My dear friend, supporter and river brother from Columbia, Missouri, Jonathan Lauten, produced this slide show of my trip thus far. It is very special to me as the memories provoked are fond and special. I think it is kind of funny that the slideshow brings back so many memories of a trip of which I am still in the midst.
Please take a moment to enjoy these very unique and special moments from LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition 2013.
I will try to continue my documentation of my expedition on this blog as soon as I am able, likely as soon as I get across Lake Oahe, of which I am over half way on this 230 mile lake (as of July 25, 2013).
Click on the photo below to access the slideshow. Thanks for your support! -Janet
By Norm Miller, in his own words….continued from Part I
I recently followed a group of young guys paddling down the Mississippi. I don’t think they made it a week before the whole adventure fell apart. I’m not sure why as I don’t know the whole story, but I got the sense that there were many factors from personality conflicts, mental battles of the mind, and lack of “outdoor” experience. For the most part we have lost touch of our hunter gatherer traits. We in today’s society look at modern adventure as a novelty. When in fact just a 150-years ago it was a common thing. We hunted, worked the land, lived a more nomadic lifestyle, our entire day was survival or just getting by. The pioneers on the wagon trains, the early explorers and missionaries, etc., everything they did in the course of their day was what many now think of as hardship. We spend so little time now in the outdoors. If it rains or snows we seek the comforts of our houses never really experiencing nature and missing out on a lot of great things.
The internet has changed everything! There is so much information out now that it shortens the planning by weeks and months. When I began my planning for my 2004-Lewis & Clark redux the internet was fairly new. I spent about 5 -years planning. Now with the help of paddling website, Facebook (“Missouri River Paddlers” site), books and the speed of finding information one can get all they need quickly.
For starters buy David Millers book; The Complete Paddler!!! It is the bible for Mo River paddlers….more information than you can absorb! The book is broken down into 3-parts: The upper, middle and lower river sections, which are basically three different trips in many ways. The book contains a wealth of logistical information including valuable phone numbers, re-supply points, drinking water locations, map info etc., etc. However last year the river experienced a huge flood which destroyed many locations that are mentioned in the book. So this Mo Paddlers FB page probably helps “update” some of that information, with recent paddlers in 2012 blogging about these changes, such as Bob Bellingham and Dom Liboiron, to name two.
Buying maps/charts should be one of the main priorities however in hind site I would feel confident paddling the entire route without a map or at least a Rand McNally road atlas would work. I know paddlers who only used such maps and they were fine. In 2004 I may have went overboard with maps. I used the Corp nautical charts for the lower river….they are awesome and show all 5000+ wing dikes and every mile in DETAIL…which is helpful when paddling upstream, but not as critical when paddling downstream.
Going upstream I had to stay very close to shore….so this is where the real hazards are located. So knowing all these wing dikes helped me. The Corp maps of the big lakes are good too. Those lakes are huge!!! You can get lost. Some of the bays open up to a 30-mile wide expanse of water and on a flat horizon it is almost impossible to tell where the hell you are at.
The Montana section is great…I made copies off of a map program. There are many bends and fast currents in Montana. The maps helped me find camping areas AWAY from people and or private property. I always preferred to stealth camp! During my 200-day trip I camped downtown in St. Charles, Washington, Kansas City, Ft. Yates and nobody knew I was ever there!!! The art of stealth camping is an art form for sure. After 12-17 hours of paddling I was not in the mood to be social most of the time. So being away from people allowed me to do what I needed to do and get the proper rest.
As far as travel speed goes…that depends on the weather and how much you want to paddle. It’s not a race, but some paddlers prefer long long hours and to cover many miles…which is my style. Others are so slow, I have to wonder if walking would not be faster. It’s all a personal issue. However ON AVERAGE…from Three Fork to St. Louis, those that have paddled down the last 8 years have done it in about 90-120 days! That’s a good average. I had a friend in 1981 go from Three Forks to St. Louis in about 30- days!!!! The state of Montana is a huge state with some big bodies of water…in particular Ft. Peck Res. I would allow about a month to get through Montana. The slower you go the better. Why? Montana is beautiful with so many interesting places to check out….why rush? We have the only mountains you will encounter! Montana is very scenic, lots of wildlife, historic unchanged river sections, interesting towns such as Ft. Benton too.
