On April 14, 2013, I left Columbia, MO, and set out on an extraordinary solo kayak voyage down the 4th longest river system in the world, the 3,800-mile Missouri-Mississippi River System. Upon completing the expedition on December 5, 2013, I became the first American, and first woman, to traverse the entire river system from source to sea.
My mission began as an empowerment model for our nation’s youth, showing them that dreams can be achieved through decision, desire, and details (and hard work). The mission soon flourished into an empowerment model not only for youth, but for adult women and men as well. At 57 years old, I was living proof that neither gender nor age should prevent you from pursuing your dream. Not only that, the expedition embraced education and environmental stewardship by bringing awareness to Missouri River Relief, a not-for-profit river clean-up and education organization. Our hope is to bring the Missouri River into the classroom, and the classroom out to the river. Touching the river, knowing the river, and loving the river are key ingredients to sustaining the health and vitality of our planet’s veins and arteries.
The adventure began on April 24, 2013, when Norman Miller and I skied into the ultimate source of the Missouri River, Brower’s Spring, in southern Montana near West Yellowstone. We planned for 7 hours and finished in 31 hours, much to our surprise. We spent the night in the mountains with no sleeping gear, food, or fire. Let the adventure begin!
The next leg involved biking 100 miles through the Centennial Valley. This dirt road traversed Red Rock River to Clark Canyon Dam. The Red Rock River is not paddler friendly as it is full of man-made dams composed of barbed wire, wood, electrical wire, and corrugated sheet metal. I put my kayak in the Beaverhead River below Clark Canyon Dam on May 1, 2013. The Beaverhead eventually turns into the Jefferson River, which becomes the Missouri River about 200 miles downstream at Three Forks, MT.
My first day was a test of will as I became entangled in a tree strainer, spraining my hand and nearly dumping my boat. On day two, I put two holes in my boat, thankfully above water line, as the swift and narrow Beaverhead River made it difficult to avoid collisions with snags along shore. Nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix! After 11 days of paddling I arrived at Three Forks, where I then regrouped at Norm Millers’ Base Camp International in Livingston, MT, patched the holes in my boat, and set off down the Missouri River at Three Forks on May 15, 2013. The rest, really, is history as I proceeded to live life on the river, with simplicity and joy, for the next seven months.
I will cherish this expedition until the day I die. I experienced challenging decision-making, marvelously mellow mornings, exasperating electrical storms, wild wind and waves, stunning sunsets, random acts of kindness, unforgettable human river angels, the wonders of wildlife, big huge barges, even bigger and huger freighters ;), and frightening fog. Last but not least I met a whole world of beautiful and extraordinary supporters up and down the river to whom I cannot give enough thanks, and whom I now consider river family.
Please enjoy a few expedition photos I picked out, in no logical order, but which are among some of my favorites. You may remember…
Please visit my sponsor page at the top of my site to see the wonderful companies that believed in me and helped me out in some way to ease the financial burden. Special thanks to Patagonia for their generous clothing sponsorship. Eddyline for their excellent service with my boat as well as donating the best paddle I could ever imaging taking, a Swift Paddle. Many heart-felt thanks to all of Columbia, Mo’s outdoor shops for donating items to LoveYourBigMuddy. Huge thanks especially to our Klunk Bikes for re’cycling’ me a bike, which I love very much to this day.
And to every person that was able to donate financially, I know who you are and you will NOT be forgotten. Particularly my local Riverbilly family and those contributing to the Blues Benefit. Click here to see who these tremendous supporters of LoveYourBigMuddy are. This was YOUR expedition! THANK YOU! If you see a photo you would like on this post and it is part of your donation reward, please email me and let me know. I will be posting more photos shortly.
For a comprehensive view of media articles and podcasts, click here to visit my media page, located at the top of the site.
Lastly, warm thoughts go out to the crew at Canoe and Kayak Magazine, and to all of the individuals who took a moment to vote LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition into the “Spirit of Adventure” Award arena for 2014. Certainly, the honor was all mine to receive the award in the midst of an incredible paddling family. YOU, too, can be a candidate for such a cool recognition. Just…
…remember to keep your eyes on the road ahead. Don’t quit your DayDream. And, dream BIG!
LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition on Facebook. see what’s up…
“So, Janet, what’s your next adventure?” A popular question about which I have been asked many times. For awhile there I began to believe I could go on another expedition. I began researching the Amazon River and contacted my friends on Facebook who have paddled it already, namely Mark Kalch and West Hanson. Man oh man, what an awesome adventure THAT would be! Not only do I have an interest in South America, but to paddle the second longest river in the world??? Solo?! We are talking real-deal adventure! Too bad about the Class V+ white water on that 500-mile section…hmmm, do I REALLY want to risk my life? How could I ever pay for such a thing? How long will it take? How DO those adventurers DO it???
Back to reality. Spending 7.5 months on an expedition is costly. I am so thankful for my supporters along the way who carried me through financially, but the money hole that awaited me post-expedition was, or is, enormous. I left on my expedition with pocket change, and came home with the same.
That said, I began researching an adventure that was drifting around in the back of my mind, something I have always been interested in and have wanted to learn more about. I needed to find an adventure during which I could work and make some money. To begin my inquiry I made the initial phone call to the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation School in south-central South Dakota. I wondered if they needed any teachers. This could be a cultural journey for which I could get paid while immersed in it. I had started the ball rolling, one that is currently moving right along at a pretty good clip. In fact, I will be moving to South Dakota next month to teach 6th-grade at the Lower Brule Day school. Now, ask me what my next adventure is going to be! 🙂
I visited Lower Brule Sioux reservation while on expedition. I landed in Chamberlain, South Dakota, on Thursday, August 9, 2013, which is downstream a few hours, below Big Bend Dam. My campsite was at the beautiful American Creek Campground located on the waterfront shore of Lake Francis Case. Jessica Giard was my river contact in Chamberlain, at that time the editor of the local town paper. We enjoyed each other’s company very much and made arrangements to drive to the Powwow at Lower Brule on Sunday, August 11, 2013.
I was intrigued with the Powwow event and the display of American Indian culture. Lower Brule reservation is located right on the shores of Lake Sharpe. I took lots of photos, met some unique and interesting individuals, and thoroughly enjoyed the regalia, dancing and music at the event, the latter of which consisted of many different drum circles. This was a highlight of my expedition.
Lower Brule is reorganizing its school system to achieve sustainable success. The Tribal Council is working with AIII (A-Triple i), the American Indian Institute for Innovation, making uplifting and relevant changes to achieve post-secondary attendance by graduating high school students who will, ultimately, return to the reservation with their education, leadership skills and innovative ideas. The schools are hoping to achieve an increase in performance standards. I believe the changes in-progress will manifest success and benefits to the Lower Brule community.
Preferring not to commute the 30 minutes to Chamberlain to live, leaving school at the bell and returning at 7:00 AM, I asked the consulting team leading the reorganization if they could find me housing on the reservation. Indeed, they DID find for me a modest inexpensive home to rent just a few blocks from the school. I felt this arrangement was important for immersion with the community and building relationships.
LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition was a life-changing journey like I never expected. After seven and one-half months living simply on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, I now know that my days will continue to be unique while trying to avoid ordinary affairs. Living life outside of the box is stimulating and rewarding. I refuse to melt into an armchair positioned in front of a television or a desk chair in front of a computer screen (well, maybe a little of the latter). Life is so short and at 57 years I can feel the pressure of time passing. So much to do and so little time!
The journey is not over until the mission bears fruit. The goals of LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition include 1) empowering youth (women and men) to confidently pursue their dreams and desires 2) conducting effective education in the natural environment, which includes bringing the Missouri River into the classroom and the classroom out to the river and 3) preparing the next generation for impactful stewardship of our nation’s waterways. Purposeful living embodies the spirit of adventure. Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
On Monday, June 17, I paddled my final day on Fort Peck Lake. The winds were dead calm and the water so glassy I could see myself in the reflection. I owned the lake that day. I could go anywhere without fear of swamping. I felt I could cross to the opposite shore all morning long if I wanted, a feeling never before experienced on Fort Peck Lake. This lake is intimidating. We left with a mutual respect for each other. Yes, friends.
