April Fool’s Eve Update

With about 6 weeks to go before my planned departure on the Madison River in Montana, there are so many question marks around weather conditions, river levels, availability of facilities along the river, and other important factors that will affect the outcome of my expedition. As I have absolutely no control over any of that, I can only focus my attention elsewhere: my preparation for the trip.

I have almost all the gear I need for the trip. The big things have mostly been procured: tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, hydration system, dry bags, first aid gear, communication system. I’ve been dehydrating food almost non-stop since the new year and I have over 60 meals ready to go as well as snacks like fruit and jerky. I’ve arranged drop points for shipping re-supply packages during the trip. Still working on my sleeping pad and pillow, and oh yeah, the boat.

At this point, the kayak I will be taking on the trip is not currently in my possession. Weird, yes, I know. The plan is that Shane at Timber Longboards is currently constructing a custom-made kayak for me based on the specifications and ideas we’ve discussed. He stopped by yesterday to go over some measurements and ideas. He feels confident he’ll be able to finish the boat in time for me to get some critical saddle time in to get used to how she performs on the big river. My backup plan is currently being touched up at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood. I purchased a Current Designs Nomad from a friend last summer, a nearly 19ft touring kayak that will more than meet my needs. He’s fixing a few scratches and touching it up. I’m hoping once the temperature starts cracking 70 consistently, I’ll have that back in order to start getting in a bit more prep. For now, I am paddling my trusty 16.5ft Eddyline Nighthawk, later today I hope to get out on Creve Coeur Lake for a few miles.

I tried to get out on the lake yesterday, but the heavy rain filled the lake to flood-level and the icy wind swept up some whitecaps something fierce. I had to adjust my plans and did a little exploration along the banks of the Missouri River near St. Charles.

Missouri River just below St. Charles, MO. Panorama shot taken from a small moored barge.



Too early to tell how this will affect my trip this summer. My hope is that the first month or so of the trip will be in Montana, which is out of the flood risk area. By the time I hit the Dakotas, I am hoping the water levels will be normal. But will every shore I camp on be a soggy mess? Will I be carried away by floodwater-borne mosquitos? Will there be any facilities or campgrounds left open? Time will tell, and adventure awaits, no doubt.



St. Patrick’s Day Flooding and Some Perspective

St. Patrick’s Day in St. Louis is pretty huge for a dude whose mother’s side of the family is Irish and who is a resident of Dogtown, St. Louis City’s Irish neighborhood. Participating in one parade and just enjoying the other is a chance to catch up with family, many I haven’t seen since last St. Paddy’s day, and many, many friends. Temps in the 50s certainly doesn’t hurt as it seems like we finally might be getting to Spring.

I’m also closely following my beloved St. Louis U. Billikens, who with one more win today against St. Bonaventure, will clinch an unlikely trip to the NCAA basketball tournament. Even if they lose, there is a chance they’ll make it into the NIT, which may even get them another home game, which would be amazing.

With all that’s going on this weekend, I’ve been also trying to keep up with developments around the catastrophic flooding on the upper Missouri River. It hasn’t gotten a lot of mainstream media coverage, but things are pretty bad. I’ve been getting a lot of updates from the Missouri River Paddlers facebook group as well as Missouri River Relief posts. It is way too early to determine how this flooding might affect my trip so I am trying to keep a level head and not worry too much about it. The larger worry is all of those who’ve been affected or soon will be as flooding makes its way downstream.

If you aren’t fully aware, the nutshell version is that the bomb cyclone that recently moved through the Great Plains dropped a ton more snow further north, but also a massive amount of rain further south – in Nebraska and Southern South Dakota. This rain on top of a large amount of snow and ice caused extremely fast thawing and overwhelmed the waterways with rain and snowmelt. A large dam on the Niobrara River in Nebraska as well as multiple bridges were washed out. Now towns along many waterways in the area are under water and there have been multiple fatalities.

Photo from https://www.myknoxcountynews.com/

While this round of flooding will crest and start receding in the next few days, communities further downstream – into Missouri – will face more danger. On top of this, the higher than average snowpack of Montana, North and South Dakota has yet to see any melting. So this round of disastrous flooding may just be the first of what could be a pretty long spring and summer for high water on the river.

