Thursday, July 22, 2021

The solo paddler isn’t so good at posting blog updates!

I’ve been busy the last six days paddling, very busy, and haven’t had a chance to post an update about my location or activities…

Lewis and Clark is the shortest reservoir in the 1,100 mile dammed section of the Missouri River.  It’s also one of the trickiest to navigate due to the silted and braided channel leading into the lake.  Leaving the Ft. Randall dam one encounters a 39 mile stretch of river that is part of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) which is overseen by the National Park Service.  It’s a delightful stretch of river that flows fairly quick down past the Verdel Landing and into the braided section of the lake.

Bob Foley dropped me off below Ft. Randall and I shoved off at about 8:30 a.m.  The day was sunny and clear with no rain in the forecast.  My paddle started out with calm conditions then the wind began to pick up, defining the next two days.

Hugging the right shoreline tightly, the bluffs affording me some protection from the wind and I made it to Verdel about 4:00 p.m.  There’s not much in the form of camping opportunities in that area so I pulled out and set up camp at the Verdel Landing boat ramp before heading to the Blue Moon restaurant for a burger. The next morning I entered the braided section and threaded my way through islands of dense invasive plume grass (Phragmites sp.).  The morning light made it hard to read the river and I found myself constantly being “pushed” towards the Niobrara River channel that I knew to be a dead end.  Sure enough, it was and by the time I realized my error it was too late, I had to paddle hard through a tight section of Phragmites as the Niobrara was flowing upstream on the Missouri.  I eventually negotiated the confluence after getting out to pull my boat a few times and then it was a pretty easy paddle to Springfield, SD.

I camped in Springfield and hitched a ride into town for a burger with the local conservation officer (after I informed him that he would love to give me a ride) at Norm’s cafe.  That was followed by turning in early to get some rest before my next day’s traverse of the lake.  It’s a good thing I did, I fought a strong SSE for the entire day and reached the Gavin’s Point dam after a 12 hour battle with whitecaps and wakes of Saturday afternoon boaters.  The key was that I was done with those damned dams!   Even when it looked like I would get windbound for at least a night I pushed on, I wanted off that water badly.

The next day, after help shuttling around the dam, I entered the 59 mile stretch of the MNRR.  This was actually one of the most scenic parts of my trip and one I greatly enjoyed.  The river flows free and the scenery is stunning in that part of the river, a great way of welcoming back to true river travel after the windy lake section.

For the next five days I’ve paddled hard putting in 40+ mile days to get south of Omaha and wrap up this trip.  The current has been of great assistance allowing me to finish most days by 5:00 p.m.  I’ve seen some great scenery and have enjoyed a few of the towns, especially Decatur, Nebraska.  At river mile 750 the Channelized section of the river begins and is defined by wing dams that direct the river’s flow into a 300 foot wide and 6 feet deep channel from Sioux City southwards.

I’m now in Bellevue, NE, after putting in 48 miles of paddling; my longest day of the trip.  I’ll be at Nebraska City tomorrow and then I’m done.  This is day #68 and the beginning of my adventure feels like it was years ago, I barely remember the Montana portion of the trip.  I’ve had a lot of great encounters with folks along the way and way too much alone time to think and ponder life and the status of affairs, both my own and the world’s at large.  It will take a few days to decompress from my journey then I’ll post a final update with my thoughts and reflections.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Francis Case treated me right

I departed from the campground downstream from the Ft. Thompson dam around 7:00 a.m. on July 10th, a Saturday.  The campground host was kind enough to wheel my gear bags over to the boat launch in his golf cart while I towed my canoe on its cart.  As I crossed the parking lot and approached the boat ramp, I observed a line of about a dozen trucks waiting their turn to back their boats down the ramp and launch for the day.  It was a scene of complete chaos and me right in the middle of it trying to load my canoe without getting run over by an over anxious fisherman!

