One year out

“Do you remember, the 21st night of September?” -Earth, Wind & Fire

September 21st: One year ago today I landed at the cobblestones below the St. Louis Arch after paddling 2400 miles. It’s been an interesting year. I spent the first few months editing together a documentary of the trip. I didn’t know what would come of it but it was part of the journey and I knew it needed to be the main focus of my time for a while or it would never get done. Initially I regretted spending so much time and money on it but as uncertainly of the future decreased I appreciated that I followed through with it. I just got word that it will be airing on a cable channel in Brazil so that’s pretty exciting. Deadlines for film festivals are approaching so hopefully it will get some screen time.

The rest of the year was a mix of freelance work and self-employment that worked out about as well as I could have hoped. However, this isn’t to say that it wasn’t stressful and very uncertain at times. I have to thank my girlfriend for being there to talk over all the decisions with. The flexibility allowed me to take whatever time off I wanted to travel around a bit. Opportunities stemming from the trip popped up, such as presenting at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin and writing a couple articles for publication. I was also able to create a web series for the state of Montana Film Office. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuXMz8qnloM
Having a reel of footage from the trip was also the only reason I got most of my videography freelance gigs.

In about a week I move to Denver. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. If the last year taught me anything, it’s that taking some chances is a good thing and excuses are just excuses. I have a job lined up that seems to be a great fit and has a lot of potential. I’m excited about the endless opportunities for weekend and after work adventures.

Just like a year ago, all my stuff is packed into boxes. After living out of a few bags for several months I would have thought I’d purge stuff but I’ve actually accumulated more overall. The whole simple living and anti “stuff” movement is great but I’m a believer that there is a correct tool for every job. A crescent wrench can’t do what a pipe wrench can, for example. There were a lot of varied experiences in the last year that required more “tools” if the job was to be done right.

People who have done a similar trip have told me or have written in their blogs that it would be life changing. It was hard to imagine to what extent. The change hasn’t been drastic but the trip is a constant reminder to the value of my own time and ability to just figure things out. It lasted less than four months but held the experiences of several “normal” years. Above all I’ll remember the amazing sights, extraordinary people along the way and support of family and friends. Below are my favorite scenes from the trip that I’ve looked at hundreds of times and imagined many more.

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The Finish

I have delayed writing this entry for a while now. There is no way to accurately wrap this trip up in words. None-the-less here is a description of my last day.

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Just two hours remained on the Missouri. I paddled as hard as ever, not because I was in a hurry but because I enjoyed a certain rhythm. A rhythm that got me 2300 miles down North America’s greatest river. City noise melded with chirping birds and the sound of the current rushing past a rock lined shore. I spotted the “1” mile marker around the same time I saw huge barges motoring up the Mississippi.

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Before the trip started I’d imagined reaching the arch would be a flood of emotion at having completed the trip. Toward the end I realized this would come instead where the Mississippi meets the Missouri. The remaining ten or so miles to the Arch (located on the Mississippi not the Missouri) was just icing on the cake. It was at the confluence where the trip was complete for me. After the waters of the two giants mixed, I paddled over to a wing dam and tied to a rock. Looking to the north I sat for 15 minutes and watched the barges go by as I bid farewell to the Missouri.
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It was not just a river to me anymore. I would never see it as a line on a map again. Instead I would feel its motion and hear its sounds. Every point along that winding line will instantly produce images of driving rain or spectacular sunsets viewed from the solitude of my night’s camp, each with a waterfront view. It took me on an incredible journey that far exceeded my lofty expectations.

Reluctant to leave the Missouri behind, I paddled into the Mississippi and to the Chain-of-Rocks. This is a section of whitewater full of jagged rocks that I had no desire to run.

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I hauled my gear up the bank to the parking lot above that allows for an easy route around the Chain. Michael F. Clark, aka Big Muddy Mike, arrived in a van pulling a trailer with a 19 foot canoe. Big Muddy Mike is all things confluence. He knows this section of river better than anyone and so kindly agreed to loan me a canoe for friends and family to use. Soon after, Shane Perrin of SUP St. Louis arrived with a trailer full of boards. Shane is an ultra endurance SUP racer, completing massive distances in seemingly impossible amounts of time. He had me on his radio show, Going the Distance, on Stoke Radio several times as I travelled down the river. Just so happens that he also had a rental business and agreed to set me up with six boards to borrow.

 

A couple carloads of people I hadn’t seen in months arrived to paddle the last nine miles to the arch with me. My ever-supportive parents even made the trip up from Florida. I gave everyone smelly hugs, my girlfriend getting the worst of it, and we got set up to head into the Mississippi. A colorful array of SUPs rested on the sand as everyone got fitted for PFDs and listened as Big Muddy briefed us on safety and what the conditions would be like down river.

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St. Louis is a huge port with a lot of barge traffic. I had been nervous for days about being in charge of a group of people heading into heavy barge traffic on a fast river. My mom and my friend Kyle were in the 19’ canoe and Rachel’s Uncle Mark was in a solo canoe. Friends Stephanie, Corey, and Josh, were all on SUPs along with my dad, brother and Rachel. After some initial wobbles everyone got settled and to my great relief we were easily able to stick together. My fear was that people would get spread out all over the place and not able to help each other if a couple people went in the water. A tailwind pushed us right along and allowed us to make the 9 miles in about 90 minutes. We got lucky and only had to deal with the waves of one barge.