The Dakota’s can be a mental test. You have Lake Sakakawea and Oahe and, boy let me tell you, they can drain you mentally. Expect WIND and …more WIND….then a couple minutes of calm and then more WIND! It also blows in all directions…not just from west to east. The winds can change direction every hour. What I noticed in 2004 was the wind would really start to kick up about 8 am….die down a bit between 11 am and 2pm, then pick up hard from 2pm until the sun set. Once the sun set it is rather calm until morning…sometimes it is like glass on the water. A good time to make up lost miles is paddle in the dark under a full moon when the water is placid. During the day time hours you just have to keep moving whenever there is a break. Sometimes you may have to sit on shore 1/2 hour, 4-hours or all day….just be ready when it abates to jump in your boat and start paddling. I was wind bound 4-days on Oahe without moving an inch. The winds were 40-60 mph and the seas well over 10 feet high.
Lake Sakakawea video by Dom Liboiron
During those wind bound moments I usually read a book, slept, ate, fixed or cleaned gear or hiked around. Sometimes I would walk the shore for an hour or so to see what I could find. Near Ft. Yates I found a human skull in the sand. It was most likely that of a Native American from centuries ago, which was a cool find.
The Lower River from Yankton to St. Louis is fast moving if you are going downstream. One can paddle 40-80 miles a day through there depending on your energy level and river flows. Watch out for the barges, especially from behind…they can sneak up when the winds blowing and you will never hear them. It’s good to tuck behind a wing dike and let them pass before proceeding on.
FOOD AND WATER:
Don’t expect to filter water!!!! For one thing, there is so much agricultural runoff that you won’t want to drink it for fear for getting sick. Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and toxic pollutants are dumped or flushed into the river daily….my words of wisdom are…..DONT BOTHER. Why do a trip of a lifetime and get sick the first week? Every town, house, marina, store and campground has drinking water. (David Millers book mentions about every possible place to get drinking water.) It’s not a remote trip like it was for Lewis and Clark.
You will encounter plenty of places to obtain water. I carried 4 one-gallon jugs which I filled every couple of days….or whenever I saw a pump I would top them off. I filled water in bars, people’s houses and even the government office buildings attached to the State Capitol of Missouri. One thing to consider is early season such as March-May most campgrounds DO NOT HAVE their pumps working yet so you will have to rely on towns and houses to fill up.
In 2004- I did food drops at post offices. I researched which Post Offices were close to the water and had a box of food mailed there…General Delivery to me. I spent the previous winter dehydrating food and preparing meals so I did not have to always buy from stores. This saved me a lot of money! One thing to consider with the post office drop is the hours of operation for each office. You will have to plan on picking your box up when they are open and make sure you consider that they are closed on weekends and holidays. I ran into this issue in Yankton where my package did not arrive when I got there on Friday…I had to wait until Monday before it opened up.
Many people purchase food along the way. There are plenty of places to do so. However the variety may not be what you want or need. I tell everyone they should carry about 2-weeks at a time. ESPECIALLY the section when leaving Ft. Benton….there is a big gap of NO stores until you get to Wolf Point or Culbertson Mt. The town of Ft. Peck is LIMITED….basically a party store is all you have. That’s fine for some, not for me.
You will also have plenty of opportunities to get food at restaurants or from generous river angles. Just read Bob Bellingham’s blog and you will see that he ate well and drank plenty all from the great people he met along the way. I too had people buy me dinner or make me breakfast along the way.
CANOE OR KAYAK?
I’m not going to get too involved with this topic, but I will mention a few things.
The route has been done in aluminum Grumman Canoes, Home made dug out canoes, high tech kevlar canoes and kayak and everything in between… even a 1000 mile section on SUP boards.