The weather forecast for that morning called for clear skies and mild NNE winds.  Instead, a thunderstorm started building just as I was about to shove off.  I put on my rain jacket and donned my PFD and hoped for the best as I headed out of the inlet and onto Lake Francis Case.  As I began my crossing to left river bank, the wind began to blow in earnest (9-10 mph) so I raised the sail.  The next several hours were pure canoeing bliss.  I had a strong tailwind that pushed me towards Chamberlain, SD, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to make some quick miles.  The only downside was rain throughout the morning which required me to pull over and pull on my rain pants to go with the jacket.  I also mounted my GoPro on the connection behind my seat and turned it on hoping to get some good footage of me using my sail; we’ll see how much is usable when I get a chance to view it on a computer.

Red Rock, a landmark south of Chamberlain,
South Dakota 
Using the sail and the wind, I completed the 20 mile run to Chamberlain just after lunch.  I pulled over at American Creek Campground and was able to nab a tent site in an otherwise overpacked campground.  I used the rest of the day to visit the laundromat and Dollar Store and to get a hot dinner downtown.  All in all, it was a great first day on the lake.

My game plan for Francis Case was to do at least one high mileage day to get me in position to finish the lake in a timely fashion.  Thus, I was back on the water on June 11th heading to Elm Creek, a paddle of some 32 miles.  That put me in a good position to do shorter miles the next few days as I hopped from Elm Creek to Snake Creek then on to North Wheeler (one of my favorite campsites of this trip) and finally arriving at the Ft. Randall damn.  Thankfully, the weather (wind!) cooperated.  I faced SSE headwinds during my entire crossing down to Ft. Randall but they remained fairly mild each day.  I was nervous the entire time that the wind would kick up and blow with the same intensity as it had on Oahe and Lake Sharpe leaving me windbound on shore.  My luck held and I was able to arrive at the dam on July 14th.

With Cheryl Pruett at Snake Creek
The real story of Lake Francis Case isn’t that I paddled and then paddled some more and then finished paddling, it’s the continuing story of meeting amazing people.  A Facebook Messenger shoutout from a member of the Missouri River Paddlers group, Cheryl Pruett, led to a great dinner and conversation when I arrived at Snake Creek.  That led to the recommendation that I call Bob Foley for help getting around the Ft. Randall dam which led to another great meal and conversation and a real bed to sleep in when I got to Pickstown.  The continuing saga of meeting kind people that pay it forward.  

So…one more lake to go and then the run on flowing river to finish my planned trip at Nebraska City.  I won’t say that this trip has been easy and that at times I wasn’t ready to toss in the towel.  I am now starting to savor the description “planned trip” for my summer adventure.  Once I pass the Gavins Point dam I’ll be heading downstream to finish at the spot I always intended.  A small part of me is starting to celebrate but not just yet, I don’t want to jinx things!

Friday, July 9, 2021

High anxiety on Lake Sharpe

South Dakota state capital
I departed from Pierre, SD, on July 5th just as thunderboomers made their presence known.  My plan was to take it easy and head about 20 miles downstream to camp at one of the South Dakota facilities.  Of course, that plan would have been a perfect one had I stuck to my usual 7:00 a.m. departure time.  Although Pierre is the state capital of South Dakota it’s a pretty small community, numbering only about 14,000 people.  The riverfront and the parks along that stretch of water are well kept and attractive and people out walking and exercising can be seen in pretty good numbers.

Floating downstream, the wind began to pick up and was coming from the south.  By mid afternoon it was clear that I wouldn’t make much mileage that day and I should start thinking about pulling out to camp.  Just as I was considering doing so, I experienced my first Lake Sharpe zephyr and was forced into the sedge and cattails that line the shoreline in the braided section of the lake.  I struggled to point the bow of my boat into the wind as the waves crested into the cockpit.  After doing so, I pulled out my phone and looked at the digital maps to figure out my next plan.  I quickly determined that Antelope Creek Recreation Area was across the lake/river and about 1.5 miles away.  My decision was easily made, time to call it an early day.

When I reached the Antelope Creek boat ramp I thought my GPS had made an error.  The concrete was hidden in a thicket of cattails and it was clear that the facility hadn’t been used by fisherman to launch boats in quite some time.  The wind and rain were picking up so I quickly scouted where to set up my tent; not a real challenge since there was a single tree for a wind block and with a grassy area that was suitable.

