2020 MR340 Race Recap

Mark Fingerhut – Solo Men’s Kayak – Boat #2456 – Finish time: 57:37

Support/Ground Crew: Matt Frank, Sara Fingerhut, Andy McDonald

2020 Finish
Photo by Denise Damon

After finishing the MR340 four previous times as a member of a tandem team, I felt my next logical step was to attempt the race solo. Having completed a solo descent of the Missouri River from Yellowstone to the Arch last summer, I felt I was ready for the challenge. My plan since last summer was to paddle the MOStar, the 20 foot cedar strip kayak I used last year on my journey in the race.

Prep: I don’t typically undertake a strict training regimen or structured plan. I’ve grown to love paddling and being on pretty much any body of water as much as possible. Even over the winter months, when we sometimes get the freak-50/60 degree winter day, I like to get out on a river or lake nearby. So as the weather started to warm this year, we experienced the unprecedented conditions of a global pandemic. So many weekend activities and events were cancelled and suddenly, my weekends were completely free. As being out on a river or lake far from crowds was one of the safer activities to undertake, that’s where you found me most weekends this spring and into summer. To avoid shuttling in a car with others and keeping socially distant, many times I just drove to a river ramp, paddled upstream as far as I could, then paddle back downstream to the car. I did quite a few of these on the Meramec and a couple on the Mississippi near Alton, IL. Later on in June and July, when safety procedures and mask wearing was pretty much standard, I did a few long paddles on the Missouri shuttled by PaddleStop New Haven. Then this year I also began paddling with a couple regular-meeting groups in St. Louis – the weekly Creve Coeur 5k and monthly Meramec Sunset Race. These are wonderful opportunities to get in quick/high intensity paddle workouts, with the added bonus of being able to compare notes, techniques and tips with very experienced paddlers and all around cool river people.

The things I focus on in training is developing my paddling muscles, callouses on the critical parts of my hands, comfortability within my boat, and anticipated logistic/supply needs for the race. Having spent 96 days in my race boat last summer, I was very comfortable with my setup in the boat, the main difference being I wouldn’t be hauling 250 or so pounds of gear in the MOStar during the race. She would glide like a dream, hopefully. In addition to paddling, I also undertook a loose, low intensity weight-lifting regimen. Three sets of bench, butterflies and triceps every other day of the week. By June and July, I felt like my hand callouses earned last summer had started to come back and I was confident I could complete a gloveless/tapeless MR340.

The Race Plan: The question is posed to me countless times before the 340: what’s your goal? My answer is and will always be, to finish. In my mind, the second someone says a goal other than to finish this race is when things start to go wrong. I’ve been fortunate enough to finish every 340 I’ve started, but there were several times me and my partners were seriously discussing dropping out of the race for various reasons. I will never take finishing this race for granted.

Secondarily to finishing, my competitive nature gets me thinking about what times I’d like to shoot for. In 2010 and 2011, my partners and I finished in the mid-70s hour range. Then in 2015 and 2017, we made it into the mid-60s. Knowing what it takes to hit those numbers, I felt that if everything went perfectly this race, I might be able to go under 60. So I began stating that as a secondary goal.

To make this goal happen, I began to dissect a specific race plan. Breaking up the 340 miles into paddle days and logical places to stop, recharge and refresh. I will first say that I will never consider completing the MR340 on zero sleep. My mind and body don’t possess the strength (or insanity) to skip sleep entirely, so my plan always includes places where a few hours of sleep can be had. In previous years, my teammates and I typically made it a goal on day 1 to make it to the Glasgow checkpoint to stop for some sleep. Two of the four previous times, we were able to do that, however due to various factors, we didn’t arrive there until sunrise on Day 2. Trying to get to sleep as the sun is coming up, the heat starts rising and paddlers/crew noisily start stirring is a pretty terrible experience. So my goal this year was to paddle the 141 miles or so to Glasgow, hopefully arrive there in the 2am to 4am range so I could sleep for a few hours while it was still dark. (The 7am Day 1 start time really helped as well, as having an extra hour of paddling vs. the 8am team start time would improve chances of a decent arrival time in Glasgow.) If I could do this, Day 2 should allow me to arrive in Jefferson City in the late afternoon, grab some food and drink, maybe even a cat nap if absolutely needed, then paddle into the night to a pre-determined point downstream. That would leave a Day 3 paddle of less than 100 miles, and the very realistic possibility of finishing before 7pm, the 60 hour cutoff. I talked this plan over with my support crew and we were set.

To make life easier for my crew, I also prepared and giant tub of gear, organized into separate bags and bundles, with everything I could possibly anticipate needing during the race. Asking your crew to procure something for you during the race that you hadn’t previously prepared is in my mind a very tough ask, should be minimized and be used sparingly, if at all.

The Race: In the days before the race, I was absolutely delighted with what the weather forecast was showing. High temperatures in the day in the low 80s, lows in the 50s at night, little to no chance of storms. Plus, recent rain in the Missouri River basin would ensure a high, fast-flowing current. Going into the race, I knew conditions would be nearly optimal for what a successful race required. I even had to adjust my gear to include more cold-weather attire for the chill we’d experience each night.

On Monday morning, my friend and 2017 340 partner Matt loaded me and our other friend Brett, who had joined up within the previous 3 days with a paddler from Texas after both of their original partners had to drop out, into his truck for the ride to KC. We arrived in time to grab a great sandwich for lunch, head to Boulevard Brewing for some beers on their spectacular deck overlooking the KC skyline, then head to Kaw point to check in. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about transporting my boat, as Shane and Stacy from PaddleStop were hauling boats and paddlers and offered to take my boat as well. We got checked in, I did some last minute prep on my boat including adding navigation lights. We got checked into the nearby Hilton Garden Inn then the three of us headed out to meet up with a few friends for the requisite Kansas City barbeque pre-race meal. We chose Woodyard BBQ, the third consecutive time I’ve eaten here before the race. Back to the hotel where we tailgated outside the hotel for a beer or two, sharing laughs and stories with some other paddlers dealing with the pre-race jitters of anticipation, before heading to bed around 10. There are those who treat the leadup to the race as a sacred time of abstaining from sweets, fatty foods, alcohol, debauchery, etc. The 340 will always be to me first and foremost about fun and connecting with friends and fellow paddlers and I have no shame in enjoying my time going into it, within reason.

5am came quickly and Matt drive me down to Kaw Point with a quick McDonald’s pit stop for a coffee and two sausage McMuffins to provide a base of fatty calories for a full day of paddling. As the main ramp already had a line of boats forming, we opted to take my boat down to the actual point of the confluence to launch. The footing was a little tricky and it was a bit muddy, but I highly recommend this spot as a launch to avoid the chaos of the main ramp.  I paddled upstream, spotting a few friends, wishing them good luck.

Soon enough, we were counted down and the race started. I chose to take the highest line I possibly could leaving the Kaw and entering the Missouri. In years’ past, we’d always been smack in the middle of the massive mess of boats and when the swift current of the Missouri starts absorbing the meandering Kaw, things get very swirly, boats start turning in odd directions, and there is almost always collisions and dumped boats. This time, I hugged the left shore on the Kaw as close as I could, even coming close to clipping the KC Fire Department boat parked right at the point. I easily swing out into the Missouri with nearly every other boat to my right. I believe this helped in getting out to a pretty good lead, passing a lot of boats who were fighting to avoid others and keep from tipping.

