Happy (water) trails to you
YANKTON -- Welcome, paddlers.
That's Jarett Bies' Facebook profile picture, as the co-founder of the South Dakota Kayak Challenge gears up for this weekend's race.
Bies said about 150 people are signed up for this year's race, which starts at 7 a.m. today at Riverside Park in Yankton, and ends 72 miles later at Bev's On the River marina in Sioux City, Iowa. Racers have until 1 p.m. Sunday to finish.
"It's a good turnout; we're happy with it," Bies said.
Bies, 45, of Vermillion, and Steven Dahlmeier, of Sioux Falls, got started with the event in 2008, and the initial race was in 2010. It's been held every year since, except for 2011, when the extensive flooding plagued the region and forced them to cancel.
"The real star of the show is the river itself," Bies said. "To get to show off that beautiful waterway to an energetic mix of new faces and returning ones -- it's really rewarding."
This year, however, is extra special.
Bies said the National Park Service has 14 National Water Trails across the U.S.; the stretch of Missouri River where the race will take place recently was designated the newest of those trails. According to the National Park Service, "water trails are recreational routes on waterways with a network of public access points supported by broad-based community partnerships that provide both conservation and recreational opportunities."
It's the same location as the previous races, but the first competitive event on the newly designated water trail, Bies said, and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held Friday at Riverside Park.
"It means a lot to us," Bies, who has been kayaking since 1996, said of the designation. "For some people, especially in the paddling community, that's a cross off their bucket list, so to speak."
Not only is the National Water Trail designation a history-making chance for the South Dakota Kayak Challenge, Bies thinks it will generate increased interest in the spot from avid kayakers and canoers -- "paddlers."
"We're in kind of a unique position as paddlers, because we live close to it and get to paddle it a lot and get to know the river," Bies said. "We really cherish it and respect it. We know it's not only beautiful but powerful and potentially dangerous."
He notes there are racers coming from all over the state and beyond -- some from East Coast states, and even Canada.
"I guess to be able to share that with others is the reason why I'm most excited about it. It's kind of icing on the cake, if you will, to use a cliche. It's an additional reward that it's being nationally recognized now. Hopefully it will spark that increased interest.
Bill Delehant, of Mitchell, said last year was the first time he joined in the competitive aspect of kayaking. He started out kayaking on Lake Mitchell and the James River for fun with his family. About two years ago, he saw a story in The Daily Republic about Mitchell participants in the race, and decided to give it a shot.
"It was a good challenge," Delehant said. "It's a beautiful section of the river out there."
It didn't end as he'd hoped, Delehant said -- when he was about 5 miles from the finish line, a severe thunderstorm rolled in and stranded him on a sandbar for about four hours.
"That wasn't as much fun," he said.
But, for the most part, Delehant said he enjoyed himself -- the race, the scenery, and meeting other paddlers, some of them professionals. He recalls sitting next to a racer from Canada, who had high-tech, professional equipment and even sponsors.
"Just to hear them, especially some of the professionals, talk about some of the races they've been in -- it was pretty interesting," Delehant said.
Bies said that interaction between amateur and professional, die-hard and casual kayaker, is one of his favorite parts of the annual event.
"I guess I liken it to having friends over for a party, in a way," Bies said. "It's exciting to see new people who have never paddled this stretch of the Missouri River. It's also really rewarding to see these people returning who have done it in the past."
Even for those outside the paddling community, Bies encourages people who have never seen the beginning of a race to sacrifice sleeping in on Saturday and make it to the start. He compares it to a nuclear submarine launch, where all 150 torpedoes go off at the same time.
"It is really an amazing thing to see," Bies said.