I knew from Dave Miller’s “The Complete Paddler” that the owner of the marina rented out some RVs with showers. I longed for the moment I could shower and relax. It had been a couple of weeks since I immersed myself in the luxury of running hot water. I did take a sponge bath the first day on the lake, but that was a looooong time ago. Immediately upon pulling in next to the ramp I headed for the office.
I asked for the owner, expecting an elderly lady who had been managing the resort for, well, at least ten years. I was surprised to find the owner to be a young woman.
“I am paddling the entire length of the Missouri River and I have not taken a shower in a couple of weeks. I really need a shower and a place to sleep and do laundry. Can you help me”? I asked with determination. “Please say ‘yes.’”
Michelle, the new owner, no longer provided the RVs to accommodate overnight visitors. She did have a house, however, in which she was not living. She and her daughter, and husband when he was here, stayed in a large recreational vehicle and used the house for storage, laundry, and showering. Her husband spent half his time working in nearby Sidney, a town near Williston that was also experiencing a massive oil and gas boom. The marina was a new purchase and investment for this young family. And, they relocated Michelle’s mom, DeeAnne, to live with them and help take care of their young daughter, Allison. I sure appreciated them letting me hang out for a day or two.
I enjoyed feeling safe and secure and out of the elements after the two long weeks on the lake and in the Breaks. However, by the third day I was ready to get going. I arrived at the marina on June 17. Today was June 19. An intense wind and electrical storm was forecasted to sweep through the area tonight, and I was strongly advised not to go until it passed. Jack, retired Air Force and new staff at the marina, helped me put my boat in their warehouse. Winds were forecasted to blow 75 mph that night. I survived the storm easily, but soon got word that campers at Eagle Creek in the Breaks did not fare so well. Their tents got ripped to shreds, and a paddler on the Marias River lost his canoe and all his gear, including a case of beer(!) when the wind swept it up and away. The owner neglected to tie his boat down, a first-time and devastating mistake. I never left Blue Moon unsecured after this night.
I was grateful for Jack as he took the time to show me around Fort Peck on Tuesday, June 18, and also took me to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center below the dam. It was here that I saw the most incredible dinosaur skeletons! Unfortunately, my phone ran out of juice and I couldn’t take any photos. Oh well. Today was Jack’s day off and I was happy he offered to show me around. He also agreed to drive me to the put in below the dam the next day, but this was delayed one day due to the big storm forecasted to hit our area, a perfect example of living on “river time.” You just go with the flow and try to stay flexible.
We arrived at the campground below the dam around 6:00 PM on Thursday, June 20. I planned to take off on the river early the next morning. I was getting very excited in anticipation. The thrill of adventure is intoxicating and addicting. But, the mosquitos were sobering and annoying. All part of the total experience. Jack and I sprayed Deet on ourselves and finished our beers sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck. Hot summer fun! Next thing I knew I was being entertained by a local who had brought his new invention down to the beach to test the waters, so to speak…
I left about 9:30 in the morning with sunny skies and glassy water, my favorite conditions. From my journal I wrote, “Good paddling today…The first day back on the water it seems like there are soooo many miles you just want to knock some out. Paddled all day. Saw lots of ship sinkers (my name for snags in the river with pointed ends facing down river) and two shipwrecks, one in the river on a sandbar, the other laying on shore…I paddled about 30-35 miles. The current is about 5 mph, so very quick. I found a decent sandy campsite with creamy mud at the shore. I guess that’s because of the Milk River, it is sooo creamy! Marginal cell, but got some postings up.”
I looked forward to passing the Milk River. One reason was because I had heard of the stark contrast in clear water of the MO and the milky water of the Milk. I also looked out for it because my friend, Dominique Liboiron, who had paddled a canoe down from Saskatchewan the summer before, had camped right on the point at the confluence. I remember he told me that he was so intimidated by the Missouri River that he camped for three days at the confluence before paddling on down. Of course, all of his fears disappeared once he started downstream and realized the Missouri River was actually just one big “lazy river.”
I spent about a week or so paddling the stretch of river between Fort Peck Lake and Lake Sakakawea. I had heard a lot about Wolf Point on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and that it was probably not best to stop there. Well, I passed by at 5:00 in the afternoon on Saturday with no real reason to stop. I did not see anyone around, either. Well, I saw one guy. He was in a big beautiful canoe paddling down the river. Wow! Who are you?? I asked , surprised to see another paddler of whom I was totally unaware.