At first I thought the site was totally abandoned and that I’d be alone all evening.  It turns out that while the boat ramp and channel were no longer used by fisherman that didn’t mean that locals didn’t make the several mile drive on gravel road.  All evening cars would pull in, see my tent, and make a U-turn to high tail it out of there.  Hmmmm, I wonder what all those people could be up to so far from prying eyes… 😅

The weather on the morning of July 6th was still unsettled as the thunderstorm from the previous night was still hovering over the area.  The winds were in my face most of the day but not strong enough to force me off the water.  I floated down to DeGrey, my original destination the day before, and landed at the ramp at noon.  Again, it looked like the site got very little use especially since a rusty multi-tool was sitting right in the middle of the concrete.  A score for me but I’m glad I missed the opportunity to camp at that location; what an ugly site!

The wind was cooperating so I decided to make it a long day (nearly 30 miles) and push on to Joe Creek; a site listed as having shelters and fire rings in a tree covered bay.  The wind, however, kicked up late in the afternoon and the last few miles were a bit tough, even while hugging the shore for a bit of protection.

Camping at Joe Creek
As I was reaching the Joe Creek landing two fishing boats also entered the bay.  I made room for them to get loaded onto their trailers while striking up conversations with both groups.  The second boat to come in was driven by Jamie Fallis who had been out with his sons and nephew.  He asked me a few questions about my trip and seemed impressed by the challenge of what I was attempting.  After the kids were loaded into the truck he drove off leaving me to scout where to set up my tent.

It turns out the Joe Creek isn’t quite the quaint site I thought it would be.  The shelters and fire rings had been torn out and the entire area was overgrown with weeds.  This was clearly another neglected site and one that took a bit of searching as to where to stake my tent.  The concrete pads of the shelters were still intact so I chose one just off the access road that would make a good home for the night.  I had just finished setting everything up and had just started making dinner when Jamie reappeared with his daughter bearing a plate of hot food sent down by his wife.  What an amazing gesture.

Jamie and I chatted for about 15 minutes about my trip, challenges I’ve faced, and where I was going next before the couple staying across the street arrived.  For the next 45 minutes I received advice about where to go next and how to face the problem of the shuttle around the Big Bend Dam.  All in all, it was a great cap to a challenging day.

“Hanging with the locals.”  Jamie Fallis is
on the right in the ball cap.
Prior to leaving, Jamie informed me that he’d shuttle me or would find someone who could from the community when I got to the end of Lake Sharpe.  Hot food and the solution to my greatest challenge on this part of the river, sweet!

My plan was to push hard the next day (July 7th) for Lower Brule where I’d stay at the full service campground then paddle the 6 miles to meet Jamie at the dam on July 8th.  Since I had already had done one 30 miler, I knew the next day’s 32 miles would be a challenge.  I had minor wind on the morning of the 7th as I approached Big Bend, a 25 mile curve in the river that takes you across the 1.5 miles of the spit to where you started.  As I came into the bend itself I made the decision to cross to the inner shore and follow the shore around to the tip.  That was a good decision as the wind changed direction and pushed me all afternoon.  By the time I rounded the tip of Big Bend to head back to the starting point the weather had changed and I was facing a stiff SSE breeze.  I continued to paddle through the afternoon while looking for a campsite.  My decision at lunch to cross over to the inner curve of the bend meant that I passed by the full service campground called Big Bend.  Confounding my search for a campsite was the fact that the area had recently been burned, not a good place to set up camp.

By 6:00 p.m. I was nearly spent and I was still 6 miles from Lower Brule.  I kept searching and ultimately chose a location at the edge of a corn field on the high embankment that had a wind shelter planting.  It wasn’t the most accommodating of locations but the vegetation buffered the wind’s force.  A large tree trunk below the embankment would serve as hideout for my canoe so all in all I had found a good site for the evening.

My wind blown home for two nights
The end of a long and physically challenging day is always a bit of a downer and I was in pretty low spirits after having now had two of them.  I set up camp, prepared dinner, and started looking over the weather forecast in earnest.  It wasn’t comforting information, winds from the SSE continuing to strengthen through the night and into the morning hours.  I didn’t want to admit it quite yet but it was a sure bet I’d be wind bound the next day.

