Thursday, May 20, 2021

“I’ll never see you again”

Upon reaching the end of Canyon Lake I sought out the boat ramp, landed my canoe, and unpacked.  I had a few moments to stretch before Will Garvin arrived to shuttle my gear and boat around the dam.  Will is a member of the Missouri River Paddlers Group ( that has a strong presence on Facebook (to join just search for Missouri River paddlers) who have been a godsend when planning this trip.  Will got a request to assist me from Norm Miller who was tipped off by Jim Emanuel that I was looking for assistance.  I had run into Jim while he was out fishing at the inlet leading to Canyon Lake.  Jim had beckoned me over and he knew my name and my yellow boat from the Facebook posts.  We had a great chat and just prior to departing I commented, almost as an afterthought, that I was looking for a shuttle around the dam.

Will Garvin is a fellow Eagle Scout, ex-Marine, and completed a trip down the river about a decade ago.  He resides in Helena, MT, and his trip was Helena to Helena (Arkansas) because “every trip has to have a plan.”  I couldn’t agree more since my plan includes pulling out at Nebraska City; my last trip started from there and went to St. Louis and I can’t repeat the lower section twice or I’d have to come back to Montana and do another float.  Strange reasoning but every trip has to have a plan…

Since Will is a fellow through-paddler, he knows all about River Angels and the value of their hospitality to the paddling community.  It took me some time on my trip in 2011 to accept offers of assistance from strangers.  Initially, I didn’t understand that people truly want to help and one should graciously accept assistance.  In any case, Will told me that I couldn’t get back on the river until he had bought me lunch.  We went to The Dam Bar and had an amazing lunch although Will made the mistake of ordering a new menu item what was a hamburger with two grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun.  There was no way he was going to finish that sandwich in one sitting!

Will and I had a great visit and chatted about a wide range of topics.  It was good to hang with someone that’s done this trip and “gets it.”  We finished our lunch and proceeded to the entry point below the dam.  After unloading my gear onto the grass Will said that since “I’ll never see you again” he’d wish me good luck and safe paddling.  I don’t think he understood the significance of those words.  As a university professor I spend months, and often years, with students in nearly daily contact who once they’ve left college I never see again.  As time has gone on I’ve recognized that while we may not have further physical contact their presence continues to reside in my heart. My reply to Will Garvin is that I will indeed see him as I carry our time together forward with me through the trip.

The rest of the day was pretty unremarkable in how routine things already were becoming on my float.  I pushed on down the river, passed a series of waterfront homes, dealt with the wakes of power boats, and encountered a smattering of wildlife, especially water foul.  I paddled on for most of the day with the goal of portaging around the Houser dam and camping.  My late start after lunch meant that the portage would wait until the next day.  Just upstream from the dam I pulled into Black Sandy State Park and made camp.  A popular site with local fisherman and day/overnight visitors, the park is located where Prickly Pear Creek drains from Lake Helena to join the Missouri River.  After having been alone in a canoe for several days and camping on my own, this location felt a bit like the big city.  Lots of campfire chatter and children playing along the shoreline.

For the first part of my trip I’ve tried to fall into a routine of get up early, eat and break camp, and be on the water no later than 8:00 a.m.  From there I paddle until noon, pull over for lunch, and paddle until late (ca. 5:00 p.m.) afternoon.  I then make camp, eat dinner (freeze dried fare with little cook time), and check to see if I have an internet connection/phone service.  If not, then it’s early to bed as blogging is out of the question for that day.  My hope is that as my body becomes conditioned to this new lifestyle that my mind will follow suit and I’ll stay committed to completing the trip.  Only time will tell…

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