Riding 240 miles in a single day is a fair distance by most motorcycle standards. When it’s off-road that distance becomes pretty extreme. But what about on the water? My time on any kind of personal watercraft was limited when Kawasaki hit us up for a long-distance charity ride with its Jet Ski Ultra 300LX. To top it off, I’d only ridden the high-performance PWC on lakes, but this trip would take us down some of the most powerful rivers in the nation.
The 3 Rivers Run is a benefit for the Tri County YMCA Capital Fund and goes from the Lake of the Ozarks, down the Osage, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers before pulling out at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Like all motorcyclists, we love heading for a destination, so the thought of cruising down the H2O freeways of the Midwest had us packing our bags early. There wasn’t much to pack, as it turns out, since the weather was almost unbearable for a dry-weather West Coaster like myself; the less clothes the better in that murderous heat and humidity. Even though I was aware of the heat wave it was still a hot slap in the face when I stepped off the plane at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (which was still damaged from an earlier tornado). I really had no interest in riding dirt bikes or street bikes in those conditions, which is saying a lot, but the idea of blasting around on the Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 300LX and 300X was more appealing than ever!
(Top) Before the race we toured the lake on this 50-foot Sundancer. (Bottom) This was the starting point for the ride, the Bagnell Dam.
We had arrived a couple days early to help scout the launch area and get the Jet Skis unloaded from the Kawasaki semi. I had never seen how these were transported and it’s a lot more effort than unstrapping and rolling out motorcycles like we’re used to. The half-ton, deep-hulled PWC were loaded on pallets and required a crane to be lifted off the Kawi truck. Then they were set on the ground, unstrapped from the pallets, wrapped in a sling and loaded onto a regular Jet Ski trailer (just like a boat trailer but smaller). Next a regular pickup backs into the water and the 300LXs were finally set afloat. All of this took place on the morning of the ride. The seasoned Kawi crew had all seven skis in the water in about an hour.
Before the ride kicked off there was a silent auction to help generate the actual benefit funds. This was on top of the entry fees that each rider paid. Several celebrity athletes including NFL quarterback Shaun Hill, NASCAR’s Clint Bowyer and UFC martial artist Clay Guida attended the run and added some star power to the event. Kawi even brought along a pair of contest winners who were introduced to PWC for the first time. Shawanda Collins was the winner of the Bowyer/Step Up Challenge. As the grand-prize recipient, she not only got to attend the 3 Rivers Run with Kawasaki and her brother, Jack Richardson, but also went back home to Miami, FL to pick up a brand new 300X.
Leading up to the silent auction, we spent the day touring arounrd the Lake of the Ozarks. This body of water is a man-made reservoir which generates electricity through eight water wheel turbines and generators. By blocking off the Osage River with the 2500-foot-long Bagnell Dam, area officials are able to create electricity for Missouri but also regulate the height of the river via 12 floodgates.
Some of the dozen floodgates were supposed to be opened for the morning of the ride to help ease passage down the Osage. That didn’t happen. We could see marks on the bank where the river had been several feet higher overnight, but there wasn’t a drop spilled for the launch of the 3 Rivers Run. As a result, the Osage had the lowest water lever we would see during out trip, and immediately after putting in at the dam we had to ride single-file to pick our way through the channels.
Once we got past some of the shallow areas the Kawasaki 300LX came to life and dominated all other skis on the river.
The first leg proved to be the most entertaining, and dangerous. We headed out in the last third of roughly 60 riders and immediately came across a grounded Yamaha. Apparently the pilot and passenger were confused by another who pointed at a dangerously low area. The Yamaha rider mistakenly took that as pointing out the direction he should follow, and wound up slamming the hull of his WaveRunner into a barely concealed gravel bar. There were several machines that wound up sucking up more than water and plenty will be repairing their pump assemblies after collecting rocks and gravel. We had to shut off the powerful engine and walk the 300LX through some of the worst spots. Since we had factory Kawasaki technicians along with us, our group stopped to assist everyone, regardless of what brand they rode. Before we had 15 miles under our belts it was time to assist another pair of downed machines. One was beyond repair and the other nearly defeated our best efforts. After a full hour of chipping away at one particularly large and stubborn stone, we managed to blow the obstinate rock back into the river. The delay had us worried that the fuel truck would leave the first rendezvous point before we could arrive, so it was full throttle from that point. Eventually we made it through the dangerous section and landed at the first of four fuel stops. Each fueling station had its own truck, so it turned out that there was no danger of falling too far behind.
