Day 1 – Hebgen Lake

It’s the end of the first day on the river. I’m tucked into a dirt beach next to the Kirkwood Marina on the lower end of Hebgen Lake. What a time to be alive when I can have cel service while camped at a mountain lake in between two large mountain ranges.I made it about 16.5 miles today, first mile or two on the Madison as it exited Yellowstone then the rest on the lake. Other than a brief pop up shower with some wind which forced me to the bank, the weather was excellent, mostly sunny and in the upper 60s and 70s. Sara dropped me just upriver from the rte 191 bridge near the town of West Yellowstone. A young fly fisherman was surprised to be witness to the start of the journey and obliged us by snapping a photo. My gear was mostly packed and organized, so I was fairly quickly able to get everything loaded. We said our goodbyes and soon enough, I was paddling.Some key takeaways and learnings today:

  • Gear storage and organization will be a work in progress. For example, I had to scramble to locate rain gear when it started raining so that process will need to be more efficient.
  • I got the feel for sticking to the sheltered side of the lake to stay out of strong winds and big waves. This will be an ongoing theme throughout the trip.
  • I managed a couple crossings of the lake, being quite far from shore, yet completely comfortable and in control. Timber Longboard’s boat was incredible and I am extremely happy with its performance on the first day. It really moves when I want it to.
  • I made 16.5 miles in about 5 hours, most of it on non-moving water. So I know I will be fully capable of cranking out high mileage days on this trip. I will have to continue to remind myself to take it easy, enjoy the ride, stop and explore. The MR340 racing mindset is going to have to go by the wayside.
  • I got my first experience navigating a braided channel, where a river dumps into a lake. It’s like a maze and you have to pick the correct channel or you end up stuck in sand or mud. I managed to do that twice today, but luckily was able to jump out of the boat and pull it a few feet over to deeper water.
  • The indescribable beauty of an alpine lake surrounded by snow covered peaks was just as amazing as it sounds. Pictures hardly do it justice, so I tried to just take it all in.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I’ll paddle the remaining mile on Hebgen to the dam, after which I’ll load the kayak on my cart and portage her about a mile along a two lane state highway to the put in on earthquake lake. I am somewhat disappointed, as I found or from a couple locals that the Earthquake Lake museum and visitor’s center doesn’t open until memorial day. I was really looking forward to learning more about the tragic 1959 quake that killed about 30 campers and accidentally created the lake through which i’ll be paddling tomorrow.Bonus funny story from today: I’ve been in touch with another long distance paddler, Ellen Falterman. She did the entire Missouri River two years ago and is doing the Mississippi this summer. On the drive up this morning, she messaged me a picture of the Mississippi headwaters and said, “where you at?” A little confused, I responded, Montana, on my way to the Madison river. Apparently we’re are starting our journeys on the same day, just a few thousand miles apart, to her surprise.mf

The Journey to Montana

Thursday morning I departed St. Louis fully loaded, the MOstar securely strapped on the roof, and tied down in both front and back. I promised to swing by my office on the way so that coworkers could check out the boat. My big boss with lots of outdoor and fishing experience laughed at my tacklebox that I packed for when I get the inclination to cast a line in. He promised to send me pictures of the bait and lures he recommends, and he’s actually floated and fished stretches of the Madison, which was coincidental.

Planning the 22+ hour route to Livingston, Montana, the main challenge is interstate 29 between Kansas City and Omaha. The entire route is closed due to Missouri River flooding, go figure. So my alternate route took me up through Hannibal, MO, into and diagonally across Iowa, through South Dakota, Wyoming and finally Montana.

It was a pretty grey and uneventful first day. As I approached Eldon, Iowa, I started seeing signs for the American Gothic House. With a big nice boat on the car and all my gear to live off of for 3 months in the car, I planned on sticking to the road with little or no detours or stops. Conveniently, the American Gothic House was only a mile off the road so I was able to pop in for a couple quick photos.