“I’m Shawn Hollingsworth,” he replied.
“Where are you from, paddling from, and to where are you paddling?” I asked, standard questions asked of any paddler you meet on the river.
“I am from Virginia Beach, VA, I started at Three Forks, and I am paddling to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Wow, all by yourself in that big canoe?”
“No, I’ve got a travelling companion.” He then told me about his little bird in a box inside his canoe. He picked up the injured bird while walking down the street in Fort Peck. “He has an injured wing, and his name is Bob (Bird On a Boat).”
He asked me if I was a school teacher. “Actually, I am. Umm, how did you know?”
“Ya, my mom is following you on Facebook.”
“Really? That is too funny!”
This was the beginning of a real sweet friendship. Shawn and I paddled off and on for the next week, until we were both situated on windy Lake Sakakawea. I remember Shawn telling me that Bob finally flew off when Shawn was behind me, paddling through the river-to-lake transition onto Lake Sakakawea on June 28. Most days we did not paddle much together since he was slower in the canoe, but he always seemed to make it to my camp in the evening, much to my delight. He was such good company and, at 23 years old, was on the adventure of his life.
I loved spending time with Shawn. I was so proud of him embarking on this adventure alone after his two buddies left him. One left him two weeks before leaving Virginia Beach, the other left him after a harrowing crossing of Fort Peck Lake. Shawn had never paddled before and now was left to skipper a three-man canoe, which he made all by himself. Plus, he was raising awareness for breast cancer.
I was happy to share with him some tips on reading the river and waiting patiently during high winds, the latter of which guys find most challenging. Paddling in extremely high winds on Fort Peck Lake nearly killed Shawn and his paddling partner. They ended up getting towed off the lake and his partner decided to call it quits. Another paddler had swamped a couple of weeks earlier in big swell generated by high winds. He lost his tent, sleeping bag, cell phone, and his adventurous spirit. He nearly died from hypothermia, and ended up leaving his partner as well. Waiting through big wind sessions on these big lakes is all part of the game. Impatience must be replaced with going for a walk, reading a good book, exploring the beaches and hills, or whatever else one does to entertain themselves. It is a matter of life and death on these big lakes.
On my second night of camping back on the river I saw the most exquisite sunset I had ever seen. I almost missed it while putting up my tent and battling the mosquitoes. I think this is the worst mosquito deluge of the whole trip. Thank God for my 98% Deet. And, for the stunning sunset that night. I think this photo generated more hits on Facebook than any other during my whole trip. Well, except for the skeleton plastered up against the snags on the Beaverhead River. That was a good one, too.
Here is a little video I shot just prior to taking this photo. After the little video, I began setting up my tent and packing everything in it. I just happened to turn around and noticed the sunset was in full swing. I grabbed my camera right away and got several good shots. I was stunned at the magnitude of colors displayed.
I made it to the Highway 16-Culbertson Bridge on June 24th. Situated just past the reservation, I decided to camp here after some locals said they thought it would be safe. Not long after I landed I met Glenn Stewart, who hollered down from atop the bridge. He was working on the road crew and, after talking to him, he immediately became interested in my journey. If you need to go into town and have breakfast or go to the grocery store, we’ll be here tomorrow and you can just take my car into town. Wow! A true river angel with a generous heart to help. Thanks, Glenn! Glenn and his son, Kelly, and his wife ended up following the rest of my trip on Facebook. Shawn showed up the next morning when I was getting ready to leave. Glenn offered him his car and he was able to make it into town, too. Shawn wanted to stay here and rest up. I did not know when I would see him again.
I ended up going into town the next morning after a pretty good storm hit. Some kids came down to the bridge that night and played some decent country music and lit off fireworks. I almost got up to join them, but didn’t want to spoil their summertime river experience. I’m old, you know…LoL! It’s what memories are made of, right? I slept good after they left, woke up with sand in my tent, but forgot about any discomforts as I ate my ham and eggs breakfast at the Wild West Diner in town.
