I decided not to stop at Judith Landing, the approximate middle of the Breaks. I regret that move a little, but I was yearning to get in some solitary camping. I knew that all of the others on the river were getting out at Judith because of the James Kipp closing, so I kind of felt that I would have the lower section to myself. I saw James and Klaus loading up at the Judith Landing boat ramp, and we were able to wave and say our last good-byes.
I decided to camp at Gist Campground. I was right. No one was around beyond Judith Landing. The campground was located on a beautiful stretch of river with a steep rock wall that plunged straight down into the river. I knew then that I was going to like this place.
The river banks were muddy because of the recent rains. I decided I could not avoid it no matter what, so I just took off my shoes and let it squish between my toes. The Big Muddy’s mud is actually soft and silky and washed off the skin quite easily. What are you gonna do? You just have to deal with it. No sense in getting anxious and frustrated about it.
After staying for two nights and several small hikes later, I moved on. The river had dropped three or four feet since I had arrived. This beached my boat fairly high above the waterline, and you know what that means? It was time to get muddy again. Off came the shoes and I moved the boat up the river to where I was camped since there was no difference now in the mud situation. The riverbank was muddy everywhere. I would soon find out that the mud was prevalent for miles and miles to come. Finding campsites downriver would prove to be extremely challenging.
I learned about some historic events as I was actually paddling down the river. The Cow Creek Crossing was one such event. As I read about the Nez Perce Indians, led by Chief Joseph, marching towards Canada in order to escape confinement to a reservation, I was moved. 750 men, women and children, now refugees in their own country, trying to escape the American military and the inevitable tragedy that would follow. Unfortunately, they were close to Canada, but not close enough to escape. I followed their trail through this entire section and stopped every so often to just imagine where exactly they walked and what they must have looked like. I was filled with emotion.
I paddled slowly past the Nez Perce National Historic Trail where, in 1877, approximately 750 men, women, and children of their “nontreaty” tribe tried to make their way to Canada to reach asylum. I saw the many water crossings they likely took, and a narrow trail along the river on which they walked near Cow Island. They were so close to freedom before they were stopped and 200 Nez Perce braves fought to defend the fleeing tribe. My heart bleeds for them. This section proved to be very melancholy for me, and unforgettable.
My plan was to stop at the James Kipp Recreation Area. This is considered the end of the road for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. I planned on refilling my water here, and camping the night. I had no idea the flooding wreaked such havok on the campground. Not only were the roads closed just a few days previous, but the electricity was still out and that meant the water pumps were not working. A fisherman took me around to find water to no avail. But in order for him to do that, I had to get up this boat ramp. “Apparently, they have not cleared the ramp yet.” I chided. That got a good laugh. The camp host eventually came to the ramp with a ten-gallon bottle of water and filled my five gallon bottles.
It’s 4:00 PM and I’m outta here, I thought. I’ll just paddle on down the river and find myself a campsite. Oh dear. That turned out to be the greatest challenge of this trip. It took about 15 minutes for me to realize I better start looking hard. Four hours later there were still NO sites to be found, and I had stopped to investigate several areas. This was the first time I thought I might have to sleep in my kayak. OMG!
Just as dusk was falling on the land, I came around a bend and saw something unusual. Three men were walking, yes walking, on the riverbank. How are they doing that?! I exclaimed to my brain. Is it not muddy in that spot. I paddled in a straight line over to their boat, and them. I made friends fast. Actually, I had no intention of going any further. Thankfully, Eli, Brandon, and Travis turned out to be river angels, river angels from Roundup, Montana.
Soon, darkness was upon us, and Eli helped me carry my gear down the bank, through the willow forest, and up the hill where I set up my tent with a gorgeous view of the river. I went from rags to riches, and was thrilled. The boys ended up camping at their truck that night, which was located at the top of the hill, and we had a fire and passed around a bottle of JD (only a couple of times). When in Montana, you do as the Roundup Boys do. I was so happy! And, Brandon gave me his Leatherman to take with me. Now, THAT’S special!
