Summer of Sara

Hey there! You might know me from blog posts such as “The Patient Wife” and “She Who Knows Dehydrating.” Well, that’s me! Mark and I thought it would be interesting to share my perspective on his adventure, since a lot of the questions he’s gotten have been about how I feel and what my plans are.

First, a little background. Mark and I started dating around the time of his first MR340. My friend Susan and I drove to Jefferson City to see him and Norman at one of the checkpoints. We were armed with Subway sandwiches and a dashboard jesus and were completely blown away by how many people were out there racing and supporting racers. It was amazing. We saw them for about 15 minutes, they passed on our sammiches after being tempted by fast food burgers courtesy of Mark’s cousin and were off. I went on to be ground support for the next three MR340s that Mark did, and even one last year that he didn’t. It’s exhasuting and exciting and I love it.

Before the last 340 he did, in 2017, I tried to talk him out of it. I thought that he should try something new; a different river or a more challenging race. I can barely do the same 5k or 10k more than once, I couldn’t imagine 340 miles of the same river (and yes, I know the saying about the river and changing, so I’ll stop you there). On our honeymoon, we stopped in Three Forks, Montana, home of the Missouri River Confluence. Mark was so excited and told me that one day he was going to paddle the entire thing. I believed him, because he’s that kind of guy, but I had NO IDEA it would be so soon.

In the summer of 2018, Mark asked what I thought about him doing it in 2019. I told him to go for it, but was cautious that he might not get everything planned or work wouldn’t give him time off or that something would come up. Nothing did, obviously, we’re here in Montana getting ready to cook the last homemade meal he’ll have for weeks. Everything fell into place. We talked about financial needs and boring stuff. And scary stuff. But we came up with a plan and the rest played out pretty much how you’ve read up until now. However, I got so many questions. So. Many. Concerns. Mark thought he had a lot, but those were about logistics and maps and food. So let me answer a few.

1. Are you going too? No, I never, EVER thought about going with him.
I’m a land girl. I love water, but only for swimming. I get sick on boats and I hate them for long periods of time. I got sick on the lazy river once, AS AN ADULT. So no, it never crossed my mind.

2. What are you going to do for four months? The same thing I do every night, Pinky…
This has probably come up the most. “You can do whatever you want!” “It will be like a party every night!” “The Summer of Sara!” I mean, that sounds like a blast, but I still have a job, the truck, two cats, and a boat (haha) load of new chores to take care of…looking at you, yard. So while I’ll have plenty of alone time to go out and get crazy, realistically I’ll be at home a lot, most likely playing Zelda (finally!) because one thing I don’t get to do a lot with one TV is play video games.

3. Aren’t you worried/nervous/scared? Yes? I have to say yes, right?
All joking aside, of course I’m nervous, but not about Mark. He knows what he’s doing and has a solid plan. I’m worried about stuff like my packages getting lost in the mail and him not having resupplies or one of the cats going missing or a tree falling on his car while I’m out of town for the weekend. You’re welcome, because now you have those same fears.

4. How often are you going to go see him? Maybe once.
Most of his trip will be far away from StL and I can’t take a ton of time off to go do that. Besides, we’ll be in contact and talking enough that the months will fly by. And I’m encouraging others to go find him along the way, he will love to see friends along the river!
I plan to post updates about Mark and will plan on an event closer to when he’ll finish. It’s important to both of us that so many friends have reached out and asked us these questions about the trip, it just means that you care! And it means so much that he has your support and love.
Happy blog reading and following, feel free to shoot me a message if there is anything you’d like to know about where to find him.

Love and kisses, SF

Departure’s Eve: Montana Abides

My initial arrival in Montana got off to a little bit of a rocky start. A missed boat inspection point and subsequent pull over by the cops, plus a pop up wind and rain storm just outside Billings that pushed my car and boat all over the road had me a little nervous about what I was to experience in Montana.

But I am happy to report that it has been smooth sailing ever since. Norm Miller and Chris were fantastic hosts in Livingston. We talked for hours about my trip, my plans, challenges, Norm’s experience and a lot of other subjects. After Sara’s delayed arrival, we made our way to Butte and then on to Wise River. We met our old time hasher friends Bereth and Barry and had an impromptu mini pub crawl through Dewey and a few other local dives. It was fantastic catching up with old friends, laughing, telling stories, and sharing some drinks together in a beautiful place. We had a relaxing evening around the fire pit and a great dinner before turning in for the night.

Bereth and Barry had to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight back to the East coast leaving Sara and I on our own for Sunday. We went into the nearby town of Anaconda for a late breakfast enjoyed inside a Herbie car then headed out to some local hiking trails.

After one mountain road proved to have too much snow and mud for my trusty Subaru to navigate, we headed to another spot called Echo Lake. Driving up a mountain road brought us to more snow and a tree that had fallen across the road. Not to be deterred, we parked and then had a lovely 5 mile hike up to the mostly frozen lake and around the lake. On the way back, we stopped and grabbed some groceries for dinner for my last meal before the trip starts tomorrow morning. Sara has found a way to watch Game of Thrones soon, and this is my view as I enjoy a beer and dictate this post into my phone.