I grabbed a Jimmy Johns sandwich for the road and blasted through Iowa and into South Dakota. The ground in SD was obviously saturated with so much recent rain. Almost every farm field I passed had standing water, all the ditches were full, and the creeks and rivers I passed were out of their banks. All this water will eventually drain to the Missouri, ensuring flooding and high water levels well into the summer. Later afternoon brought out a welcome sight of the sun and I eventually made it to my day 1 goal, Chamberlain, SD – about 12 hours and 750 miles. The boat held steady the entire way.

A quick dinner of a South Dakota specialty, Chislic, and then I set up camp at a simple roadside spot. I woke up to frost on my tent and had to fish the gloves out of my bag in order to avoid finger numbness while I packed up. I loaded up on gas and coffee and was on the road by 6:30 for what promised to be a bright sunny day. A couple hours in, I decided to take a short detour and drive through Badlands National Park. It’s probably my favorite National Park, so I swung through and took some pretty good photos and videos with the boat and the Badlands as a backdrop. I knocked out the rest of SD, the Northeast corner of Wyoming and entered Montana before I saw my first flashing red cherries.

With a boat prone to being blown by the wind strapped to my car, I was doing close to the speed limit almost the entire trip. From South Dakota, through Wyoming and into Montana, the speed limit is a generous 75 or 80 mph. So I was kind if confused as the police SUV pulled in behind me. The polite officer informed me I had passed by a mandatory boat inpection station for invasive species. He had me double back to the station and a couple of guys looked over my boat, filled out a form and had me on my way. Just a warning for failing to stop at the inspection.

At Billings, MT, a rainstorm blew in and I really had to fight the wind from pulling my car and boat out of my lane. Out of 22 hours, that really was the only time I was a little concerned about the security of my tie down job. Soon enough I made it to Livingston, MT and the home of Norm Miller and his girlfriend Chris. Norm is the defacto Missouri River paddling community historian, expert, collector of information and artifacts, and an excellent host. in 2004, Norm paddled UP the Missouri River from St. Louis to Montana, then crossed over the Rockies then down the Columbia, retracing Lewis and Clark’s journey. He and Chris showed me a few cool sites around Livingston, including the nearby Yellowstone River and the only existing statue of Sacajawea riding a horse. Norm was part of the committee to erect the statue in 2016.

We had a fantastic meal at a local Florida themed restaurant, and I was able to exchange life stories with Norm and Chris and gather more information about the trip ahead of me. Sleep came quickly and I was ecstatic to be done with such a long drive.

mf

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.
20190504_115315.jpg
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

Naming of a Work of Art

Over the years, I’ve probably owned around 10 or 12 canoes and kayaks. Currently, I have 6 (do I have a problem? Probably). I’ve never thought about giving any of my boats a name. I thought that was for old rich guys with sailboats or at least boats with motors and electronics and steering wheels and all that stuff.

As the boat I am planning to take on my journey this summer started to take shape, I could tell it was going to be beautiful. Less of a utilitarian watercraft to get me from point A to point B, more of a floating work of art. And that’s exactly how it’s turned out. Shane and Stacy at Timber Longboard Co. have built a wonderful business and kayak building is their next step in their evolution as a successful watercraft maker. I am absolutely honored to have them build me their first kayak and allow me to captain this incredible ship down the Missouri River.

TLC Shane

I felt giving this amazing boat a name is a necessary step to make my journey impactful and memorable for myself, friends, family and strangers alike. At my kickoff barbeque and fundraiser yesterday, I asked all in attendance to submit ideas for a boat name. I may not have been 100% transparent, as I had a name in mind, but would be totally willing to forego that name if someone came up with something better. As I read the submitted names last night, I laughed out loud several times and was also impressed by some significant and apt ideas (as well as some that shouldn’t be repeated). The full list of submitted names is below – I really had to think hard about Shark Fingerboat. Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas!