The day was cloudy and a bit windy from the west, which is not too bad. Once paddling, I got out my iPod and listened to music, which is so much fun, but I hesitated to do it too often. As I wrote in my journal, “I listened to more music, just for a little while. I don’t want to get lulled into complacency while on the water, too dangerous.”
I camped just a few hundred yards from the Montana/North Dakota border. Also situated at this location is Fort Union. Norm Miller encouraged me to bushwack into the fort, which I did, and had the pleasure of meeting Yellow Bird, an Arikara Native American working at the Fort. I spent an hour or two visiting with him. I enjoyed immersing myself in the history that surrounds this mighty Missouri River.
“The Grandest Fort on the Upper Missouri River
Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. A bastion of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.” -http://www.nps.gov/fous/index.htm
The confluence of the Yellowstone River is just a short paddle away. The staff at the Fort Buford Interpretive Center, located there, were kind enough to buy my camp site for me. I will continue my next blog post at the confluence. I will then be just a couple of days away from starting my trek across Lake Sakakawea. Shawn and I will meet up for the next few days, but then we begin our own journeys down the Mighty Missouri River. Sad parting with him, but not without a promise to reunite and share stories someday.
I finally did it! I made it all the way to the Gulf if Mexico, but not without some very harrowing and tense moments in the Southern Louisiana fog. Fog? Who knew? That was an oversight on my part. Forgot about the fog.
This is my amazing support crew that helped get me through the fog, through the Head of Passes, down South Pass to the Gulf, and back to Venice in a thick fog bank. What an epic finish to an unforgettable journey. Big THANKS to my support crew, the Bar Pilots and their crews in Venice and Pilottown, and to all of my supporters who cheered me on every single day!
My unforgettable crew and dear friends and daughter:
And the stellar crew at Pilottown:
Pilots at Venice Bar Pilot’s Association:
Our first attempt to make it to the Gulf was on December 4. We were doing pretty good on the East shore, although the fog was lingering on that side. By the time we passed Pilottown in the fog, we were engulfed. At one point we all heard a boat coming right toward us. I was out of the channel, and so was my support boat, but I didn’t know it. They were in only three feet of water. Hearing the boat coming closer and closer, but not seeing it, I was terrified they would be run down by a big fishing boat. I screamed at them to turn around. They appeared to be frozen staring into the fog. Oh. My. God. Will I witness their demise???? Thankfully, no. After the boat passed us by, we all knew we were finished for now. I got on the phone to Pilottown and asked them if we could come ashore.
“Of course, we will be expecting you,” they replied.
When we arrived 15 minutes later, they immediately took us under their wing, brought us inside, fed us from a smorgasborg outlay of food, shared their ‘mission control,’ and educated us on their system for bringing big ships up from the Gulf to New Orleans. Most importantly, they explained the Fog Predictor, which indicated a lift in the fog at 9:00AM until midnight tomorrow, December 5. We set our goal to the Gulf for tomorrow. They invited to breakfast, too. So nice and comforting, these river angels.
On the final dash to the Gulf, my greatest concern was the fog in the Head of Passes. This is a wide open space from which three branches of channelized water run to the Gulf. The Southwest Pass is the shipping lane for tankers, freighters, and container ships, Loutre Pass is mainly small craft and fishing boats, and South Pass fishing craft. Tankers come up SW Pass and cross through the Head of Passes to the West Bank near Pilottown. As you can imagine, in the fog, this is a dangerous route through which to paddle.
Just prior to leaving Pilottown, three Plaquemines Parish Marine Sheriffs pull up in their boat on their way down to Port Eads, located one mile upriver from the Gulf down South Pass. When I found this out, I somewhat pleaded with them to guide us through the fog through the Head of Passes with their radar. As you can see in this photo, I was gravely concerned. I could not get them to commit, for whatever reason, so we determined to just go for it with the support we had from the Pilottown crew, and the Venice pilots, who drive the ships up the Pass.
The Pilottown crew were phenomenal in communicating our whereabouts to the best of their ability. However, when they began asking the ship pilots if they had seen us, I knew we were on our own, so to speak. We had to navigate wisely through this stretch or catastrophe would be imminent. What we did know from my marine radio, was when a ship was coming up through the fog out of SW Pass, or down into the Head of Passes past Pilottown. Mark used his depth finder to try and avoid the channel, but at some point we had to cross.
