Wednesday, April 28, 2021

North Dakota, here we come!

Well not exactly we, more like a bunch of a food items heading out via UPS.  This week’s major goals for trip preparation include shipping out the second month of freeze dried food and assembling reading materials.  Hopefully, when I reach Tobacco Gardens (located outside the metropolis of Watford, ND) my food will be waiting.  I tossed in a special treat as a reward for making it through Montana and the first reservoir in the Dakotas.  I hope that by the time we meet again that I’ve settled into a good grove and the paddle is going easy...

My second task this week is assembling maps, books, and music/entertainment to bring along on the trip.  The great thing about carrying an iPad is that it has lots of storage room to include reference books and items to read for pleasure.  I hope to do a little wandering while around camp and on shore encountering plants, insects, and other wild creatures.  I’ve also been warned that the winds on the big lakes can be overwhelming and to expect to be windbound on shore for several days.  Having some good reading material will make the hours pass by a little quicker while waiting for conditions to improve.

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll be departing Lincoln.  I’m trying to wrap up my to do list which mostly includes loose ends around the house.  The canoe, food, and equipment are all ready to go.  I know I’m forgetting something important, I just can’t remember what it is! 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Shaking it down, the final packing list, making decisions...

Way too much stuff!
I'll be paddling for 8 weeks and traveling almost 1,800 miles; that means I need LOTS OF STUFF, correct!?  Clearly, I'm a product of western civilization as I have well over a hundred items on my packing list and all of them are absolutely critical 😂.  Then again, Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian trail three times carrying her required essentials in a pillow case!  Last weekend's activity was to dump all my gear out on the living room floor and toss out what I don't need.  Unfortunately, the discard pile ended up being woefully small.  I just have TOO MUCH STUFF!

Where will I sit!?
After repacking my bags I went about the task of seeing how it will ride in the canoe.  I quickly deduced what's already been said, too much stuff.  The problem is my original intention to carry my entire eight week supply of food instead of doing a food pickup halfway through the trip.  If I stick to that plan my boat will be overloaded on the upper Montana stretch of the river above the Missouri Breaks.  An overloaded canoe going through rapids is hard to control, even in minor ones.  Thus, I've made the decision to mail month two of my food bill to Washburn, North Dakota, for pickup when I pass through.  I don't, however, like the idea of trying to time my food rations, especially if I get wind bound on Lake Sakakawea but that's how she rolls sometimes. 

Click here to view the entire packing list
Thus, the current plan is to carry five weeks of food and ship the remaining to North Dakota.  The trip from Three Forks, MT, to Washburn, ND, should be about 30 days (assuming a travel rate of 30 miles/day) which will give me an extra week of food before the pickup.  Carrying all of my supplies would have been much simpler but now I'll be back to the streamlined packing profile I had 10 years ago on my Lower Missouri River trip.  Each day that passes on the river makes the food bag a bit lighter and the paddler (me!) a bit more trimmed and efficient.  It's a good tradeoff in the end.

And in case you're wondering, here's my complete packing list.  I developed it for my last big mileage trip using a couple of resources including Cliff Jacobson's book Expedition Canoeing and my own experience over the last few decades of outdoor travel.  Enjoy reading!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Numbers, what's in a name, and decals

The countdown to the May 15th put-in continues!  This week I'm working on itinerary and thinking about the details of traveling to Montana.  I've loaded the boat on the truck a few times and she seems to ride nicely but I did need to purchase some new anchors for the hood/front tie down straps.  I guess it never hurts to work out those kinds of loose ends before the actual day of departure.

This week's blog update is a short one as all the major packing and planning is done.  I thought it might be a good time to talk about boat registration and decals.  Nebraska law doesn't require registering a canoe and the same is true for the states of Montana and North Dakota.  Unfortunately, South Dakota regulations state, in part, that "non-motorized boats over 12 feet in length must have a validation sticker, but boat numbering is optional."  A bit confusing, especially for a river through-padder.

My take when reading the regulation was that if I didn't want to worry about being hassled I should register my canoe.  Of course, doing so turns out to be harder than you'd think.  After locating the proper form on the Nebraska DMV website, I made my way over to the nearest office.  I was told by the clerk that I wasn't required to register my canoe and she was a bit surprised at my response of "yes, but I want to."  Evidently, there are few idiots that insist on filling out paperwork, standing in line for over an hour, and spending $27 when they aren't required to do so. After three supervisors were called for assistance and I was questioned several times about why, I left with my pink registration form in hand (yeah me!).