By morning the lake had whitecaps and it was clear I would be stuck in that location for the day…ugh!  I wasn’t savoring the idea of being pinned down between a raging lake and a cornfield with just a patch of vegetation in between.  Not much to do but make the best of it.  I’d go through my food bag and see how my supply was holding out, blog, and try to nap.  In the meantime I gave Jamie a call to let him know that my arrival at the Big Bend Dam would be delayed by a day.

The wind continued to pick up intensity through the day reaching peaks of 30 mph.  That’s when the trip is the hardest for me.  Sitting idle is one thing but the horror stories of paddlers being windbound for days starts to creep into the corners of my mind.  The “so what, take a rest break today, you deserve it” mentality doesn’t really work.  Instead, I find myself becoming more anxious as the day progresses.

Hiding a canoe from prying eyes
A thunderstorm moved through the area around 10 p.m. just as I was trying to get to sleep.  Over the howl of the wind I heard the continuous thunder of waves striking the beach below me.  All told, I got about 3 hours of sleep as I fitfully tossed and turned in my anticipation of what the next day would bring.

I woke at 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep.  By 4:45 a.m. I decided to go ahead and start my paddling day even though the waves continued to crash below.  I packed up my belongings, tore down the tent, and packed everything into my dry bags before eating breakfast.  The canoe was in the water and packed by 6:30 a.m. when I made the decision to proceed and see how far I got that day.  Looking across to the opposite shore, I could see that the bluffs offered some protection and calmer waters.  I decided to cross over even though that would mean crossing back once I reached the Big Bend Dam.

About an hour into my paddle I still hadn’t reached the opposite shore but the wind was slackening so I changed direction and headed towards the point of the inner bend.  That ended up being a great decision since conditions turned perfectly calm around 8:00 a.m.  For the rest of the day I would have perfectly calm, glasslike water.  A wonderful end to my time on Lake Sharpe, especially after the last 24 anxiety filled hours.

Canoe, what canoe?
At 9:15 a.m. I sent a text to Jamie of my location and that I expected to be at the dam by noon.  A few minutes later the text bounced back as undelivered, something that had been happening with new contacts.  I went ahead and dialed his number and he informed me that Rudy from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Conservation Department would have someone shuttle me around the dam.  Woohoo!

I quick call to Rudy and all was set.  I reached the dam at 11:30 a.m. allowing me time to unload the canoe and stack the bags along the edge of the parking lot.  Lucas from the Conservation office arrived right at noon and by 12:45 I was checked into the downstream campground and setting up my tent.  Another “trust you journey” day come full circle.

Tomorrow I depart on Lake Francis Case heading for Chamberlain, SD.  I’ve set up camping at American Creek where I’ll be able to walk a few blocks to do laundry, shop, and get a good meal.   When I arrive in Chamberlain I’ll have 400 miles remaining on this trip.  It’s amazing to think how great of an accomplishment it was when I reached Ft. Kipp, Montana, at the beginning of the trip.  That was the 400 miles done mark and I still had 1,350 miles to go.  Funny thing though, I don’t feel like a seasoned Missouri River paddler.  Instead, every day brings new challenges that remind me that I’m still learning and have long way to go before I can make any grandiose claims.



I’m done with Lake Sharpe!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

“Trust your journey”

My last two days on Lake Oahe were spent patiently watching the south winds kick up whitecaps and then scrambling to the dam before the weather had a chance to turn sour again.  I spent July 3rd hanging around the campground and thinking I should be doing something useful with my time.  Of course, the preparation for a trip like this was done months ago so there’s really not much of a “to do” list that one carries as they move down the river.

I spent the morning chilling out and at about noon realized that I had taken a long nap after lying down in the tent to escape the wind.  I decided to get out and stretch a bit before inventing another time killing activity.  The Phelps were just coming back from a float on the lake (in the whitecaps!) on their inflatable rafts.  Since SCUBA would have to wait until the winds died, they inflated some pool type rafts, filled a bag with rocks, and tied it to their joined rafts to get out onto the water for a bit.

