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West Fargo couple takes on 340-mile Missouri River kayak race

Craig and Sarah Griesbach of West Fargo are shown July 27, 2018, at the finish line of a 340-mile kayak race across Missouri. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Craig and Sarah Griesbach of Fargo stand with their kayaks Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, at the kayak launch in Lindenwood Park. They recently used them to complete a 340-mile race across Missouri in 76 hours. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

WEST FARGO — How to stay fueled and hydrated during a recent endurance race may have been the lesser of worries for a West Fargo couple.

Craig and Sarah Griesbach had to deal with thick fog and barge traffic, not to mention keeping an eye out for an occasional wild buoy during their recent trip down the Missouri River in kayaks.

The couple completed the Missouri American Water MR340 from July 24-27, paddling 340 miles from Kansas City, Mo., to St. Charles, Mo.

There was an 88-hour time limit for racers, and the two finished it in 76 hours, 46 minutes, in a test of patience and stamina.

"Your biggest thing is your back, just sitting that long, and your core from having to sit in a kayak for 76 hours," Craig said.

It was part of what the couple is calling their "epic year," in which Craig finished his master's degree and got a new job, and they finished all of the races they set out to do.

Their new 17-foot-long "surf ski" kayaks also figured into the equation.

"The brand is Epic, the kayak that we race, so we thought, 'Let's call it our epic year,' " Sarah said.

The two, both 31 years old, are relative newcomers to the sport and were only introduced to kayaking two years ago. But they quickly dove into racing.

Both won their divisions in the 6-mile Race the Red in Fargo this June, and they've done 50- and 72-mile races in South Dakota.

Sarah took first in her division in the Fort to Field 50 Paddle Battle from Pickstown to Springfield, S.D., in mid-July.

Late last month was their first time doing the MR340, an ambitious race they never dreamt they could do.

Preparation

As is true for many endurance races, some participants in the MR340 are hard-core.

Because the clock doesn't stop for food and water breaks or rest time, some try to go almost straight through, stopping only to briefly nap on picnic tables and yoga mats.

The Griesbachs took a more measured approach at the advice of some veteran racers. They had a few hotel stays to take four-hour catnaps before jumping back into their kayaks.

They also had help from Craig's aunt, Anna Griesbach, a teacher in Kansas City who followed them from checkpoint to checkpoint and made sure they were well-fed.

"We had a GPS tracker on us so she was able to track our positions," he said.

They took their preparation seriously, putting their new kayaks in the pool at Concordia College in Moorhead early in the season to be sure they knew all of the safety features.

Sarah also mapped out race strategies to try to maximize their efficiency.

"In our kitchen, there's a poster of the entire river, and she has sticky notes of each checkpoint and time frames," Craig said.

Barges and buoys

For Craig, the biggest challenge was the 90-plus-degree heat.

When they paddled into a checkpoint at 1:30 a.m. after a 119-mile stretch, he was "kind of out of it," he said.

For Sarah, huge barges were her biggest worry, even though the race employed safety boats. One morning, dense fog increased that danger.

"Something so massive coming up behind you was my biggest fear, but it didn't come to pass, luckily," she said.

Then, there was the occasional surprise from buoys, which mark the channel for barge traffic. When water on the Missouri is high, floating logs will often snag chains on the buoys, pulling them down to the river bottom.

"If you're paddling in the middle of the night, one can pop up and jump through the water like a dolphin," Craig said.

The best part, besides finishing, was the sense of community among racers. Though it was a competition, everyone encouraged and helped others.

They're unsure, yet, whether they'll do next year's MR340.

Until then, they can benefit from the leisurely aspects of paddling their kayaks.

"It's something to be out in nature together," Sarah said.

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