Planning a Descent

It’s hard to recall the exact moment I decided I was going to paddle the Missouri River. But suffice it to say, shortly after I made the decision (or maybe even before), I learned of this book.

Complete Paddler

https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Paddler-Guidebook-Paddling-Headwaters/dp/1560373253

Starting in 2002, over the course of three summer trips, Dave Miller completed a descent of the Missouri River, from Three Forks, MT to the Arch in St. Louis. He created what’s widely considered the Bible for Missouri River thru paddlers. It’s a book rich in all sorts of details: preparation for the trip, gear considerations, maps, routes, GPS coordinates, places to camp, historical references (heavy on Lewis & Clark), warnings, directions and all sorts of other practical information.

I quickly purchased the book and hungrily devoured it within a few days. I was even more convinced to do the trip, but also struck by the reality of how much prep would go into this trip. Initially thinking about the trip, I knew I would have to devote quite a bit of time on the following areas – in no particular order:

  • Professional plan: what to do about that pesky job on a 3+ month trip
  • Navigation: river maps, stops, resupply, meeting points, portages, etc.
  • Supplies: what to bring
  • Transportation: getting me, my boat and my stuff to the start
  • Paddlers: am I doing this solo or finding others to join me?
  • Trip budget: what am I going to spend?
  • Money coverage: financial obligations while I am gone
  • Re-entry: getting back to normal after the trip
  • Research/reading: learning as much as possible about the trip and related historical materials
  • Blog/social media: sharing the experience with the world
  • Emergency plan: what will I do when shit happens
  • Insurance: health care coverage in the absence of a job
  • Communication: staying in touch with others while on the river

There may be one or two big categories missing here, but I think I did a decent job of figuring out the big stuff right up front. The bulk of the prep for the last 18 months or so has generally fallen into each of these categories. Later on, I did decide to undertake this trip as a fundraiser for Missour River Relief, so that would have to be one additional area.

The center of all my planning is a massive Google spreadsheet with 8 tabs that generally correspond with the larger categories listed above. Two of my key tabs are my gear list and my itinerary. I will post the content of those in the coming days. I am also tracking potential sponsors for my trip, not so much for stuff for me, but for donations that we’ll eat, drink or raffle off at the kickoff barbeque/fundraiser in April.

Another obsession over the last couple months has been food dehydration. Surely deserving of its own post, I’ve run the food dehydrator almost nonstop since we got it, prepping meals, ingredients and snacks and stocking the deep freeze in preparation for the trip.

Lastly, the Missouri River Paddlers Facebook group is a very active community of 2,500+ people who have some connection or interest in the Missouri River. There’s an almost contact flow of questions, pictures, stories, experiences and resources that get posted and shared about the river. Norman Miller is the administrator of the site and has accumulated a great wealth of resources and materials about trip planning, maps, logistics, photos and stories from those who’ve paddled the river. Along with Dave Miller’s book, I was able to find almost all the information I needed for the trip.

mf

Missouri River Relief

So Mark, what is this Missouri River Relief you talk about? What do they do? Why do you want to raise money for them? Why not pick another cause? What’s your experience with them?

I wouldn’t consider myself a life-long river rat. Sure, I filled sandbags in Bellefontaine Neighbors during the flood of ’93. I stared at the massive Mississippi and Missouri Rivers on outings as a kid, wondering where the rivers started and ended. I scrambled down into the pungent River Des Peres during my dad’s softball games at Wilmore Park. Like many St. Louisans, I went on the yearly southern Missouri ‘float’ trips. But in 2010, when I signed up for my first MR340 paddle race, I really began to see our local rivers differently. I got to spend hours on these massive rivers in a tiny boat, learning the currents, watching the eddies and whirlpools, seeing the wildlife on shore, flying above or jumping from the water in front of me…being in such a wide open space that I didn’t often get to experience growing up in a crowded city. I fell in love with being on the rivers and knew this would become a big part of my life. And not to keep these treasures to myself, but to share them with others, and to protect them so everyone who comes after me can experience what I have.

Enter Missouri River Relief:

Missouri River Relief is a community, volunteer and equipment-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through hands-on river clean-ups, education events and stewardship activities.

https://www.riverrelief.org/about/

I heard about Missouri River Relief in 2010 as a first timer in the MR340. MRR is a huge sponsor of the race every year and provides boats, volunteers, safety resources and general river knowledge and expertise to the ever-growing race. I got to know the organization and various people involved in MRR over the past few years. I’ve continued to participate in the fun stuff – the races put on or sponsored by MRR, but I’ve also gotten out to their river cleanup days, as well as speaking & community events that MRR plays a big part in.

In addition to the above, MRR is very involved in education around the river. They train teachers on how they can integrate the Missouri River into their classrooms and lessons. They run a program that takes every single 4th grader in the Columbia, MO public school system out on the river for a half day – Amazing! They also partner with many other education focused community and conservation organizations and events.

Right there smack dab in the middle of that mission statement up there is what I most value about MRR: connecting people to the Missouri River. If I can undertake a massive adventure like this, but also bring more eyes to the river and Missouri River Relief more specifically, that’s a wonderful opportunity. Steve Schnarr, MRR’s Executive Director has been great in providing me information and resources and I look forward to MRR’s support throughout my trip.

I have a link on the right side of this page where you can make a donation to Missouri River Relief – anything you care to contribute is much appreciated. But also consider other ways you can get involved: come on out to a river cleanup day – they are really fun and a pretty awesome way to have an adventure on the river – and they are super kid-friendly. Consider paddling on the rivers – Race to the Dome, or if you’re more ambitious the big one – 340 miles from Kansas City to St. Charles. Or talk to me or other river rats – it’s not as hard as you think to get out and paddle for fun on our rivers. Or just feel free to follow me along on my trip to be a part of the experience. Thanks for reading!

mf

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