Friday, June 4, 2021

Ten days of paddling, most of it pure bliss

Whelp, if I have cell phone coverage and can post a blog update that must mean that I’m back to the edge of civilization!  A lot has happened since my last entry at Coal Banks so I’ll split the entry into two sections so ya’ll aren’t bored to tears only reading one entry! 😅

It was a whirlwind (sometimes literally) coming down through the Missouri Breaks.  When I pulled into the Coal Banks landing I chose the campsite immediately at the top of the boat ramp because it was the shortest distance to haul gear uphill.  The (dis-)advantage of that location was its proximity to the visitors center and overhearing all the conversations occurring, primarily with the camp hosts.  Just as I was falling asleep the leader of a crew of teenage boys was informed by Casey, the BLM host, that bad weather was rolling in overnight.

I woke around 4:00 a.m. to the sound of rain on the tent and wind.  It was a real howler by the time I crawled out of the tent and clear that it was going to be a bitterly cold and wet day.  I ate breakfast and rolled the canoe down the ramp (canoe cart!) and started to load.  In between trips the youth group leader came over and asked me what I thought of the conditions.  “Not too bad, it still seems fairly calm on the water.”  He then pointed out my mistake, I was looking at the protected inlet leading into the boat ramp. We conversed some more, mainly about whether they would push off with three canoes of first timers and then I crawled into my boat and zipped up everything as tight as possible.

My time traveling through the Missouri Breaks is best described as stinging rain and wind interjected with short stops to gaze in awe at the scenery.  For most of the float I was on the edge of hypothermia so I let the fast current carry me while I enjoyed the view.  I considered calling it an early day and camping but my canoeist soul wanted to experience the free flowing Missouri River as it should be, by running its fast current.

The melt water from the late winter storm a week earlier made the river run quick through this section.  That, combined with the wet and cold conditions, produced a wave of nostalgia for the season I was on BLM backcountry crew in Glennallen, Alaska, in 1985; running the Delta and Gulkana wild and scenic rivers.  My run through the breaks would be short but it was a RUN, something that I expect will only happen once in this 1,800 mile trip.

The current shot me along and I had to fight to pull out to take the occasional photograph.  Of course, photos never do justice to the experience and there’s so little left of the original Missouri River that the experience was too short lived.  I continued onward and kept thinking about Lewis and Clark’s experience on this river where every mile and turn around the next bend was as raw and natural as that still to be seen in the Missouri Breaks.  It’s at those moments of reflection that I can’t, for the life of me, even begin to understand the hubris of the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to dam and destroy over 1,100 miles of this natural gem.

After clearing the Breaks I continued on for several hours before pulling over to eat lunch and walk circles on the shore trying to regain circulation to my cold feet.  I was in the famous White Cliffs area and could see the Hole in the Wall in the distance.  So far, it had been a day of isolation with no other human in sight, the perfect way to enjoy a fast current and a well built canoe.  I climbed back into my boat and shoved off and started back downriver.  After about a quarter mile I realized that another yellow boat was parked on the shore and had to be that of Jake Valenze, the other through paddler that I knew was in this section of the river.  I pulled over and whistled and yelled but got no reply; I was too cold and lazy to get back out of my boat to look (I had just gotten back in just a few minutes prior) so I gave up and shoved off.  I figured he was off taking photos and I wouldn’t locate him anyhow.

I pushed on for the rest of the day soaking in the landscape and enjoying the primary reason I was doing this trip, the isolation and ruggedness that is Montana.  Camp that night was made after a satisfyingly long paddle day (just like the old days in Alaska!).  I slept soundly and woke to the knowledge that I would be repeating the pack it up, shove off, float for 9-10 hours with short breaks, search for camp late in the day routine again for another 7 weeks.  Kinda fitting for a big trip through big country.

