Austin – then I tell her where I’ve buried all her Barbie dolls in the backyard. I’m also supposed to mention our 19 year old cat, Marlo, who eats and naps well. Now, where’s my damned triple mocha latte?
Team Captains: Wade Binion, M.S. in Animal Husbandry. 11 Texas Water Safari finishes. Finished the 120 mile AuSable River Marathon in Michigan this past weekend (last weekend in July). Professional bronco and bull rider. Occasionally bears a resemblence to Fabio when he lets his hair grow out, and ladies, he’s single.
Armin Lopez, resident of Belize and proficient long distance paddler. Wade's teammate in the AuSable River Marathon the weekend before the race. Winner of the 2005 Texas Water Safari as a teammate of West Hansen.
West's Race Report
My bank crew, Wade Binion and Armin Lopez, called on their way back to Texas from the 120 mile AuSable River Marathon to say that they were running late, but would meet me on Tuesday before the MR 340. I really hadn’t prepared anything for them, but hoped they could read the maps and had enough racing experience to get me my beef jerky on time.
Up at 5:10 a.m. and heading to the race. We got there in plenty of time for two or three nervous trips to the loo, a few “hello and good luck’s” then time to launch. The water was bigger and wider than I expected and the chop from the wind was akin to a bay crossing. Folks along the bank were kind enough to wave as I double bladed the first fifteen miles without much incident.
I got a new jug and headed out without getting out of the boat. This was our tact for the entire first day, though I was surprised at the toll the heat was taking upon my speed. By the end of the first day, Russ and his lovely daughter, Karin, had come up to me to provide welcome company and give me a heads up as to the competition on my tail. The wind, shallows and sun were eating up my speed as I got into Waverly. In Waverly, I talked with that fellow who had been paddling down from North Dakota heading down to the mouth of the Mississippi. Nice guy with a good attitude. I envied his freedom.
I was dragging tail a bit, so I slurped down a can of chicken and dumplings, ate some jerky, an energy bar, some electrolyte tablets, two Gu’s and a couple of water bottles before hitting the river for the push to Miami. I learned that the K-2 folks were on my tail, so it lit a fire under my rear. It never occurred to me that it would get dark before I got there, so I didn’t mount my bow light. Sure enough, despite my increased pace the sun set a couple of mile before I beach into Miami.
My crew hooked up the lights and geared me up. I left after hanging around for awhile with reports about the possibility of rain after midnight. It was around 9 p.m. when I pulled out of Miami with Russ as a welcome companion riding my wake. Just after we passed an old power plant I heard a train coming along the left bank. It sounded a bit strange, so I turned my boat away from the left bank, perpendicular to the river to get a better look upstream. What I saw worked better than caffeine. With the back light of the power plant a mile upstream, I saw a wall of rain and wind heading downriver like a bulldozer on steroids. I was single blading since I hit the 90 mile mark and didn’t have time to pull out the wing to help with my speed in finding shelter, so I buried the blade and hauled butt across the river to the nearest wing dike I could find. The wind hit my right (upstream) side like a tornado and threatened to tump me over. I leaned harder into the wind and paddled like mad. The boat had been designed with a surfski mold in mind, so it handled waves really well and proved its stability. I landed/slammed parallel into the upstream side of the wing dike, scrambled out and grabbed the canoe just as the wind was launching it like a kite. With one foot holding down the boat I wrestled into my rain gear, took an oddly timed, but much relieved process of elimination in the beam of Russ’s spotlight (now downriver), then dragged the boat over and tied it onto a boulder on the downstream side of the dike. I left my lights on so Russ could see I was safe. Under the remarkably warm emergency blanket, in my raingear, I was pretty comfortable behind the boulder. I caught some food and sleep while intermittently watching Russ wrestle his cruiser up and down the river. Finally, it looked as if he set anchor upriver a couple of hundred yards to wait out the storm.
An hour or so later the wind and rain abated, so I paddled upriver to let Russ know I was heading out. He was resting in the cabin when I approached, but then came out to give me his account of the storm, which was much scarier than what I went through. He’d been thrown over a wing dike and lodged in the shallow sand. Working together, we dislodged the twin Honda outboards and he was on his way to help with the carnage.
