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Racing The WILD MISSOURI The South Dakota Kayak Challenge is a 72-mile race that begins in Yankton and ends in South Sioux City. As paddlers push off from the Missouri River shore, they know their biggest rival might not be other competitors but nature herself. “The South Dakota Kayak Challenge is unique in that it lives up to its name: there are many formidable challenges,” says cofounder and race director Jarrett Bies. One is the prairie wind. “Naturally,” says Bies, “our South Dakota wind is the biggest challenge, as it’ll sap not just your strength but your desire to continue.” Sounds foreboding but there is yet another challenge. The first 59 miles of the race take kayakers through the longest and still-natural wild stretch of the Missouri. Kayakers encounter sandbars, strong currents, snags and confusing channels. The last 13 miles present their own challenges: a 60 – Yankton, South Dakota channelized river with heavy boat traffic. Both veterans and newbies may join the race, which is typically held on the last Saturday of May. Most participants bring colorful kayaks, but you can paddle anything you wish — a kayak, paddleboard, surf ski or a log. Safety is the number one goal, but competition is a close second for many of the river adventurers. Fun ranks third. The challenge weekend begins on Friday with check-ins, a mandatory safety briefing and a free supper in Yankton’s Riverside Park. Visitors are welcome to camp in the park, beneath giant cottonwoods on the riverbank. Boat check-in begins at 5:35 a.m. Saturday morning, and the race begins at 7 a.m. sharp. An awards ceremony is held about 12 hours later at the Delta Hotel in South Sioux City, Neb., where free camping is again provided.