The landscape through the lower Missouri Breaks is dominated by large rock walls and a feeling that things will soon widen out and change to open prairie.  I continued the next day and again chose to search for camp too late in the day for comfort.  The next day I found my way to Judith Landing where I pulled out to eat lunch and look around.  For all that’s been written about how the Judith River was named and its incredible beauty, it was a bit of a letdown.  It was more of a hard scrabble boat ramp with an ugly campground than inspiration by a beautiful woman named Judith.

Again, as I was pushing off  from Judith I had an encounter with the yellow kayak and this time Jake was seated in it coming downstream.  I held off departure until he arrived so I could introduce myself.  We spent nearly 45 minutes discussing the trip so far, challenges, rumors that Nick Real was somewhere ahead of us, and where the next few days and weeks would take us all.  Jake indicated that he pulls over each day for tea and a nap (that’s what he was doing at Hole in the Wall when I came across his boat a day or so before) and it was now sleepy time.  With that clue, and after exchanging Garmin inReach user IDs, I shoved off and continued downstream with a shout over my shoulder that “I’ll see you when I see you.”

Jake and I hooked up again the following day when he paddled up to my camp and scared the bajeebus out of me while I focused on loading my boat while (in embarrassment) talking to myself.  A quick policing for any overlooked items and I joined him on the float downstream.  He filled me in on his life to date; 26, single with a girlfriend back in Denver, grew up in Maryland and went to college in West Virginia, degree in environmental studies, working the last few years as a subcontractor for Walmart doing parking lot storm drain inspection and cleanup.  He’d had enough of the corporate scene and it was time for a float.  The usual story that always unique to the individual person.

We floated for a few hours and as we turned a bend in the river Jake pointed out there was a canoe on the bank ahead and it had to be Nick Real.  “Or another canoeist”, I pointed out.  “He’s got a canoe cart, only through paddlers carry those” was Jake’s response.  A simple observation that pretty much told the entire story.

Nick Real currently lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and is taking a four month leave of absence to float the 2,400 miles from the headwaters to home.  Nick grew up in Sioux Falls, Iowa, and went to the Merchant Marine academy to learn how to captain the big boys.  He currently works as a tugboat captain on the west coast and does as many outdoor activities as possible during his extended leaves.  Of course, as he’s telling me all this all I could think of were the PBS television shows my kids watched as toddlers featuring a talking tugboat.  And here was the captain looking every inch the image with his knit cap, flowing beard, and confident ease around other people!

For the rest of the day the three of us floated the river and chatted.  The wind had kicked up again so it was a bit of a slow go but we reached Ft. Kipp by late afternoon.  Ft. Kipp is the 400 mile mark in the float from the Missouri River headwaters at Three Forks, MT, and marks the completion of the first section of a through trip.  Ft. Kipp also marks the beginning of what Dave Miller describes in The Complete Paddler as “truly remote and wild country” and what I always have considered the real start of my Missouri River canoe trip (more on that later).

By late afternoon we had set up camp in the Ft. Kipp tent area while quietly taking in the scene of the city that had popped up around us leading into the Memorial Day weekend.  It’s always a shock to be back around people after several days of going solo.  The racing boat engines and large pickups in the campground only reaffirmed the feeling that I’m doing something quite odd, moving across the landscape based my own muscle power.  It’s definitely a different way of approaching an interaction with nature and at this juncture of the trip what had me most concerned about heading into the Dammed Section of the Missouri River…

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Give me a (Missouri) Break!

The last two days have been a whirlwind!  At 9:00 a.m. yesterday (Monday, May 24th), Jim and Phyllis Meade met me in the parking lot of the Great Fall Extended Stay Hotel.  A big shout out to the hotel staff, they opened their equipment room to me to store my canoe overnight; it was a relief knowing she was safe and secure while I headed down the street for a several thousand calorie pizza and carrot cake dinner.

Jim and Phyllis are part of Missouri River Paddlers and are godsend on this part of the river. They make it a point to assist as many through paddlers with the portage around Great Falls, MT, as possible.  My trip around the city was #3 for them for this season and I’m told that three more paddlers are departing from the Three Forks river source in the next few days.  They’ll definitely be busy!

