Bright orange leaves and a clear blue sky greeted canoers and kayakers Saturday morning as they took off down the Missouri River toward Jefferson City.
Miles later, they rounded the bend to see flags, fans and the silhouette of the state capitol at the finish line of the sixth annual Race to the Dome.
A crew of supporters stood on the ridge of Noren Access' boat launch. Amy Jacobi and Liz Pedersen watched for their husband and boyfriend, who had raced together in a tandem kayak earlier in the year. Regina Selva stood with her camera at the ready as she watched her husband, Tom, inching closer on her smartphone app. Charismatic Caesar, a black Labrador and reliable "troublemaker," ran back and forth from the shoreline catching sticks thrown by his owner, Joe Ray.
Down on the shoreline, spectators helped finishers haul their equipment out of the water. Among them was Joe Wilson, a dedicated volunteer whose restoration efforts have helped give Noren Access the nickname Wilson Serenity Point.
"They're like my family," Wilson said of the canoers and kayakers. "It's like Christmas every time we have one of these things."
Finished racers mingled across the beach, enjoying drinks, food and music alongside blazing campfires. Duncan Foss and his daughters Gertrude, 8, and Aurora, 7, rested near their canoe after successfully completing the 15-mile course from Hartsburg. Foss said it was his third year competing in the race, but his first year with the girls. Aurora in particular could not get enough.
"We wanted to keep paddling," Foss said.
One hundred boats from seven different states participated in the race this year, making it the second biggest event to date. Event founder Patrick Lynn said he started the race to encourage Mid-Missouri residents to spend more time enjoying the river.
"People should be coming here," Lynn said. "It's a gem."
Proceeds went to the Missouri River Relief, an organization that organizes clean-ups and educational events on the river. Steve Schnarr, the group's program manager, said Missouri River Relief loves to be involved with Race to the Dome because it both encourages a clean river and provides a way for people to experience it.
"It's fun and inspiring to be a part of a community that learns to love the river together," Schnarr said.
Ann Dettmer, communications manager for Missouri American Water, said 50 percent of Missouri's water comes from the Missouri River, adding the company sponsored the event because the river is a "treasure" and they "want to treat it right."
Schnarr agrees the river's water is more valuable than some might think.
"Good clean water is a prize," Schnarr said. "People say water is the new gold."