Alas, none of the names lived up to my original idea:

MOstar

May 16, 2016 – One of all-around best days of my life. Sara and I were in the middle of an amazing two-week trip around Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  We started the day setting out from our Croatian seaside vacation rental. Not a cloud in the sky as we headed East over the mountains, crossing the border into Bosnia. Both the elevation and the potholes per mile increased significantly as we entered the country. Our destination for the day? Mostar, Bosnia. It may be the most well-known town for tourists in Bosnia, and for good reason. It’s a picturesque town on the Neretva River. It’s got a rich history, but also has obvious scars from the horrific war in the 90s. Walking down the streets of Mostar, you’ll pass an incredibly historic and architecturally beautiful building or church, and the very next building is a bombed out shell of a facade pock marked with artillery divots. There are historically Christian and Muslim parts of town separated by the river and connected by an incredibly beautiful bridge called the Stari Most. Sadly, the bridge was blown up by bombs during the war, but was rebuilt shortly thereafter.

Stari Most
The beauty of Mostar can make any old schlepper seem like a photographer.

As luck would have it (and based on some careful research), the Mostar Diving Club allows daring tourists to jump off the bridge into the waters 75 feet below. As a longtime jumper from tall heights into bodies of water, I immediately went for it.

https://www.facebook.com/mark.fingerhut/videos/10157110311500107/

(Sara…wasn’t operating the camera, it was like, somebody else, right Sara?)

My two weeks of posterior soreness notwithstanding, it was the exhilarating highlight of my trip to Bosnia. We then drove the couple hours back to Croatia and sat down for an amazing twilight seafood dinner on a patio overlooking the gorgeous waterfront and promenade in Makarska. Halfway through dinner, I knew today was the day. We sped back to our shack; I got a couple glasses of wine then proposed to Sara on the dock as the sun was setting over the Adriatic. I wonder if it was as perfect as I see it in my mind. Well, she said yes and we got hitched 16 months later.

Drasnic
Drašnice, Croatia

Our experience in Mostar was incredibly memorable, just for being there, but also for the significance of that day for me and Sara. As she’s been a huge part of my trip down the Missouri River so far and will continue to be, I wanted to choose something that’s significant for us. The name connects a wonderful memory for us with the state we call home and the life-giving river that cuts through the middle. It’s also appropriate in that my eventual destination and lifelong home of St. Louis has a large Bosnian community, so there’s that connection as well.

In 15 days, I’ll set out on the MOstar for a 2,450 mile trip.

mf

 

List of submitted names by family and friends:

Arikara
Big Woody MF
Bitterroot
Boate
Booby Trap
Buloke
Butts
C.B. 2341
Cap. Ship. & Crew
Catsdogs
D.S.S. Mallort
Daddy’s Cough Syrup
Disco Chariot
Disco Comin’ Yo
Disco’s Ass
Dragon Fire
Drift Wood
El Camino
Falcore
I Wood Do Anything for Love, But I Won’t Do That
K.R.E.A.M. (Kayaks Rule Everything Around Me)
Keanu
Loverboy
Mayak (Mark + Kayak)
MO-Dysseus
Much Ado About Muffing
Nest Egg
No Wake MF
Prather’s Paddle
RiverSplitHer
S.S. Chuck Norris
S.S. A Disco
S.S. Disco
S.S. Ess Ess
Sara-NDippity
Shark Fingerboat
Stroke on the Water
T-Bone Malone
The Belafontane
The Flying Wasp
The Sacagawea (The Sac Yak)
The True Trail
“Titties Galore”
TK421
Yayky Yak

 

Solo Adventuring: WTF?

A huge podcast listening friend referred me to a podcast a couple months ago called Dirtbag Diaries. She sent it my way because one episode was about a guy who paddled a lot of the Missouri River. I’ve been sort of listening to the podcast off and on when I can. Each episode typically is a story about a trip, and experience or event that happened to its subject in the outdoors. I popped on the most recent episode called Solo She Rides. Its focus is on two adventurers who undertook epic adventures solo.

https://dirtbagdiaries.com/solo-she-rides/

The first 6 minutes or so is the introduction by the writer, Fitz Cahall and tells a short story about one of his early solo adventures. His masterful telling of a story from his youth highlights the challenge of undertaking an adventure solo, but also why people do it and why it is so rewarding. His explanation for the thoughts of a solo adventurer couldn’t describe my feelings about my upcoming river trip any more aptly.