We struck up a conversation and chatted outside their RV for about an hour before they invited me in for a cold beverage where the conversation continued for at least another hour.  I have passed hundreds, possibly thousands, of RVs on this trip marveling at the striking difference of that form of camping to my own tent approach.  The truth is that I had never actually been inside one of the modern “home on wheels” forms of outdoor travel.  I was quite impressed. Every inch is well used and the expanding bays create a fairly large living space.  The downside, of course, is the need to purchase a truck large enough to pull the rig.  Since I drive a 4-cylinder Nissan Frontier I won’t be making such an investment soon but as I approach the age of 60 it might be time to try a new style of “getting out there.”  OK world, go ahead and be shocked since I was the guy who swore I’d never consider such a thing!

I headed back to my tent mid afternoon with an invite for a hot meal from Mark and Jenna to which I gladly said yes.  Freeze dried food has its merits but anytime I can get a hot cooked option I’ve been taking it, especially to stretch my rations for the last few weeks of the trip.

After dinner the Phelps invited to go up the hill (above Bushes Landing, a site I passed on the lake the day before) to visit their friends Dan and Angie.  A few times on this trip I’ve climbed to the bluff above the river to watch the sun set while trying to get a good cell signal to call home.  The view from Dan’s place was amazing as we watched a series of thunderstorms roll across the lake, once forcing us to scramble indoors to keep dry and continue the conversation.

I can honestly say that this was one of the better evenings I’ve spent on the river.  It was fun to be part of the banter going around the table with no worries about how the next day’s weather would treat me.  It’s one aspect of paddling the Missouri River that I thought I’d encounter more.  This waterway is, however, pretty isolated and I’ve gone 7-10 days at a time not seeing or speaking to other humans so it’s not a surprise that the opportunity hasn’t arisen more.

My go to weather app is DarkSky and it didn’t let me down.  They called for a change in wind direction during the night and it panned out as predicted; conditions were perfectly calm when I awoke.    I ate breakfast quickly and hauled most of my gear down to the shore before Mark exited his RV and helped me with the last few items.  I was finishing loading up the canoe as he was bringing down his SCUBA gear intending on getting in the water to do some spear fishing.  As we said our goodbyes he handed me a small care package that Jenna had prepared which I quickly shoved in my canoe and then I was on my way.

There was no wind most of the morning as I headed south to the Oahe dam.  I still hadn’t worked out the details with my Pierre, SD, contact on shuttling my gear once I got there but I waited until 9:00 a.m. to give him a call since it was the 4th of July.  He didn’t answer but texted back that he was 50 miles south of town and wouldn’t be back that day.  Crud, now what was I going to do?  I kept paddling for a bit as I thought things over then reached for my coffee and remembered Jenna’s care package.  I pulled out the breakfast bar she had included and then turned the bag over and noticed the note she’d written on the outside:

Reach High
Dream Big
Trust Your Journey
Paddle On!

“Trust your journey”…that’s exactly what I needed to do.  It was a great reminder to take things as they come and to stop trying to restrict myself to a daily plan.  OK, if I had to self portage when I got to the dam that’s what I’d do.  Maybe someone would take mercy on me when they saw me struggling but I’d just trust my journey and see how things turned out.  In the meantime, I would post a message on the South Dakota Kayak and Missouri River Facebook group pages and ask for help.

The wind picked up and, as DarkSky had predicted, it was from the north.  I raised my sail and started to make solid progress when my phone rang,  My Facebook post had gotten attention and a member had contacted a friend in Pierre, Paul Lepisto, asking if he could help.  Paul apologized that he had a decrepit trailer to carry my boat but if I was game we could make it work.  A thousand yesses!

As I hung up the phone I was feeling pretty good and thinking this “trust your journey” stuff was pretty snazzy. It was getting close to noon and I would be soon entering a part of the lake busy with holiday boat traffic.  I decided to pull over and eat lunch as well to stretch.  I spent a short time on shore as the dam was still a solid afternoon’s paddle away and I wanted to make that shuttle pickup.  As I was shoving off a fisherman trolling by started asking me questions about my trip with specific questions about where I camped every night.  I filled him in and threw in a few grumbles about how I couldn’t plan ahead more than a day ahead because of the unknowns of river travel and that had me in a pickle with no place to camp that night.  “You can set up your tent behind my RV if you want” was his reply.  A quick exchange of phone numbers and I was off; within 30 minutes a shuttle and tent-site had fallen into my lap.  Always trust in the wisdom of a Jenna!