I slogged on downriver for awhile until I stumbled into Glasgow around 5 a.m. Since this was the first ultra-distance canoe race where I could receive any and all food, I arranged for a French press of coffee to be waiting. Wade made a small fire next to the boat ramp to heat up the water. The fresh ground java smelled wonderful as I ate cantaloupe and bagels with cream cheese. All was well until the last sip of coffee, then that ol’ quesy feeling starting creep up my gut. It was as if your best friend just told you he had an affair with your wife. How, oh how, could coffee betray me so! I was determined to make amends, so I swallowed hard, set down the cup, got in my floating coffin and kept up the torture-fest. Wade kept me apprised of the historic significance of the upcoming sections, so I was looking forward to Arrow something-or-other Rock. The world was back to normal as I continued to singleblade through the bends, meeting Wade and Armin at Franklin, Taylor Landing and Coopers – where a goose came down to make friends with my nose as I laid on the boat launch while the pit crew quick changed my tires and refueled the dragster. On my way much sooner than I wanted, I slogged onto Hartsburg. By this time it was afternoon and I’d started nodding off now and again with the googly-eye thing you get when you get sleepy. My speed kept slipping down to 6 mph via the gps, so I knew drastic measures were needed. I’d downed three No-Doze the previous night, but caffeine only works so much. When I pulled into Hartsburg I had a plan: sleep for 45 minutes, then blast off. As soon as I announced my plan, Wade introduced be to the mayor of Hartsburg, then ran up the boat ramp. Her Honor, Mayor Nancy Hunt Grant, of Hartsburg was there to greet grungy, smelly me. She was so sweet, presenting me with a wonderful lapel pin inscribed with the town’s logo – going so far as explaining the significance of the watercress and the Manitou. I was smitten. In fact, at that moment I vowed to live in Hartsburg at some time in my life, no matter what it took. We discussed the race and all the usual questions going both ways, then she left me to my 45 minute nap. While I was talking to Mayor Grant, Wade made up a sleeping area in the back of his Explorer under the shade of a towering cottonwood. After peeling off my reeking shoes and shirt it took about 5 seconds to fall asleep in the cool breeze. EXACTLY 45 minutes later Armin woke me up with a report that the Mayor was back with Pam Allchorn, who owned the bike shop in town (www.hartsburgcycledepot.com). She brought a camera and smoothies for me and the boys. I took a couple of polite sips of the smoothie, then passed it on with thought of my ill ingested coffee. We posed for some pictures along the bank, then fresh and rested I headed off with MacArthuresque promises to return to Hartsburg.
I made good time to the Noren boat ramp opposite Jefferson City. Stop for a quick refueling, process of elimination, light system mounting then I was off. The railway next to the capitol building was a bit surreal and the river got a lot wider as I neared, then passed the mouth of the Osage River. I felt pretty good as the sun set on me for the last time during this race.
It was dark, again, by the time I got to Mokane. A strange bulbous watertower looking smoky thingy billowed just downriver from the checkpoint. The boys were ready, so I spent little time getting on my way. Then, things got a little weird.
It was supposed to be only ten miles or so before I’d see the boys again in Portland, but it took a while, what with the drifting barges and all. I’d gone around a shallow bend, then hit a really long straightaway, with some really bright barge lights towards the end. One barge was a regular tug boat, just drifting against it’s mooring in the middle of the river, while the other was a larger dredge barge silently drifting against hit anchor, as well. I hugged the left bank and crept up slowly, thinking I skirt by them. As I neared, my pace slowed to a crawl. The boats quietly drifted back and forth across the entire width of the river. I was scared to death of getting smashed. This really woke me up. As I got closer, I could see workers with flashlights going to and fro, apparently securing the barges for the night. Surely, they saw my bowlight. It was lighting up the entire scene.
Finally, with no response I inched up to the closest barge and yelled, “How do I get around y’all!” At that moment, both barges melded into a small power plant and an industrial complex.
Man, I’d had hallucinations many times, but this one took me by complete surprise. I came upon a sharp left hand bent with a monster eddy that almost caused me to capsize in the deep water. With sphincter appropriately too tight to pull and banjo string through, I rounded the bend only to find another rather huge overly-lit boat eating contraption in the middle of the river. I immediately hugged the right bank to get around it, bottomed out a couple of times, then miraculously saw the light of the bank crew downriver. Surely, it was too soon, but after some weaving around the contraption, which apparently sensing my dread, quickly melded into a water treatment plan along the left bank, I paddled up to my welcoming compadres.
“What took you so long?”
I explained the perils I’d endured, evacuated, refueled, then hit the river.
