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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.