After loading my canoe onto their somewhat muddy Ford Ranger (it’s construction season in Montana!), we make a quick stop at the local Walmart where I restocked my food supplies.  I’m now back to carrying five weeks of dehydrated food and I’ve filled my water containers (8 gallons total) full for the next leg of the trip.  The food (ca. 70 pounds) and water (67 pounds) now have the boat loaded to capacity but not much can done, I’m heading into the most remote stretch of the trip where resupply isn’t possible.

The Meades took me as far as Carters Ferry and dropped me off.  It took some time to reassemble the rudder system on the canoe and to pack the now bulging bags.  It wasn’t until 12:00 p.m. that I shoved off; no worries, though, as I had a very strong tail wind pushing me along.  After last week’s big snowstorm the river has risen and the current picked up significantly.  Things were moving so fast with the wind conditions that paddling wasn’t required.  I sat back, let the rudder guide things, and soaked in the stark scenery of the Montana High Plains.  The trip from Carters Ferry to Fort Benton is 16 river miles.  I pulled into the Fort just after 2:30 p.m., a pretty rapid pace especially when I was trying to stretch the time and enjoy the ride.

Front Street in Ft. Benton was once known as “the bloodiest block in the west” during its time in the 1860s gold rush and the endpoint of navigation for river steamboats heading upstream.  Today it serves as a jumping off point for paddlers heading to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.  It’s also the commercial hub for this part of Montana and a good place to play tourist.

After setting up my tent and cutting and adding extra guy lines to keep it from blowing away in the wind, I headed into town to do a little sightseeing.  My first stop was at the BLM office to inquire about water availability (limited, carry as much as possible), required permits (none, only a daily user fee of $4), and human waste bags (purchase them down the street at the True Value).  I spent time chatting with the BLM staff member on duty and then I toured the little museum display housed within the building.  The BLM office closed at 4:30 p.m. so I made my way to downtown Ft. Benton hoping to do a little shopping before they rolled up the sidewalks at around 5:30 p.m.

A victim of the wind, I scooped this
little guy off the water with
my paddle.
I picked up a few items at the drug store and while the cashier was ringing up my order I made the usual “what do they do for fun around here” small talk.  She replied, “well, we have a movie in town” to which I replied “oh, what film is playing?”  She and the pharmacist then explained that a movie was being shot in town, not playing at the theater.  Evidently, Ed Harris is directing a film starring Robert Duvall using this part of Montana as a backdrop.  It turns out that the gentleman that held open the door for me as I entered the store was Mr. Harris himself.  Of course, I was totally clueless and didn’t recognize him! 😜

The weather this morning continued to be crisp with a light drizzle continuing from overnight.  I was slow to get out of my warm sleeping bag and pack up my gear.  I was on the river around 7:30 a.m. and welcomed the continuing strong current.  The river corridor from Ft. Benton to Ft. Kipp is included in the National Monument.  There are some grandfathered agricultural and motor boating activities and this first stretch of Monument had some pristine scenery but for at least one stretch it felt like paddling an irrigation ditch, a bit of let down from all the descriptions I’d read beforehand.  I resumed my routine of paddling until around noon, stopping for lunch, and then continuing on until about 4:00 p.m.

When I paused for a late afternoon stretch and to strategize where to camp, I realized I was already to the Vergelle Ferry.  At the pace of the river I would be at Coal Banks Landing in another 40 minutes.  My choice was to either stop there or to push on for another camping location.  The temptation of a vault toilet (no having to use a bag!) and the last chance at having WiFi sealed the deal.

The Coal Banks campsite overlooks the river and dinner was spent watching white pelican flying down the channel as deer swam across in the distance.  A pretty good day in almost every way…

It’s Memorial Day weekend and the start of the summer season.  As I was pulling into the Coal Banks boat landing a school group at least 25 strong was noisily departing (very slowly).  Two more groups of paddlers pulled in as I was setting up camp.  The famous white cliffs of the Missouri Breaks are 8 miles down from my current location.  My hope had been to camp there but I suspect it will be too crowded.  We’ll see where tomorrow’s float will take me but I suspect I’ll be pushing on to stay ahead of the holiday crowd.