There was a moment when we were immersed in fog and very vulnerable. I began to paddle with my GPS as my guide, which is what the crew told us to do. How scary is that in the fog???? Very! As my heart began to sink further into my gut, I mustered everything I had to keep my composure, as we all were doing at that time. At that very moment, we heard a boat coming right for us. Oh my God! Will it see us in time to stop??? All we can do is wait as it gets closer. Then, appearing as though angels from the spiritual realm, the Sheriff’s boat appears and immediately they begin pointing out the channel light at South Pass.
Miraculously, the fog began lifting at that moment and we could then see all three passes! What a moment of joy and relief that was, never to be forgotten.
I paddled harder than I had paddled on the entire journey, the 12-13 miles down South Pass. I took out my iPod and played river songs and sang at the top of my lungs, particularly Black Water by the Doobie Brothers. Playing music always gives me a much-needed boost of energy.
The highlight of my entire trip had to be when I saw my white pelican near the shore in South Pass. I couldn’t believe my eyes! He had come to see me through to the end, and provided that quiet comfort we both understood, that he had provided since day one of my paddling journey. I still shed a tear when I think about how perfect and complete this trip has been.
We had a clear shot to the Gulf, and most of the way back up the pass. We were not out of the woods yet. But we had made it to the Gulf of Mexico!
We made it about 2/3 the way up South Pass when the fog settled in again. We were on a race against time and fog. We absolutely HAD to get back to Venice before dark. We moved as one with eyes and minds on high alert. As you can imagine, the victory was oh so sweet.
Our home away from home in Venice, Louisiana. The Lighthouse Lodge and Villas comped our villa for all but one night, the night that April donated to the expedition. Big thanks to April Durnin for donating to the expedition two free nights of lodging (one night for two rooms) at this fabulous hotel. We could not think of one single complaint. The villa was extraordinarily lovely.
I will be updating this blog in the days to come. That will help me sort through my photos and videos, and reminisce on the pleasures of this incredible journey. Then, of course, I will write a book, or books. I would like to write a memoir, a curriculum book with lesson plans and activities focused on the rivers and natural environment, and a coffee table book with some of my best photographs. Oh, and T-shirts. I want t-shirts made ASAP. Maybe a calendar right away. So much to do!
I will follow up this post with some videos as soon as possible. Until then, I hope you enjoyed the adventure of my final days. I’ll be back to fill in the gap.
Shouting out a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of you who believed in me, the expedition, and who gave their heart and soul to support the journey. MWAH!! Much love to all, Janet Moreland XOXO
Do what you love and love what you do.
Love Your Big Muddy Expedition
3,700 River Miles
April 24, 2013 – December 5, 2013
First American Source-to-Sea Missouri River
First Solo Woman Source-to-Sea Missouri River
The Missouri River is the Longest River in North America
The Missouri/Mississippi River System is the Fourth Longest in the World.
I hated to leave the Roundup boys without saying good bye, but I had to get on the water early in order to make it through UL Bend on Fort Peck Reservoir, approximately 48 miles away. UL Bend is the river-to-lake transition area, and not without its challenges. I was packed and in my boat at 7:00 AM. As I was pushing off, Eli appeared on the shore. I was so happy because I got to say good bye. I also let him know that I left my card on the ice chest for him. It is always bittersweet leaving new friends and river brothers. These boys, young men, are my river brothers.
The Fort Peck Reservoir is 245,000 acres in size. Extending up 125 miles from the Fort Peck Dam is the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife, which encompasses 1,100,000 acres and all of the Fort Peck Reservoir. The refuge contains a multitude of habitats which include native prairie, wooded coulees, wetlands, river bottoms and badlands. “Given the size and remoteness of the Refuge, the area has changed very little from the historic voyage of the Lewis and Clark expedition…” [http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=61520]
These river-to-lake transition areas are kind of spooky because the river shoreline slowly disappears into the water and before you know it, you are out in the middle of a lake. This can be daunting if the wind is blowing. Fort Peck Reservoir’s transition section also has shallow sand bars and mud to deal with. Thankfully, I was somewhat unaware of these things or else I would have been intimidated and stressed. They say ignorance is bliss. In this case, this was true. It did not take long, however, before I realized I had to pay close attention so I would not get stuck on a sand/mud bar.
