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.


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