The wind died shortly after Ryan made his offer camping offer and I spent the rest of the day paddling in the 90 degree heat and humidity.  As promised, Paul was waiting for me at the Oahe dam and we quickly loaded up my gear and he took me to Campground #3.  The Crego family were either out fishing (Ryan) or running errands so I set up behind campsite #204 before heading off to get a shower.  When I returned Ryan was down by the water securing toys and rafts for the evening.  After quick introductions to the rest of the family Ryan apologized that he had to leave to run to the store to replace a sandal he lost that day on the water.  “Do you mind if I ride along, I need to pick up a few items” was my reply.

Approaching the Oahe Dam
On our way to Walmart I got the basic gist of Ryan’s life.  He lives in a small town (population 33) on the Wyoming/South Dakota border and works in the lumber industry.  Ryan grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch, which he loved.  He now works as a lumberjack (the first I’ve ever met!), is married, and has an amazing family.  I found him to be easy going and confident and, like many people that spend long hours thinking while they work, quite insightful.  We chatted a bit about his thoughts on the timber industry, the US Forest Service and their management practices, and the future.  As an old botany and ecology professor that always includes a few lectures on fire ecology in his classes, I was glad to hear how Ryan’s thoughts meshed with my own.  Two ends of the spectrum (one academic and the other extraction industry) that have reached many of the same conclusions.

I wrapped up my stay in Pierre by sleeping in (6:00 a.m.) on July 5th and taking my time to shower and pack for my descent of Lake Sharpe.  The Crego family helped carry my gear down to the river and watched as I managed to get it all inside “that small canoe.”  I shoved off right at the noon hour to begin my next set of adventures that included more thunderstorms, meeting some amazing people, and again being windbound.  Of course, to hear about those events you’ll have to wait for the next update to the blog! 😆

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Hot dog or brat…or both!?

My, how the days blend together when life’s activities operate at walking (and paddling) speed!  I’m struggling to keep track of where I’ve been, camped, and what happened just a few days ago.  When I sit down to make a blog entry I have to reread the last post to remember what occurred and then I take to pen and paper to sketch out events since to get it all straight.

Other through paddlers I’ve talked to keep a formal daily record of like on the river.  Nick Early journals every day about his experiences while Jake Valenze records short videos of himself describing events.  As far as I know, I’m the only through paddler on the MO River this summer keeping a blog.  That’s a record, correct?  Unfortunately, my old person brain struggles to remember what happened this morning let alone since my last blog post a few days ago.  Not that I’m complaining, the effect of three summers in college spent in the backcountry of New Mexico and Alaska is that I usually don’t know what day of the week it is, let alone the day of the month.  I get up every morning and have to look up the day and date to orient myself.  Hey, maybe I can sue the U.S. Government for the permanent damage done to my internal clock as a result of work on a BLM crew!

It’s a point of pride to have “date dyslexia” (my invented term for the condition) as result of those glorious summers spent at walking and paddling speed.  I wonder what affliction will be the result of this trip; will it be a fear of thunderstorms, love of boat landings with vault toilets, or the inability to ever eat another instant oatmeal or a Cliff Bar after having them now for 50 days and counting?

The boundary between Central and Mountain Time Zones runs down the middle of the Missouri River in this part of South Dakota.  Several times a day my clocks all reset forward and back an hour depending on which side of the river I’m on and the availability of a cell phone signal.  On the morning of my departure from Indian Creek, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. and looked at my watch to check the time then rolled over to get a bit more sleep.  The 5:00 a.m. alarm strangely went off at what seemed a few minutes later.  I got up, packed, and hauled gear to the boat launch.  As I shoved off I checked my watch again expecting that after the 1.5 hour routine it would be 7:30 a.m.  Nope, 6:30 a.m.  Are you confused?  Me too,  it’s been that way for the last week.  I have no idea what time it is and have no analog device that won’t flip flop to compare against.  Could it be that the affliction from this trip is that I get to skip those horrid “fall back”, “skip ahead” fall and spring time changes we’re forced to endure each year?  Now that would be heaven!