This is most likely  the last time I’ll have internet or phone access until Ft. Peck a week(-ish) from now.  I’ll “see” you when I reconnect to civilization!


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Haystacks aren’t only for horses!

The weather in central Montana remains unsettled as the late winter storm system slowly moves out of the area.  I sat in the hotel room in Prewett Creek all day Thursday (May 20) and Friday (May 21) and watched snow fall outside the window.  By Thursday evening I had all my gear dried and since there was no laundry room/service in site all I could do was repack and wait for a break in the weather.  It seemed like a perfect time to take advantage of the limited offerings in the Prewett Creek Inn store and load up on soda, donuts, and Haagen-Daz ice cream.  There are a few benefits of paddling a canoe all day and getting to indulge in junk food is top of the list!

After sheltering in place for two days I was ready to get back on the river.  The weather forecast indicated that Saturday would be overcast with highs in the mid 40s but no rain or snow.  On Saturday/Sunday evening rain was predicted and continuing through the day on Sunday.  I could work with that; I could paddle all day Saturday and get below Ulm, MT, to camp and then make my way into Great Falls by mid afternoon on Sunday.  My original plan had been to get a hotel room in Ft. Benton and do laundry before heading into the Missouri Breaks wild and scenic area.  The snow delay altered things a bit with the hotel and laundry taking place on Sunday instead of the quick pass through Great Falls I had originally intended.

Prewett Creek Inn
I rose early, ate a quick breakfast, and packed the last few items before portaging everything from the hotel back to the Prewett Creek boat landing.  It took some effort to dig out my canoe and chip out the ice.  The rudder assembly was totally frozen and I was afraid to strain the cables too much and damage them.  As I made my first pass carrying gear to the river, I noted that the depth of snow accumulation on the tables at the inn and the boat landing was at least 12 inches.  It had been a good storm.

It was just after 7:15 a.m. when I finally departed and it quickly became apparent that the current had picked up dramatically from a few days prior.  The heavy rain, combined with heavy, wet snow made for a thrilling ride.  At one point I found myself in some solid Class II rapids that I wasn’t expecting and as the boat banged up over a set of haystacks I thought “you have my total attention.”

Prewett Creek to Cascade, MT, is 13 river miles which I traversed in two hours.  The current remained strong and I paddled on, stopping for lunch at around noon, and arrived at Ulm (25 miles) at 4:00 p.m.  I rode the current for a couple more hours to give me an edge on today’s (Sunday) paddle.

USGS station near
Great Falls, MT
As predicted, it rained overnight and it sputtered on and off all day.  The trip by river from Ulm to Great Falls is 29 miles so my two day tally is 67 miles.  If it hadn’t had been for the crappy weather I would have taken my time on this last stretch of river.  As it was, I was in the mood to get moving again and feel like I’m actually on a canoe trip.  I also wanted to take advantage of the current while it lasted, I’ll have enough dead water paddling on reservoirs when I get to the Dakotas.

So…to make that canoe trip feeling come true I’m in a hotel in Great Falls doing laundry and scheming on visiting the pizza joint next door for some fresh pizza pie.  Now that’s roughing it! 😆

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Too much cold weather gear? I don’t think so!

Campsite inside Gates canyon
You may have noticed that this is the third blog update posted today.  As I mentioned in a previous post, internet coverage is spotty in this part of Montana and I don’t post if I can’t connect.  Lucky for you, it turns out that I currently have lots of free time to catch up on things!

I rose early and packed quickly to exit Black Sandy; largely to avoid an unpaid camp fee (sorry Montana!).  I made the quick trip to the Houser dam and had to unpack the entire boat.  It took a little effort to locate the best egress point as previous paddlers indicated to go under the wire and exit on the left shore at the dam itself.  Of course, all the signage shouts to go across the lake to the official site for safety reasons thus quadrupling the length of the portage.