Very quickly I settled into a rhythm, checking my watch as I started doing sub 7-minute miles, translating to roughly 8.5 mph. The early race adrenaline is evident in nearly every boat and it’s always a fast start. I truly enjoy the first couple hours of the race, as the boats are bunched together, I make it a point to greet nearly every boat I pass or that passes me, wishing folks good luck or complimenting their boats. As the first few hours passed, my pace began to slow a bit, sliding up towards 7.5 minute miles, sometimes approaching 8. At this point in the race, I just wanted to keep it somewhere in that range. Technology-wise, I operate pretty low-tech. I have an Amazfit watch that I generally use to track speed, distance and heart rate, then have the race-owl tracker going on my phone – which is tucked into my deck back in front of me. I do not use the Pro-Paddler or channel tracking during the race. I would recommend this to relative newcomers to the rivers, but I feel pretty comfortable finding the channel and fast water with a few thousand river miles under my skirt. I also carry a Bluetooth speaker for playing music or podcasts when I find myself paddling alone.

The wind started picking up a bit in the afternoon, but probably only 5 to 8mph headwinds, nothing too serious. I had the great pleasure of paddling alongside some pretty amazing and inspiring women, including first-timer (at 60+) Sherry Isenhart and Ryan Gilliken – who was one of only four finishers at last year’s inaugural Alabama 650 race and who I just learned went on the win this year’s 340 in the Women’s solo kayak division in 48 hours! I also experienced a small manner of celebrity when a few paddlers saw my boat and my name printed on the side and told me they’d followed my trip down the Missouri last summer.

Right at Napoleon, I checked over my shoulder and noticed the eventual first place winner Kraken approaching. I adjusted my track to get closer to them, wishing them good luck and admiring the mad science ingenuity it took to build and operate such a vessel. I passed by Lexington just after 1pm. With typical summer heat, I’d probably need to stop there to refill water and Gatorade, but with the mild temps, I still had ample supply of both and pushed on to Waverly. I got to Waverly around 6pm, 73 miles from the start. I stopped and quickly coordinated a re-supply with Matt. More water, Gatorade, and Spiz (calorie/dietary meal replacement drink). I also had Matt cut me some strips of moleskin, where I was a bit surprised I had blisters already starting to form. He also got me a burger and hot dog from the local boy scout troop tent, that I scarfed down as soon as I got back on the water.

As the afternoon heat began to give way to early evening, things were feeling very good. I maintained a decent pace with the added motivation of reaching Miami before darkness set in – an experience I’d never had on the 340. Between Waverly and Miami, there were three or four separate groups of spectators gathered along the river, watching boats and cheering on the racers. This was new to me, evidence of a growing popularity of this event in the communities along the river. I even half-jokingly inquired about getting a cold beer thrown to me from the bank from the revelers. Alas, beer would have to wait.

I got to Miami at 8:30 with the setting sun still providing daylight; I was excited. I stopped for only two minutes, dumping my Gatorade and picking up and jacket for the chilly night air. With 36 miles to reach Glasgow, my day 1 goal, things were looking very promising to be able to get some much needed sleep. The sun set and it began to get a bit chilly. I paddled for a bit with John Trupka, who I paddle with quite often at Creve Coeur, and I’d like to think I inspired him to push on the Glasgow with me. The only risk of getting to Glasgow at a decent hour was the fog. In 2011, my partner Mike and I were in a similar position and timeframe. Then around midnight, a massive thunderstorm blew through and we spent a harrowing 3 hours sitting on a muddy bank waiting for the wind, rain and lightning to subside, not allowing us to reach Glasgow until 5am. I was determined not to experience a similar delay.

As the curvy strands of fog began to form just above the water, I knew it was a matter of time before visibility would be severely limited. I paddled with a few different boats for a few stretches, happy to keep sight of a light in front of me and behind me. I also had the friendly faces and encouragement of the support boat manned by Steve Schnarr and Elke Bettina of Missouri River Relief. I was happy I decided to grab a rain jacket at Miami, as the fog and paddle splash soaked everything on my boat and myself, however my main core was dry and warm. I also kept awake with some great sing-along music, probably much to the surprise of paddlers within listening distance. I approached the long sweeping curves of the river just above Glasgow and knew it was going to happen. I furiously paddled the last few miles and pulled around 1:30am. 141 miles down, less than 200 to go.

My wife had joined Matt in Glasgow to bolster my support team and I quickly devoured many fried things from the food truck before laying down in my tent for sleep. I set the alarm for around 4:30am and groggily got up and gathered what I needed for the day. Matt and Sara dutifully arose with me to help get me on the water by 5:30. The first light of the day was just over the trees and the fog was still there, though thankfully not terribly thick. I passed through Lisbon Bottoms without incident and into the seemingly endless straightaways near Boonville. I was happy to be in very familiar water here, having done the Freedom Race a couple weeks prior. I had a very quick stop at Franklin Island, grabbing a Coke, a red bull for the afternoon malaise and some gum to rid my mouth of the fried-food hangover mouth funk.

The only two barges of the entire race were encountered between the I-70 bridge and Hartsburg. The first barge kicked up some pretty nice rollers, and I was pretty happy to have some adrenaline powering my fatigued muscles for a bit. Shane Camden engineered my boat to easily handle the rolling, wind-generated waves on the massive lakes of the upper Missouri, so cutting through the rollers after a barge was just plain fun. I was experiencing zombie-like symptoms as I blew by Cooper’s Landing, giving some waves and shouts to some familiar faces. Luckily, just after Coopers I met Chase Wrisinger, a cool guy from Lee’s Summit doing his first race. We had a few common acquaintances, so the conversation flowed and I was able to ignored my increasing muscle soreness and sleepiness for a bit.

Approaching Jefferson City close to 5pm, I could nearly smell the pizza brought for me by Diane Spieker, the mother of Matt’s fiancé who lives in Jeff City. Hitting the beach at Wilson’s Serenity Point, this would be a more leisurely stop. I took my time, downed a couple cherry cokes while enjoying the pizza and planned my next steps.  I could tell my mind was starting to get a little cloudy. I knew from previous years that this was a dangerous place to be.  A lack of sleep and overall body fatigue can lead one to make poor decisions, endangering one’s physical well-being, not to mention the prospect of finishing the race. I briefly thought about taking a short nap at Jeff City before continuing on, but after looking at the cheat sheet, realized Chamois was only 26 miles further. Getting to Chamois, where there was a quiet campsite and even a shower(!), would set me up for a final day of 90 manageable miles to the finish in St. Charles.

I set out from Jeff City as the sun was setting and had a pretty amazing pizza and caffeine-fueled journey to Chamois. With the sun set, the stars came out in full force. Several times, I just leaned back and took in the entire sky, even seeing a couple meteors brilliantly race across nearly the entire view. I put on a few podcasts to keep my mind occupied as there were very few paddlers I encountered on this stretch. As the lights of Chamois welcomed me in, the blood-red moon rose over the trees just ahead. I arrived in Chamois around 10:30pm.

