A risk I was aware of starting my trip when I did was the possibility of colder weather. May in St. Louis is generally pretty darn nice. Warm with a thunderstorm here or there, but generally good weather for being in the outdoors. I didn’t think Montana would be too far behind. I mean the day I dropped my boat in on the edge of Yellowstone, it was 75 degrees and sunny. I’ve learned over the last 12 days that Montana weather is second to none, including St. Louis, in terms of predictability and forecasting. Turns out, this last two weeks has been colder and rainier than normal. I’ve been told by multiple people that the weather in Montana is two or three weeks behind normal.
I camped for the first 4 nights along the Madison River. It was a little chilly maybe down into the low 40s at night, there was some rain here or there, enough so that my gear was wet in the morning, but no sustained downpours or frozen things. It started to get more uncomfortable down near the start of the Missouri in Three Forks. I spent a cold night on an island in the Headwaters State Park. The forecast for the coming week from there wasn’t too good. Continued cold – upper 40s to low 50s as a high during the day then down into the low 40s or upper 30s at night, along with rain scattered throughout. When Jim picked me and Norm up after our paddle from Three Forks, I didn’t expect that he and his wife Vicki would graciously host me for the next 4(!) nights at their amazing home outside Helena. It worked out that each day, I could paddle a pretty good stretch of the river (or the series of lakes that is the Missouri River in this part of Montana) then get back to Jim & Vicki’s house for an amazing dinner, a hot shower and a warm bed. I followed the advice I heard early on in my planning for this trip – never turn down a cold drink or a warm place to sleep.
Fast forward a few days. I bid farewell to Jim in Craig, MT, after paddling with him for 3 days and camping for two nights. The weather was much better. From Craig, I paddled an additional 20 miles to get to Cascade, MT by about 4pm. Having heard there was a boat ramp for the town right under the bridge, I was a little suprised to not see a boat ramp. As I passed by a few houses after the bridge, I saw a gentleman looking through binoculars down towards the river. I waved and asked him if I missed the boat ramp. He asked me where I was headed and when I responded St. Louis, told me I could stop there. I pulled in and soon found myself talking with Terry and Pam Curnow, river angels who’ve hosted many other MO River paddlers in their 44 years in Cascade. They quickly assured me I was more that welcome to stay at their amazing house, directly across a channel of the river from a pristine island on which we observed deer, pelicans, and lots of other wildife as we enjoyed some cold beverages. They fed me an amazing dinner of pork chops and corn, entertained me with a ton of stories, and Terry showed me his sprawling woodworking shop, where he’s built some amazing boats – see my Instagram post. Him seeing me paddle up in my wood kayak had to seem like fate. (Actually even more amazing, I had gotten a text earlier in the day from Norm Miller that said if I make it to Cascade, I need to find the “wooden boat maker” – well holy shit, guess who was the first person I saw in Cascade!)
I am continuing to follow the advice of not turning down a cold drink and warm bed tonight. I am enjoying the hospitality of River Angels once again, as I know eventually on this trip I won’t be so fortunate.