The Great Missouri River is referred to as the Big Muddy. But, hey, so is the Great Mississippi River. As numerous paddlers of both rivers know quite well, these two rivers can be, indeed, quite muddy. While paddling down the Missouri River on my LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition in 2013, I have to admit the mud was abundant on the upper stretches, but silky soft and rather clean. I know, right?! “That’s impossible,” you say. I actually found that going barefoot in this mire of mud was the best way to go. Once in the boat my feet washed off easily, and off I went. That’s not to say that I wasn’t glad when the earth hardened up. Joy filled my soul with the simple pleasure of dirt, rocks and sand replacing the squishy brown muck.
I will be heading north to Lake Itasca, MN, the source of the Mississippi “Big Muddy” River, this May to begin a source-to-sea paddle of this other great river as part of my 1Woman3GreatRivers Project. My goal is to solo paddle the three longest rivers in North America. The Missouri River is the longest river on the continent at 2,540 miles, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), with the Mississippi coming in a close second at 2,320 miles (per Environmental Protection Agency-EPA). The third longest river is the Yukon River at 1,980 miles (per USGS), which I will attempt to paddle in 2017 from its source at Atlin Lake’s Llewellyn Glacier, to the Bering Sea. Yukon River means “Great River” in the Gwich’in language. “The Gwich’in are the northernmost Indian Nation living in fifteen small villages scattered across a vast area extending from northeast Alaska in the U.S. to the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada .” (http://ourarcticrefuge.org/about-the-gwichin/) More about the Gwich’in Nation, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and my 2017 Yukon Pursuit later.
I look forward to paddling the entire Mississippi River this trip so I can understand more about our nation’s historic and cultural monument, and to build upon that very magical and personal relationship we started in 2013. Here is a video snippet from LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition taken in early November on the Lower Mississippi. Love Your Big Mississippi 🙂
Now that I am teaching full time, my challenge is to complete my adventure in 60 days (70 days, perhaps, if we have no snow days), during my summer break. I am confident that my outcome will be successful and full of celebration, but my tempo will be vastly different from my Missouri River expedition, being challenged in strength, both physical and mental, and in endurance and stamina. Dictionary.com defines endurance as: “theabilityorstrengthtocontinueorlast, especiallydespitefatigue,stress,orother adverseconditions.”
I say, “Bring it on”!!!
I hope you will join me on this journey down our continent’s Great River to the Gulf.
Live slow ~ Paddle fast
Peace and Love, Janet
Know your river. Touch your river. Love your river.
I just received an email from Virginia Marshall today letting me know that they had published our Q & A interview conducted last month. I like it. Hope you do to.
Also, look for another expedition post soon about the Missouri River stretch between Fort Peck Dam and Fort Union (at the Montana-North Dakota Border). Still going through lots and lots of photos and videos. Oh, and I made my first iMovie video short. I’ll post that once I figure out how to do it.
Cheers! Hope you enjoy the interview…
Q&A with Big Muddy Paddler
Janet Moreland paddled 3,800 miles down the Missouri River. She’s just getting started.
Janet Moreland believes it is never too late to pursue your passions. The 56-year-old mother from Columbia, Missouri, graduated from university with a degree in education in December 2012. Less than four months later, she set out in Blue Moon, her 17-foot Eddyline Shasta tandem kayak, on a 3,800-mile expedition from the headwaters of the Missouri River at Brower’s Spring, Montana, to the Gulf of Mexico. On December 5, 2013, she became the first woman to complete a solo, source-to-sea descent of the Missouri/Mississippi River system, the fourth longest river in the world.
Who is Janet Moreland?
I love the outdoors and strive to immerse myself in the natural environment whenever possible. I spent much of my youth in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains ski mountaineering, and windsurfing the northern California rivers, bays and waves. I began canoeing rivers when I moved to Missouri in 1994, and started kayaking the Missouri River in 2001 after moving to Columbia, MO, in 1996.
You can often find me three miles down the road from my house on or near the Missouri River at Mile 170, Cooper’s Landing, where I spend much of my time walking my dog, paddling, or enjoying the company of our large river community.
Do you remember the moment you decided to walk out your door to take on a solo Missouri River source to sea? What was the biggest factor that motivated you?
One of the biggest motivating factors was the notion that I would be the first woman to paddle the entire length of the Missouri River solo. This turned out to be very inspiring for many women, students, and men, following my expedition. Later, I realized I would also become the first American to journey from source to sea.
You write on your blog that your mission for this trip included empowerment, education and environmental stewardship. How do you meet these lofty goals and paddle 3,800 miles?
Well, the journey is not over until the mission bears fruit. I am still actively working on realizing these goals. The first step in my trip was to complete the paddle successfully. Many who followed my trip on Facebook or on my blog were very inspired that a 56-year-old woman was attempting such a grand and challenging expedition. Also, I wanted to model for school-age children that they can overcome challenging obstacles and be successful in achieving their goals. Many of my students from last year were excited about my attempt, and followed me on social media.