I grabbed one of the best showers of my life while Sara set up my tent. Matt had been relieved by my other friend Andy who drove out from St. Louis. I hit the pillow hard and managed to get a pretty great sleep from around 11:30 til my 3am wake up call.

Sara and Andy graciously hopped into gear at the ungodly hour to get me on the water by 3:45am. I paddled the first few hours completely alone in the stillness of the early morning, finally seeing the bridge of Hermann eight miles away as the morning light slowly appeared. I challenged myself to make it to Hermann before the first speck of sun appeared over the trees, but lost the challenge by a mere minutes. Still, it was one of the most brilliant sunrises I’ve experienced, and one the true moments of transcendence on this race. I was greeted by the friendly masked face of a good friend Jay Doty, who helped pull my boat and welcome me in. I’d paddled for a few days on my long trip last summer with Jay close to St. Louis, and got to know him and hear about the amazing conservation and invasive species battle he conducts. I truly believe that familiar and encouraging faces along the way really provide more motivation and energy than 100 cans of red bulls could ever do.

Andy really came through with a hot cup of coffee and two of the legendary bratwurst prepared by Hermann residents. Nothing has ever hit the spot at 6am like those brats. I was further reassured in my decision to stop at Chamois the night before, as I saw quite a few paddlers who had pushed on to Hermann and were either still sleeping, or slowly emerging and getting ready to set out. With a few hours of paddling under my belt for the day, I quickly got back in the boat and set of on this very familiar home stretch.

The final stop I was planning for the race was New Haven, 20 miles from Hermann. Of course New Haven has become somewhat of a river home for me, where Shane and Stacy operate PaddleStop, where Shane crafts his amazing boards and boats and where I’ve gotten to know quite a few members of the community. Sara had also coordinated with my parents, who were going to greet me at the ramp. I pulled in and stuck around for 15 minutes, catching up with Shane, Stacy and my mom and dad.

Buoyed by the energy of seeing loved ones, I got back on the river and was cruising. I began to do the math in my head, and was quickly realizing a sub-60 time was nearly assured, just being a matter of how far below 60 it would be. I blew past Washington and approached the final checkpoint at Klondike, where Andy was waiting to see if I needed anything. From a distance, I gave him a thumbs up and pointed downriver, I was gonna go for the finish. As I passed Klondike, I noticed another paddler getting into his boat, a wooden strip solo canoe. This was the first time I’d seen another wooden boat during the race. In addition to the standard divisions in the race, other unofficial categories have developed over the years. The most noteworthy of which is the Unofficial Aluminum Boat Division. Shane had half-seriously considered starting a wooden boat division, even going so far as the begin working on a trophy. So when I saw this guy getting in his boat at Klondike, my competitive juices started to flow just a bit. I dropped the hammer and increased my speed, wanting to put distance between me and this guy should he get any ideas of catching up. As I approached Weldon Spring, I looked back and there he was. He’d kept up, even closing the distance. We both caught up to a pedal drive Hobie and talked to the friendly guy for a while. At one point, the other wood boat guy said ‘Good luck, guys’ and took off. I chatted with the Hobie guy for a bit longer before excusing myself to keep the wooden boat within sight.

We approached the highway 40/64 bridge and I was doing my best to keep up. This guy was absolutely cruising. We were back to doing close to 8.5 mph. I expected to bonk at any moment, eating an apple and pounding a red bull to keep my energy up. I kept him within sight, though I was starting to resign myself to finishing just a few minutes behind this guy in what I suspected was the first wooden boat to finish. As we approached the Creve Coeur power plant, I noticed he sort of stopped paddling. Catching up to him, I gave him kudos for keeping such a pace. He then told me he’d re-injured his arm and that I could finish the race uncontested, as he had to slow down. I made sure he was going to be ok and bid him farewell. The adrenaline of the final ten miles or so kept my spirits up and I passed another tandem canoe as I made my way under the final two bridges. I sprinted into the finish just after 4:30pm, finishing in 57:37.

Shockingly, I was pretty sure-footed getting out of the boat and greeting my support crew and friends. I feel like I had more energy than at the finish of any of my other 340s, likely due to finishing in daylight on day 2, as opposed to a late night finish. I grabbed a cold beer and enjoyed the sweet nectar, then grabbed a second one. When the wooden boat approached the finish, I let him get his footing, then handed the wooden boat dude Keith Sappington his well-deserved beer. I congratulated him and thanked him for motivating me to a strong finish. He’d built his boat himself, and I believe there is a higher level of accomplishment upon finishing a MR340 in a boat you built yourself. Well done, Keith!

Summary: Considering overall conditions experienced during the race this week, I don’t feel I will ever finish a 340 faster or with more success than this one. I feel like I maxed out my physical and mental capabilities and I feel satisfied with the result. I certainly had down moments, but they seemed fewer and shorter than in years past. It is absolutely true that every time you do this race, you may learn one important lesson, or 100 small lessons that will make your experience even better the next time. I’ve learned from countless other paddlers little tips and tricks to be successful and I hope to pass along those same things to anyone willing to listen. The sense of accomplishment to anyone who even gets on the starting line of this race, let alone finishing, should not be take lightly. It’s an amazing thing to even consider doing, and I love the community of river rats from one end of the state to the other.

Congratulations to the starters, the finishers and a massive thank you to the real MVPs of the 340: the volunteers, race management and ground crews who make this whole crazy thing happen. Matt, Sara and Andy, you guys are incredible and I truly appreciate you being there for the whims of a mad man. Special thanks to Shane and Stacy at PaddleStop New Haven for the boat and your amazing support on my stupid adventures.

See you on the river!

mf

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Gigs and the Next Adventure

I’ve recently had the pleasure of doing a couple speaking engagements, sharing photos, videos and stories from my trip. I presented at the Edwardsville Public Library and the Big Muddy Speaker Series in Rocheport, MO in February. I’ve reached out to the St. Louis City and County libraries but have yet to hear back. I also gave the presentation for coworkers at my office this week.

My next confirmed presentation, and this one is much closer to home is at the St. Louis Canoe and Kayak Club on Thursday April 2nd. It starts at 7pm at 238 St. Louis Ave, Valley Park, MO 63088. Here are the event details on the Facebook – all are welcome! https://www.facebook.com/events/329249644679591/

One of the most common questions I get from people is what’s your next adventure? For a while, my standard answer was, well I guess I’ll just go back to being a boring office dude. Then a couple months ago, I was asked to attend my company’s Asia-Pacific conference in Brisbane, Australia. I have a personal policy to never get on a plane for a 12+ hour flight twice inside of a two week period, so I was able to tack on a week’s vacation before the conference for me and my wife who’s coming along as well. We have a 3 day/2 night live-aboard scuba trip booked on the Great Barrier Reef and I couldn’t be more excited for that.

We get on a plane in a few hours and after navigating the increasingly perilous labyrinth of international travel these days, will arrive in Cairns, most likely jet-lagged but ready to play.

Thanks to all who’ve attended my presentations, either in person or online. I hope you can make it out to the next one or (hopefully) other upcoming gigs.