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It was a surreal experience being with so many people for these last few miles. It really meant a lot to me and I am thankful to each and every person that came out to paddle or welcome me in at the arch. I led the way to the landing spot at the arch and toward a gathering of people. Many of Rachel’s family are from St. Louis so they came out to meet this weird paddleboarder guy she was dating. There were also parents of friends and people who had followed along on Facebook such as Alice Tinklenberg who drove down from Quicny, IL. Also there were my river brothers Josh and Reed who I met on the isolated shoreline of Fort Peck. They had arrived a few days before in their kayaks and stuck around for me to arrive before setting out just hours later for 1000 miles more paddling to the Gulf of Mexico. Janet even drove down with her daughter from Columbia, Missouri. She would arrive back in this spot 10 days later in her kayak and reach the Gulf on Dec. 4th after over 7 months of paddling and 3800 miles!

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We gathered on the ancient cobblestones that lead into the water and spent a couple hours enjoying the afternoon and watching barges go by. Eventually, we made our way to Morgan Street Brewery for beer and pizza. Fatigue hit me as I sat down. Taking off my sunglasses I revealed a worsening eye infection. With my bright red eyes I looked and felt a bit like a zombie but I ran on the satisfaction of completing my goal and on a summer full of amazing experiences.

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The night wore on and I found a second wind. I couldn’t believe how many friends and people who didn’t even know me came out for this day (thanks to Corey’s mom for hosting many of us at her house that night). It was surreal. I didn’t even feel like I did it. It was just an idea that at one time I couldn’t even fathom getting the opportunity to do.

I had many people send me messages along the way saying they were living vicariously through me and would love to get a chance to do what I was doing. Setting off on this trip wasn’t without its compromises. I had to quit my steady job to get the time off and plow a good amount of savings into the gear costs. The trip became the ultimate priority. It’s the only way something like this can be accomplished. There are a million reasons not to do it but at some point I had to examine if those were legitimate reasons or just excuses. I feel very fortunate for having found a way to do this. The hardest part was the lead up to head west and start the trip, not the trip itself. I had followed along on other people’s adventures for years before I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

Life was simple those 107 days. I had only what I could carry on my board. Inconveniences became accepted parts of my days and slow speed developed into my pace of life. I will forever remember my chance encounters with random people I met along the way and carry with me an appreciation for simple pleasures. Paddling for all hours that held daylight became a comfort.

Perhaps even stepping in a puddle and getting my shoes wet will produce fond memories of the summer of 2013. I may not know what lay ahead in the coming months and years but I know one thing for sure. I can never regret travelling down the Big Muddy.

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One day away

The campground now empty, I moved my gear down the ramp and picked my board off the rocks that comprised the wing dam. Janet came down with her dog Rio Oso to bid me farewell. I paddled past the sternwheeler and out for my last four days on the Missouri.

I hadn’t been on the water for two hours when I decided to pull off after looking at the weather radar. One thing was certain, rain was coming, but I wanted to be sheltered if lightning came with it. I unpacked my rain fly and tied it to some tree branches. There I sat for four hours before deciding I needed to make distance.

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With no lightning present I paddled on. Heavy rain drops plunged into the River, to be carried 1200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, as fog floated on the hills. The thick, often viney vegetation along shore gave the feeling of paddling in some far away rainforest. I set up camp at the end of a huge sand island just above Jefferson City. The mist in the air locked in the silence of my surroundings.

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The orange of the morning’s sunrise fought off the gray that carried over from the previous day. Rain saturated my tent all night. With no chance of it drying quickly, I stuffed the wet and sandy mess into its bag and paddled away from my strangely fantastic beach. An oasis only when viewed in hindsight when comfortable and dry.

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Barges worked their way into docking position on my left as I passed the Missouri capitol building on my right. Occasional dark clouds and distant lightning rolled past as the paddle strokes whittled away the hours. Toward the end of the day I spotted a channel marker that read 99.0. Down to double digits to the Mississippi. I knew the miles would go quickly from here. It felt like just a couple days ago that I was going past the 500 mile sign.

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As I passed under the Hermann bridge a huge rising moon rose directly in front of me. With the sun and moon the same distance above their respective horizons I quickened my pace to get past town and the parked barges to find a secluded camping spot. I set up my tent as the thick clouds turned from grey to a red matching the color of my pruned, cracked feet. Three days remained.

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I left Hermann for an unknown destination for the night. Dark clouds once again rolled in as I reached Washington City. I had planned on paddling past and I had already eaten lunch but I figured I could always eat more as I waited to see what the weather did. I tied my board to a dock and walked up the road in search of food. The weather cleared and I was back on the water less than an hour later, having eaten a second lunch.

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Right at the 47 mile marker I found a rare gap in the rip-rap on an outside bend. A level spot had been cleared by a bulldozer in the dirt. Knowing it was going to rain again that night I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to camp on anything besides sand, even if it was a fine dirt. I waded into the water under another brilliant full moon rise, careful not to lose my footing in the current, and rinsed off a few days of sweat and grime. Feeling refreshed I climbed into a well staked down tent, ready for more ominous weather.