I had a long day of paddling the next day in order to get to Fort Peck Lake. I rose up at sunrise and was in my boat at 7:00 AM. I waved to Eli from the shore. I was sad to leave these river angels.
It is so easy to get attached to kindred spirits that share their life with the river. There is a bond that is undeniable. We share riverblood.
43 miles later this day, I arrived at Fort Peck Lake. I had had no internet service for nearly a week, and would not for almost another. I found myself immersed in mountainous wilderness. I was in heaven.
Thank You, John and Keely Schukei, for taking such good care of me the couple days I stayed in Great Falls. Your hospitality was heart warming. My stay with you, unforgettable. (I am loving my gloves and my pink crocs!)
When John, Sherri, and Bob came to paddle with me, John had offered me a place to stay and a ride around the dams. I phoned him shortly before I arrived and told him I would love to take him up on his offer. He said, “Great, I’ll be right there to pick you up.” Then, when I told him I could not get a clear visual in my mind about the Great Falls and what they look like, he drove straight over to the first two falls to take a look. This was a tremendous help. Plus, we saw some other really cool things, too, like Giant Spring and Great Horned Owl babies.
We enjoyed a fun evening eating pizza (YUM!) and Bob came over and joined us. He, along with John, gave me a lot of tips on paddling, particularly how to power stroke. “Why do you hold your paddle with you hands so close together? You look like you are dog paddling.” I don’t know. I’m just holding it. Well, they showed me how to hold my elbows at 90 degrees before grabbing the paddle, and then how to use your whole body to stroke strong and efficiently. WOW! (This was incredibly useful for me on Fort Peck Lake, a couple weeks later.) Bob also showed me some stretches. I told them my back was having a bit of difficulty, and he explained that it was more likely my hamstrings from sitting in the kayak. His doctor told him the same thing.
I was able to hang out at the house and update my blog while Keely and John went about their business. That was really nice, since blog posts take lots of time. I couldn’t help but notice, and love, this backyard spa (chuckle).
During the afternoon, John took me to get some “must have” synthetic golfing gloves for paddling. We went to Meadow Lark Country Club where Michael very graciously gave me a pro deal on the gloves. They are great, both the Country Club and the gloves! John had so much great advice for me. Then we went to his store, Bighorn Outdoor Specialists, that he owned for 38 years. The staff there were friendly and willing to offer a pro deal for the supplies I needed. If you are EVER in Great Falls, be sure to stop at this awesome sports store.
I headed to the put in the next day. It was quite a drive, and John was so nice to take care of me. Unfortunately, the road became so muddy we had to turn back and go all the way around town to Carter Ferry. This is often the case, but we thought we could make it. The area had seen a lot of rain recently.
Before we got to far, though, John stopped and let me photograph these historical information signs telling about the Corps of Discovery’s portage around the Great Falls.
And finally, John has such great ideas. He thought this would make a great photo opportunity. He was right. Enjoy:
Canyon Ferry is my first major lake of the journey. The lake approximately 25 miles long. Winds can kick up in minutes producing large and dangerous swells, so caution must be adhered to at all times. I entered into the lake under calm conditions with a low pressure blanketing the area. The entrance into the lake takes you through a channelized section that resembles a slow gradual sloping lazy waterway with waterfowl all around standing in shallow waters and singing songs and chattering amongst each other across this watered plains area. In the distance it seems as though you are looking down towards the lake. Then, before you know it, you are IN the lake and the three-mile paddle towards the western shore begins.
When paddling big lakes, you have to pick a point on the distant horizon, which is often miles away. Then you point your boat at that spot and just paddle, stroke after stroke after stroke. I fell in love with my Swift paddle even greater as its light weight and easy entry into the water made my paddling seem effortless. My paddle literally became my best friend.
Waiting for me at the dam was Ron Lukenbill, who generously had donated $100 to the expedition, paid for 30 triple-A batteries, bought me lunch, and helped with my portage around the dam. Ron is an educator and, as it turns out, grew up in Sacramento, CA, my home town! I swear there is an uncanny bond amongst Californians, strange as that may seem. Also helping me with the portage were Will Garvin and his lovely wife, Felomina. They have been so helpful in many ways, including feeding me dinner and allowing me to shower at their house last night (May 19).