Stay tuned for some updates from down under, either here, https://www.instagram.com/paddlestlouis/ or https://www.facebook.com/mark.fingerhut

Winter Update – January 2020

As I sit in the warmth of my house on a early evening in January, the smokiness of a new batch of beef jerky fills the house while the temperature outside may have hit freezing today.  It’s been a while since I’ve updated paddlestlouis.com so I figured I’d share a bit of what’s going on and what’s on tap for 2020.

First, the jerky! The jerky I prepared for my 2019 trip down the Missouri River turned out to be pretty darn good. It was delicious, convenient and packed a bunch of protein that was so important on long days of paddling. The recipe I chose to use required ground beef – pretty different from what you’d find on your average grocery store shelf. Ground beef, once seasoned and dehydrated, is a nice tender and salty snack. You aren’t in danger of breaking a tooth as you chew it and your jaw muscles aren’t fatigued after a handful. In December, I made a big batch and decided to individually package it to give as Christmas gifts to friends and family. Here’s the label I stuck on the packages: MOManJerky (1)

It’s a cool little hobby, and I might try to continue small-scale production of the jerky and see where it goes. At a minimum, I talked to my friends Shane and Stacy who run Paddle Stop New Haven and they are open to selling it in their shop.

This past weekend, Sara and I were invited to Boonville, MO where Missouri River Relief was holding their annual pot-luck awards ceremony. As you may remember, MRR was the main beneficiary of my fundraising leading up to and during my MO River trip. Sara and I ended up raising around $5000. I was surprised and honored to get an invite and was under no expectations I’d be receiving any award. I was just happy to go hang out with friends and meet more river people. As the awards were being given, Steve Schnarr, Executive Director of MRR started reading this:

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Dude #2, Shane Camden, was seated right next to me. We both went up to receive our lovely awards and I gave a short thank you speech. I was quite surprised and humbled to be recognized. A lot of the others who won awards that night did wonderfully amazing things and did a lot of hard work. All I had to do was take a little paddle trip down the river. (The photos used in our awards were actually ones I took during my trip, and which Sara deviously downloaded from my computer when I wasn’t paying attention…)

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Speaking of a little paddle trip down the river: From mid-May to just before I returned to work in late September, I grew out the longest beard I’d ever had. It was big and bushy and picked up all manners of sweat, dirt, grime, food, beer, sediment and countless other mystery substances over the course of my trip. I thought it would be such a waste to simply shave it and watch it swirl down the drain. In years’ past, I’d grown out mustaches for the last few months of the year, which I then carefully waxed, cut off, and mounted artistically. Each mustache was given out at various white-elephant gift exchanges. Each time, the lucky recipient was grateful and has prominently displayed my beautiful coifiture in their homes or offices. So I decided to do something special with my Missouri River beard:

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Those are my friends Gordon and Shirley. They were so happy to unwrap my gift, they hid it under their chair for the rest of the gift exchange to ensure no one else stole it from them. What you are looking at is one half of my beard, glued to hand-cut and stained cedar, engraved with the number of miles I traveled on the Madison, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Shirley asked that I autograph this one, before she mounted it in a frame to minimize future beard loss. I created a second installation with the other half of my beard, which is currently hung with care in the house of some of my wife’s close friends. Homegrown gifts are the best, am I right?

My mother-in-law graciously gave me a fantastic book for Christmas, which I just finished absorbing. (I would say reading, but there is so much more to visually consume and really enjoy!)

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The author is one of the primary historians at the nearby Missouri History Museum and was heavily involved in creating an exhibition that accompanies this book. I’ve yet to get to the exhibition, but it is here until April 2021 so there is plenty of time. I encourage everyone to check it out, it’s free by the way. Anyway, the book is an incredible collection of stories, pictures, artwork, maps and other aritifacts from St. Louis’ rich history. I learned so much about our city’s history which I didn’t know, including one of the young engineers to initially channel and tame the Mississippi at St. Louis was none other than Robert E. Lee. Studying maps from the late 1800s, I also saw the plots of land named for their owners occupying the neighborhoods I grew up in in north St. Louis County. Those names became the main streets we used to bike down as children – Jennings and McLaran.

So what’s on tap for 2020, Mr. Missouri Man? Nothing quite as crazy as 2019, but there are a few adventures planned. In March, I was asked to travel to Brisbane, Australia for our company’s annual Asia-Pacific conference. Sara is travelling along with me and we plan to take around 10 days of vacation around the conference. The Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list since I first heard of it so we hope to get there to see it.

I’ve also been helping to resurrect an event that’s been dormant since the early 80s. In the late 70s and early 80s, local rock radio station KSHE-95 put on an annual beer/float/rock extravaganza called the Meramec River Raft Float. Young party rockers would build all kinds of imaginative, human-powered crafts that may or may not have floated them down the short route on the Meramec, guzzling beers and rocking out the whole way. Needless to say, when the main organizer asked me and some friends to jump in to help resurrect this event, we were in! The event takes place June 20th and starts in Greentree Park in Kirkwood. For more info, check out the event. All proceeds go to the important work of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper.

Pending the potential flooding this summer (and us river people are once again crossing our fingers for a manageable year), the MR340 will take place on August 4th thru 7th. I’ve signed up and this will be my first time paddling in the solo division. Each of the four other times I’ve done the race, it was with a partner in a tandem boat. I plan to race the MoStar across the state of Missouri, retracing the route of the final week or so of my 2019 trip, hopefully moving a little bit faster.

One last plug! On Thursday, February 6th at 6:30pm, at the Edwardsville Public Library in Edwardsville, IL, I’ll be presenting a short presentation about my 2019 Missouri River trip. I’ll show a bunch of pictures, tell some fun stories, answer some questions and share my experiences on the river. All are welcome!

Hope everyone’s winter is going well! The days will soon get shorter and we’ll be out on the water or enjoying the great outdoors once again!

mf

 

Owl Creek Gazette – Nov/Dec

Thanks to Don and Jan Stover, wonderful owners of Creekside Community Brew and Coffee House in Greenville, IL, podcaster extraordinaires, and publishers of the Owl Creek Gazette. They allowed me to publish another article about my adventures, this time about my three day trip with Mark Juras on the Mississippi River. Check it out on page 13, and stick around for the other great content in this issue of the Gazette!

https://www.owlcreekgazette.com/p/current-issue.html 

St. Louis to Cape Girardeau – Mississippi River

After three weeks of getting back into my pre-expedition life, I wanted to get back on the water, just for a couple days: to reactivate the callouses on my hands, to wake up my paddling muscles once again and to see a new stretch of river. Originally, I had talked with friends about heading down to southern Missouri to the Current or Jack’s Fork Rivers for some paddle camping. As last weekend approached, a new opportunity presented itself.

A fellow river traveller, Mark Juras, was making his way down the Missouri River and was near mid-Missouri. He started his trip at the start of the Missouri River in Three Forks, Montana and was going all the way to the Gulf of Mexico – a true source to sea trip. He stopped in New Haven, MO where he met some friends of mine, including Shane from Paddle Stop New Haven and Timber Longboard Co. Shane paddled with him from New Haven to Washington, then gave me Mark’s contact info so I could help him out with anything as he neared St. Louis. Mark made it to Pelican Island in North St. Louis County last Saturday, then decided to take a day off Sunday as it rained pretty steadily for the first half of the day. He would be at the Arch on Monday. I asked him if it would be alright if I paddled with him for a few days and he obliged.