My last full day paddling on the Missouri would only be 35 miles. I hit St. Charles for lunch. A large bird of prey remained uncommonly comfortable with my presence as I walked by on my way to the Lewis and Clark Boat House to say hello to the director who I met back in Bismarck.

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With days of clouds and rain preventing me from using my solar panel effectively I needed to get some more juice in my batteries while I ate. The only table by a plug was far away from the other patrons, probably for the best. Not only did I look homeless and dirty, I now had an eye infection that left my eyes bright red. Keeping contacts clean when everything was caked with wet sand is apparently a task I failed at.

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The miles melted down to 11 to go. I pulled off at the end of Pelican Island, a land mass spanning several miles in the shape of its namesake bird’s head and beak, and set up my tent for the last time. With city noise to the south and a smoke stack to the north I made sure my cameras had fresh batteries for the next day and watched my last sunset through the mesh of the tent.

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I’d wondered if I’d get used to living in a tent each night and sleeping on a two inch thick, inflatable camping pad. Fact is, I had. I was quite comfortable and slept better than I had at any other time in my life. This was probably largely due to the great expenditure of energy I put forth each day but none-the-less, I was happy in my mobile shelter. The tiredness at the end of the day wasn’t like what you feel when coming home from a nine to five. That drained and listless feeling wasn’t there. In its place was a feeling of relaxed satisfaction in having covered miles on the largest river system in North America. So many days I looked forward to having my camp set up and drifting off with images of the day’s landscape running through my head. I can only count two mornings the whole summer where I woke up remembering dreams I had. Maybe there was too much stimulation during the day or I was simply too tired. Interestingly enough, the last night on the river was one of the two nights. The first one was my last night on the first of the big lakes, Fort Peck.

On September 21, 2013, the last day of summer and two days before the 209th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s arrival back to St. Louis, I stepped out of my tent to complete the journey. As I took my first steps of the day a flock of birds flew a couple dozen feet overhead. They were silent except for a whoosh of wind as they flew by in a small murmuration. A last farewell from nature as I headed toward the cement and steel world down river.

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Video post

A video featuring some of the Aquapac dry bags I traveled with.

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Kansas City to Columbia

My friend Nick Yecke had recently moved to Kansas City from Chicago. It was great to have a familiar face along the Missouri. I also really needed a couple days to rest my aching hands and feet.

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We tied my board to the top of his car and headed onto the highway, hoping the single strap and a bit of rope would hold. After a stop for Mexican food we arrived at his house, my basecamp for the next three nights. I threw my laundry in and sat down to digest the two entrees of food I’d just consumed.

Lindsey, Nick’s girlfriend, came over and we all headed into the city for my first Kansas City experience. Dinner was crawfish cakes and hot pretzels followed by craft beers. The town was busy for a Monday night.

With bleary eyes I looked at my watch and realized I’d just slept over ten hours. Dragging myself from a comfortable bed, my hunger led me up the road to a crepe restaurant. I ordered a large coffee and crepes filled with strawberries and ice cream. It was as good as it sounds. That wasn’t enough so I went back up and ordered another round, sans the ice cream this time. The rest of the day was spent organizing and editing pictures and video.

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Nick left for the east coast on a business trip so I spent a second day eating crepes and relaxing before Lindsey picked me up to fill in for Nick at their volleyball league. Quite a ways outside of town is a man-made beach volleyball arena with probably ten courts. Though we didn’t win, we kept it close and I had a great time. On the way back Lindsey took me to Oklahoma Joes, a BBQ place with a constant line but food that’s worth it. I was quite happy I got to tag along for this night.

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Lindsey was kind enough to take me back to the river before she had to be back at work on Thursday so I headed downriver as a light rain fell. The Kansas City waterfront is easily the ugliest part of the Missouri. Tall and steep cement banks run along the neglected and forgotten river. Images of brackish water dumping into the river just upstream flashed in my mind. However, there was a certain satisfaction at seeing thousands of people cross the many bridges into the city on their morning commute.

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Janet had spent a couple days back in Atchison and camped just past Kansas City so I figured I was close. My early start allowed me to catch her in the afternoon so we decided to paddle together for a few more days. After 52 miles of seeing less than ideal camping options we pulled off at a boat ramp and lugged our gear to a nice patch of mowed grass.

Right after getting our tents set up a lady by the name of Susan Maples Tretter came by with snacks and refreshments. She had been following Janet’s journey way back when she was just debating doing it. Susan is new to kayaking but has thrown herself right into it and even plans on doing the MR340, a non-stop paddle race 340 miles from Kansas City to St. Charles, Missouri.

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Around 9pm, as I was getting ready to go to sleep, a group of people rolled into the area and park their car on the boat ramp. There was a lot of ruckus and shouting. I decided this would be a good night for ear plugs since they seemed to be gearing up for a long night of fishing. Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke to the calamity of these tireless fishers landing a catch. Startled, I pulled my ear plugs out and tried to figure out what was happening. I sighed and went back to sleep hoping they would leave.

