Paul Schmid of the Pursuit Zone and I were finally able to coordinate schedules so we could talk about LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition while recording a poscast. We talked the other day during my week-long rest before heading to the Mississippi River, which I will do this morning (Wednesday, September 25).
I believe this is the most in-depth interview, in podcast form, I have had regarding my thoughts on the expedition. If you have a few minutes, like 30, please give it a listen.
I left a warm flock of river friends at Cooper’s Landing on April 14, headed for Montana. My daughter, Haley Moreland, and dear friend, Jeannie Kuntz, a.k.a., the LoveYourBigMuddy Support Team, traveled with me for six days before arriving in Livingston, MT, at the home of Norm Miller and Kristin Walker, a.k.a, Base Camp International, on April 20.
Nearly 5 months to the day, on September 16, I paddled into Cooper’s Landing to the warm arms and paddles of my friends and family, and reporters, too. Oh, what a wonderful day this was to celebrate completing two thirds of this Missouri River Source-to-Sea Expedition. Originally, I planned to paddle from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico in 2014. I changed my mind while paddling across Lake Francis Case.
Well, it took a little while to evaluate the change in plan, and in the end, I decided it was the right thing to do. So, I am taking a week-long break to tend to numerous tasks, preparations, and responsibilities (The week has passed and tomorrow I launch already, Wednesday, September 25).
This link should take you to a video of my arrival at Cooper’s Landing on September 16: (Thank you, Karen Rush)
As I came a’paddlin’ down the river, I saw Roger and Barb Giles’ sternwheeler way off in the distance. I thought maybe I was looking at a rock outcropping on the bank, but no, it was the sternwheeler. They reached me just above Rocheport and honored me with a cannon shot in the air. Wow! Feeling pretty special.
Then, a mother and her three children were standing on the bank of the river hooping and hollering for me and the expedition. They were enthusiastic and excited. That got me excited. We exchanged hand waves.
An indiscreet canoe with two shady characters paddled nearby. “Hey, I think I know you! Are you Jodi and Megan??? Well, yes you are, I know you!” Finally, these two pirate-ettes turned around and smiled. I had just met Megan in Glasgow when Scott and I camped. We all went out to dinner together. And, Jodi is an active volunteer for Missouri River Relief. Fantastic! We paddled together downstream.
Soon, we approached Airplane Island, across the river from the Huntsdale Ramp. I knew Steve Schnarr and Melanie Cheney were waiting for me at the island. I could see them. Great. However, they were only decoys for what suprise lay ahead. All of a sudden, kayaks and canoes came peeling out from behind a wing dike headed right for me. Oh my goodness! I was soon surrounded and taken down river to Cooper’s ramp, where a robust reception awaited. What a heart warming welcome. A fabulous reception and party ensued. This was a memorable day on the expedition. I live within one of the greatest river communities along the Big Muddy. I am so proud.
Since my arrival, I have been interviewing, repairing gear, dealing with pet issues, visiting friends (a little), spending time with family, attending Scott’s victory finish, updating my journal, cleaning the house, dehydrating veggies, restocking food, organizing photos, washing clothes, paying bills, and researching river maps and websites. I still have lots to do. I want to clean the boat, reorganize my load, replace rudder cables, apply new keel strip, update the blog, understand my GPS, read, and purchase gear, such as a marine radio for communicating with tugs and freighters. Oh, and take the dogs for a walk down by the river.
I am very excited to be heading out to paddle the Mississippi River. Both of my brothers worked on tugboats back in the 70s. One brother used to tell me to get a job on a tug as a cook. He LOVED working as a deck hand. I was too young, I thought, at 19. At 25 y/o I got a job cooking on a purse seine boat in SE Alaska one summer/fall season. After that experience, I went back to STL and tried to get a job on a tug as a cook. This was in the mid-80s, and their was a drastic reduction in barge traffic with grain embargoes in the south. It is time, at last, to meet the Mississippi.
I really enjoyed driving to St. Louis with Haley to see Scott Mestrezat complete the first ever Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Expedition down the entire length of the Missouri River. I was fortunate to have paddled many days with Scott, and I now consider him a dear friend. Congratulations, Scott! Well done, my friend.
I was also excited to see my other river brothers, Reed and Josh, with whom I was also fortunate enough to paddle several days on the river. They started at Three Forks and are heading down to the Gulf of Mexico. I will be just over a week behind them. We all share river blood, and I also consider them my brothers, even though I’m old enough to be their mother. Topping off a great visit to the big city was a quick visit with someone I admire greatly, and that is Shane Perrin, SUP paddler extraordinaire.
Today is Tuesday, September 24, and I am shoving off tomorrow morning to finish off this last leg of my historic expedition. I have barely enough time to do everything needed, and so I anticipate this day and evening will fly by. Oh, it will be good to be back on the water. Life will be simple and rewarding for at least another five weeks. Oh what a trip it has been!
I hope to fill in the rest of my trip as I am able. Thanks again for your patience.