Our thirsty skis were topped off and from that point on we were able to roam freely from one bank to the other. The pace was varied as we’d blast along at top speed – almost 67 miles per hour – and then coast to a stop to lounge for a few minutes or cool off with a dip. The Kawasakis’ adjustable cruise control turned out to be a nice feature. We also enjoyed having the turbo-charged thrust to pass anyone on the water whenever we wanted.
We continued down the Osage through another refueling before joining up with the murky Missouri River. This magnificent waterway was totally different with its rough, swirling waters and muddy consistency that hid large logs and floating debris. The Missouri is also much wider, so wide in fact that at times it’s almost like being on a small lake. The scenery didn’t change much as we blasted down our watery interstate. Tall, lush trees and vegetation cloaked the rest of the landscape and occasionally we’d pass under a bridge or see a large factory along the side. There were also a couple dredges that help keep the main channel deep enough for the massive freight-hauling ships. Some of the locals explained that there are cement walls placed at inward-facing angles to help push water through the main vein when levels drop.
Despite being wide and flat, the Missouri has a very strong current. We saw what could happen if PWC riders didn’t pay close enough attention when one overturned at the third gas stop. It took a little finagling to get up on shore without smashing other machines, but we all managed. Back on the water, there wasn’t much to do except play with the adjustable cruise control. Setting the cruise requires holding in the throttle trigger all the way, but it’s still better than getting a hand cramp from throttle jockeying. By this point we had learned to trust the hull design of the 300LX and could basically let the 300 turbo-charged horsepower run wide open. Only one person in our group reported getting passed, and we identified that as a highly modified machine. Otherwise, our Kawasakis were able to chase down and pass anyone and everyone on the water. We would sprint ahead and then dink around before getting back on the gas and it was fun to watch the faces of other riders as we passed them multiple times.
NASCAR’s Clint Bowyer was quite at home on the water and by the end of our trip looked ready for some off-shore PWC racing. (For off-shore racing check out our 2011 Triple Crown of Offshore and 2011 Dana Point 2 Avalon Jet Ski Race Report)
Our final gas stop was also the lunch break and we munched gratefully on kielbasas and potato salad at a well-maintained park. It had been a long day since our early breakfast and everyone was happy to get some human fuel. From there it was about 50 miles to the next fuel. For the final leg I switched to the sportier-looking 300X. The only difference between the models is the paint scheme and seat. I learned quickly that I preferred the LX seat with its short back support. Hauling tail across choppy water makes your butt hop off the seat a couple inches every few seconds. Each time that happened the rider scoots backward a bit, which means they have to hold on with their arms much harder. For smooth stuff or really aggressive riding, the X seat is probably better since it allows the rider to move around more freely.
There has been a wide disparity between which areas of the country are wet and dry this year, but the Mississippi River has gotten it’s full dose of water. Originally the ride was supposed to end in downtown St. Louis, but Mother Nature had different plans. With water levels so high, our group of watercraft weren’t going to even get access to the mighty waterway. The locks refused to budge and ride organizers were forced to select a new take-out point along the Missouri. So, the ride was cut a bit short, but we still managed to log roughly 200 miles.
We capped it off with a stay at a wonderful hotel with a reception for all the 3 River Run participants. There were very few who didn’t complete the ride and everyone was pumped to have spent such a blistering day on the water. Such a unique ride is always a great experience. But doing it for a good cause and enjoying the envious stares toward our Kawasaki 300 X Jet Ski made it truly unforgettable.