Once the shoreline has disappeared, it can be very difficult following the channel of the river, especially when the current is slowing down and spreading out, and the river transforms into a lake. This pelican, I believed, helped to show me the way and I made it around the daunting UL Bend to a campsite.
I made it to Fort Peck Reservoir! I paddled 48 miles for 10.5 hours. This was a really productive paddling day and, boy, was I tired, but very very happy. I was especially joyful because my campsite was not muddy. Well, not too bad, anyway.
Later this evening I witnessed the power of a northerly squall line coming across the lake. I had been warned about sudden fierce winds coming out of nowhere. Thankfully, I was safe on shore with my tent and Blue Moon secure. At first it sounded like a motor boat across the lake, then it grew louder like a truck, then a train, and finally a jet plane. It was awesome to watch the wind line move rapidly over the water toward me. I knew what was happening, so I was intrigued, rather than fearful. Seeing this occur helped me to be cautious, aware, and respectful of the wind and water while on this lake.
I left the RoundUp boys on June 9 and made camp the same evening on the Fort Peck Reservoir 10.5 hours later. I would journey across this 135-mile lake for the next eight days. A lot can happen in eight days. I was immersed in wilderness and forced to use my own judgment and decision-making skills in order to progress safely to the dam. High winds, snakes, electrical storms, wildlife, zero cell service, hours of waiting out the wind, picturesque scenery, and the giving hearts of the few people I met would make this one of my most memorable experiences of my life. Stay tuned for part two, the next eight days to Fort Peck Dam, through some awesome and incredible wilderness.
A busy morning at the Coal Banks Landing boat ramp once the storm left. The ramp was bustling with boats, paddlers, gear, and excitement. Special thanks again to Bub and Tinker Sandy for taking care of all of us wet river rats and opening up the visitor’s center to everyone for the lasts two days. I decided to hang back and wait for everyone to leave before I got ready to go. When I left, there was not a soul in sight. That’s the way I wanted it. I wanted to take it all in without a lot of external distractions. I had been waiting for this nearly a year.
The White Cliffs section of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument evolves as you paddle in to this stretch of river. The anticipation keeps you on the edge of your seat. Will there be cliffs around the next bend? They show themselves gradually. And, before you know it, you are immersed in this fabulous wonderland of rock castles, spires, hoodoos, magnificent walls and lone sentinals.
I arrived at Hole in the Wall thinking that everyone else would stay back at Eagle Creek, which is a popular camping area with great hiking and historical significance. The environment around Hole in the Wall is grandiose and quite spectacular. I was the only one there! I would have a wilderness experience in the midst of incredible beauty!! Well, not exactly. Withing an hour two paddlers arrived. Then, a party of seven or eight men showed up. Oh well, I can share. I will just set my tent off to the side and have my own wilderness experience. I learned something this day. When you meet good-hearted people, nothing else is really more desirable. The benefits are great when you share a part of your lives together. The experience becomes unforgettable. This day I met Klaus and James. I am so happy that I did.
I loved meeting Klaus and James. Klaus came over and invited me to sit around the fire with them that night. They said it wouldn’t be a long fire because firewood was scarce. That sounded good to me. After a couple of hours we gathered for a fire. Klaus had cups and wine and we toasted to my expedition. Then we spent a couple hours just enjoying each others’ company and conversation. THAT beats a solitary wilderness experience, any day. I am thankful for the time we had together.
The next day I met some of the others who had camped in the area. They were all very interesting gentlemen. One was from Bozeman, another from the Seattle area, and one also from San Diego, among others. The Bureau of Land Management officers showed up. They told us stories and were helpful in showing us good camping areas down river. Apparently, James Kipp Recreation Area had opened back up, at least the roads leading into the area. Because of all the rain, though, we could expect a lot of mud downriver. Oh well.
I was excited to hike to the top of Hole in the Wall. I said good by to Klaus and James. They were going to camp at the Wall camping area. I did not know if I would stop there. We took pictures to make sure we didn’t miss out on that opportunity, and we exchanged addresses.
And, off I went to hike to the top of the Hole in the Wall. Wow, what a grand experience!! Unforgettable.