The rising sun lit the inside of my tent. I looked out to see that the people fishing were still there. They had even set up a couch at the edge of the water. We packed up and hit the water just as the night casters drove away.

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We had a lunch destination planned. Robin and Connie Kalthoff had contacted each of us weeks prior to offer to meet us at a boat ramp with food. It just happened to work out that we were together as we passed their “river angel” territory.

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After lunch we headed back out with a plan to meet Robin on the water a few miles down after he took care of a few things. A couple hours later I spotted his canoe in front of a football field sized sandbar, unlike anything we’d seen in over 500 miles. From here we paddled to the Kalthoff-owned land along the river. We got our tents set up on level, cut grass (the best) for a second night in a row and were treated to dinner over an open fire. I fell asleep instantly.

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The morning was the first cold one since Montana. My plans to get on the water at first light were foiled by the best sunrise I’d seen on the trip. Sometimes you just have to slow down and enjoy the environment you are in. I watched the sky change colors as the thick fog rolled up the river.

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With an extra layer of clothing I pushed off before Janet, who would catch up easily. A stiff breeze blew the fog toward me, giving me the sensation that I was going about 20 mph when I looked down at it flying past. Alas, I was probably going less that 5 mph with the wind.

The destination was the town of Glasgow, 53 miles away. The wind made for a long day but it was one of the most peaceful days of the trip. The sky gave a show all day. The crisp morning fog burned off as thin, stretched out looking clouds rolled past throughout the day. An hour before sunset the earth was lit by soft golden light with the clouds painting slow movements above. There was no anxiousness in making the distance, only appreciation for all that led me to this day.

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The waterfront of Glasgow is lined with historic looking buildings with a sleepy, safe feel. As we approached the boat ramp I caught site of a Jeep clearly checking us out. I asked Janet if she was expecting anyone and she indicated in the negative. We docked and walked up the ramp to scope out the camping options. The Jeep driver and his passenger came over to talk. They had just competed as a tandem in a paddle race earlier that day and had wondered how far we came and were going.

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Dan and Sheena loaded our dry bags into their vehicle and drove the combined 300 lbs of gear up the ramp for us. We set up under the cover of a pavilion with the aid of overhead lights as we got to know them. Turns out they placed first in the tandem division but most interestingly they were competing as a divorced couple. Paddling a tandem canoe involves a lot of cooperation and communication and is the last thing you would expect a divorced couple to do but they were clearly a good paddling match.

Megan Haskamp, a MR340 finisher and Janet follower, came by to say hello and the five of us headed into town for food which was wonderful. As was now customary, I fell asleep minutes after laying down.

My body fought back with soreness as I packed up in the morning. I had 56 miles to make it to my goal of Cooper’s Landing in Columbia, Missouri but I couldn’t manage to get on the water before 8:20. The days now seemed so short. There wasn’t much light before 7 am and it was worryingly dark by around 7:15 pm. I didn’t mind the intermittent rain since it was the first calm day since before Kansas City.

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Ten miles from Cooper’s I passed Katfish Katy’s Campground. The spots along the water were loaded with people and I debated stopping but the current was particularly strong and I felt good despite knowing it would be dark when I reached Coopers. As I cruised by at 6 mph campers spotted me on the water and started cheering. They were quite lively. I then realized that these were probably all friends of Janet, waiting here for her arrival the next day when they would paddle to Coopers together, and they had been expecting me.

Soon after, a small metal boat pulled up to me to ask where I was headed. They were part of the Missouri River Relief crew based out of Cooper’s and said they would make sure I arrived or would head back out and search for me. As they pulled away the skies opened. It was now pouring and getting dark fast. Luckily I knew I would see lights along the otherwise dark shore when Cooper’s came into view. By the time I hit the ramp I was totally soaked, and in the complete darkness, except for my headlamp and the frequent lightning to the north.

I left the board at the base of a wing dam and headed for shelter and hoped the Thai food trailer was still open. Luckily I made last call and ate as a dog gave me his best sad, I’m hungry face.

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I was not looking forward to setting up my tent in the pouring rain but luckily Mike Cooper, of Cooper’s Landing let me stay in “the dungeon.” It was an enclosed area dug out from under a mobile home. It was dry and had a bed which is all I needed.

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My push to get to Cooper’s was so I could take one last complete day off before the final 170 mile stretch to St. Louis. I wanted a day where I didn’t have to pack up, move and unpack again. It would have been a quiet day but Janet was arriving “home” to Cooper’s in the early evening. Her home being just miles away, a big party was planned for her landing.

People and news crews started to gather a couple hours ahead of time. The first to arrive by water was a large 1930’s sternwheeler. Soon after Janet led an entourage of more than a dozen boats to the ramp. She landed her boat “Blue Moon” to a hero’s welcome as her boyfriend strummed “Blue Moon” on guitar.

It was a homecoming 2500 miles in the making. Margaritas were poured on the dock by the sternwheeler as people wandered around the magnificently restored old boat. Party goers lingered long into the night.

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The campground now empty, I moved my gear down the ramp and picked my board off the rocks that comprised the wing dam. Janet came down with her dog Rio Oso to bid me farewell. I paddled past the sternwheeler and out for my last four days on the Missouri.