After my Toston dam fiasco I made it a point to assemble all my bags on the shore, gather up all the loose items in the cockpit into my mesh duffle, and properly do a three pass portage.  I’m carrying a month of dehydrated food in a dry bag that has no shoulder harness.  Thus, it rides in the canoe with the mesh duffle and all other bags are carried through the portage.  When I reached the end and was repacking the canoe I noticed that a bottle of sunscreen had exploded in my clear dry bag.  It took about 45 minutes to clean up the gooey mess before I was able to shove off.

The scenery that day was pure Montana magic.  Mountain ranges on both sides of the river and few humans to be seen.  Two sites were on my “must see” list for this part of the trip; the Missouri Breaks downstream from Fort Benton and the Gates of the Mountains.  For some reason, I expected not to see the Gates for a few more days of paddling so when I rounded a bend and they loomed into sight I was thrilled. 

I took my time going through the Gates and the canyon and let the current push me along.  There is a gorgeous campsite within  the canyon and I stopped for lunch and seriously considered staying the night even though it was early in the day.  Several speed and large tour boats passed by with waving humans but that pretty much sealed the deal, it was too busy of a location and I’d push on for something less congested.

The run downstream didn’t disappoint and I enjoyed the Montana scenery.  I did have to deal with some wind on the “lakes” as dammed stretches of river don’t behave like natural lakes.  The water body is basically one long tube with enough fetch to create high waves across nearly the entire length.  I pushed on until late afternoon and then decided to call it quits just when a sweet campsite appeared.  After unloading and setting up camp I decided to hike up the ridge above me to get a good look around.  I’m glad I did, the scenery was breathtaking and many ways better than the site I gave up in the Gates of the Mountain canyon earlier in the day.

An early break of camp and departure the next day (May 19th) had me heading for the Holter dam and my last self portage in Montana.  Each morning I listen to my weather radio and I had been following the National Weather Service forecasts of a late winter storm expected to hit Montana.  The last weekend’s early estimates were up to 18 inches of snow and freezing rain in the mountains (basically my location).  That was pared down a bit to a foot of snow but still a worry. I wasn’t in a location where I can take shelter without some planning.  I shouldered on hoping to make it to a protected location where I could ride out the storm.  By late afternoon the rain had started and it was clear that I was going to have to shelter in place.  I stopped at a few spots mentioned in The Complete Paddler but ownership has changed and hotels have now become private lodges.

I reached Mountain Palace just as it began to pour.  I set up my tent quickly, pulled all my gear either inside or under the vestibules and waited.  Within an hour the rain changed to freezing drizzle then to a heavy, wet snow.  I was warm and dry but it quickly became clear that my three season tent wasn’t suitable to ride this one out.  Thankfully, I had cell service for the first time since my first night on the river and I began to search for a hotel with easy access off the river.  It turned out that the Prewett Creek Inn was a few turns down the river from my location (the campsite at Prewett Creek was my original destination before the weather turned sour).  I gave them a call and after explaining my situation to the owner, Joan, I booked a room for the next day (today, May 20th).

My wet home at Mountain Palace
All through the night the snow came down in wet, sticky gobs.  I soon realized that when it sounded like the storm was letting up it was because the tent was covered and sounds muffled.  I set an alarm for every hour through the night to wake up and bang the fly from the inside to lighten the load on my tent poles.  I feared they would collapse under the weight and then I’d be in real trouble.

When morning arrived I repacked everything from inside my cramped quarters and then dug myself out.  Just as I was hauling out gear and getting ready to take down the tent, Maddie from the private fishing lodge across the street yelled asking if I wanted a cup of coffee.  My mantra for this trip is to take offers whenever they are made so I accepted the offer even though I was in fine shape and would soon be indoors in a warm hotel room.