I highly recommend something comfortable!! After all why be miserable sitting from 10-17 hour a day in for two months in something you are not comfortable in? I used a Sea Wind decked canoe built by canoe legend Verlen Kruger who holds many world records in distance paddling including the longest paddle trip ever by anyone…a 2 1/2 year 28,000 miles trip through N. America.
His boats, in my opinion, are the best solo expedition canoes on the market, as mentioned above…these boats hold THE records of distance travelling. They are strong, comfortable to sit in and hold a lot of gear without having to cram gear into small hatches like you would have in a sea kayak. I am never cramped in my boat. I oft times sat in it for 17-hours without ever get out. I never need to get out and stretch like I have to in a sea kayak. I’m biased on my choice but just make sure you know your boat. COMFORT should be maybe your #1 feature. If you have questions about boats…send me a message and I will go into more detail.
Have a good tent. It will most likely not be any good when you finish. I recommend a NEW one when you start…..not one that you have had for the last 5 years. Think about this, if you are out 90-days…that is like 45 weekends of camping….or nearly 4 summers of camping– ever weekend!!! I went through 2 tents….both were NO good when finished. One was destroyed by a tornado in the Dakotas…my second one…just plain wore out!!!
One TIP with any tent is also a large plastic tarp. I used the tarp almost everyday. I would put the tarp overtop my entire tent many times during a hard rain….to not only keep leaking water out but it kept me entire tent dry, so I never had to pack it away wet. This is very important because if you pack it away wet each day, it never dries out and begins to mold and decay!! A tarp will cover everything you have from getting wet….so always a dry packed boat every day!!
GOOD rain gear is important and I now even bring an umbrella!!! They make great sails and you don’t have to get out of the boat to put rain gear on for a 10-minute rainstorm. Just pull out the umbrella….pop it open, stay dry and put away after the many short rain storms. They make great shade too when in the Dakotas if you happen to be sitting around waiting out the wind….just sit under and enjoy the shade. Believe me there are no trees to block the 100-degree heat in the Dakotas.
One of the best things I brought was a pair of knee-high boots!!! Waterproof is a must. You will encounter a LOT of mud on the lower Mo and I hate wet feet!!! These boots kept me dry and from getting trench foot which can be common if your feet never dry out.
I personally hate to get sunburned. In fact I’ve been burned too many times and go to a dermatologist every 6-months to get pre cancer spots removed. Sun is very damaging, just look at what it does to your tent after a short time….now imagine what it does to your skin. If you plan to paddle or be out in the sun for 3-months then cover up!!! You will get plenty of sun even if you cover up. I hope we as humans have moved beyond the “tan look” vanity thing. The benefits of sun protection are—
You will be less dehydrated and your need to drink water will be less. Don’t forget even though you are on a river, the availability of clean drinking water is not that common. SO by covering your body, you won’t require as much water and you will be less fatigued. I am amazed how many people paddle with no hat, short sleeve shirts and shorts! A 100-day trip with 10 hours of sun exposure each day adds up to 1000 hours! If you were to take two apples, one whole, the other peeled, the one that is peeled will dry up 10-times faster than the one that is unpeeled. So think of your clothing as an apple peeling! One of the first rules in desert survival is to put cloths ON! You never see Middle Eastern cultures or people wearing shorts and t-shirts do you? They are sometimes covered head to toe, long shirts, pants, etc., etc. I wear long sleeves and long pants, a brimmed hat, a handkerchief around my neck and gloves to protect myself from the sun. I also use 75 to 100 SPF sunscreen at all times. It makes your paddling more comfortable when you are not fried!!