Onward down Hauser Lake, leaving sunny skies that turned into a thunderhead with lightning and wind, forcing me to stop at Lakeview on Hauser Lake. What a fantastic stopover this has been! Conrad and Cheryl Hale own this very cool lakeside resort with a beautiful beach, cozy lawn to camp on, great bar overlooking the lake, and a lovely restaurant with great food and good people hanging around.
Conrad and Cheryl Hanes are the owners of Lakeside on Hauser. They are very hands on owners and run a very successful seasonal business as a result. Things are busy for them as they command this retirement project of theirs, but they have October to look forward to when they return to Billings for the winter.
I am so grateful for the Hale’s hospitality the last couple of days. They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, big have invited me in for coffee and to work on this blog. Cheryl just fixed me yogurt, blueberries and toast, contributing to a very memorable layover and making it difficult to leave! Actually, the rain is also making it difficult to leave, and it has started raining again as I write this blog post. Perhaps there will be a break in the weather later today. In the meantime, I have a very comfortable place to hang out with great folks!
Finally, Will and some of his friends came to pick me up and take me into Helena so I could shower at Will and Felomina’s home. Because they are doing some remodeling, their washing machine is out of commission, so Joanne and Philip volunteered to do a load of laundry for me. How great is that!? I very much enjoyed their company during our brief time together. Joanne is a kayaking instructor and works on ski patrol. Philip is a singer songwriter guitar-playing blues musician. Wow, we sure have a lot in common!
Thanks to all of you great Helena folks, and your generous hospitality. Remember Robert, Donna and Paul from Beaverhead Rock? They are also from Helena. A great city providing quality Montanans.
I am finally caught up on my posts. This makes me feel good about moving ahead on my next leg of this journey. This adventure has been nothing short of phenomenal! And, who knows what the future will hold? Can it get any better than this? Wow, three more months can produce incredible experiences.
I hope you enjoy the ride!
Empowerment, education, and environmental stewardship. Think outside the boat!
I am sitting in the Shack in Twin Bridges on Tuesday, May 7, a layover day for me after 6 days on the Beaverhead River. I really want to post some photos for my blog followers before I head down the Jefferson River tomorrow. I am running short on time so I will do the best I can here. Of course, my Facebook page contains much more frequent updates. Please like the page if you can. Thanks, all! I appreciate your interest in my adventure!
Finally, on Wednesday, May 1st, I started paddling. The Beaverhead River was quite a challenge. It is shallow with tight turns and lots of brush producing strainers in which to get entangled if not careful. I came close to dumping my first day, but was saved by the wheel of my wheeleez, my portaging device. I may have sprained my hand in the entanglement, but still paddling. I was worn out for the first three days trying to save Blue Moon from sheer destruction. I have two holes from the second day just above waterline. Duct tape is the miracle cure!
After 3 days of hard paddling, on Saturday I had 25 mph headwinds challenging me. I stayed strong and true to course, though, and after a 9 and a half hour paddle, and close to Beaverhead Rock, I finally found an island to camp on. Turns out that Robert and Donna were out cruizing around on Robert’s property and they ended up inviting me up for cocktails and chicken dinner. And, a shower, laundry, and place to sleep on their couch! What a wonderful miracle! Strangers are TRULY an opportunity to make friends. What a great visit we had, which included Paul, too. The three of them are long-time friends from Helena.
Finally, I have successfully updated this blog. You are a concern of mine, and I want to keep you posted. It is getting dark now. I have finished most of my pizza, a couple of glasses of wine, had a shower earlier today, and have a nice cozy tent to sleep in tonight. I look forward to resuming paddling on the Jefferson River tomorrow. Twin Bridges is an awesome small town of 400. Come and stay if you ever have the chance. I understand the fishing cannot be beat!
I hope you are enjoying my adventure. I am comforted knowing you are following me and interested in my journey. It has truly turned out to be an epic adventure, and it has only just begun.