The coffee was good and I had a brief conversation with a few of the fly fisherman making their way into the lodge from their rooms for breakfast.  I finished my drink and departed to finish packing for the short float down to Prewett Creek.

The day has been spent drying clothing and gear and making the big decision as when to push on.  Part of my calculations are when I’ll arrive at Great Falls and whether the portage I arranged will be available.  After a number of phone calls I worked things out to stay here in Prewett one more day then depart on Saturday morning.  That will get me into Great Falls ether Sunday afternoon or Monday morning and then I can decide whether to take a room (Sunday night) at the portage landing or to go onward.  It would be wise to do some shopping and resupply my food stocks and to do laundry.

The one thing I won’t complain about again on this trip is packing too much cold weather gear.  It may be no fun slogging heavy packs over portages on hot and sunny days but being over prepared was critical when it was needed.  On the upside, I learned that wet bags slide easily into place in my boat.  I won’t ask for more snow but I will be using a little water from now on to “grease” things up.


“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…

340 degrees and baking in the hot sun

I must be getting into the groove of being outdoors and off the grid, I have no idea what day it is and how long since I last posted.  It appears that my last blog post was about the put-in and day #1 adventures; possibly… My goal is to post when I have internet access and when I don’t I either go for a hike or go to bed early.  When I’m able to connect I’ll try to remember all that’s happened since the last update.  Funny thing, the days in the seat of a canoe go so slow that time seems to stretch.

“Strong” Montana wind!
I’ve come to the conclusion that this section of the Missouri River is best described as the Montana Be Dammed.  There are nine dams between the MO River headwaters and the Montana border.  Five dams are around the city of Great Falls and stretch over a distance of 15 miles.  That segment is basically impassable by canoe so shuttle by car is necessary.  That leaves four dams above Great Falls, three of which can be portaged easily (they are short and downhill) while the Canyon Ferry portage is a bit grueling so if an offer for a shuttle is offered the smart bet is to take it.

So…my last update was after my first portage of the trip around the Toston dam. As with every paddle trip I’ve made, the first time lugging gear feels impossible.  My approach to packing for paddling is to streamline my gear into as few bags as possible.  Pulling in the other direction is my desire to have my coffee cup, phone (gotta take some photos!), GPS, water bottle, weather radio, and other comfort items close at hand in the canoe cockpit.  I purchased a mesh duffle bag for this trip where all those items are stashed when I come to a portage.  It, and the other bags, can be quickly tossed onto the bank and the canoe attached to the canoe cart and everything humped to the end of the portage.  I was stupid on the Toston dam portage and got greedy.  I figured that since I had a canoe cart I could load all my gear in the canoe and away I’d go.  Things didn’t, of course, go as planned.

Canyon Lake campsite
Day #2 dawned clear, sunny, and gorgeous.  My first morning I was a bit slow gathering up my gear and getting on the river.  I didn’t shove off until after 8:00 a.m. but no worries, it was such a beautiful morning that I knew the day could only get better, and it did.  The float below Toston is an easy paddle with a swift current and great scenery.  The river comes into Canyon Lake, a 25 mile long body of water shaped like the Florida peninsula.  Coming into the south end of the lake it’s nearly straight north until one reaches the Canyon Ferry Dam.  In The Complete Paddler, Dave Miller recommends timing the crossing when the wind is low and to stay to the shelter of the shoreline.  What I encountered threw that advice right out the window.  Only once before (on the ocean in Belize) have I encountered water that calm.  It was a smooth glass mirror that appeared to well up all around me.  The effect created a bit of vertigo and I had to fight to concentrate on paddling and not become seasick.  Thus, I set a compass bearing at 340 degrees, focused on an object in distance, and started across.

Hello mamma moose!
After about 15 miles it was getting to be late afternoon and time to start thinking of where to camp.  I started to make for an established campsite but every stroke of the paddle seemed to pull me backwards.  I just didn’t seem to be able to make any headway.  It was at this point of the day as my energy was ebbing that I realized that the boat was improperly loaded; too much forward weight was pushing the nose down.  I made for shore and selected an isolated spot occupied by a family of Canada Geese that noisily made room for me to set up camp.