Regarding education, I tried to share as much of my experience on the river as I could, including some cultural and historical information. I wanted to increase awareness of Missouri River Relief, a dynamic non-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship of the Missouri River, as well as educating our youth and communities about the river, on the river. While I was on my expedition, River Relief was conducting river cleanup events on the river from St. Louis to Washington to Kansas City to Omaha.
Who are your paddling heroes, who inspired you and who continues to?
Well, Norman Miller was my go-to guy when deciding and planning this expedition. He was a motivating factor as well. He paddled up the Missouri River in 2004 for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration. He followed their route up the river, over the Rocky Mountains, and back on the water to the Pacific Ocean.
I made a point of meeting all of the 2012 long-distance paddlers (LDPs) on the Missouri River when they passed by Cooper’s Landing. I enjoyed talking to all of them about their journey and took mental notes. So, some heroes include Dave Miller, author of The Complete Paddler, and the one who planted the seed in 2005 when he passed through Cooper’s Landing (Norman Miller watered that seed last summer), Bob Bellingham, Mark Kalch, Dave Cornthwaite (swimmer), Rod Wellington, and Dominique Liboiron. The LDPs I paddled with this year, Reed and Josh, Shawn Hollingsworth, and Scott Mestrezat are also my heroes, and I consider them my river brothers.
The MR340 paddlers are also my heroes. Anyone who immerses themselves in a 340-mile race across the state, on the Missouri River, is inspiring to me and a hero in my book. Stand-up paddle boarder, Shane Perrin, is my hero in this regard.
What kayak did you use to take on the Beaverhead, Jefferson, Missouri and Mississippi rivers during your Source to Sea expedition, and why?
I paddled an Eddyline Shasta kayak on my journey. Paddlers Andy Bugh, 2011, and Bob Bellingham, 2012, paddled the same kayak. In fact, I bought Bob’s kayak from him before he flew home to Australia. The boat is a 17’ tandem open cockpit carbonlite kayak and very stable. And, the open cockpit makes it more roomy that the standard plastic mold sea kayak. I did not want to be cramped inside a tight cockpit. I love my boat. We could go anywhere in extreme conditions and I never felt nervous about capsizing.
The Shasta was challenging on the Beaverhead because the river is narrow, windy, swift and shallow. I had a 12.5’ plastic kayak with me, but my support crew needed to head back to Missouri so I just put in with Blue Moon, my Shasta, and went for it. I put two holes in it on the second day. Oh well, they were above water line and duct tape fixed it until I stopped over at Norman Miller’s house near Three Forks and I fiberglass patched the holes.
What were the highlights of this journey? Was there anywhere along the route that you would highly recommend to paddlers that they might not know about?
There are so many highlights of the journey that I cannot name them all. I will say that the ski in to Brower’s Spring at the source was a highlight. We planned on a seven-hour ski, but it took us 31 hours. We were totally unprepared to spend the night, but we managed. The Jefferson River in Montana was a beautiful stretch of river. Fort Peck Lake was some serious wilderness paddling. I had already gone two weeks without internet in the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, and then another two weeks on Fort Peck Lake. I felt very isolated and exposed to wilderness. I loved it. I have had wilderness yearnings all my life, and that experience fulfilled them. And, the Mississippi River turned out to be a wonderful romantic experience. I fell in love with the sandbars, the tow and barges, the freighters, the wildlife, and the river. My Mississippi River experience far surpassed my expectations.
Favorite location you pitched your tent? Least favorite?
Numerous favorite locations I called home for a night, or two. One that sticks out was on the Mississippi River just below the Arkansas River confluence across from the Chicot City navigation light. I camped on a sandbar shelf, which positioned me up, and looking out, over a narrow bend in the river. I was protected from the north by a long hedge of willow trees. I love being up high, and I love having the tow and barges passing close by. The tow and barges have a romantic feel to me because I believe the pilots of these boats would be navigating the river in steamboats if they were living in that era. The river is their life, so I felt at home navigating amongst them. The fog on the river the next morning was exquisite and I managed to capture the moment with photography.
Least favorite camp was on Fort Peck Lake in a low-lying cove with no trees and covered with mud. It was here that I experienced one of the several severe electrical storms on my trip. I bolted out of this site first thing in the morning, wallowing in mud. Ugh.
Reading your blog, one is struck by the many helpful, hospitable folks you met along your journey. Can you tell us about a few who stand out most in your mind?
This is a very difficult question to answer. There are sooooo many river angels. People up and down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were very supportive and wanted to be a part of my success. People were constantly asking me if I needed anything, offering food and a place to sleep, gear needs, coming out to paddle with me, picking me up off the river and taking me into their homes, sharing their lives and families with me. Some were strangers who just gave me cash because that was the only way they had to support me and help me. It was unbelievable. The people who cared about me and my success are the greatest memories of this expedition.