Live fast ~ Paddle slow. Be safe and cherish the moment!
On Sunday, April 14, we enjoyed the warmth of our river community as they sent us on our way from Cooper’s Landing on the Missouri River. I find it intriguing that I will be paddling down the entire length of the river for the next 3.5 months beginning in Montana. I have been dreaming about this journey for over seven years. The time had actually come.
We have been on the road for nine days. The trip thus far has been fantastic. We have driven on two-lane highways nearly 98% of the trip. Before we actually got out of town, Haley decorated the van. “I got this, Mom, I used to be a cheerleader.” We drove through some gorgeous countryside in northern Kansas and southeaster Nebraska.
In Phillipsburg, KS, we had a radiator leak which appeared to be a major obstacle. The only radiator repair shop in town was completely booked for two days. I had to drive over and talk to the owner, and tried to convince him that WE REALLY NEEDED HELP. But, he just could not take us in, and so referred us to Wick’s Muffler and Auto Repair. What a wonderful referral THAT was! Galen Wickham and his son Gabe got right on it! Galen brought the car in the shop immediately to try and find the leak. The two of them traced it back to a pinhole leak in a steel hose off of the water pump. A call was made to Hays, NE, 60 miles to the south. We crossed our fingers…
Yes, they had the part but all deliveries had already left town. The best estimate for departure after car work would be about 5:30 that evening. However, I offered to drive to Hays myself and, as it turned out, that is what happened. Galen loaned me his truck so I could pick up the part. Galen estimated a possible 1:00 departure as a result. WOW! Ending up at Galen’s shop was just short of a miracle! We were back on the road by 2:00. Not only that, he was so intrigued by our expedition, he told his mom and dad and brother about it, and they all chipped in to pay for the repair. Now, when does THAT ever happen?? Thanks again, Wickham family. You guys ROCK! I will be telling this story for years. Ron from the local paper, The Advocate of Phillips County, stopped by to ask a few questions about the expedition. Off we went and arrived in Scottsbluff, NE, that night. We got a lovely room and Holiday Inn Express, and enjoyed a hot tub, swim, and had pizza delivered. The next morning we watched the weather channel very closely while sitting in the breakfast nook at the hotel. A winter storm was coming up through the panhandle of NE starting today, Tuesday, which is right where we were. We debated for a couple hours, literally, whether to try and outrun the storm going north, as some guests had already left for Casper, WY. Eventually, we decided to go for it. Turns out the storm would envelope the entire southeastern portion of WY, and over a foot of snow fell. We ended up making it as far as Orin Junction, WY, and the roads all around us began to close. We were 60 miles short of our Casper, WY, destination. Fortunately, there was a small truck stop at the junction, and we immediately settled in once we knew forward progress was no longer available.
We thoroughly enjoyed our layover at the truck stop, despite the fact we had to sleep in the car that night. The truck stop closed at 10:00 and reopened at 5:00 AM. We spent seven hours in the car as the snow fell all around us. The car turned into a makeshift igloo, it appeared, and we stayed warm and cozy wrapped in down sleeping bags, jackets, and a comforter. What an adventure! Strangers are just an opportunity to make friends, and that’s what we all did at the truck stop. We were thankful that we had such a pleasant and cozy place to hang out, and the food was to beat all. Finally on Wednesday the road opened up to Douglas, which was 12 miles up the road. We opted to make the drive and get a hotel. Being able to sleep on a bed was nice, but the hotel was less than desirable. We got out of there first thing in the morning and drove all the way to Jackson, Wyoming. Our progress was somewhat slowed because of the photo opportunities along the way. We found it difficult to pass up such beautiful countryside without stopping to take pictures. I am sure we will not regret the many stops we made. Jackson was a significant destination that we were all looking forward to, and very excited about. We were finally in some serious mountain country! We were grateful for the chance to view the Teton Mountain Range, which appeared through the clouds majestically and with great grandeur! We loved our stay in Jackson, and our accommodations at the Parkway Inn. Because this time of year is considered the off-season, we were able to get discounted rates at the hotel. We loved it! We stayed two nights and refreshed ourselves by going for a walk, swimming, sitting in the hot tub, and doing laundry. Saturday morning we embarked upon a full ‘day of travel. We drove north up to Sawtelle Peak so I could check out the conditions of the road we plan on driving up to begin our ski into Brower’s Spring. We then started driving down Red Rock Road towards Red Rock Pass, which is very close to the exit point of our ski. Since it was 1:30 PM and temperatures were mild, we opted to stop short of the pass because of the mud. We stopped and walked down the road and enjoyed a snack lunch while viewing the awesome mountains around which we were surrounded.