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Quick update

I figured I should post an update while I’m between blog posts. For those of you who didn’t also follow along on Facebook (Missouri River SUP Adventure) I completed my trip on September 21st. Keeping a blog up-to-date while on a trip is very difficult when photos and video are worked in. I will complete the blog over the next couple weeks. After that, keep checking back for updates on the trip documentary that I have started working on.

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Omaha to Kansas City

Six hundred more river miles to go. At 40-55 miles a day the rest of the river would fly by. However, I was only planning on paddling 15 miles this day. Janet had been staying in a river cabin just down from Omaha and sent me a message saying that the family who owned it would welcome me and I should come check it out. With no pressure to make distance I spent significant time just floating and letting the current carry me. After a few hours I saw Janet walking by the shore and I located the boat ramp that led to the cabin.

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We carried my gear to the cabin which serves as a guest house for the owners who live up the hill. I took the opportunity to cook lunch on a real stove and started to charge camera batteries as Janet and I filled each other in on our experiences the last couple days.

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Brad Krauth arrived in the early evening to take us up the hill to his family’s house for dinner. At the top of the hill was a large home with grand views of the river valley below. Inside I met Brad’s wife Traci and their two kids. After a hot shower I sat down to a great meal of salmon and vegetables as we got to know each other. The Krauths have put up kayakers a few times in the past and love entertaining. Brad is quite an adventurer himself so there were many stories to swap.

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Janet’s “river family” arrived in the evening. The Missouri River Relief crew from Janet’s hometown of Columbia, MO happened to have a river cleanup in Omaha scheduled for the next morning so they came by to see their hometown hero. We all sat outside on the patio, which overlooked the river, and hung out until it got dark. I was very happy I decided to keep the miles low and hang out with the Krauths. Their hospitality was genuine and appreciated.

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We packed our boats in the drizzling rain in the morning with a goal to paddle over 50 miles. It was nice to paddle with someone else. The last time that happened was back in Eastern Montana when I spent a couple days paddling with David Forbes. He made great time since then and actually finished in St. Louis almost a week prior.

Brad had suggested we get lunch in Nebraska City, Nebraska since we would hit the town right around the appropriate time. Following his directions we paddled up a narrow creek that was just wide enough for us to turn around in. Janet was in the lead as I gave a startled shout. A big fish soared through the air just inches from my leg. Soon asian carp started torpedoing from every direction. We paddled slowly with our eyes focused on the water ready to deflect any fish that came our way. Luckily we avoided any collisions and tied our boats to a rock under a road bridge and scrambled up the steep brush to solid ground. We found a bar a short ways away where a patron informed us they had the best burger in town and ate a quick but delicious lunch before heading out to make some more miles.

The following 3 photos were taken by Janet Moreland:

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Late in the day we hit the state of Missouri. I could tell reaching this milestone had special meaning for Janet since it was her home state. It was an occasion to celebrate afterall. We had reached the state where the Missouri ends. I knew there would be many more long days ahead but I also knew they would seem like they flew by after they passed.

We pulled into Brownsville, Nebraska after 51.1 miles. A man by the name of Phil Reid was there waiting to help us move our gear up the ramp. He had been following Janet’s journey on Facebook and decided to drive out to see us. We set up camp in the grass at the top of the boat ramp with a view of a landlocked steam-powered dredge boat that now serves as a museum. Unfortunately it was closed. It was now dark so Phil lit the site with the headlights of his car and we quickly set up our tents as the mosquitos thickened.

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As we packed up in the morning I saw a man working around the steam dredge so I walked over to ask him about it. Although it was only open on the weekends he said he would give us a tour. The boat was in rough shape but this man (neglected to get his name) was working on fixing it up.

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We got on the water later than we had hoped and fought a headwind. This didn’t stop us from reaching the 500 mile marker. Janet and I had been talking about how little time we had left on the river (and she was going another 1000 miles down to the Gulf on the Mississippi!). Seeing that marker was a reminder to enjoy the rest of the trip because it would be over before I knew it.

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I had hoped to reach Kansas by water but it was not to be. The plan was to meet up with a guy who runs a local paddling outfitter business who offered to put us up for the night. We had two choices of boat ramps. The one that came after 40 miles of paddling appealed to us much more than the one ten miles downriver just across the Kansas border.

Just after passing under some bridges we unloaded by the small town of Rulo and soon after Casey Rush and his cousin Tyson arrived with a canoe trailer. We called ahead for a pizza and into Kansas we headed. This was the only state of the trip I had never been to. We crossed into the state on a low lying road with corn fields on the left and steep hills on the right. This part of Kansas was not nearly as flat as I would have expected but you could say that about every state I passed through. The river has worked to carve the landscape for thousands of years so it may be boring to drive through many of the states that the Missouri cuts through but traveling down the river was a different story.

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Tyson treated us to pizza and drinks and we headed for Casey’s house. There we discussed the fear that surrounds the river and learned about Casey’s river business which he does on the side of farming.

Tyson joined us on the river in the morning. He paddled the first ten miles with us until we reached his car near a boat ramp. During the paddle I asked him questions about his farm. Like every other farmer I met on this trip he loves it and wouldn’t want to do anything else. He said the cyclical nature of the job meant you hardly do one aspect of the job long enough to get sick of it before its time for a new task.

