Paddlers row, row, row their boats in 100-mile Kansas River race

Joe Baisa, of St. Louis, pulls his canoe out of the Kansas River on Saturday afternoon. Baisa was one of nearly 200 paddlers who participated in the first ever Kawnivore 100, a 100-mile race down the river.

The Kaw can be unforgiving during a Kansas summer. About 200 paddlers found that out the hard way Friday and Saturday while competing in the first-ever Kawnivore 100, a 100-mile ultra-marathon canoe race on the Kansas River.

Starting in Manhattan and ending at Riverfront Park in North Lawrence, the race tested participants with shallow waters and sandy braids. St. Louis resident Joe Baisa reached the finish line Saturday afternoon, visibly exhausted from the long haul.

“Last night was like a scavenger hunt for deep water,” Baisa said of the overnight trek. “It was not a river, it was the devil’s playground.”

Race director Scott Mansker said the feedback from racers had been positive, with participants enjoying the in-state rivalry spurred by the beginning and end locations.

The Kawnivore race, named for the river on which it takes place, was a substitute for the MR340, a longer race that has run the course of the Missouri River since 2006. Mansker said the change in locale was due to dangerously high river levels in the neighboring state.

“The MR340 has really put the Midwest on the map,” Mansker said. “Rivers are great resources for tourism and testing yourself.”

After the test was complete, participants took some time to relax and grill with family and friends.

The weekend’s event, which took the fastest racers about 15 hours to complete, won’t be the last if plans go Mansker’s way.

“People really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s the first of what we hope will be an annual event.”