The following morning the water was still mirror glass calm.  Not wanting to tempt fate, I worked at reloading the canoe into a more balance arrangement and got a quick start.  Once out on the water I received a text from Norman Miller of the Missouri River Paddler’s Group telling me that a member would be at the portage to assist me.  It was going to be another excellent day…

Saturday, May 15, 2021

May 15th is MO River launch day

Nebraska City, NE; May 15, 2011
 Do you know what you did on this date exactly 10 years ago?  I do!  I launched from Nebraska City on what I hoped would be a several month paddle to the Florida coast.  Record flooding on the lower Missouri and Mississippi Rivers forced that trip to terminate at the St. Louis, MO, confluence of the two rivers.  This morning I launched again on the mighty MO (at the headwaters) and I’m heading home to Nebraska and bragging rights to having completed the entire river course.  I maybe slow at accomplishing a task but I (eventually) get the job done.

Three Forks, MT; May 15, 2021
Launch day always go slow.  The canoe had to be reassembled (the rudder system and cockpit stowage) and all the bags had to fit in their practiced spots (I did lots of practice packing in my garage before I left NE).  I’m currently carrying 5 weeks of food and all my cold weather clothing and gear.  The result is that I’m heavy at the start of this trip.  Today was a gorgeous day and I was hot as I paddled down to the Toston dam.  I was lamenting having brought along too much stuff, especially when I was busting a gut on the first portage.  Now that I’m in camp and the sun has set I’m not sure about that idea. The temperature is rapidly falling and my toes are cold!

A big thank you to Mark and Sarah Deopsomer for hosting me while I was in Bozeman and for dropping me off at the headwaters this morning.  I was a very good first day and the Montana scenery doesn’t disappoint.  It will take a few more days to find the rhythm of paddling, portaging, and camping but so far things are off to a great start!

Note: I’m still working on the Mapshare link at the top of this page to display my current location.  I think I’ve got it set correctly for tomorrow’s float.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Wyoming I’ve missed ya!

Ten months of preparation are behind me and the departure date finally arrived.  I turned in grades last Friday and spent the last week wrapping up loose ends in preparation for the big trip.  Part of me can’t believe how much energy I’ve put into making lists, working on my canoe, and fretting about little details.  My other self wonders if I’m truly ready to be on the water paddling day after day for eight weeks.  I guess only time will tell.

The plan for today was to drive to Glenrock, Wyoming, and stay with Scott Butler, a colleague from our teaching days at the community college in Cheyenne, WY.  Scott is currently managing The Higgins Hotel in Glenrock, WY which is just over the halfway point in my drive from Lincoln, NE.  I had forgotten how gorgeous Wyoming is, especially in the spring, so it’s good to be back and see an old friend at the same time.

The drive from Lincoln was long but fairly uneventful.  My route took me through western Nebraska via Scottsbluff.  The canoe rode pretty well on top of the truck although the rudder assembly shook loose due to a crack that I hadn’t noticed before.  I called Scott Smith from Superior Canoes who buillt the boat and, even though he’s no longer actively building canoes, he agreed to try to locate a replacement part and mail it to me at my food pickup in North Dakota.  He thought the location of the crack won’t be a problem but having a backup will ease my mind.  In the mean time, I’ll epoxy the crack and reassemble and keep an eye on things.  I guess I now have a problem to keep my overactive mind occupied instead of the negative thoughts that hit me at the beginning of any trip.

Tomorrow is an early departure and drive to Bozeman, Montana.  At some point I have to have my watercraft inspected for zebra mussels.  I tried to do that as I entered Wyoming but the check station had closed 15 minutes before I arrived.  So much for trying to be a good citizen. :)

The boring view from my front window on the approach to Chimney Rock.