I thoroughly enjoy my hike up to the top of Hole in the Wall. While I was standing up there looking around, I thought, I think I am experiencing breath-taking beauty. I had to stop and calm down I was so excited.
I paddled on and came to Klaus and James’ camp. It was getting late and they invited me over. I was happy to stop there. The camp was one of the best and most peaceful I have experienced thus far. Not to mention my new friends. We had another tremendous night telling stories, jokes, and laughing freely. When it was time for them to shove off the next day, I was truly sad. I’ve got their number. Happy about that.
I arrived at Fort Benton the same day that I left Great Falls. The paddle only took a few hours from Carter Ferry. I knew rain was forecasted, so I planned on staying in Fort Benton for a least a couple of days, which I would have done anyway. This post is a photo story post. I hope you enjoy it.
Carter Ferry is one of only six cable ferries in existence. Another cable ferry is in Virgelle, between Fort Benton and Coal Banks Landing. There are also two others in the area, making four out of the six ferries that are functioning located here in northern Montana.
It began raining again on June 2, the afternoon of the day I arrived at Coal Banks Landing. I have some interesting photos of the paddle down to Coal Banks, the paddlers laying over at Coal Banks, the proprietors of the Virgelle Mercantile Store, and my second visit to Fort Benton when I came with Dominique Liboiron, who came to visit me from Saskatchewan during this next rain delay before starting into the Breaks. Dominique paddled from Saskatchewan, Canada, to New Orleans last summer and winter, arriving just before Mardi Gras. We instantly became friends when he stopped over at Cooper’s Landing, my river hangout in Columbia, Missouri. My next post will share with you our visit together and some additional interesting things we discovered in Fort Benton.
Do what you love, and love what you do!
Live slow ~ Paddle fast (notice that is switching around a little. No, a lot.) 🙂
I think this post will be more of a photo post. I have captioned all of my photos and they will walk you through this stretch and phase of my adventure. Enjoy!
The Gates of the Rocky Mountains are on Holter Lake. I left the Gates and paddled almost to the dam. I camped before entering the last big stretch so I would not be exposed to potential storm winds. Rain fell that night, but enough sun shone the next morning that I could dry things out. My camp was on a pretty point, but the real estate was owned by a heard of black cows. It seemed I was camping in their watering hole. Luckily, I found a big enough patch of grass free of, well, you know, to pitch my tent. Some camps are better than others.
I hope you enjoyed this stretch of my journey as much as I did. Great Falls is deserving of its own post. I was able to paddle from there to Fort Benton in just a few hours, and here I sit in the Grand Union Hotel trying to finish this post. I feel good about this accomplishment and so, if the rain stops tomorrow, I will hit the river again. Fair warning, it may be awhile before I can post again as I am heading into some incredible wilderness area, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Be patient, and be sure and visit my Facebook page if you are able.
On Wednesday, May 8, I left my very public, yet cozy, camp at Twin Bridges. It was a little strange camping right on the river in a town park, but the park was designed for bik deners, so worked well for this paddler, too. I took my time packing so I would be rested, and well prepared, for this stretch on the Jefferson River. I grabbed a tomato, apple and three avocados, along with some cinnamon raisin English muffins, before I left. I also charged all of my electronic devices.
Danger of further harm to Blue Moon has diminished because of the much higher volume of water. The Ruby River empties in just upriver from Twin Bridges, and the Big Hole River just downstream. Now we are talking gorgeous and pleasurable paddling from here to Three Forks, which is where I anticipate arriving on Saturday. I have been looking forward to this stretch of river since I first decided to do a source start. I did not want to miss out on paddling the Jefferson River. I think you will see why:
At 2:00 Norm and I met, miraculously within 4 minutes of each other, at Drouillard Bridge. Drouillard was a civil interpreter for Lewis and Clark. He was also half French and half Shawneed Indian from his mother’s side. There is a lot of history surrounding him in this area. Norm and I had about a 2 1/2 hour paddle together before we met Kristin at Three Forks, the headwaters of the Missouri River where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers converge.
I’ll be leaving tomorrow from Three Forks to head down the Big Muddy! I am not sure when I will be able to update with photos again. Please visit my Facebook Page, LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition, to stay tuned in.