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.
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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.

mf

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!

mf

Technology on the River – Striking a Balance

Facing 3+ months on the river, the question of technology is one I wrestled with early and often. How ‘connected’ should I be on the river? What kind of technology would I need to bring and for what purposes? Would my choices in what technology to bring be an impediment to disconnecting and achieving a meaningful and spiritual experience on the river? How do I balance the urge to disconnect with the absolute necessity of assuring the ones I love I am surviving on a daily basis? If I do bring technology, how can I leverage my experience to share lessons and bring attention to experiences and issues on the river?

As you can see, it is a lot to consider. Some of my predecessors who’ve undertaken this journey will insist on absolute disconnection in order to have the richest and most worthwhile experience. Travel as Lewis and Clark did over 200 years ago, with a map or two here and there, but that’s about it. It’s a tempting prospect, but there are other considerations:

  • I am travelling solo. I need to be able to keep in touch with loved ones, and to be able to call for emergency assistance under certain circumstances. This is non-negotiable to my parents and wife.
  • I am late Gen X, early Gen Y who grew up with the internet and cell phones.
  • I work for a technology company.
  • I love having some good music to listen to break up what will likely be 8 to 10 hours on the river each day.
  • I value the ability to share my journey with others. The journey is for myself, sure. But another major objective of my trip is to share my experience on the river and educate others on river related issues.

With these in mind, here is the technology I plan to bring on the trip:

  • Garmin InReach Explorer+ with a monthly data plan. With this device, I’ll be able to send and receive texts, plot my progress/plan my route on a map, look up weather forecasts, transmit my location via map to anyone on the internet, single-button SOS call to emergency services, all with satellite connection, no cell phone signal needed. I am also able to connect this device to my cell phone via Bluetooth, to do most of these capabilities on my much easier to use…
  • Samsung Galaxy S10. From what I have learned, cell phone coverage on the upper Missouri is pretty non-existent. However, I will still be able to use this phone to track navigation and trip progress on downloaded/offline google maps, send and receive text messages via connection to the Garmin InReach, take photos/videos, play music, and type out trip details and reflections for this blog to post when connectivity allows. Substantial element proof pouch to keep the phone and nature separated.
  • Travel/folding keyboard – bluetooth connectivity to my phone. Will make typing out blog posts much easier than using the phone’s keyboard.
  • GoPro Hero 6 Black, along with extra batteries and charger, several types of mounts for the camera. Bluetooth connectivity to my phone for uploading, managing and editing photos and videos.
  • Bluetooth waterproof portable speaker – nothing fancy, just something that will play music, survive a downpour or a dump, and that I won’t mind when it inevitably suffers a heroic death on the river.
  • Solar charger: BigBlue 5w 28v – to mount on the deck of the kayak and charge my batteries throughout the sunny days.
  • Power bank/battery: Anker PowerCore 20100 – definitely one, possible a second, still deciding.
  • I am on the fence about bringing a portable/waterproof AM/FM radio with weather bands – if I have room for this.
  • USB cables to charge the above devices.

Other than the Garmin, the GoPro and to an extent the speaker, nature does not mix well with the other devices. So I will have to have a pretty reliable system of drybags/boxes, pouches to keep things dry and relatively clean.

I am certain I will fine tune my technology setup as the trip progresses. I may find some of these items just aren’t worth the extra weight or space and may choose to discard or send back home, or I may need to supplement these items with some additional things that I can’t foresee right now. For better or worse, within a few clicks, I can order almost anything in the world off my phone and have it delivered to a location a couple days ahead of me on the river. Such is the world we live in; Lewis and Clark’s smirks of disapproval notwithstanding.

mf

Some Semblance of an Itinerary

Two months from now I will be in my car with a kayak on top and packed full with gear to live on for 3 months, cruising through Nebraska or South Dakota on my way to Montana. I’ve been asked by friends and family about my itinerary, projected dates and locations, planned progress and potentially meeting me at certain places. I am quite humbled that you’d consider heading up to the lesser traveled, but no less beautiful, parts of our country to see me for a few hours or days. I would absolutely welcome anyone who’d like to meet up with me anywhere along the river, whether it is just to say hi, hand me a cold drink or hot meal, or even paddle with me for a few days!