Did you ever come across people who just didn’t get what you were doing, or told you it was dangerous or foolish?
On the drive up to Montana we had to replace a windshield wiper and the manager of the store, upon explaining to him what I was doing responded by saying, “Well, THAT seems like a big waste of time. Why would you want to do THAT?” Then, his employee came out and replaced the wiper, and offered kind words of encouragement. I learned early on that such an expedition is not for everybody.
All of us LDPs this year can tell the same story of people warning us about Fort Peck Lake and how people die on that lake. They all told us the same warnings: winds come out of nowhere and huge swells and waves will swamp you and people drown on the lake all the time. Very discouraging messages, and taken with an element of caution. Fort Peck Lake made us all stronger and wiser for Lake Sakakawea, 178 miles long, and Oahe Lake, 230 miles long, the two huge lakes still ahead on our journeys.
Was there ever a point you would rather have been doing something else, or a place you just couldn’t wait to escape due to unhappy circumstances?
I never experienced unhappy circumstances that discouraged me. I never felt that I would not complete this expedition, or that it was a burden. I loved every minute of this journey and was very sad when the river ran out and I had no more paddling to do. I can never duplicate this journey. It is over. I want to share it, though, in presentations and writing, and will get a book out there in due time.
What advice would you offer to anyone contemplating a long trip or solo journey?
Do what you love and love what you do. If there is any doubt as to the journey you are embarking on, and whether you will be content or successful, take some time to consider if you are doing the right thing. Consider your reasons for doing it. Your mission is an important motivator. If you are inspiring others, you will likely succeed and be fulfilled while doing it.
What’s next for you?
I have lots of things I am thinking about, including writing a book, teaching school full time, and presenting my experience around the country. That said, I am scheduled to be the featured speaker at the Quiet Water Symposium on March 1, 2014, in East Lansing, Michigan. I also have [another] major river expedition I have begun researching.
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 am laying in my tent listening to the chirp chirp of the bird and the pitter patter of sprinkling rain on the fly. Rivertime. Oh, rivertime.
I have never had a schedule until now, now that I have a week left to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Friends and family are flying and driving in to accompany me by boat to the FINISH. Rain just gets in the way. HOWEVER, I am playing with my WordPress App because I have the time. How wonderful it will be to post to my blog from my tent in the rain on the Mississippi River! I claim this rain delay as an efficient use of time!
I just left Baton Rouge yesterday and I am making my way down ever so much closer to New Orleans, then Venice, where the pavement ends at Mile 10, then down further to Mile 0 at Grand Pass and finally, the final 12 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
I do not know what photos of the Mississippi to post. As you can imagine, my quiver of photos is massive in size. I am not even sure I know how to post photos with this app, or even post, period. Perhaps, I should post one from every hundred miles. That’s about 11 photos. Or, only sunrises and sunsets. Maybe just great campsites, or river angels or special moments??? I will just wing it and pick some that I like. Let’s see what happens. Hope you enjoy ‘Janet’s Picks.’
This is way too cool! Nice App, WordPress.
I hope to be back soon. Thanks again for your patience. As the end draws near, I hope this is just the beginning of something really beautiful. Peace out!
Do what you love, and love what you do!
(Well, this is the photo I accidentally deleted, instead of the duplicate. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get rid of that code. Too scared to mess with it. Still, a somewhat successful first attempt.)
I had a fantastic welcoming when I arrived in Memphis.
I am laying over at Dale and Meriam’s beautiful home in Memphis.
I went on a great overnight camp/guide party with Wolf River Conservancy, on the Wolf River.
The rest of us had a great time hanging out around the fire, and spent a leisurely morning breaking camp. What fun it was paddling through the swamps of Ghost River and into Spirit Lake, where Cypress trees make up 65% of the forest, and Tupelo Gum trees the other 35%. Just incredible scenery!
And, tomorrow I fly to Bend, Oregon to co-present at the Conservation Lands Foundation Friends Rendezvous for the entire weekend. WOW! From solitude on the Mississippi to LOTS going on.
I will try and post some Mississippi River photos from the last few weeks. What a fantastic river to paddle, and a whole new adventure. I probably won’t be going back to post the Missouri until after the expedition is over, which I anticipate will be close to the first of December.
Congratulations to DOMINIQUE LIBOIRON for his arrival in New Orleans after paddling – in a CANOE – from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan through 13 American states and along four major rivers, including the Missouri River and the Mighty Mississippi, over 3,000 miles.
Dominique endeared himself to those of us at Cooper’s Landing, MoRiv mile 170, where he spent a couple of days to rest up and elude a storm, just days before the holidays began.
Check out his web site at www.canoetoneworleans.com, or his FB site of the same name, to find out more about his mission, ambition, and victory! THREE CHEERS, DOMINIQUE!!! Well done, my friend! xoxo