Tooting along just fine down the overly wide river in the dark, I could make the outline of the hills. In Texas, these hills would be dotted with cabin or house lights, but in middle Missouri it was quite dark, save for the really cool Persied meteor shower that kept me entertained. Rounding what turned out to be the last bend before Hermann, I caught a slight rumble behind me. Perhaps more storms? No such chance. It was one of those accursed barges. I was steeled against more hallucinations, so I knew this was real. So I took the safe route and pulled over to wait out the leviathan. It got louder and louder, then I saw it’s huge spot light coming around the bend behind me. A few more seconds of loud metallic thunder and lights revealed not a barge, but a freight train with tracks close to the surface on river right. I allowed a nervous chuckle, then continued onto Herman.
Herman was so quaint it looked like Martha Stewart and Laura Ashley had thrown up all over it. The streets and dock area were quiet in the middle of the night, but the brick buildings could be seen clearly against the street lights.
It took awhile to leave the town, but the weather was good, so I headed out for the 16 mile paddle to New Haven. By the time I made it to Berger Bend a few minutes later, wispy fog had set in with swirls and billowing plumes that obstructed my viewing pleasure. The river widened and turned sharply. I became disoriented very quickly, so I decided to pull over on a rocky outcropping for a nap. Incredibly, I remembered how to set my alarm on my watch, placed my feet on the boat to keep it from drifting off (bad news) and caught twenty winks. The alarm woke me abruptly and right on time. Oddly, I felt refreshed and ready to conquer Everest. I donned my raincoat, having gotten a chill and headed downriver. The sharp right hand curve threw me for a moment until I saw the navigation light a couple of miles downriver. I rounded another sharp left hand curve just as the sun was coming up. Not much time had passed, but I decided to take a break at a little dock on river right. Then I noticed the bank crew cars sitting there. Surprisingly, I made it to New Haven in good time, despite my confusion and small nap. Wade had to convince me that it was, in fact, New Haven.
I was stoked. The last day. I put on the jets and hammered with head down against the rising sun through the ultra-wide sludgy section leading into Washington City. I hit the boat ramp wide awake, eliminated, refueled, stripped all excess weight, then lit off for Weldon Springs with the promise of bagels and cream cheese upon my arrival. It was great to have Russ joining me soon after leaving Washington City. We trudged on against a growing headwind, then were joined by Armin and Wade, who paddled upriver in their Pro Boat to meet me. I tried to hang with them as they hammered back downriver, but couldn’t. Wade admitted to taking advantage of my wimpy condition while he and Armin worked like a well oiled machine in the tandem.
West Hansen at Weldon Springs, last stop before the finish line.
The wind was brutal as I pulled into Weldon Springs. My dad had driven down from the Chicago area to catch the last few miles. Ever the thoughtful, he called my brother to check on my favorite Starbucks beverage and had it on hand. I took one smell of the thermos and detracted from my former drug of choice. We hung out awhile while the pit crew tended the boat and readied the booster rockets. Russ pulled up and hovered, urging me to get my rear in gear. Finally, after checking out a snack in the eddy for awhile, I took off. I tried double blading against the wind, but my speed was much slower than if I’d stuck to the single, so I kept a slow single blade slog against a clear sky headwind at 6 mph, at best.
Finally, just after an old power plant, the wind stopped. I didn’t even bother with the double blade. I could smell the finish line about five miles downriver, so I put my head down and started to hammer. I got up and maintained 8.5 – 9.2 mph with a heart rate around 170. I was well fueled and hydrated so I figured, “what the hell” and kept it up. Russ gave me directions to the finish line and took off. The wind stayed calm all the way in. Then I took a shower, a nap, a burger and another nap and another shower.
Folks were so kind to me it was sort of embarrassing. Missouri was so beautiful, in a different way than Texas. I drove back up river to cheer on the other victims and see the sites. The stops looked so different than from the river vantage, almost civilized. I was so impressed with the wineries and all the welcoming people, that I didn’t want to leave, however as much I loved Missouri, I loved my wife, daughter and Texas more, so after some real honest to God coffee with Mayor Grant in Hartsburg in the Cycle Depot, we pointed our noses south and headed home. Thanks, Scott, Cristi, Russ and Karin for a great race. Thanks Tom Driver and gang for a great lunch overlooking the great Missouri River and I’ll see you all again next year.
From left, West's father, Armin Lopez, Wade Binion and West Hansen
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