Pelican Island Circumnavigation

After some necessary trip prep this morning, I took the opportunity to get out on the Missouri River for the first time in 2019. A sunny day in the 60s was too good to pass up. I headed up to Sioux Passage Park in deep North St. Louis County. As I approached the parking lot and boat ramp, it was evident all of this was recently underwater, but they did a great job of plowing the mud and making the facilities usable.

The river was still pretty high. There were a few fishermen around and a couple guys metal detecting in a large pile of flood deposited detritus. I wonder what they expect to find. I dropped my boat at the ramp then parked the car and geared up. My objective for today was threefold: to get an idea of what the swollen Missouri River might feel like for me this summer, to test out my technology setup (more on this in an upcoming post), and working out my paddling muscles along with starting to develop hand callouses in the right places.

I put in at the muddy boat ramp, luckily didn’t really sink into the mud and even managed to get in the boat without getting my legs or feet wet. My goal was to paddle up the side channel that separates Pelican Island from mainland St. Louis County, then once in the main channel of the river, paddle with the current around the curvy backside of the island back to the boat ramp. About 10 miles total.

Pelican Island
Pelican Island, St. Louis County, MO

After dealing with some tricky current where the side channel enters the main channel, I was on my way. I quickly realized this was going to be more physical than I had envisioned. The side channel was moving quite quickly. I was paddling at probably 80 to 90% race pace, and was barley making progress relative to the land. At a couple points, I paused to grab water or to change my music selection and started drifting backwards with the current as soon as the paddling stopped. I find it absolutely insane that better people than I have paddled the entire length of this river upstream! Unreal.

Screenshot_20190413-223332_Strava.jpg
Can you tell where I went from paddling upstream to downstream?

A good two hours of hard paddling had me within sight of the end of the island and the main channel. I saw a barge pass by and used the opportunity to check my FindShip app to get the details on the barge. I swung very wide into the main channel to avoid getting pulled back into the side channel from where I just emerged. Immediately I felt more comfortable and relieved to be going with the flow. Surprisingly, it was not very windy way out in the wide-open space of the main channel, pretty shocking considering the weather we’ve been getting lately.

20190413_150203.jpg
Missouri River, approximate mile marker 15

It took about an hour of relatively leisurely paddling to make my way back to the park boat ramp. As I pulled up, a group of 4 kids wrestled in the thick and creamy mud on the banks while a reluctant mother watched them knowing they were about to wreck the minivan into which they soon piled. I pretty much did the same. With gummy legs, I fell getting out of the yak and managed to muddy myself, the boat and most of my gear. I didn’t mind very much at all, knowing that I’ll be getting a lot more Missouri River mud in my life in short order.

All packed back in the car, I headed to the top-secret workshop of Timber Longboard Co. where I met with Shane and took a look at the progress on the cedar craft that will propel me down the river. I am delighted with the boat so far and look forward to sharing the finished product as it nears completion.

Saddle time in a boat on the river is a critical part of the preparation for this trip. Not only testing gear, fine-tuning the paddle stroke, monitoring physical needs, but all the time to think about additional gear I might consider, or ideas about storage of gear, logistics and plans. With little to no distractions on the river, my mind is left to wander about what is to come shortly as I embark on this adventure.

mf

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