My weather sources (I have several and check them daily) indicated that a southerly wind would blow and increase in strength as I headed south towards the Oahe Dam.  When I left Indian Creek on June 30th I had this information in mind; the prediction was for slight (3-6 mph) southerly winds for the day.  My game plan was to continue using South Dakota recreational areas as a target for daily mileage.  Thus, La Beau (20 miles) and Dodge Draw (27 miles) were both possibilities as I started the paddling day.

I’m not sure if it bears repeating by I will say it again, predicting the weather and water conditions on this river are near impossible.  My expectation of fighting the wind as I made my way south didn’t happen.  In fact, I was greeted with nearly no wind on the last day of June other than an offshore breeze in the morning that I used to sail.  By mid day the lake was the glasslike calm I had encountered on Canyon Ferry and Ft. Peck lakes earlier in the trip.  Maybe Lady Missouri wanted to add Oahe to the list of surreal paddling conditions?  As long as it wasn’t a strong headwind, I wasn’t complaining!

The conditions were so perfect that I decided to cross to the west bank of the river/lake to shave off some paddling time as I rounded the major bends.  I had cut a beeline down the middle of the lake and was heading across the first bend when a pontoon boat pulled up beside me.  It was Pete Frickson, operator of Pete’s Guide Service ( of Bowdle, South Dakota, who was out with a delightful family for a day of fishing. After a short conversation about my trip, where I’ve been and was heading, Pete asked how do I get over the dams?  I explained that I accept names of contact names as I head down river but I was still working on getting help now that I’d entered South Dakota.  Within a few minutes Pete had made a phone call to a friend in Pierre and a very grateful canoeist was looking forward to reaching the end of the lake in a few days time.

Pete and his crew invited me to lunch around the bend (“near the pump house) and continued on.  I paddled another half hour to catch up to them by which time the smell of the grill was torturing me as I approached.  Pete asked if I wanted a hot dog or a brat and my reply was “hot dog, no wait brat, hold it, maybe I will have a hot dog after all.”  Of course, Pete took that to mean one of each and set about the fixings.  We all chatted and then I departed laden with beverages, snacks, and a full stomach.  

The next two days are pretty uneventful.  I put in some long paddle days (ca. 28 miles each day) hoping to reach the end of Lake Oahe by July 4th or 5th.  At the end of yesterday’s paddle, as I was reaching Little Bend Recreation Area the wind picked up intensity out of the south and I had to fight to make it to the boat ramp.  The bay I entered is at very low water and mucked in silt.  It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to land and would have to seek another location to camp.  Looking to the south, I noticed a vault toilet which indicated the main area of the campground.  I paddled across the lagoon and hiked up the embankment to discover a nice but primitive camping area.  The problem was where to land?   I knocked on the door of the only RV trailer in the area hoping to get some advice and was greeted by Mark Phelps, a SCUBA diver out for the weekend from Sioux Falls with his wife, Jenna, hoping to do some spear fishing.

It took nearly an hour to slug all my gear across the mud flats and up to the camping area.  Squatting on the edge of Mark and Jenna’s campsite, I got my tent set up while the three of us chatted about shared experiences.  Jenna is a fellow Michigander, also went to Western Michigan University (“go Broncos!”) and studied under a few of the same biology faculty as I.  Mark and Jenna have lived exciting lives that include SCUBA diving, sky diving, and Jenna’s trek solo trip to Guatemala five years ago.

Today has been spent in camp watching the wind blow large whitecaps from the south and covering everything in a fine dust grit.  The weather forecast is for the wind to continue into this evening and then turn to come from the north.  I hope that pans out as one day wind bound on this lake would be fine but I’m getting itchy to finish the trip.  I’ve now paddle over 1,200 miles and have about 550 more to go.  Any more time sitting around will cut into my food supply and I don’t want to run out of provisions before I hit the Nebraska City finish line.