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?
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.
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 (www.petesguideservice.com) 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.
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.