When I asked him what he needed, he responded with a pretty specific list of items. In addition to water and ice, he also requested “meat”. I responded to ask what kind of meat. “Pre-cooked chicken breasts or thighs, a cooked half rack of pork ribs, frozen Italian meatballs and Polish kielbasa sausage.” Very specific, this is a guy who knows what he wants, I thought. I was also impressed at how well he was obviously eating on his expedition.

On Monday, I loaded up my kayak with all the gear I needed, plus everything on Mark’s list and headed down to the Arch. I met him, and prepped my boat for departure, and he packed his coolers with the meat. Mark is using a rowing skull – a wooden boat he built from a kit himself. He sits facing upriver, then with a seat that slides forward and backwards, pulls two large oars to propel himself downriver. He uses rearview mirrors to see where he’s going and to spot approaching hazards or barges. His boat is also large enough to haul quite a bit of gear, including a couple coolers where he can store lots of meaty goodness.

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I was not paddling the MOstar for this trip, she being stored out in New Haven for the time being, but my Missouri River backup plan boat – my Current Designs Nomad – nearly 19ft long. We loaded up and departed, into the thick of the Port of St. Louis. Within two miles, I had seen and passed more barges than I had on the entirety of the 2,456 miles of my trip down the Missouri. The Port of St. Louis is an extremely busy area and you have to constantly keep an eye out for barges and tugs moving in and out, parking and departing, loading, unloading. Many years ago, my friend Doug and I paddled my very unstable Wenonah racing canoe from Chain of Rocks to Jefferson Barracks Park, dodging barges and somehow not tipping the boat over in the barge-induced waves. I still don’t know how we managed that. Mark and I had a lot more experience under our belt and were comfortable in our respective boats so passed through South St. Louis and under the JB Bridge with little fanfare.

We passed the large Bussen Quarry at I-255 then Cliff Cave Park. Around 5pm, we started looking for a decent place to camp on the Illinois side of the river. We found a nice sandy spot under some shady trees and set up camp. I gathered wood to build a fire to keep the bugs away and to start some coals for dinner. I’d gotten a full rack of ribs versus Mark’s requested half rack, so he wrapped the whole rack in foil then dropped them on top of the coals to warm up. He cooked up some cabbage, onions and tomatos as a side and we ate very well that night. Mark’s cooking setup was amazing, he had nearly a full kitchen’s worth of ingredients, gear and spices. The dehydrated meals I survived on during my trip sounded pretty unappetizing in comparison to Mark’s setup. He even popped popcorn after dinner as we shared our experiences of traveling down the Missouri. With the sun setting, the aggressive mosquitos appeared so we retreated to our tents for the night.

From St. Louis to Cape Girardeau, MO, it’s around 128 miles. Mark had a plan to reach Cape by Wednesday. After paddling 30 miles Monday, Mark wanted to knock out at least 50 miles the next two days. We got on the water by 7:30am, again navigating a bit of barge traffic. Having spent a lot of time on the big rivers, I’ve had the chance to learn how barges navigate, where they need to stay within the river channel, and where it’s safe to be when they pass. Mark and I wanted to remain in the channel where the fast water is as long as possible when a barge approaches, moving off to the side into the slower water when it gets closer. A few times, we got the helpful blast of the barge’s air horn alerting us to their presence and to kindly get the hell out of the way.

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Some of the barges kicked up some pretty big waves as they passed, but Mark and I had dealt with much worse on some of the bigger lakes further up the Missouri. I found myself looking forward to bobbing up and down and surfing down the backside of an approaching swell. We passed St. Genevieve, MO close to mid-day and continued on to Chester, IL. Mark was rowing with a purpose today and I paddled at nearly race pace to keep up. We stayed together quite a bit during the day, but occasionally he would move out ahead of me. When he stopped to rest, even being able to stand up in his boat to stretch (color be envious!), I was able to catch back up with him.

We pulled into the boat ramp at Chester, then walked to the nearby Landmark pub and grill. We had a refreshing afternoon beer and a bite of lunch before getting back on the water. We paddled for another couple hours before starting to look for a campsite. Just below Chester, we approached three gentlemen in canoes making their way down the river. We talked to Greg, one of the three from a group called Warrior Expeditions. This group outfits and supports veterans who want to paddle the entire Mississippi River. we visited with them for a bit and bade them good luck before continuing on. We once again had a pretty nice sandbar campsite that night after completing a long 57 mile day. Mark cooked up some pasta with the meatballs I had brought from St. Louis, another fantastic dinner.

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We had a nice breeze through the night and nearly a full moon to provide some pretty amazing illumination at the river’s edge. We were up early once again and got onto the river as the morning mist was burning away.

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We had a nice uneventful early morning, knocking out some miles and enjoying the wonderful scenery at a slightly slower pace than yesterday. Around mid-morning, we were suddenly in a barge traffic jam. For about an hour, we had to navigate probably eight barges moving up and down river. We attempted to remain in the main channel when possible, often having to move over to the side to let the big boys pass. It quieted down a bit as we got closer to Cape Girardeau, arriving around 2pm.

Mark packed up some dirty laundry and got a ride with some Department of Conservation workers to the laundromat and grocery store – he needed to top off his meat supply. I stuck around the boat ramp, keeping an eye on our boats and gear and relaxing in the shade of a pavilion. A friend of mine was driving the two hours from St. Louis after work to pick me up, so as I awaited my ride and Mark’s return, I encountered the characters of Cape Girardeau’s weekday boat ramp visitors.

Sally and Keith walked up and sat at the pavilion with me. They had a brown bag full of airplane bottles of booze. They were very friendly, but obviously under some distress. Sally was sick and on her way to the hospital. They stopped at this riverside spot to drink away some of her pain, as it’s where they got engaged years ago. Sally told me she’d put on 20 or 30 pounds of water weight in the past week, fearing her heart or kidneys were the problem. Several times through tears, she told me she was dying. I struggled to provide any kind of words of comfort to these people I’d known for five minutes. I’m no doctor, but drinking shots of hard liquor obviously isn’t a good idea in her state. So when she offered me one, I accepted, hoping that consuming slightly less booze would help her in some way. After a half hour of conversation, Sally and Keith, often in tears and attending to messages and phone calls from family and friends inquiring about her health, departed. Before they left and out of earshot of Sally, I told Keith that their next stop had better be the hospital. He nodded vaguely and they left.

Mark returned later in the day with clean clothes, groceries and some cold beers, getting a ride back from town from Giles. Giles, an older gentleman from Cape Girardeau, sat with us and shared many stories from his life, some inspiring, humorous and also heartbreaking. A kayaker drove up and unloaded his kayak. Ken introduced himself and his dog to us, asking us about our trips, then took off for a late afternoon paddle on the river. Mark decided to pack up his boat and row five more miles downstream to an island to camp. I bid him farewell and good luck on the rest of his journey. After he departed, another paddler came from down river and paused at the ramp. I met Danny, who was a very experienced paddler on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. In the small world of expedition paddling, we played the name game for a bit and found some mutual acquaintances. He told me in a few weeks when it cooled down, he planned to paddle upriver from Cape to St. Louis. Quite impressive.