I paddled ten hours and 48 miles to get around UL Bend on Fort Peck Lake. I woke in the middle of the night and took some Advil. My muscles were stiff. It hurt so good. I felt like I had accomplished a lot by travelling so far. Now I would have to deal with the lake that I had heard so much about, and had been warned about by so many, friends and strangers: “Be safe through Fort Peck!! No big crossings unless way before 8AM! You need to take advantage of the lake telling you it’s safe to go…not when YOU say it’s safe to go. Watch for quicksand!!” Or, “Fort Peck is a very dangerous lake. Motor boats get swamped out there. The waves can come up fast. Don’t get caught out in the middle of the lake. People die on this lake.” Gee whiz, people. I wish I could enjoy the ride more instead of worrying about making unsafe decisions or passages across the lake. My journal reads, “I need to stop wondering if I’m making the right decision and just trust my judgment. I can SO do this!”
I was more concerned with the possibility that there might be mountain lions around. I think I saw mountain lion tracks. Or, maybe they were coyote or wolf tracks, not sure. In hindsight, probably coyote, or racoon, or even badger. I had a little Montana Survival booklet with me. That was a really good purchase for five bucks. The nail imprints in the tracks indicated they were more likely the tracks of a badger, racoon or fox.
That very night, after I was zipped up in my tent, some animal made a loud noise right around dusk just outside my tent. Holy mackerel! It was a honk, cough, yell, growl, screech, or something, I don’t know what. “Stay calm,” I told myself. “What do you need to do to survive?” I took the safety off of my bear spray, got my buck knife out, grabbed my machete, and put my whistle around my neck. I was hoping it was not a mountain lion. This area just seemed so mountain lion-ish with the desolation and rocky mountains all around. I also had my bottle of Advil next to me as I was preparing to down a couple to prevent stiff and sore muscles that night. I know, I’ll shake this bottle of pills and the animal outside will surely be startled, not having a clue what that noise is. I shook the bottle so it was loud and annoying. I heard the noise again, along with a couple of hoof stomps, and then it was quiet. My final deduction was that the animal was an elk. It was not a deer, but something similar that I was not familiar with. I’m sure it was an elk, or maybe an antelope. I was camped at their water hole, no doubt.
I was ready to knock out another 10-hour day. The weather report was calling for NE/East winds and some weather rolling in from the Pacific Northwest. Darn! I was loving all that sunshine and glassy water. I traveled up the North-South arm and reached the East-West body of the lake. The winds were indeed blowing at me. I would have to wait. There were whitecaps everywhere. I decided to hike around and take some pictures. As it turned out, I set up my tent just before a thunderstorm rolled through. I would be here until tomorrow.
I would not paddle any more big 10-hour days on Fort Peck Lake. Winds blew every day. I paddled some mornings, and even some afternoon and evenings. I was comfortable at one spot where I landed, mainly because there was no mud, but it was also a very beautiful cove, and I was ready to wait out a big electrical storm forecasted and coming my way. However, the winds layed down unexpectedly and the wind advisory got cancelled. I wanted to stay put but I knew if winds were calm I needed to paddle. I packed up.
I made some progress, but was NOT pleased with my camp that night, the camp at which I was forced to ride out the predicted electrical storm, which was severe. I was exposed inside a bay that was treeless and low lying, and extremely muddy. This was, literally, the low point of my Fort Peck Lake experience.
I ended up surviving the storm that packed a major north wind, ripping the tarp off of my tent. I reached out and caught a corner of it just in time to keep it from flying into the water. The winds flattened the north side of my tent and ripped my tent stake out of the ground. I had to get the stick four foot that was still on the bow of my boat. I ran out of my tent and grabbed the stick off of my boat. Thankfully, I had not been struck my lightning. I secured my fly with the stick stuck deep into the mud. What a relief to have my tent upright again. Of course, I couldn’t help but think I had just inserted into the ground a lighting rod, which seemed to be the high point on shore, and right outside my shelter. Oh well, there was nothing more I could do. I had to wait out the storm, and I did it squatting with only my feet touching ground and my hand on my SPOT “SOS” button. I thought if lightning struck me, my reflex would press the button. When the storm ended, I was so thankful to be alive. I did not concern myself with the two inches of rain that was falling outside. I was dry inside, and alive.
I got out of there at dawn the next morning. I wanted no part of this campsite any more. I paddled several half-days and eventually made it to the Pines Recreation Area, a location in which Lewis and Clark wrote about as having the first pine trees they saw. I met a wonderful couple, Matt and Carol Williams, and their son and wife, Bill and Tammy. What friendly people. They first brought me watermelon, which was a delicious treat, then later invited me to their camp for steak dinner, wine, and a marshmallow roast. I was so happy to have met these people. They added a warm human social element to this desolated lake leg, and their company and generosity was comforting. I was amazed the next morning when they assembled a cold pack with fresh walleye fish and fruit salad for me to take to fix for dinner that night. We drank coffee together and shared stories before we all parted our ways.
This day was a Sunday, and the Williams family headed home. I ended up waiting out a big wind day just down the shoreline. I met a man while hanging out on the point who was looking around for a mountain lion as tracks had been spotted inside the recreation area. I knew it! This WAS mountain lion country! I was on guard after that, but I came back that night and camped at the same spot as the previous night. This was a first for me, to camp in the same spot two nights in a row. I did not worry too much as calm winds were forecasted for the morrow, and I was up before dawn to paddle my last day on the lake. I woke to a gorgeous orange cloudless sky and glass waters. These conditions would remain all day long. What a wonderful way to end this lake experience. I felt like I was leaving a good friend whom I had gotten to know personally, and for whom I had the utmost respect. Yes, that would be Fort Peck Lake.