The next step in this odyssey was to locate stick-on decals.  Google being the friend that it is, a quick online search yielded a couple of companies with online tools for designing and ordering the correct setup.

While ordering my registration decals I decided it would be good to throw in an order for my boat's name.  One of my blog posts from my trip down the lower Missouri ten years ago highlighted my decision to name her the "James Caird."  I have long been intrigued with the 1916 Ernest Shackleton led open boat rescue voyage from Elephant Island to St. George Island (800 miles across the roughest waters on the planet!).  Since my boat is about the same length as that craft and will be occasionally under sail, I figure I'm justified in giving her an official name.  After all, I will be living in her for about 8 straight weeks and she's more than a weekend sit on top canoe.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Q&A session with other paddlers, testing the sail kit

The highlight of this week's trip preparation was a Zoom question and answer session on Monday
evening with 20+ other paddlers.  A big thanks to host Norman Miller of Missouri River Paddlers for hosting the event; I got a few good tips and it was great meeting other peeps that either have done the river or are heading out soon.

Our weather finally warmed up enough for me to get onto the water and give the modifications to the boat a test run.  There's a small lake in the neighborhood across the street so I loaded her onto my portage cart and wheeled over.  I purchased the cart for my float on the Lower Missouri ten years ago and never needed to use it.  The Upper Missouri has over 15 dams to portage around with a few being longer distances (up to 2 miles) so it's smart to see how the cart will handle.

I thought my first time using the sail kit would be best in a smaller body of water.  So, after my 1/2 mile "portage," I dropped the boat into the water and gave it a try.  The winds were a bit strong (ca. 20 mph) and swirling unpredictably which made putting up the sail and getting underway difficult.  Since the lake (more like a pond) has such a short fetch, this outing was more about testing the rigging and the overall setup.

Today's weather was gorgeous (sunny, 65º F) with little wind.  I put the canoe racks on the truck and loaded the canoe for the short drive over to Holmes Lake.  Holmes is also a small body of water but large enough to make a few runs downwind and then turn around to learn how to sail upwind.  The conditions were perfect for learning how to trim the sail and test the overall setup.

The route of the Missouri River through North Dakota and South Dakota is a series of five reservoirs.  
I'm hoping the sail will ease paddling across the long distances of calm lake water.  The winds on those lakes are notoriously wicked and I'm hoping they'll cooperate (strong enough to assist and blowing in the right direction).  I'll need to get onto one of our larger reservoirs and continue to master how to sail but today was a good start.

Lastly, this outing was a good time to test my GPS install/placement and the stowage options I talked about in last week's blog post.  It appears that I got it right, everything is within easy reach and organized efficiently.

Time is flying by, my countdown is by the number of days remaining instead of weeks or months.  The goal for the upcoming week is to unpack everything and do a shakedown and repack.  For all my trips, and my peace of mind, I like the last to-do items to be related to logistics and not equipment and packing.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Small modifications equals big comfort?

Only 55 days/8 weeks remain until the big put-in on the Missouri River at Three Forks, Montana!  Most of my planning is complete and I'm way ahead of things (that thought actually panics me, I know I'm missing something on my to-do list!).  I thought I'd use a few of my upcoming weekly pre-trip posts to summarize the improvements I've made on my canoe since last September.

From the moment in 2011 that Scott Smith, owner and manufacturer of Superior Canoes, delivered my Superior Expedition (a closed deck solo rudder canoe), I've known there were little things that would make paddling her more comfortable.  I love the overall design and handling of the canoe and she's perfect for flat water trekking on big water like the Missouri River.  A long distance trip requires long periods of seat time and that's when a small inconvenience in the layout of the cockpit becomes a growing irritant.

Every time I've sat in the seat of my boat one glaring deficiency became immediately apparent, stowage and placement of small gear is severely lacking.  There's a built in map stow area to the left of the seat but no place to put a drink cup, GPS unit, weather radio, etc.  I didn't have time to work on ergonomics prior to my paddle down the Lower Missouri in 2011.  For the 2021 trip on the Upper Missouri I spent several months researching and installing upgrades to the cockpit.  A summary of what I've done follows.