Eventually, my friend Brett arrived and we loaded my boat and gear onto his jeep for the return journey to St. Louis. I’d scratched the expedition paddling itch and was happy to be heading back home. During my trip down the Missouri, I very much enjoyed the few days I paddled with others. It was a great opportunity to have good conversation and share the journey with someone versus the day to day slog of solitary adventuring. Although Mark was obviously comfortable travelling solo, as I was the first one to paddle with him on his trip, he did thank me for joining him and told me how welcome it was to have company for a couple days. I was a little surprised I didn’t even have the slightest urge to continue down the river with Mark and complete the full source to sea journey to the Gulf. That’s not for me, at least right now. Someday maybe. Well, stronger than maybe: most likely. Definitely.

mf

 

 

 

Missouri Man in the News

Just wanted to have a post to keep track of articles/news coverage during my trip. There should be a few more to add to this when it’s all said and done so I’ll post updates here. Once again, thank you all for your support and for following my journey!

Owl Creek Gazette – September/October 2019

Creekside with Don and Jan Podcast – September 1, 2019

St. Charles County Community News – August 28, 2019

e-Missourian.com – Washington, Missouri – August 23, 2019

KRTV – Great Falls, Montana – May 29, 2019

The River Press – Fort Benton, Montana:

Fort Benton Press

New Haven Independent News – New Haven, Missouri:

John Fingerhut

St. Louis Arrival +4 Days

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed since my arrival at the Arch on Saturday. Time on the river seemed to really slow down. I was in awe of that my first week out on the river and that feeling didn’t change throughout the trip. Back in St. Louis, I luckily haven’t really been rushing around to do a bunch of stuff, see a lot of people or places. I’ve been able to relax for the most part, and really pick and choose where I spend my time. Sunday, I was able to do a bit of trip/gear cleanup then spend the rest of the day at a big Hash (running) event, where I most certainly did not run, just enjoyed some cold beers and reveled in the misery of friends running 12+ miles in 95 degree heat. Monday, I spent almost all day catching up on stuff around the house, more gear and boat cleaning, grass cutting and other little maintenance things. Then yesterday, I loaded the MOstar up on my car then drove out to the Paddle Stop New Haven. Shane, who built my kayak, just opened a pretty fantastic workshop and store. I’ll be storing my boat out there for the time being as there’s a ton more space.

Because PSNH is regularly running shuttles on the Missouri River, all I have to do when I want to paddle my boat is to get the pickup in St. Charles, then put in at New Haven or Hermann and paddle back. I also assisted Shane (more learning techniques than actually helping) in his building of a cedar strip canoe that will be raffled off around the MR340 to benefit Missouri River Relief. The rest of the week will be more cleanup, house maintenance stuff, catching up with friends and family, talking to some folks at work to lay out my return, then believe it or not, heading down to the Meramec River for a float trip this weekend. I’ve been guaranteed I won’t have to do a lot of paddling.

I had a few things that didn’t really fit in other posts that I wanted to share:

Early on during my trip, I had the pleasure of staying with Jim and Vicky Emanuel near Helena, MT. Jim completed the entire Missouri River, eventually going all the way to the Gulf last summer. He showed me his spare wooden paddle he took on the trip. All along the way, Jim had his river angels who helped him along the way sign his paddle. I thought about doing something similar, and decided the best option I had was for people to sign the inside of my rear hatch on my kayak. So here’s the end result. Just a bunch of amazing people, some names are known up and down the river as legendary helpers of paddlers, as well as some close friends and family who really helped me on my trip. This is not a completed work. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one of the most instrumental characters in making my trip a success – Norm Miller. Don’t worry Norm, I plan to hit the reunion next summer and we can get you added. (And apologies to Missouri River Relief’s Steve and Melanie – I just had a couple too many beers at Cooper’s and just forgot. I’ll make sure you sign it at some point.)

Another amazing keepsake from my trip – this one crafted with love and creativity by a good friend Susan. When I pulled into Sioux Passage Park in St. Louis County the night before my finish, Susan handed this to me. I was blown away at how so very cool this thing is, as well were all my friends. The image is based on a photo taken of me by either Peggy or my friend Dan when I was paddling out of Tobacco Gardens in North Dakota (I think). Missouri Man I suppose has become my nickname after a few news articles referred to me that way, I’ll take it.

My final reading on my Garmin InReach. The time and mileage refers to what we covered on the final day, then the odometer includes the total mileage incurred from the very start of my trip. I was surprised it is not too far off from the offical river mileage for what I paddled, 2,456 miles. There were several times where I forgot to turn off tracking at the end of the day so it included me walking around a bit, or even riding in a couple cars. It also doesn’t include portage miles. I had my wife Sara make one of those corny cardboard signs that people put in their pictures at the top of a mountain. I suppose the Missouri River is my Mount Everest (someone mentioned to me on the trip that more people have climbed Everest than have paddled the whole Missouri River).

Friday afternoon, I paddled into St. Charles and was sure to get a photo by the not so life-sized statue of Lewis and Clark and Lewis’ dog Seaman. One of the many L&C sites along the river, this one really meant a lot. I have walked (and run a marathon) by this statue many times, never really stopping to pause and really examine it. Having retraced part of the route of L&C’s 1804 – 1806 expedition, I have a very small sense of what they saw and the challenges they faced. Of course I had all the modern conveniences that made my trip much easier, but throughout my trip, I relished the chance to walk where they walked, climb hills thay they climbed, and paddle meandering river bends that they navigated so long ago.

mf

Finish Line

Just thinking of yesterday’s experience brings back the tears to my eyes that were flowing so liberally when I hit the bricks under the arch. Fortunately, I have weeks to process, recover, review, decompress and readjust to “normal” life. But I felt I needed to capture some of the moments and feelings from the last day of my journey while they are still fresh.

I’d be remiss not to first thank each and every one of you, whether you waited in the 90 degree heat by the river yesterday, or gave me a shoutout on the web, followed my blog, or even just sent prayers or positive vibes my way. Seeing the shore packed with friends, family, coworkers, relative strangers was very emotional for me as I’m sure many of you saw. I’d venture to guess that few, if any Missouri River paddlers ever had that kind of reception. It’s unreal, the highest of highs, easily one of the best days of my life. THANK YOU ALL!!!

I was so happy to share the final 20 miles of my journey with some close friends.

What you’re seeing is a beautiful mix of people – some with years of experience on the rivers, some with none. One of the main objectives of doing this trip and being so active in writing about my experiences was to connect more people with the river. There is no better way to do this than to take a few folks out on the river who’ve never experienced it, help them navigate the experience and enjoy it, and also relive my first time through their eyes. We dealt with some fast water, swirly whirlpools, strongs winds, big waves, shooting the chain of rocks, passing barges/tour boats and many bridges – in other words, the full river experience. Everyone did great, and I was happy to have the company.

