The grueling MR340, an endurance race down the mighty Missouri River -- the Big Muddy -- from Kansas City to St. Louis, is not for wimps. It takes strength, stamina, and just plain grit to make the distance within the time allowed, a mere 88 hours. Anyone who makes it to the finish line certainly has earned the completion medal awarded there, and some serious chops, regardless of whether they've won or lost.

Ed Wygonik's Chesapeake Triple before the MR340 StartSo why would novice kayak racers build a boat and enter this legendary challenge? We asked Jacksonville, Florida, optometrist Ed Wygonik that very question.

"I'm just so proud that I did it, and in a boat that I built," Wygonik said. "We weren't really in it to win it, we were in it to finish." And finish they did, a respectable sixth out of 17 starters in the Team Division (3-4 paddlers/boat).Team MuddyBlueEyes at the MR340 Finish Line

Wygonik is a veteran Ironman, with triathlons aplenty under his belt, but he had never raced a kayak before. Friend Jim Fick had recruited him the previous year for a first foray into the MR340 in a Wood Duck Double Fick had built, but the Mighty Mo was in raging flood and the race was postponed due to high water. For the 2015 race, having seen what the pre-start assemblage looked like last year, though still having never tried a kayak race, it was clear to Wygonik and Fick that they were gonna need a bigger boat ....

Over the winter, Wygonik built a Chesapeake Triple for the challenge. Like many Triple builders, he and Fick originally planned to race it double-handed, with gear stowed in the middle compartment, but as the plan progressed, another old friend, Chris Wallace, joined Team MuddyBrownEyes as well. "That was great," Wygonik said. "I hadn't seen Chris since we graduated from Ohio State in 2002."

Overall, there were 400 boats entered in the 2015 MR340. "This was the largest run ever, with two dramatic starts - first all solos, then tandems and teams," noted race observers from River Relief, a beneficiary of the event. "The first day was brutally hot, with many participants quitting the race at one of the first few checkpoints. On the evening of the first night, a storm rolled through Miami [Checkpoint #3] to Glasgow [Checkpoint #4]. With such high water, racers were forced to find little spots on the muddy banks to hunker down and wait through the storm, which lasted for several hours in some places."

Among those caught on the river between haulout spots when the weather went south was Team MuddyBrownEyes. "We got caught in the storm the first night, about an hour and a half outside of Miami," Wygonik said. "There was really no place to land and wait it out, so we had to haul the boat up a steep, 20-foot bank through the mud and hunker down in the woods. There was nowhere else to go." Theirs was one of the places where the lightning, torrential rain, and even some hail went on for a long time as high winds lashed the trees around them.

Having survived a sometimes terrifying and definitely uncomfortable night, the crew dug out of the mud and relaunched at sunrise.

"The mental aspect of it, that wasn't what I was worried about," Wygonik said. "But getting back down the riverbank and back into the boat that morning was a little tough. Everybody survived very well, though -- with a little poison ivy and a lot of bug bites."

After the night in the woods, the plan for Day 2 was clear: get to a haulout check point where they could find shoreside accommodations, with real beds and showers. "We could have finished a little better if we hadn't taken the time out to do that," Wygonik admitted. The rest of the race was relatively -- pleasantly -- uneventful, and the men were happy and proud as the crossed the finish line on the evening of the third day.


Not bad for a reunion of three old friends who coalesced into a team on the river and made it all the way to the finish line. Congratulations to Team MuddyBrownEyes.