Down River Stash Bag
• A Stash Pocket (see photo) from Down River for holding my marine radio and coffee cup/water bottle.  I considered other means of stowing items but the rudder cables that run past the cockpit seat are exposed.  The solution was to install an under deck line from which to hang the Stash Pocket.  Having a hot coffee at hand will totally rock the start of the paddling day!

GPS unit & UnderDeck Bag


• The UnderDeck Bag from North Water (see photo).  Compared to a kayak, the cockpit of the Superior Expedition is fairly open.  This allows for rapid stowage and removal of equipment but results in a large area of dead space ahead of the padder.  My setup uses the bag's quick-releases and a set of #2 Nite-Ize S-Biners to hang the UnderDeck Bag via rigging in the open cockpit.


 GPS Navigation & Safety:
• I continue to be amazed at the ease and convenience of handheld GPS units.  The downside, however, is that the small screen is hard to see while out on the open water.  This is exasperated by the fact that there's no place to set the GPS unit.  Usually I place the GPS on the canoe floor and either stoop or periodically pick up the unit when I need to view the screen; difficult tasks when paddling in strong wind or current.  My first thought for a solution was an under deck attachment and swing arm to mount the GPS unit.  That configuration, however, would be impede my paddle stroke; not a good solution.  It was clear that the best situation would be to mount the GPS unit between the paddler's legs with the screen in an elevated position.  To do so would require a glue mount thus creating an obstacle when egressing from the boat.

SidePort below seat
RailBlaza under seat extension arm for GPS

My solution (see photos) was to attach a RailBlaza arm on the underside of the canoe saddle/seat bottom using a SidePort mount.  The system extends forward between the paddler's legs where the GPS unit is attached to a Fish Finder Mount.  When entering and exiting the boat the GPS/Fish Finder can be set aside so its not obstructing the padder's movement.  We'll see how well this system works on test paddling outings in the next few weeks...

Cockpit facing to stern

Seat, removable GPS mount, map stowage

• For my 2011 trip I purchased set of Navisafe Portable Navigation Lights.  I wanted to be prepared for any needed night paddling situation (due to escaping hot weather, strong winds, etc.).   

My Navisafe lights attach via strong magnets through the boat deck.  The result is a precarious assembly that can easily be knocked loose.  My solution was to modify my lights by attaching their magnetic base to a RailBlaza Attachment Adapter.  This gives a firm mount while allowing the light to be removed when not in use.  The mount for the front tri-color light is a RailBlaza QuickPort (see photo) while the rear (white) Navilight 360º is mounted using a RailBlaza Expanda Track (this allows threading of the rudder elevator line –– see photo).

Rear light over rudder rope
Front tri-color light

That's enough for now.  Look for upcoming posts about decals, hull protection, sail installation, electronics/communication package, food, and my equipment list.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Planning 2021 trip on the Upper Missouri River!

It's time to finish what I started...  It's been ten years since I pointed my canoe downstream on the Missouri River and began paddling.  When I arrived at St. Louis, MO, I was already thinking about the "next big trip."  Little did I know that an entire decade would pass before I'd be able to attempt another big float.  In that time there have been a few changes in life (children graduating, losing 35 pounds, knee surgery) and the big upsets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  All in all, this year is a really good time to once again point my canoe downstream on the Missouri River...

So, I'm going to finish what I started.  On May 15, 2011 I launched at river mile 563 in Nebraska City, NE, and made the run (in 18 days) to river mile 0 at St. Louis.  My current plan is put in (on May 15, 2021!) at the headwaters of the Missouri River (mile 2,321) at Three Forks, MT, and take out at Nebraska City.  I will thus have traversed the river completely.  Some paddlers accomplish this task in a single outing while others break it up over a few seasons.  My story is that a decade's time counts as complete and I'm not gonna change that thought no matter how much you argue!

Real planning for this began last September and it has been a great replacement for what I'd usually being doing; organizing/completing research projects and/or a study abroad trip for my real life gig as a university professor.  The COVID shutdown has forced us all to scale back or change what we usually do in life, at work, or play.  Getting ready to paddle almost 2,000 miles by canoe has been the perfect diversion during the winter months... 

THE reference book for paddling the Big MO!