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With St. Joseph looming late in the day we decided we’d lay up short of the city to avoid getting caught in the dark trying to get past town. We set up camp in a sandy area behind a wing dam and set about planning the next couple days. I wanted to make it the 94 miles to Kansas City in less than two days so I could have more time in the city while I stayed with a friend. Janet was planning on spending a couple days in Atchison Kansas and then paddling past Kansas City since there are few safe camping options by the city.

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I headed off into the sunrise aiming to make the most mileage yet. St. Joseph came into view and as I passed by old steel bridges a horrible stench hit me. A south wind was blowing some sort of awful smell upriver from a factory just past town. I was later informed that it was either a slaughterhouse or leather tanning business. With a smell that bad I could only imagine what was being dumped into the river from the pipe spilling brackish water into the Missouri.

A packet of freeze dried food was cooked and consumed without leaving the board. I received a Facebook message shortly after finishing lunch from a guy named Mark Dierking who is originally from Atchison, KS and wanted to treat me to whatever I wanted from a place on the water called Ruby’s Landing. He’d already phoned his credit card info in. Though I just ate and I was only an hour from Ruby’s, you can never eat enough food while paddling so I took him up on the offer. I tied my board up and ordered some more food.

On the way out I was greeted by a man with a serious expression on his face. He grabbed a hold of my hand to shake it and wouldn’t let go until he warned me about the dangers of the river, his grip tightening as he talked. After warning me of the barge wakes he moved on to the undertow. It was a bit extreme so I started laughing a bit which didn’t sit well with him. He said, “That smile ain’t gonna save ya.”

This marked probably the 100th time I’d been warned about barges (among other things). Now, I understand that it would not end well if one happened to hit me or if I paddled into a parked one and got sucked under it by the current but give me a break. For those wondering, you can see and hear a barge from a mile away and they travel at a speed that gives you plenty of time to get out of their path. Their course is dictated by the channel markers so it isn’t difficult to avoid them. The wake they throw is big yes but my board can’t be swamped. The waves splash my bags a bit and I keep on down the river. It seemed that you would almost have to try to come into contact with a barge. More Missouri River fear.

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At the end of day I had paddled 59 miles and set up camp on the sandy shore across the river from a very busy railroad track that would wake me many times in the night. One of these times, I awoke to my fingers locked in a curled position like they were holding a paddle. I painfully wiggled my fingers to get the kinks out. This would happen almost every night for the rest of trip. I just hoped I wasn’t doing any permanent damage. During the first hour of paddling each morning, various parts of my body felt a bit tender but it usually worked itself out.

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As I approached Kansas City there were numerous pipes dumping yellow or chalky brown colored liquid into the river. The skyline came into view as I paddled along a noisy highway on my left with thick trees on my right. A headwind kicked up waves to splash my feet with the polluted water as I continued toward an ugly waterfront.

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I made landing where the Kansas River meets the Missouri and waited to be picked up by my friend Nick to spend two days in the city.

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2 days in Omaha – Musicians and Keel Boats

I was in Omaha, tired but happy. The morning air held a slight chill that reminded me it was now September. Upon exiting my tent I found Janet making breakfast at the picnic table of our shared campsite. We hadn’t had much time to get to know each other the night before among the large group of Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage members. I sat down ready to compare river stories.

As Janet made coffee in her french press I sipped on a much less impressive mug of instant brew. Travelling by boats gives you the option to carry some luxury items that would have to be left behind on a backpacking trip. An extra ten pounds is barely noticeable among 100 pounds in a boat. It was clear that Janet was taking full advantage of this fact as she sorted through her library of books that was kept in a sealed five gallon bucket. After all, her trip was 1300 miles longer than mine so more creature comforts were necessary.

Stories of storms, mud, upset animals, and long days were shared. We also compared notes on the greatest sunsets, the virtues of time on isolated lakes and the comfort that can be found in solo travel. However, we agreed most strongly on people’s seemingly irrational fear of the river. Both of us had been warned about some killer aspect of the river by practically everyone we encountered. People have a penchant for the bombastic aspects of the Missouri. More recently we had been warned, “Watch out for those barges, they’ll suck you under and they throw a big wake.” Before that it was warnings about the indians like we were travelling through undiscovered lands. Preceding that were the HUGE wind and waves of the big lakes, the “rapids,” the rattlesnakes, floating trees, dams, quicksand, and the list goes on and on. Oh, did I mention the HUGE waves on the big lakes? We weren’t sure why people seem so afraid of the Missouri. It seemed to us that if you go out prepared the river is a perfectly safe place to recreate. It must be the stories of drunk or uninformed people getting caught off guard that the media surely replays incessantly.

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Mary Langhorst arrived in the afternoon with lunch and a truck to transport Janet’s stuff back to the boat ramp so she could paddle on as I took two days rest. We got everything transported and the packing process began. Janet’s boat is like a puzzle. Each bag has its own spot, sometimes supporting other bags in their place. I have the advantage of being able to use a small number of large bags and just strapping them down. Janet strategically stuffed bags into every nook and cranny of her kayak, Blue Moon.

