Monday, September 14, 2009

Kansas City Expedition Part 1 – “Getting Started”

photos by Elisa Mohr
Like most of the one-day expeditions I’ve rowed, the day began early.
When the alarm went off at 5am, it took me a minute to engage my senses and realize where I was.
Waking up in a hotel is probably better than waking up at home on a day like this.
The bed isn’t as familiar, and even though you slept, you’re still not really in your “comfort zone”, so you aren’t as likely to languish for another hour, whacking the snooze button and clinging to your pillow.

It was a day I’d been looking forward to for some time: the day of my first solo expedition.
Once that thought had registered, my feet were on the floor and I was moving with purpose. Sure, my eyes protested to the lights in the bathroom, my body ached from spending a night on an unfamiliar mattress, and like usual, I felt just as lousy as I always do waking up that early. But this was a big day for me and instinctively I went into high gear.

Arriving at Kaw Point where the expedition would begin, my wife and I loaded supplies into the gondola and watched a group of Canada Geese fly over – honking as they went. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky was becoming brighter.
Our friends from the City of Irving and Tucker P.R. arrived and helped us load twelve big bags of popcorn into the gondola.
Next came a scoutmaster from the local council and the Boy Scout who sold the most popcorn last year, followed by a news crew from Fox 4 (the local Fox affiliate there in Kansas City).
As the cameraman assembled his equipment, I talked with the on-camera reporter and the sun began to rise in the east.
There was a mist in the air, giving the whole scene a surreal quality.

The cameraman sets up the shot while everyone looks on.

The news van with it's antenna up.

The reporter prepares for an interview.

The cameraman looks up to check...well, I have no idea what he was looking at there.

Insects in the trees of Kaw Point Park buzzed loudly with their shrill calls; my wife remarked that they reminded her of a power plant in Vegas. The smell of yeast periodically wafted through the air, reminding us that we were in close proximity to a brewery. Now and then a freight train would rumble across one of the bridges that crosses over the Kansas River right before she joins the Missouri.

For a few hours I bounced back and forth between live-remote broadcasts to the Fox 4 station, primping the boat, and getting prepared for the row.

Primping the gondola while the reporter asks pre-interview questions.

Everyone on the boat for a "teaser".

The "drive by" segment.

As the Fox crew was wrapping up, news photographers showed up to capture the actual departure.
I finally shoved off at 10:25am.

Singing as I went, I covered the short distance to the confluence of the two rivers in short time and caught the current of the Missouri as she rounded a bend.
I had researched the river quite a bit, acquainting myself with her various quirks and challenges.
As with every river, I was particularly concerned about current and wind.
Some had told me that the current moved as fast as six or seven knots downstream, others had said it was more like four knots.
The “shipping channel” – a path recognized by barge and tug pilots for its safety and speed is clearly marked in maritime charts, and recognizable while travelling on the river if you know the markers and buoys to look for.
I found the current to be moving between two and three knots in some places, and even four or five in a few spots where the river rounds the outer bank of a bend. Some areas were almost not moving at all, due to back-flows, and it wasn’t unusual to encounter reverse-currents as well. One of the most noticeable spots can be seen towards the end of the above video clip – the dividing line between the Kansas River and the Missouri is easily discernible, because the Kansas joins the Missouri on the outside of a bend.

I received a call from Jean at the P.R. firm, telling me that news photographers wanted to catch some shots along the banks of Riverfront Park, this presented a challenge because I was almost there and they needed another 15-20 minutes. By using a few reverse-currents and lingering in the still water areas, I bought some time and arrived at the park just as they were ready to shoot.

Once that shoot was complete, I got another call requesting that I wait another 15 minutes, as another news crew was on the way. I fought my way back into the still waters along the opposite shore and beached until the van arrived and the cameraman was in place. This might seem frustrating from an athletic, logistic, or scheduling standpoint – waiting hours to depart, slowing down and even beaching to accommodate journalists, but the whole reason I was there was to pull in publicity for the Boy Scouts. Scouting played a tremendous role in my upbringing, and giving back is important to me. I was happy to wait, plus it gave me a chance to learn more about the river – something that would prove to be quite valuable as the day went on.

After all the media-related activity was over, I changed into shorts, swapped out the straw hat for a more functional cap, and sprayed on more sunscreen.
The current would play a role in my day, but not as much as I’d expected.

Here’s my first “Report from the River” clip:

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