Once on shore, I was at a loss as to what to do. Luckily, cold beverages were placed in my calloused hands, my wife, nieces, nephews, mom, dad, sisters, brother, uncles, cousins started the longest round of hugs I’ve ever had in my life. People didn’t even seem to mind the sweat, river funk, and the overpowering Missouri Man beard essence as they embraced me. It was unreal. So many photos, I did a quick interview with Fox 2, and it barely registered with me that there was a Corvette car show going on right above our gathering. Eventually we pulled the boat up the arch stairs to just below the arch for some pretty cool photos.

To put into perspective just how incredibly diverse the gathering of people were yesterday: quite possibly a person who’s known me the longest in my life (family excluded) – my kindergarten teacher Susan Federspiel! Susan taught not only me, but each of my three siblings as well. She’d been following my journey and made the trip out to see my arrival. On the other end of the spectrum – I camped at the boat ramp in Klondike Park three nights ago and got to talking to an interesting character, Austin, who was fishing for catfish. I told him about my trip, then sat and enjoyed a few beers with him late into the night after some visiting friends had left. As I was hugging friends and family, there was Austin, having known me all of 3 days, coming to welcome me home. Indescribable.

When I pulled into Sioux Passage Park the night before my finish, I also had a pretty large group of people awaiting my arrival, as the park was also hosting that night’s run of the Hash. Of course some people where taking photos of me as I paddled onto the beach, but I thought later that night that I should have taken a quick photo of them standing on shore and waiting my arrival. I had a second chance to do it yesterday, and though you may have to zoom a little, you can see the crowd of people waiting on the levee cheering me in below the iconic arch.

I woke up this morning in my soft bed in my air-conditioned house, then got up and glanced out the back door. There lay the MOstar, sitting in the morning sun, ready and waiting to take me thousands of more miles if I were to demand it. Future adventures await, but now it’s time to clean up, reflect, share, love, pack back on a few (but not too many) pounds and try to take every moment from this trip with me as I move forward back into “normal” life.

There will certainly be more updates, recaps, stories and other fun stuff in this space. Thank you for continuing to follow my journey!

mf

Coming Home

I’m currently up early after working late on my kayak with my friend Shane at Timber Longboard Co. at his amazing new workshop/world headquarters – Paddle Stop New Haven. There were no major issues with the boat, just a lot of sun damage that needed to be sanded out and re-touched with varnish. Shane wants my rig to look good for the masses as I paddle up to the Arch! In terms of blog posts continuity, for now I am skipping my experience from Omaha to Kansas City. I’ll circle back on that after the excitement of the next few days dies down. Today I will paddle with one of my previous MR340 partners from New Haven to Klondike Park with a stop in Washington, MO. Tomorrow I will paddle into St. Charles where the Festival of the Little Hills is happening, then continue on to Sioux Passage Park, where I’ll spend my final night camping with a group of friends. Then Saturday, some hearty souls will paddle the final 20ish miles or so with me to the Arch.

I set out from Kansas City last Saturday morning. My amazingly generous friends Dawn and Ken dropped me at Kaw Point, where there were 4 other paddlers getting their boats ready. I paddled the whole day with Anqi and James, then Kim and Al were in fast surfski kayaks, so they were ahead of us most of the day. It was great paddling the 74 miles from KC to Waverly, exchanging stories, life experiences and getting to know eachother. I knew Anqi only from Facebook and from seeing his paddling pursuits on various groups. However, we both did the 2017 MR340, him in a 10ft Pelican kayak, the kind you can get from Wal Mart for $150. To race 340 miles in a boat like that on the Missouri River, and to finish, you instantly achieve legendary status in mine and many others’ eyes. Anqi has only been into paddling for the last few years of his life and I am inspired by his boundless energy, eagerness to be on the river all the time, and just his general positive attitude and warm personality. If you get a chance, paddle with him.

I’m connected with James in the small-world, crazy coincidence-but not really in our connected world-kind of way. James is married to Tracie, who in her work for the Japanese Consulate of Kansas City, was instrumental in both my and my brother’s interview process and eventual selection into the JET Program – the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program that allowed both of us to teach English in Japan for three years earlier in our lives. Tracie has been pretty close to my brother since then, and I’ll see posts from her here and there. Probably a year ago, she posted that her husband was going to sign up for this crazy paddle race across Missouri – of course I chimed and and offered my services on any advice or recommendations. James and I had exchanged messages here and there but never met. When Anqi posted on the MR340 page that he was going to paddle the KC to Waverly stretch, I coordinated with him, then also invited James to join us. Little did I know that this would be James’ first time paddling on the Missouri River! He did great throughout the day, luckily making an adjustment to his foot pedals halfway through the day that provided much needed relief. I don’t know many people who would have the wherewithall to paddle 74 miles on their very first day on the big river. James – good luck in this year’s MR340, you’ll do great!

We pulled into Waverly around 6:30pm after averaging nearly 10 mph all day on a swiftly flowing river. There to meet us was James’ wife Tracie as well as Rob Kalthoff. Rob is one of the many river angels and legendary names that I learned as I was researching and planning my trip. I was told over and over by people that when I get close to Waverly, I’d be in great hands. Rob had previously sent me a very useful list of contacts/river angels up and down the whole river, which came in very handy on my trip. I finally had the chance to meet Rob on the boat ramp at Waverly as he pulled us in. He brought us a plate of award-winning fried chicken that his wife Connie had made, though she couldn’t be there to meet us. He also had a basket of fresh homegrown tomatoes and box of peaches, both of which were just about the juiciest things I’ve had the pleasure of having drip through my man-beard.

We hung out for about an hour, talking, eating, drinking, visiting, sharing stories, all as the sun went down over the river. I will cherish nights like these from my trip, sitting by the river with river people, talking and laughing like old friends. Eventually, I pitched my tent and turned in for the night.

The next day, it was pretty cloudy with some rain throughout the day, and I wanted to make it to Glasgow, MO, where I was told the campground was reclaimed from the flood aftermath and was open with water, showers and camping. I made the 68 miles and pulled into Glasgow around 6pm. I set up my tent on the edge of the bank, then made my way into town, where unfortunatley all the establishments were closed early on a Sunday. Not to worry, the local Casey’s gas station was open and serving their pretty darn good pizzas. I grabbed one, the the young clerk let me enjoy a cold beer and use their wifi while I waited in their lovely air-conditioned store.

Their were thunderstorms for a lot of the night, not quite strong enough to blow away my tent, but enough to ensure things were wet and muddy in the morning. I packed up and got on the river for what I expected to be a hot day. The plan was for about 56 miles to get to Cooper’s Landing. I passed through Lisbon Bottoms, an interesting series of bends and a little bit of rough water, taking reconaissance photos of some potential challenges and pitfalls to share with the MR340 paddling group. It was a hot day, upper 90s perhaps, but luckily there was a pretty good wind all day, which provided some relief and but wasn’t strong enough to kick up any substantial waves.