Where am I in the planning process?  The simple answer is lists, lists, and more lists (of things needed to be done)!  My plan for reactivating this blog is to start posting about what I've done and what needs to completed before I head to Montana in May.  I'm pretty confident that I'm on track to be ready to go in eight weeks (eek!).  Until then, thanks for reading my blog and for all the support that I've received thus far. 

Enjoy reading and look for me on the water. 🛶

Thursday, June 2, 2011

At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

After an 18 day trip I can proudly say "I came, I saw, I kicked that river's ass!" (well kinda, it actually owned me for about 550 of the 560 miles I traveled).

Coal train crossing the Missouri River

I passed under the very worn out looking bridge as the entire train was crossing, I sure was glad that bridge held up for another day!

Only single digits remaining!

A bittersweet day...

Well, I officially reached the end of trip. Eighteen days and 560 miles brought me to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the end of a great time on the water. It was a pretty good day all around.

I awoke this morning to a very gray and overcast sky. Rain wasn't in the forecast but it was clear I would get rained on as I was taking down camp and eating breakfast. The city park in St. Charles, MO, that sits next to the Boathouse has a shelter close to where I planned to launch today so I decided to roll up the tent and drag my bags down there to keep dry. I had been in contact with Dan Hansen, my pickup in St. Louis and ride home to Nebraska, and he wouldn't be to the Columbia Bottoms boat ramp until after 3:30 p.m. Thus, I had most of the morning to kill.

As I was moving the last of my gear a woman approached me about my use of the shelter. Her quilting club uses the shelter every Thursday for their potluck and group meeting and she was hoping that I wasn't going to be taking all the tables. Since I expected that I would be on the river by 11:00 a.m. I said there wasn't going to be a problem. She left to go get her supplies and I sat down to read the USA Today that was donated to me by a businessman from Madison, WI, when I was eating dinner the night before at the brewpub.

I had nearly finished reading the news (nothing seems to have happened in the world since I left home) when she returned. We sat and chatted a long while about our lives. She came to St. Charles in the 1970s when the historic district was a run down and nearly abandoned area. She, her husband, and a group of friends set to work refurbishing buildings and opening businesses and trying to make a go of things. Over time the area became the gorgeous little artistic area I walked through the day before.

After she sold her businesses she turned to writing as a profession. She's written several books (sorry, I don't remember the titles and I'm so bad with names that hers has also left my brain!) about the food and culture of St. Charles and Missouri. She has also become active in the national quilting scene serving on the board of the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Oddly enough, she's also traveling to Lincoln this weekend for a quilter's event.

Since she was at the shelter and setting up for the potluck I trusted her to watch my bags while I walked to the historic district to buy a coffee. I also poked around a bit and took my time getting back to the river. When I arrived the other quilt club members were arriving with food for the potluck. My intended departure time was 11:00 a.m. but they convinced me to stay for lunch.

So, there I was eating some fine home cooking and serving as an honorary member of the local quilt club. I'm not sure which I enjoyed more; the conversation, the food, or the creative quilt designs each member stood up to display during the meal.

Unfortunately, I had to take my leave as my pickup was scheduled to arrive at the landing sometime after 3:30 p.m. and I still had 25 miles to paddle. My spirits were soaring pretty high at that point (after all, how often does a man get a potluck lunch on the river with the town's premier quilters?) and I settled into a pretty fast paddling pace. The seat and life jacket didn't sit too well today but I still made it down to Columbia Bottoms by 3:45 p.m. to see Dan Hansen waiting. He had just arrived when I pulled up. He offered me a celebratory beer (cold!) and then we loaded the gear and canoe and headed on our way. We did stop at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and I was pretty glad I made the decision to end where I did. The water is high, fast, and wide on the Mississippi right now and it looks like a good decision was made.

I'm now sitting in an air conditioned home in north St. Louis and I'll be heading home tomorrow. It took 18 days to get here and I'll be home in half a day. Quite contrast in travel modes, no wonder the automobile caught on like it did!

I've already had some nice emails of congratulations for which I'm grateful. All in all, it was a pretty good float trip and if St. Louis had been the original destination then I'd rate it as a 100% success. Aside from that one factor I couldn't have asked for a better ride than the one I've had the last 18 days. Looking back it now seems so easy (I'll ignore those first few days when I nearly quit) and I sure met a lot of great people along the way!



P.S. There's a nice little story about my trip posted on the Nebraska Wesleyan Univ. website ( I didn't know it was on there until I got an email about it today.