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Off she floated and into the city I went. Mary drove me to the National Park Service building to pick up some packages I had shipped there. It was better than Christmas. Most importantly, I got a loaned sleeping pad from Thermarest since mine was leaking air which made for some uncomfortable nights. I was then dropped off in an area of Omaha known as the “Old Market” where I wandered through the streets and shops during a busy Labor Day.

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Alma Royster, founder of an Omaha SUP company named Meander, picked me up from Old Market and took me to an outdoor store called Backwoods. She had been following my trip and organized an event at the store for me to show a couple videos and talk about my trip. It would also hopefully help build interest in the sport locally. Alma was busy building her brand and getting people on boards at nearby lakes. If you are in the Omaha area, Alma would love to take you out for a SUP lesson. Also check out their line of boards

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It was a fun evening with an attentive crowd. Alma drove me back to my campsite 20 miles south of the city and I figured I’d relax and read in my tent. It being the Monday of Labor Day, the campground had cleared out by the time I left in the afternoon. I was a bit surprised to find that new RV’s filled the small park when I returned. As I was getting settled a gentleman came over to ask about my board. He had wondered how I arrived since there was no car at my site and was quite taken aback when I told him. Turns out he was part of a large group of musicians, made up of smaller groups, who were on their way back for a large folk festival in Iowa.

I found myself sitting around a campfire as about 9 people of varying age strummed their instruments and sang beautiful folk songs. The fire glowed off their carefully crafted wood instruments for a few hours while the musicians took turns singing. Yet another great unexpected, off-river experience.

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One of the LCTH Foundation members, Kira Gale, came to get me the next morning. She wanted to take me about 80 miles north to meet the foremost expert on building Lewis and Clark replica keel boats and to take one out for a ride. On the way we stopped off at her house for a breakfast of fruit smoothies as she showed me her vast library. When Kira got her first computer years earlier she decided she wanted a project which eventually led her to becoming an American historian.

With lunch packed we headed on the road. The drive passed quickly as we discussed the current state of technology. Unlike many of her generation she has jumped head first into learning and utilizing much of today’s technology. Her outlook on the world was refreshing. She would say things like, “Isn’t the world just wonderful,” many times during our day together. Always looking for something new to learn, she has begun learning video editing techniques and has a local film student come over once a week to tutor her.

From our talk of modern advances we arrived at a place set 200 years prior. We were at the Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa which is situated on an oxbow lake. An oxbow lake is formed when a wide meander from the main channel of a river is cut off to create a lake (wikipedia). This means that the 60 foot keel boat that was tied to the dock was floating in water that was once part of the Missouri River.

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Butch Bouvier the boat builder and his friend Russell Field arrived to take us out on the water. The many-ton wooden beast was powered away from the dock by a 50 hp engine that was mounted inside where the captain quarters were on the original boat. We quietly cruised up and down the lake at a speed probably not exceeding 3 mph. The fact that people pushed and pulled these boats upstream is simply amazing. When I took a hand at the helm I felt first hand how long it took to initiate a turn.

We floated under a perfect blue sky and sat beneath the shade of a canvas canopy. I asked Butch a bunch of questions he has probably answered a million times. Butch was a relaxed, white-bearded historian that chose to tell history through the creation of these massive crafts. He talked about how his path hasn’t always been easy but he doesn’t waste his days and he doesn’t talk about what he is gonna do but goes out and does it.

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The experience was well worth the drive and I was thankful Kira was so eager to take me. We headed back to old market to grab a drink as I waited to meet up with someone who contacted me back on my second day on the river. Shawn McIlnay learned about me through a CLCboats.com newsletter and wanted to take me to dinner. Over a meal we talked about the opportunities to get on the water around Omaha and Shawn’s plans for building the Kaholo paddleboard kit he ordered. It was great to finally meet him after having his name written down in my phone’s reminders for three months.

After I got dropped off at the campground I went to hang out with the folk musicians for a second night. Although instruments were in many of their hands we just sat around talking for several hours. I joked that I was hoping they would walk along shore and play their instruments as I travelled down the river.

As I packed up to hit the water in the morning the group came over to offer any assistance and inform me that they had written a song for me! The song was titled, “Scott Will Paddle,” and was set to the tune of, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” I stood back and listened while not believing it was happening. Never had I expected to be written a song, especially after a chance encounter with a random group of people. Guitar strings were plucked and voices sang out in the late morning air.

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Mary arrived at the campground to help transport my stuff to the dock. She had been more than welcoming to me while I was in Omaha and I’m very thankful to her for her support. The musicians came down to see me off, most with an instrument in hand. I bid farewell to everyone with a thankfulness that couldn’t touch my actual gratitude for the moment. The current carried me away from this great group of people and distance slowly faded the lyrics to my song as they sang it again. “Scott will paddle his boat on down the Missouri, Scott will paddle his boat on down the Missouri, Built with his own hands, Built with his own hands, From Three Forks to Old St. Lou, From Three Forks to Old St. Lou…”

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Q&A for Vertical Oar

Vertical Oar Q&A
Many thanks to Shane Perrin for putting together this Q&A shortly after the completion of my trip. Shane not only promotes SUP through his own expeditions, radio show and writing but gets people on the water with his rental business. If you are ever in the St. Louis area check out http://www.supstlouis.com/

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Into Omaha

About 750 miles from the confluence with the Mississippi the Missouri River becomes channelized. This means that the Army Corp of Engineers has contained the river so it can no longer wander and change its course. The riverbanks are lined with rocks called rip-rap and wing dams on the inside bends direct the flow of water to the outside bends. This makes it very easy to navigate for barges and paddlers alike. An added bennefit is that the outside bends have some great current. I could now average 5.0-5.4mph throughout the day.