We then drove up towards the Beaverhead and Jefferson River so I could take a look at the rivers I will be paddling within a week, or so. This was a chance for me to connect with my route and visualize the environment of which I would soon become a part. Finally, we arrived at Base Camp International, Norm Miller and Kristen Walker’s house in Livingston, MT, where all paddlers of the Missouri River, or any river, are welcome to stop and regroup before setting out on the river.
Norm and I have been in email and phone contact since I decided to embark upon this adventure, so despite the fact we had never met, I felt like we were good friends already. Our stay here has been nothing less that warm and cozy. We immediately felt like family, and have enjoyed each others’ company immensely.
Tomorrow we begin our journey into Brower’s Spring. Then, the bike ride to Clark Canyon Dam and finally, Blue Moon hits the water.
Again, I would like to thank Eddyline Kayaks-Swift Paddles, SPOT and Patagonia for their in-kind donations to LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition. And, thanks to Black Truck Pictures and Jim Karpowicz for producing the promo video for my GoFundMe page.
I have not yet had a chance to write about the companies who have recently begun sponsoring my expedition. I will admit that I began to give up on some of the larger companies because they were not responding to my emails. Companies such as Cascade Designs regarding MSR & Thermarest, Kokatat, PowerFilms, Garmin, and GoPro, to name a few.
Patience is a must as I realize they have hundreds of requests just like mine. So, I nudge them, but try not to annoy. Kokatat, however, has recently brought me on board with sponsorship. Kokatat is important to me not only because of their high quality gear, but because their home base is in Arcata, a small town on the north coast of California, and home to the first college I attended fresh out of high school (yes, that would be in 1974).
In the meantime, I determined to stop by and speak to the owners and/or managers of our local outdoor sports businesses to see if they would share in the wisdom that my proposal for support is a win-win deal for both of us.
I am happy to announce that all of our home-town businesses have come on board with in-kind donations, although I have not yet met with Alpine Shop. We have an appointment to meet next week.
Having support from local businesses is important to me. We should all be supporting each other at the grass-roots level.
Carl Kimbel of Klunk Bicycles, and his assistant Josh, is constructing a used road (on & off) bike for me to use in the event I will be riding alongside frozen waterways, which is anticipated. From the Tribune article (click on photo above), Kimbel said the shop’s main appeal is its selection of used bikes. “We bring old bikes back to life,” he said.
I am very grateful for Carl’s bike (loan) donation, and I love his “grass-roots” business.
Kokatat, premier technical paddling apparel and accessories, is offering me their sponsorship deal of 30% off wholesale. I have been waiting “patiently” for their response as I really wanted their gear for my trip. I will purchase, using my grassroots sponsorship donations (thank you all!), dry suit bibs with socks, a paddling jacket-shirt-pants-shorts, neoprene mitts and gloves and shoes. Oh, and a personal flotation device (PFD). My paddling clothing supply should be complete, except for some knee high neoprene boots, ideal for hopping out in swift water sharp turns obstructed by barbed-wire or sheet metal fencing. That is, only if this section on The Red Rock River is not frozen over.
I am now looking at acquiring essentials such as a tent (MSR 2P Hubba Hubba), down sleeping bag, stove, Thermarest pad, GPS device, roll-up solar charger, TEVA sandals, and a GoPro camera.
And, for documenting my trip in preparation for books and video documentary publishing, I have one significant wish-list item: a MacBookPro laptop.
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.