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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.