Seventy five miles to Bismarck, which I hoped to make in two days. The plan was to post up at a restaurant and catch up on things on my computer. Rachel, my girlfriend, would be driving out for a week off from work and arriving in a few days.
One of the strongest headwinds of the trip greeted me as I pushed away from the dam. I looked upstream and, to my disappointment, the dam gates were closed. This meant a weaker current than I hoped for.
Several hours later I ran into a group of five women out for a Sunday afternoon kayak. Like many before, they eyed up my gear laden board and inquired as to what I was doing. I paddled with them for a while and continued past a large power plant as they reached their take out point.
The sky was not reassuring of my plan to reach Bismarck in two days. I decided not to pass up a large sandy beach, sheltered by a bluff. My tent was up and board secured just in time for the rain to fall. Only 19 miles were paddled but at least I had a great view out my tent.
At 6pm I was within 12 miles of the city. I planned on camping on a large island but found it less than desirable so I pressed on for Bismarck. Besides, there was a restaurant right on the water I couldn’t resist.
Just around the bend I came across a large group who offered me a craft pale ale. Good thing I hadn’t stopped. They explained that some of them were in town for their mother’s funeral but it was a celebration of life and they were enjoying being together.
Boat traffic increased as I got close. With such long winters, I imagine that people make full use of the days when they are as perfect as they were that day. A large-engined speed boat turned 90 degrees to pull up to me. Upon hearing the answer to their question, “where ya headed,” the driver passed over a Bud Light.
It was going to be dark by the time I ate and paddled to the campground just past town, but I could taste the food of Freddy’s Bar and Grill already. I was surprisingly excited to pass under the I-94 bridge. When this road reaches Chicago it is just one of many blood-boiling, traffic congested city roads but it was a faint connection to life back “home.”
Dinner was a two appetizer and an entrée affair. I set out under a rising full moon for a two mile paddled to Fort Lincoln State Park. Instead, I found a sandy island a mile downriver. The high banks kept me partially hidden and it would be less distance I’d have to paddle upstream to get back toward the restaurants.
I was meeting a reporter from the Bismarck Tribune later the next day at a bar and grill directly across from where I camped. A soapy swim before I paddled from shore was my attempt to freshen up. As I pulled up to The Pier Bar and Grill I found a canoer named Shawn there.
We had been hearing about each other and decided to meet. Shawn built a huge canoe with the intent of paddling the Missouri with two buddies. Well, one backed out right before the trip and the other abandoned him on day 16. He was left to manage a 19 foot, 160 pound canoe on his own.
Shawn’s determination became apparently after talking with him for a while. However, I could not imagine someone as Ill prepared when he started. He was blissfully unaware of the dams and vastness of the lakes and even how much water was needed aboard for some stretches but he has found a way and made it this far. I believe he will make his goal, the Gulf.
I worked most of the day on my computer as I munched down food before the interview. Right as I was thinking about packing up and heading for the campground, a guy who had taken interest in Shawn’s trip offered to let us stay with him that night. Greg gave us directions on how to paddle to his waterside home and minutes later we were hanging out on his porch. It was quite nice to have a shower and a proper bed for a night and for that I thank him.
I paddled back to Freddy’s for the day and finally made for the state park that evening. I paddled up to shore and was greeted by Rick and his future father-in-law. Rick had seen the Bismarck Tribune article which had just been posted online a couple hours before. They invited me to share their camping spot and helped lug my gear over to where Rick’s fiancé and some more of their family were sitting by a fire. I was provided beer and Rick cooked up a huge skillet of vegetables. It was a real pleasure camping with them.
Rachel wouldn’t be arriving for another three days so I figured I could get some more miles in. I found a campground 60 miles away that agreed to store my board and arrived there two days later. After Tiffany, the Bayside Resort’s owner, helped me get the board and some gear locked up I enjoyed a good meal at their restaurant.
The next day I needed to get back to Bismarck. Rachel would arrive around 8pm and if I didn’t find my own way back to town, her 13 hour drive would turn into a 15 hour drive. I had breakfast at the restaurant and headed to the road with four bags. A car only passed about every ten minutes so catching a ride would be difficult but I had nothing else to do. I found it interesting that most cars waved as they wizzed by.
I found myself back in the restaurant for lunch after an unsuccessful couple of hours. Walking out, I hoped I wouldn’t have to be back for dinner. Around hour five on the roadside, a pick-up pulled over. I ran up to the window and was informed that the driver was heading where I wanted to go. I threw my stuff in the back and climbed in with Mark and his dog Willie for the hour trip.
The time flew by as Mark told me about his hunting property he was out working on and the things Rachel and I could do in Bismarck. It took Willie a while to warm up to me but soon enough he was sitting on my lap as we pulled into town.