A TYPICAL DAY:
Not sure there is a typical day, but at times they can be very repetitive. You may awake before the sun and start paddling before the wind begins….say 6-8 a.m. each day…..so you at least get a couple hours of paddling in before the wind starts. I was so comfortable being in my boat that I would oft time be in it for as much as 17-hours without ever getting out…even to go to the bathroom….which I did in a pee-bottle! When I wanted to eat/snack I would just stop paddling and dig into my lunch/food bag that I kept close by. If I was wind bound I would try and find shade. Sometimes I set up my tent in order to have shade or use and umbrella. Other times I would walk around and explore the countryside or go into a town, grab a burger or even do laundry. Wind bound moments was when I would use my solar rechargers. I carried two solar panels for my satellite phone, camera and laptop, which I carried.
Your hot showers may be weeks apart, same with your laundry. I wore the same cloths almost everyday! You can periodically rinse them out in the river which also helps cool you down. A daily dip in the river is great for you.
Expect temperatures near 100F often through eastern Montana and the Dakotas. It’s very uncomfortable paddling, just keep plugging along! I would stop for the evening ONLY when the sun dropped below the horizon. I would then pull over right where I was at….and sometimes it was a stealth camp. Once the sun dropped below the horizon I would have about 1-hour before it was too dark to see. This hour of twilight allowed me to set up camp, cook, clean up, and update a blog….all without needing a head lamp. This method allowed me to go without a headlamp for all but about 2 hours in 6 months time! I was plenty tired after that and would fall immediately to sleep and usually not even wake the entire night. The following day was then repeated. Get use to being uncomfortable, hot, wet, smelly, soar, irritated, hungry, wind burned, and parched, yet happy as a clam!
I would typically look over my maps each night and try to imagine the next day’s terrain ahead. I would plan a “route” that took into consideration the wind directions I anticipated. Since I did not carry a weather radio I would often ask fishermen along the way if they heard of the weather forecast. When doing so, realize you will get 20-different answers for 20 different people. I would then compile all the info and then used deductive reasoning to come up with my own forecast. Same goes for “river conditions”!!!
Most people you meet will NOT BE CANOERS OR KAYAKERS, so they have NO clue as to what you require or your ability. TAKE ALL THEIR INFO with a grain of salt! Bob Bellingham told me he talked to some fishermen in North Dakota who told him upon he telling them that he was paddling to St. Louis….their response was, “YOU better check your maps, because this river doesn’t go to St. Louis!” Can you believe that!! I too had a similar situation whereas someone told me that Lewis & Clark didn’t pass through here. Writer Edward Abby is quoted as saying that “the reservoir fisherman is the lowest form of life on earth.” Well, I hate to say this but it sure is a different culture for sure.
SAFTEY: Be street smart and level headed. You are not in a race. It only takes one hair raising moment to put you in your place. Typically EVERY first time Thru-Paddler gets cocky and takes too big of risk especially at open water crossings….usually the first reservoir of Peck. You will get half way across and the wind will begin to blow and create huge waves. Be smart, not stupid!
Your biggest concern, besides the weather, is humans! The most dangerous thing you may encounter will be man. I prefer to camp away from people, away from campgrounds or anywhere where there is road access and potential for a lot of beer drinking. Dead end roads at the rivers edge are a mecca for high-school kids on Friday night to have huge parties. Find those little hide-a-ways tucked along the shores of the reservoirs or in the trees along the river. You will have plenty of social opportunities if you need that. I personally am more of an introvert and seek out the stealth and remote camps.
It’s good to check-in each night if you have a cell phone or SPOT beacon. This saves a lot of worrying on the home front. It also gives a reference point if you get hurt the following day as to where your last check-point was. Your friends and family back home will be concerned, so be considerate of them and let them know. There are some big gaps in cell-coverage especially in Montana. You may go a week or more. I don’t recommend Cellular One as a service. They suck!!! Mark Kalch had a C.O. phone and could not use it for almost 6 weeks! In 2004 I used a Satellite phone which has coverage anywhere.
As far as your personal safety, you have more of a worry if you are solo than if paddling with a partner. I recommend a can of Bear-Spray over a gun, but that is another topic I don’t care to get into. Just be smart and listen to your gut feelings. Be aware and observant.
