Thursday morning I departed St. Louis fully loaded, the MOstar securely strapped on the roof, and tied down in both front and back. I promised to swing by my office on the way so that coworkers could check out the boat. My big boss with lots of outdoor and fishing experience laughed at my tacklebox that I packed for when I get the inclination to cast a line in. He promised to send me pictures of the bait and lures he recommends, and he’s actually floated and fished stretches of the Madison, which was coincidental.
Planning the 22+ hour route to Livingston, Montana, the main challenge is interstate 29 between Kansas City and Omaha. The entire route is closed due to Missouri River flooding, go figure. So my alternate route took me up through Hannibal, MO, into and diagonally across Iowa, through South Dakota, Wyoming and finally Montana.
It was a pretty grey and uneventful first day. As I approached Eldon, Iowa, I started seeing signs for the American Gothic House. With a big nice boat on the car and all my gear to live off of for 3 months in the car, I planned on sticking to the road with little or no detours or stops. Conveniently, the American Gothic House was only a mile off the road so I was able to pop in for a couple quick photos.
I grabbed a Jimmy Johns sandwich for the road and blasted through Iowa and into South Dakota. The ground in SD was obviously saturated with so much recent rain. Almost every farm field I passed had standing water, all the ditches were full, and the creeks and rivers I passed were out of their banks. All this water will eventually drain to the Missouri, ensuring flooding and high water levels well into the summer. Later afternoon brought out a welcome sight of the sun and I eventually made it to my day 1 goal, Chamberlain, SD – about 12 hours and 750 miles. The boat held steady the entire way.
A quick dinner of a South Dakota specialty, Chislic, and then I set up camp at a simple roadside spot. I woke up to frost on my tent and had to fish the gloves out of my bag in order to avoid finger numbness while I packed up. I loaded up on gas and coffee and was on the road by 6:30 for what promised to be a bright sunny day. A couple hours in, I decided to take a short detour and drive through Badlands National Park. It’s probably my favorite National Park, so I swung through and took some pretty good photos and videos with the boat and the Badlands as a backdrop. I knocked out the rest of SD, the Northeast corner of Wyoming and entered Montana before I saw my first flashing red cherries.
With a boat prone to being blown by the wind strapped to my car, I was doing close to the speed limit almost the entire trip. From South Dakota, through Wyoming and into Montana, the speed limit is a generous 75 or 80 mph. So I was kind if confused as the police SUV pulled in behind me. The polite officer informed me I had passed by a mandatory boat inpection station for invasive species. He had me double back to the station and a couple of guys looked over my boat, filled out a form and had me on my way. Just a warning for failing to stop at the inspection.
At Billings, MT, a rainstorm blew in and I really had to fight the wind from pulling my car and boat out of my lane. Out of 22 hours, that really was the only time I was a little concerned about the security of my tie down job. Soon enough I made it to Livingston, MT and the home of Norm Miller and his girlfriend Chris. Norm is the defacto Missouri River paddling community historian, expert, collector of information and artifacts, and an excellent host. in 2004, Norm paddled UP the Missouri River from St. Louis to Montana, then crossed over the Rockies then down the Columbia, retracing Lewis and Clark’s journey. He and Chris showed me a few cool sites around Livingston, including the nearby Yellowstone River and the only existing statue of Sacajawea riding a horse. Norm was part of the committee to erect the statue in 2016.
We had a fantastic meal at a local Florida themed restaurant, and I was able to exchange life stories with Norm and Chris and gather more information about the trip ahead of me. Sleep came quickly and I was ecstatic to be done with such a long drive.