Twenty miles into the channelized section I paddled into a marina at the edge of Sioux City, Iowa and headed to Bev’s on the River for lunch. I ordered a Coke as I waited for Beverly Hinds (no connection to the restaurant that I’m aware of) from the Sergeant Floyd Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

She had arranged for all three TV news stations to come out and interview me. After talking with them the Sergeant Floyd Chapter treated me to lunch. Beverly then took me to a couple museums which were very well run and put together. Right after, we went to see the 100 foot obelysk that serves as the monument to the only member of the Lewis and Clark expedition to die during the expedition.

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Sergeant Floyd died of appendicitis which, at that time, would have killed him no matter where he was. It is pretty amazing all the other members of the Corp of Discovery survived their epic two year journey into the unknown. Beverly’s late husband played a vital role in getting the monument built so there is a brass plague on one side recognizing his contribution.

When I arrived, I had been anxious to make Sioux City as short a stop as possible since I had a rare north wind helping me out but I ended up spending several hours there. I was enjoying my time with Beverly and I was trying to absorb as much information as I could as I explored the museums. Beverly and others in the city are doing great work.

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Back on the water, I paddled until just before dark to set myself up to make Omaha two days later. I set up camp in the sand tucked among the wild sunflowers that line the river as you enter Iowa. In the morning, I headed downriver under a waning rainbow as it drizzled for a short while.

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Twenty miles later I reached my lunch destination as the sun started the bake the earth. I got a quick sandwich at a place called Pop-n-Docs and pressed on as boat traffic steadily increased on the Saturday of Labor day. All day long I answered the question, “Where ya comin’ from?” It was a little more fun to answer that question now that I was 1600 miles into the trip and eating up the miles at a much faster rate.

For hundreds of miles I’d seen giant trees that had been washed up on shore. Sometimes they were a dozen vertical feet higher than the current water level, which tells you how much the water can fluctuate. However, I had not seen one of these massive trees floating in the water until after Sioux City.

I watched as two neighbors pried a 50 foot tree free from the upstream neighbor’s dock and raced down to the other dock to successfully deflect it away. About 30 minutes later I caught up to another floating tree. The branchless beast meandered on a path free of obstruction. I pulled along side it and decided to see how sturdy it would be to stand on. The Muddy Moose heeled up along side its fallen ancestor as I stepped aboard the tree. It maintained its position as I took a few paddle strokes in vain.

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I carried my gear and board up a steep sand bank to a flat spot close to the trees. It poured that night and as I was climbing out of my wet tent in the morning I heard some loud rustling in the bushes. Whatever it was had been moving fast. Startled, I looked up and was eye to eye with a doe. We were both rather surprised to see each other. I waved my hands toward it and shouted, “Get out of here!” It spun a 180 and bolted back into the trees. I was now wide awake. No need to make coffee.

Boats flew by, mostly heading north to enjoy their holiday weekend and be on the water as summer neared an end. Friendly boaters waved all day as they past and sent their wakes my way.

The Omaha skyline came into view as I approached an old steel railroad bridge. As I turned south through town I passed under a crowded pedestrian bridge and stopped at a sandbar full of parked boats. Curious weekend warriors asked lots of questions and offered food from every direction.

I set out toward my destination about 20 miles south of the city. On the way I passed under the I-80 bridge which was the place I crossed over the Missouri on my way out west back on June 2nd. At the time I was fiddling with my handheld GPS for the first time in the passenger seat and almost missed the river crossing. I thought then that it would take a very long time to get back here. My course took me in a months long circle back to this point.

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The last two hours of my 58 mile day really dragged. I knew there would be a good meal that night so I was anxious to arrive. This was also the first time my feet had really started to cramp up. Maybe it was the added challenge of balancing through the constant boat wakes.

Several members of the Mouth of the Platte Chapter of the LCTH Foundation greeted me as I arrived, some holding signs. Mary Langhorst had been keeping tabs on me since we met in Bismarck and arranged the warm welcome and reserved a spot for me at the campground.

Also there was Janet Sullens Moreland. I found out about her trip the day before I started mine and had been slowly catching up to her all summer long. She was well on her way to becoming the first American and first woman to travel the Missouri river system from source to sea. 3700 miles in a kayak named Blue Moon. It was an honor to finally meet her after following her trip on Facebook. Check out her page: LoveYourBigMuddy

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I got my tent set up and showered for the benefit of everyone around me and we all headed for dinner across the river in Iowa. At dinner they made me and Janet honorary members of the chapter and even made a contribution toward the trip on behalf of the members. One of those members, Della, picked up our tab.

I went to bed that night tired but full and happy I was taking the next two days off.

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