I’m sure I forgot a lot but this will give you an idea what is involved in paddling from Montana to St. Louis. Everyone is different. It’s best to create your own experience using the skills and knowledge passed along by others. They have a lot of good information. I highly recommend contacting the Through-Paddlers on this face-book site and ask them as many questions as you can think of. I’m just 1-mans experience. The things that worked for me may not work for you and visa-versa. One thing that is very important is to be adaptive and able to adjust to your changing conditions…either daily or hourly.
The most wonderful thing happened to me at the Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA) mini-conference yesterday. I walked away from the event with the most amazing book; it is a compilation of educational lessons and activities about the Upper Mississippi River. Erin Hilligoss-Volkmann of the Army Corps of Engineers gave a presentation, and I was one of the lucky ones to receive one of three copies she brought along. I asked her if I could post some things about the book on my blog, and she said, “Yes.”
This book is the manifestation in the physical realm of what I have been envisioning in my mind as it relates the Missouri River. Only it goes way beyond what I imagined possible. It is complete, thorough, comprehensive, beautifully illustrated, and bursting with amazing science and social studies lessons and activities. I’d say the book is somewhat like a dream-come-true, and gives my trip a rich new perspective.
Well deserved kudos go out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) Cultural Resources and Stewardship Mitigation Team in La Crosse, WI, and design team led by Formations.
This book is given to facilitators at a workshop in which they are trained to train teachers to teach students about the upper Mississippi River. Here are the titles to the units:
Unit 1 Introduction to the Upper Mississippi River Watershed
Unit 2 Introduction to Upper Mississippi River Ecosystems
Unit 3 Introduction to Mississippi River History and Culture
Unit 4 Introduction to the Mississippi River at Work
Unit 5 Introduction to A Shared Resource – Our Mississippi River
Here’s a peak at some of the activities:
Content includes activities relating to river habitats, glacial history, plants, animals, and habitats of the Upper Miss, bird migration, endangered species, Mississippi’s ancient civilizations, Native Americans, settlement and transportation, Underground Railroad, watershed occupations, steam power, Mark Twain, Lewis and Clark, floods, locks, dams, water safety, and caring for the river, among many other subjects. The book even includes profiles of people important to the river today, such as Michael Clark and his Big Muddy Adventures.
To be honest, I am quite speechless as I look through this treasure chest of river education tools. Seems reasonable and logical to have a complimentary Missouri River resource such as this, full of riches much finer than gold.
Often in life we start new chapters. These milestones are times of exhilaration and anticipation of experiences in which we are not necessarily in control. “Positive believing equals positive receiving” has always been my mantra.
In two days I will have achieved a milestone in my life. A goal always present, always on hold, since the day I dropped out of college at Humboldt State University in 1974. It was the first day of my third quarter of college when I called my mom and told her I was moving to Montana with three of my friends. As it turned out, we decided if we could move to Montana, we might as well move to Hawaii! So we did! My mother let me keep the $250 check she mailed to me for books a few days before. I told her, “Experience is the best teacher, I will finish college later.” In two days I will fulfill that promise to my mother, and to myself.
I have been busy student teaching as part of my internship for the last 16 weeks. For ten weeks I taught 8th grade Social Studies, and for six weeks I have been teaching 8th grade Science. This coming Friday is my last day. I have been an apprentice working with masters of the trade at Jefferson Junior High School: Mrs. Tracy Worthington (Social Studies) and Mrs. Jennifer Szydlowski (Science). To these two women I am forever grateful for their expertise, patience, graciousness, and support. This experience is one I will never forget. I love teaching, and they have contributed to this passion.
I share all of this here because I have had to suspend much of my expedition planning. I contacted a few potential sponsors over Thanksgiving break (I had five days off) only to be informed by one that, “Once you get this initial trip under your belt and begin to cultivate a sizable following on your blog, social media pages (you would need to have your own), aggregate additional sponsors, and generate significant media attention (both for yourself and your cause), we would be more than happy to revisit a sponsorship with you for future expeditions or projects of this type.” This response was from DeLorme inReach with regard to their satellite tracking and communication device and sponsorship I requested from them. I know that I need to start small and local, but I was thinking more “priority first.” A satellite tracking and navigation device is high priority for my trip.