I know I need to have perspective: my trip down the Missouri River this summer is something that’s important to me, but it’s not as important as what others along the river are experiencing. Peoples’ lives, livelihoods and property are at risk right now and will continue to be further into the summer. What happens on the Missouri River over the next 6 weeks or so will determine how I am spending my summer, but for many, it will likely determine how they spend the next few years, or perhaps the rest of their lives.


Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, Junior Billiken

The path I will be taking down the Missouri River follows in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on their return from the Pacific Ocean in the Spring and Summer of 1806. I try to make it a habit of reading as much as I can about the places I’ve travelled and lived in my life and certainly this trip is no different. I’ve been exposed to the stories of Lewis and Clark my whole life as their influence is obviously huge in my home of St. Louis, MO. The main branch of the library we went to as kids was the Lewis & Clark Branch. In the past year, I read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, which might be the most well researched account of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s lives, with a focus on their exploration of the Louisiana territory and beyond. I’ve also been reading the journals of Lewis and Clark.

At some point, probably in high school, I learned that Sacagawea‘s son went to my high school – St. Louis University High School. Lewis and Clark’s expedition returned to St. Louis in 1806, Sacagawea died in 1812. After that Jean Baptiste Charbonneau lived with William Clark and attended St. Louis Academy – the precursor to St. Louis University and St. Louis U. High. SLU and SLUH claim their founding as 1818 and was located at Market and 3rd street in St. Louis, now the site of the Gateway Arch, where my journey will conclude.

One thing I treasure about living in St. Louis is its rich history and the crazy connections between people, places and families that is innately St. Louis. I’ve had the experience of being on the other side of the world and meeting someone from St. Louis, or meeting someone with a connection to St. Louis only to realize you have mutual acquaintances. However tenuous the connection, across many generations and over 200 years, I still think it is pretty cool to be able to retrace the steps of a fellow alumni as he traveled down the river on the famous expedition as a 1 year old.



Some Semblance of an Itinerary

Two months from now I will be in my car with a kayak on top and packed full with gear to live on for 3 months, cruising through Nebraska or South Dakota on my way to Montana. I’ve been asked by friends and family about my itinerary, projected dates and locations, planned progress and potentially meeting me at certain places. I am quite humbled that you’d consider heading up to the lesser traveled, but no less beautiful, parts of our country to see me for a few hours or days. I would absolutely welcome anyone who’d like to meet up with me anywhere along the river, whether it is just to say hi, hand me a cold drink or hot meal, or even paddle with me for a few days!

A couple caveats before providing a plan:

  • This is 100% subject to change based on many factors I am aware of, and many I am not aware of.
  • This is my best guess for an itinerary based on research, trips that others have done in the past and trying to judge how I’ll be feeling and moving along during the trip.
  • I expect this to be somewhat accurate early in the trip – for the first few weeks to a month. But any delays or faster progress early on will affect hitting dates and locations later on during the trip.
  • I do expect to have a shareable website connected to my Garmin Inreach that will be updating my progress every 30 minutes or so, giving you access to see how I’m progressing.
  • You can absolutely text or email me (or my wife) during the trip to let me know your plans or coordinate meeting up or just to say hey!


And now, the plan:

May 10 – 14: Travel to Montana, pick up the hwife and relax in Wise River for a day or two

May 15 – 21: Put in at West Yellowstone, MT, paddle 100 miles down the Madison River

May 23 – June 9: Three Forks, MT to Great Falls, MT

June 11 – 20: Great Falls, MT to James Kipp Campground

June 21 – July 3: James Kipp to Fort Peck, MT

July 5 – July 12: Fort Peck, MT to Williston, ND

July 14 – July 25: Williston, ND to Garrison Dam, Underwood, ND

July 27 – July 30: Garrison Dam to Bismarck, ND

July 31 – August 17: Bismarck, ND to Oahe Dam, Fort Pierre, SD

August 19 – August 24: Oahe Dam to Big Bend Dam, Fort Thompson, SD

August 25 – August 31: Big Bend Dam to Fort Randall Dam, Southeast Gregory, SD

September 2 – September 8: Fort Randall Dam to Sioux City, IA

September 10 – September 13: Sioux City, IA to Omaha, NE

September 15 – September 21: Omaha, NE to Kansas City, MO

September 23 – September 29: Kansas City, MO to the Arch, St. Louis, MO