A couple caveats before providing a plan:

  • This is 100% subject to change based on many factors I am aware of, and many I am not aware of.
  • This is my best guess for an itinerary based on research, trips that others have done in the past and trying to judge how I’ll be feeling and moving along during the trip.
  • I expect this to be somewhat accurate early in the trip – for the first few weeks to a month. But any delays or faster progress early on will affect hitting dates and locations later on during the trip.
  • I do expect to have a shareable website connected to my Garmin Inreach that will be updating my progress every 30 minutes or so, giving you access to see how I’m progressing.
  • You can absolutely text or email me (or my wife) during the trip to let me know your plans or coordinate meeting up or just to say hey!

 

And now, the plan:

May 10 – 14: Travel to Montana, pick up the hwife and relax in Wise River for a day or two

May 15 – 21: Put in at West Yellowstone, MT, paddle 100 miles down the Madison River

May 23 – June 9: Three Forks, MT to Great Falls, MT

June 11 – 20: Great Falls, MT to James Kipp Campground

June 21 – July 3: James Kipp to Fort Peck, MT

July 5 – July 12: Fort Peck, MT to Williston, ND

July 14 – July 25: Williston, ND to Garrison Dam, Underwood, ND

July 27 – July 30: Garrison Dam to Bismarck, ND

July 31 – August 17: Bismarck, ND to Oahe Dam, Fort Pierre, SD

August 19 – August 24: Oahe Dam to Big Bend Dam, Fort Thompson, SD

August 25 – August 31: Big Bend Dam to Fort Randall Dam, Southeast Gregory, SD

September 2 – September 8: Fort Randall Dam to Sioux City, IA

September 10 – September 13: Sioux City, IA to Omaha, NE

September 15 – September 21: Omaha, NE to Kansas City, MO

September 23 – September 29: Kansas City, MO to the Arch, St. Louis, MO

mf

 

Wilderness First Aid     

The prospect of spending 3+ months on the Missouri River, most of it on my own, prompted many thoughts; one of which was health and safety during the trip. I’ve had little to no first aid or medical training up to this point in my life, so I figured I should probably get some – at least the basics. After searching around a bit, I ran across a two-day Wilderness First Aid course offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu) through REI.

The course was held last weekend at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO. I joined about 25 other outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom have had some pretty extensive experience in the outdoors and first aid/rescue in general. The class was a good mixture of lecture, demonstration and hands on scenarios. They did a great job of introducing a point, reinforcing it, then allowing the class to put it into practice – certainly the best way to learn anything, really. As an added bonus, one of the instructors is an EMT in rural Idaho. I got a chance to pick his brain a little bit on considerations specific to my situation on the Missouri River.

So what did I learn? The bulk of the course focused on the Patient Assessment System (PAS) – basically what are the first things that need to happen with an injured person in the wild. Finding out what a person’s injury is seems obvious, but it’s not always that easy. Then asking the right questions to get background or history with what might be going on with the patient, then making a plan to help them, and communicating to outside help if needed. We also got into specific scenarios on how to initially treat certain injuries, as well as avoiding some of the most common causes of injury in nature: wounds, burns, blisters, heat stroke, hypothermia, lightning, altitude sickness, anaphylaxis. I also learned I’d be well-served to pimp out my first aid kit a little bit better…

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Patient Assessment System (PAS) Triangle

I was viewing the lessons in this course through a bit of a different lens than some of the others in the class. Others spoke of leading youth groups on multiple days treks into the wilderness, or assisting with first aid at large camps or outings with family. My primary purpose of being there was to be able to provide first aid or (more preferably) prevention to injuries to myself during my trip. It was certainly reinforced how important a lifeline is as well – and for friends and family – yes, a potential rescue will be only a button away thanks to my handy Garmin InReach+.

I was exhausted after the two-day course. I rarely have the need to have my brain turned on in that capacity on the weekend, so going back to work Monday morning was a little rough, not feeling like I even had a weekend. But overall, I think it was certainly a valuable experience. If I have the chance to use anything I learned either during my trip or on any adventures that will follow, it will be more than worth the investment. I do recommend attending this or other NOLS courses.

mf