Fair enough. I have not had time to promote myself, which does not come naturally to me anyway. However, after Friday I am free from school and work obligations until January 2.
I have reached a major confluence in life where my life lived thus far will join with my future, bright and mysterious.
Saturday I am attending a Missouri Environmental Education Association conference held at the University of Missouri. I hope to get ideas and network with potential innovators regarding education. I was honored to attend Missouri River Relief’s Education Committee meeting the other night. Great things are happening with their organization’s river education component. I am proud to know them and help promote their mission and vision.
One other thing: my expedition story will be published any day on the University of Missouri’s home page as a banner story, written by Nancy Moen, who is retired from MU Publications and now a free-lance writer. I will be posting on this blog when that happens. MU’s chief photographer, Shane Epping, shot some photos of me on the river a while back to accompany the story. We were blessed with phenomenal lighting just before sunset. Shane is also best friends with our beloved river rat Beatriz Jean Wallace who has begun a new chapter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently. The Missouri River is all about relationships and community and family.
Anyway, I write this because I can’t sleep at night knowing about all of the things I have to do, people I have to contact, knowledge I must learn, and information I want to share as I begin some serious planning for this epic journey down the Big Muddy. I feel I have reached a confluence if life, the merging of my life thus far and the bright and mysterious future ahead. I have so many things racing through my head.
(Oh, and I also talked to journalism student, Tina Casagrand, and ex-President of Sustain Mizzou, a student environmental org, and she has offered to produce a Kick-Start video for me and help me include a PayPal link on this blog site.)
With all that said, life is good. Thanks for listening. Sweet sleep to all, and to all a good night. (Oh, and I can’t wait to finally make it to Montana!) 🙂
Every morning of every day I think about my trip with great anticipation and longing to get on the water. I look forward to the solitude and the simplicity, waking in the morning near the water, starting the stove for coffee, searching for whatever wildlife will come my way, taking photos, reading, or writing in a journal. Perhaps I have set up my tent facing the river so when I wake up I can lay in my sleeping bag gazing at the river and dream about the day ahead, or the day behind. I have backpacked alone before. I am comfortable in the wilderness.
In three weeks I will have an education degree in social studies and science. So, this morning I’m thinking about how I can make this trek and this degree work together. I glance over at my NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) monthly newspaper I get in the mail. I see a photo of a man on top of a snow-covered mountain. The caption reads, “Minnesota high school science teacher…uses photographs taken during his world travels to stimulate inquiry in his classes.” Sweet! As I read the article, I learn that his photograph introduces a topic, prompts a story, generates student interest, provokes questions to which the students want answers, initiates a real life connection, brings the mountains into his Minnesota classroom, and creates a teachable moment. BINGO! I can do that! My past experiences can provide lots of material. My upcoming trip will create a file full of opportunities.
As an example, on all of his experiences this teacher records basic weather data (temperature, precipitation, cloud coverage, wind speed and direction) which provides a transition into graphing and analyzing data. Great idea! Now I am thinking, hmmm, the ecology aspect of being on the river and the exposure to wildlife and, of course, environmental stewardship are teachable opportunities. And the dams, the many dams, can provide ample high-powered subject matter. How about the geology and geography between Montana and Missouri? And, oooh, the moon phases and constellations? Hey, what about bringing into the classroom the sights and scenery experienced by Lewis and Clark and their crew, and the Native Americans with whom they came in contact? My head is spinning with possibilities!
So much food for thought! If I am not able to have an outdoor classroom, I will strive to bring the outdoor classroom inside.
Yes, I look forward to the solitude, but the simplicity may be more multifaceted than I thought.
If you are reading this, and you have some teachable moment ideas for me to think about on my trip, I encourage you to comment. Thanks!