I am incredibly excited to start the trip tomorrow. Montana has been amazing and I can’t wait to experience it for about another month. All systems go for a Monday launch!


The Journey to Montana

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.


Final Prep, the Christening and Some Goodbyes

Departure from St. Louis in about 85 hours. I am currently catching my breath, rooting for a Cardinals comeback against the Cubs and thinking about what I am still missing. It was a whirlwind weekend. Saturday morning, Shane of Timber Longboard Co. joined myself and another friend to paddle the flooded parks and greenways of lower Kirkwood and Valley Park. The Meramec River is running at about 24 feet after a week of heavy rain. The primary purpose of the trip was to get a first paddle in on my new kayak, with all the anticipated gear I’ll bring on the trip, as close to a dress rehearsal as I’ll get.

Before setting out into the flood waters, we christened the newly completed MOstar with a St. Louis appropriate beverage and one of my summer favorites, Busch Light. After weaving in and out of partially submerged pavilions, soccer goals, baseball backstops, mailboxes, electrical boxes (hmmm), and even the remote-control car track, we got into the main channel of the Meramec for some serious upstream paddling. The current was probably moving 3 – 4 mph so we really had to dig in to make progress. After a brief stop to take care of our barley and hops deficit, we surfed the rising river back downstream to the put-in.

Overall, the first real run on the MOstar was successful. My main takeaways and lessons learned:

  • Super comfortable cockpit. Lots of room for in-cockpit storage and ability to move. A few minor seat and kneepad adjustments and I should be good for 2,400 miles.
  • The rudder with which I’ll rely on to steer the boat in high winds or crazy currents works well when it’s in the water. We did have an issue with getting the rudder to fully deploy into the water so we’ll work on that. But the foot pedals and controls were perfectly place for my comfort and control.
  • I was absolutely delighted with the amount or storage space. It is a 20 ft kayak, but up until yesterday, I didn’t have a solid grasp on if what I was planning on packing would fit in the boat or not. It does, with lots of room to spare. This will allow me to pack a few more luxury-type items I normally would have left at home. I do have to keep an eye on my total weight though.
  • Overall, the yak is sleek, cuts through the water well, sits on the water at an ideal level when fully loaded, is able to be controlled (as long as the rudder is doing its thing).
  • It’s a fucking beautiful boat. You all need to get yourself a Timber Longboard boat.
The MOstar with my emergency backup boat – Current Designs Nomad, and a Timber Longboard stand-up racer

I spent the rest of Saturday reorganizing gear, classifying and packing all of my food and re-supply packages, as well as cleaning and storing my 6 other kayaks (my aforementioned problem). Sunday morning continued more gear optimization and packing based on the new space capacity. Spent the afternoon with my family, enjoying a birthday dinner about 3 months ahead of my actual birthday. It’s an afternoon I am certain I’ll think back on during my long river days, laughing with my mom and dad, siblings, nieces and nephews, shooting some hoops, hitting whiffle balls and generally enjoying the fantastic whether. I even taught my dad how he’ll be able to track me on the Garmin map site. Family goodbyes for a 3 or 4 month absence are certainly hard, but I feel incredibly blessed to have support and love from them.

The next three days will also be a whirlwind. Last minute prep, more goodbyes, all while working 8 hours a day. Tomorrow night, I am incredibly excited to head to the lovely river town of New Haven, MO. My friend and boat maker, Shane Camden and his wife Stacy will be presenting a plan to convert an older workshop/warehouse space to the new world headquarters for Timber Longboard Co. to the city council of New Haven. My new kayak will be there on display to show those in attendance the kind of work they do and plan to continue to do with an expanded space. I’ll lend my voice and plans for my trip with the group if I can. The proposed shop and Timber Longboard’s future plans will absolutely connect more people to the Missouri River, which is an essential objective and motivation for my trip. It’s a message I’ll take pride in spreading, highlighting the amazing resource that’s at the doorstep of all in attendance. I hope for the best for Shane and Stacy and hope to provide an update after the meeting.

It’s not looking good for those Redbirds, can’t win ‘em all, I suppose.


Tracking and Communicating During the Trip

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from folks is tracking and communication during my trip. As I explain in a lot more detail in my technology-focused post, my primary link to the outside world will be my Garmin InReach Explorer+. A device of many uses for me, anyone with access to a specific web link will be able to track me at any point during the trip. Every 10 minutes or so, my location will be pinged via satellite to the map on my website to indicate my location.

Also, from the same website, anyone will be able to send me a text message. Just click the message button on the page, put in your phone # or email and send a message. The updates will begin when I put in on the river, projecting to be the morning of May 13th or 14th.

At any time, click the button over on the right side of my site – with the lounging Buffalo River turtles. The trip is long and I am certain I’ll be eager to hear from family and friends along the way.

Less than a week before departure, I’m focused on final preparation of gear, the boat, completing my professional duties, in-trip re-supply and a whole lot more. Very excited to hit the road!