On July 5th, I launched onto the longest section of free flowing water on the Missouri. It was 224 miles until the beginning of the next lake. I was just a few days away from North Dakota and I hoped to reach the lake in 6 days.
I hit the water a little before David but as we paddled into a 16mph headwind he surged ahead. He messaged me that he would set up camp after 40 miles. We planned on paddling together the next day since there had been some paddler related incidents along this stretch.
Several years ago a paddler got beat rather badly and another was shot at. We were informed to only camp on the south shore since the north shore was an indian reservation, that we had no business being on. I did, however, have a welcoming encounter with a few people from the reservation who were out fishing for walleye. They insisted I grab ahold of their boat as they floated downstream and join them for a beer.
The headwinds switched to tailwinds and I found David on a nice stretch of sandy beach. He already had his tent set up and a fire going. We toasted to our 40.7 miles over a bit of scotch that he carried in a Nalgene. As dinner cooked on the fire we speculated how far we would go if the forecasted tailwinds came the next day. The howl of coyotes and rumble of trains filled the air as I drifted off to sleep.
With a head start I was able to make it 15 miles before David caught me just before the trouble area. As he came into view I was reminded of the machete he has had strapped to the side of his boat for the last 600 miles. We passed without incident but it was here I got to see the side-by-side performance of a kayak to a paddleboard.
I knew I had more difficulty in head winds but what I didn’t realize was how much current I was missing out on. A paddleboard sits on top of the water and a kayak sits deeper in the water and is therefore better pulled along by the current. Ignorance was bliss. Now I find myself missing that extra mph on those long days where the only goal is making miles.
At noon I had made 26 miles. A good full day on many days, but the tailwind was just picking up. Soon, 30mph gusts were pushing me along. I was doing 6mph without paddling at times. It was the conditions I dreamt about. After nearly 13 hrs on the board and 58 miles, I ran into David. Once again he had selected a great sandy campsite among the steep and muddy shore we had travelled through.
I was so exhausted I could barely eat. I made noodles with a packet of salmon but could hardly put it down. A month on the Missouri was taking its toll. By the time I woke up David was gone. Likely already on the water for an hour.
You never know who you might meet on the Missouri. To want to paddle the whole thing you have to be a bit eclectic (crazy?). It was a great fortune to meet and paddle with David. He is aiming to hit St. Louis about three weeks before me and I have no doubts he’ll hit that goal.
After 30.5 miles I set up camp on an island, hopping with small sand-colored frogs. The cows across the river were particularly loud but I had a good site.
As I was about to put my book down and go to sleep I heard a loud huffing and grunting noise right outside my tent. I froze motionless and slowly reached for my can of bear spray as I imagined what beast was on the other side my tent wall. Clomping hooves indicated that whatever it was had torn off into the trees. I suppose it was a deer that was upset that its path to the water was blocked by a weird green dome.
A few minutes later the animal was back and as annoyed as before. I took the safety off the bear spray and quickly exited the tent on the water side. I figured I could launch myself off the river bank into the water if the thing attacked. My rustling must have scared it off. I tossed several large sticks into the trees to try to further spook it away. The island beast never came back but more thunderstorms did roll through that night.
The weather radio predicted a sure chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon but I set off under sunny skies. I made sure to pack my rain jacket in an easily accessible place.
Around 2pm the skies darkened and I found a good site to pitch my tent soon after. I watched as the storm past just to the north and figured the coast was clear.
I packed back up and made it a few more miles before a fresh system rolled in. The banks were high and I eventually had to settle for wading several yards through knee deep mud to get to a site somewhat sheltered under an eroding berm.
I opened the bag with my rain jacket to find that it wasn’t there. Surely I couldn’t have misplaced a bright orange rain jacket. I search frantically through all my bags as the rain started.
At lunch time I had stopped just long enough to pull my stove and food out of my bag and pushed off down the river. I have done this often to let the current carry me as I boiled water on my board. I must have set the jacket aside and was too preoccupied with not dropping the stove in the water that I failed to glance back at the shore.
The rain was really coming down. I decided to wait it out before setting up my tent so I wouldn’t get the thing soaked before I could get the rain fly on. I sat in the mud against the dirt wall and cursed myself for losing another piece of rather important gear. First the shoes and now this! By the time the rain let up I was soaked and getting cold. I pitched the tent on the firm mud and got into some dry clothes. I was just 14 miles from North Dakota but was in no mood to celebrate.