Pulling into Cooper’s Landing around 5:30, I met Rodney who has been doing a ton of work to get Cooper’s back into shape after the flood. Although the tradition at Cooper’s is to get an amazing Thai meal served out of a food truck, they unfortunately haven’t returned since the flood. Soon enough, a couple friends from the Columbia, MO chapter of the Hash showed up with some beers and Shakespeare’s pizza. Steve and Melanie also showed up. Steve is the Executive Director of Missouri River Relief, and Melanie plays a huge part in all that they do. Missouri River Relief is the organization I chose to raise money for leading up to and during my river journey. We had a wonderful evening of once again, eating, drinking, sharing stories and getting to know eachother, all the while enjoying an epic sunset from the docks of Cooper’s Landing. Sensing any kind of theme here? Storms once again rocked my tent all night, bending but not breaking my shelter.

I once again packed up early and got on the water, depite the sluggishness of one too many beers and an ill-advised nip of Fireball the night before. I met an interesting guy on a self-made houseboat who was travelling at a very low rate of speed down the river – eventually to make it to New Orleans. I stopped at Wilson’s Serenity Point under the bridge in Jefferson City and was given a tour by caretaker Tom. While still getting back into shape after the floods, WSP is names after Joe Wilson, who was a river legend and who did incredible work to turn this otherwise sandy, muddy riverside spot into a must-stop attraction on the river. Multiple races on the river use this spot as their start, their finish, or a key checkpoint. It is normally beautifully serene, green and shady relief from the river heat. Right now it is kind of a muddy mess, but with Tom and others’ help, it will soon once again be everything that Joe Wilson loved and worked so hard on.

I kept paddling from Jeff City, running into two canoeists camped on the river just below the Moreau River. Then in another internet-enabled interaction, I met a St. Louis hashing friend down by the river where he was working at the nearby National Guard armory.

I paddled on to Portland, MO, where I was welcomed by my former co-worker Pat. Pat retired back in May and has been enjoying life. He lives in nearby Washington, MO and has on multiple occasions, brought me warm breakfast sandwiches on my MR340 races. He took some great photos as he usually does. My brother Joe also drove out from Fenton me meet us, we stopped into Holzhauer’s for a burger and some beers. Great conversation and catching up ensued, and I was once again renewed in body and spirit, spending a great evening with good friends and family.

The next morning, I paddled the short 17 miles into Hermann, and had time to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich from a local shop. Pretty soon, my paddling partners arrived – pulling up in a 12 passenger van and boat trailer hauling 3 boats and a stand-up board. This is Paddle Stop New Haven’s new operation! Shane and his wife Stacy recently opened their amazing shop in New Haven, MO and have also started shuttling paddlers up the river to certain points between St. Charles and Hermann. Joining Shane were New Haven staples and river legends in their own right, Gary and Lance along with Jay. Gary and Lance paddled the first half of the Missouri River in 2015 and will finish the rest of the river next summer. They also own and blow glass at Astral Glass in New Haven, stop in when you’re out here! I know Jay from a few Missouri River Relief events, where we worked one rainy morning in north county, removing invasive honeysuckle from the banks of the upper River Des Peres.

We had a terrific paddle yesterday, doing the 16 easy miles from Hermann down to New Haven, where we met a reporter from the local paper who took some photos and did a quick interview with me. Another St. Louis hasher, Mike was also there with some cold beers. We eventually moved our gear and boats back to Shane’s shop where we got to work on my boat, not before a delicious pizza at Lancito’s.

I am currently sitting at Missouri River mile 81. I will count down the miles to 0 – where I will enter the Mississippi River and paddle 15 miles to the Arch. My trip is winding down. I have a lot of feelings, too many and too complex to describe in this space right now. I am going to savor every remaining moment, each mile and paddle stroke, every interaction with friends and family and just flat out enjoy the hell out of it.

mf

The Straightening of the River and Weird State Borders

I got this text from my wife as she was tracking my progress:

“Can you explain what’s going on with the border there?”

In talking with my parents who visited me in Sioux City and stopped for a night in Omaha on their way, they remarked that they stayed in a hotel that was near a neighborood that was west of the Missouri River, but a part of Iowa (Carter Lake).

How about the lower Mississippi – ever seen that mess?

Why, in the 1980s, did a group of 5 guys spend 4 months digging up a steamboat wreck from the 1850s in the middle of a cornfield?

What’s going on here? Well, here is your answer. (Thanks for sending this my way, Anna Wenger.)

Over thousands of years, rivers, especially ones that generally flow over flat, muddy ground, will shift channels. The river constantly cuts through dirt and mud to form a new channel, obeying the laws of gravity to find the most efficient path towards lower ground. Banks erode. A horseshoe bend develops, then over the years, the river cuts into the start of the horseshoe until it erodes the bank completely, cutting off the horseshoe bend from the main channel and forming a lake – often called a horseshoe or oxbow. Left unchecked, a river like the Missouri will meander all over the plain between its bluffs, cutting a new path with each high water or flood event.

Certain portions of the Missouri I’ve paddled are still free-running, natural states of the river. The Missouri River Breaks section in Montana is the most natural and closest to its original state, then a few stretches of river between some of the larger dams and lakes, and a 50 mile stretch below the last dam on the Missouri, Gavin’s Point. Sioux City, Iowa generally marks the beginning of the channelized lower portion of the River. From Sioux City all the way down to St. Louis, the Army Corps of Engineers works to maintain a navigable, stable, 6 to 9 ft deep channel for barges and other watercraft. They do this by reinforcing the banks of the river with wooden piers driven into the mud, tons of crushed rock piled on the banks to prevent erosion, or wing dikes also made of crushed rock that point out into the river and ensure a fast current and prevention of sediment settling that would cause shifting in the channel of the river.

In the 1950s and 60s, in addition to building the 13 dams on the Missouri, the ACE also worked on shortening the main channel of the river. Where there may have been a long, curvy bend in the river, they simply dug out the shortcut between the start and ends of the bend to eliminate the extra miles for boat traffic. In doing so, they shortened the total length of the river by 72 miles!

One other result of the shifting of river channels was its effect on the geography of state borders. In many cases, the river acts as the border between states. When state borders were originally drawn, the river was in its natural state, and thus, continued to shift until channelization and stabilization occured. The borders did not shift with them. So a farmer farming his land on the East side of the river in Missouri may tomorrow be farming land on the west side of the river, but still in Missouri.

Today I got the chance to tour the Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City. Similar to my story of the Steamboat Bertrand in Nebraska, the Steamboat Arabia wrecked just upstream from Kansas City in the 1850s, then was recovered from the middle of a farm field in the 1980s, under 50 feet of mud and sand and a half mile from the river.

River channelization and meaures to control the flow and natural tendencies of the river vary in their success. Recent years have seen 100 to 500 year floods occuring with shocking regularity. Engineers designing dams, levees, dikes and other control structures on the river based their calculations on data that was 50 to 100 ears old and prior to the extreme effects of climate change. It seems the more we try to control the river, the less control we really have. I am certainly of the belief that the river be allowed to retain or in some cases, revert to its natural state when feasible. I don’t advocate for the destruction of the dams on the river, or letting all floodplain farmland be once again consumed by the river. But seeing the rampant development that’s occuring on floodplains just in the St. Louis area is very scary. The Missouri River is alive, it is powerful. It may live in its man-made channel today, but it will not forever.

I am certainly new to the issues surrounding the river and a big reason for taking this journey was to learn more. I hope to continue to do so, and also to educate others around these issues.

mf