One quote that really struck a chord with me. On a solo adventure, “it’s pretty hard to BS yourself, you define the parameters, you define the terms of success, and that’s a pretty rare thing in life.”

Leading up to my trip, I’ve had a lot of people ask my why I would do this alone, why not do it with others and it’s been tough to put an answer in to words. I’m of the school that someone has probably already said it better than myself, and Fitz certainly did just that in the first 6 minutes of this podcast. I highly recommend listening to the rest as well, it’s about some pretty rad women.

One more quote from this episode I thought was especially poignant: “You don’t have to be amazing at something to do it, you just gotta get out there and do it.”

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

A Pulitzer for Tony!

Fantastic news today – Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his series on Missouri’s debtor’s prison scheme. He’s done an incredible job covering this corrupt and unjust system of incarceration of the poor in Missouri, so much so that some of the laws are starting to be changed.

The only thing better than him winning this prestigious prize is his promise to keep fighting:

Annotation 2019-04-15 202423

 

I’ve recently reached out to Tony to thank him for his coverage of critically important issues surrounding our local rivers and water resources. I highly recommend reading his most recent article if you haven’t yet:

Messenger: The Missouri River is a ‘mad elephant’ that won’t be tamed by ‘bigger and better’ levees

The article encapsulates much of what I’ve come to learn and know about the state of the Missouri River. Every day, I pass through Chesterfield Valley, the massive strip mall, retail and entertainment development built foolishly in the Missouri River floodplain. In the wake of the recent spring flooding, some state politicians have called for bigger and better levees to protect current and future floodplain development. It’s been proven countless times in 150+ years how bad of an idea this is and how this stance will continue to put people and property at risk.

It is my sincere hope that Tony continues coverage of river-related issues. If he is half as impactful as he was covering the debtor’s prison issues as he is covering the river, then we should expect to see positive change in how we manage our rivers and water resources. I’ll fight with you, Tony.

mf

Pelican Island Circumnavigation

After some necessary trip prep this morning, I took the opportunity to get out on the Missouri River for the first time in 2019. A sunny day in the 60s was too good to pass up. I headed up to Sioux Passage Park in deep North St. Louis County. As I approached the parking lot and boat ramp, it was evident all of this was recently underwater, but they did a great job of plowing the mud and making the facilities usable.

The river was still pretty high. There were a few fishermen around and a couple guys metal detecting in a large pile of flood deposited detritus. I wonder what they expect to find. I dropped my boat at the ramp then parked the car and geared up. My objective for today was threefold: to get an idea of what the swollen Missouri River might feel like for me this summer, to test out my technology setup (more on this in an upcoming post), and working out my paddling muscles along with starting to develop hand callouses in the right places.

I put in at the muddy boat ramp, luckily didn’t really sink into the mud and even managed to get in the boat without getting my legs or feet wet. My goal was to paddle up the side channel that separates Pelican Island from mainland St. Louis County, then once in the main channel of the river, paddle with the current around the curvy backside of the island back to the boat ramp. About 10 miles total.

Pelican Island
Pelican Island, St. Louis County, MO

After dealing with some tricky current where the side channel enters the main channel, I was on my way. I quickly realized this was going to be more physical than I had envisioned. The side channel was moving quite quickly. I was paddling at probably 80 to 90% race pace, and was barley making progress relative to the land. At a couple points, I paused to grab water or to change my music selection and started drifting backwards with the current as soon as the paddling stopped. I find it absolutely insane that better people than I have paddled the entire length of this river upstream! Unreal.

Screenshot_20190413-223332_Strava.jpg
Can you tell where I went from paddling upstream to downstream?

A good two hours of hard paddling had me within sight of the end of the island and the main channel. I saw a barge pass by and used the opportunity to check my FindShip app to get the details on the barge. I swung very wide into the main channel to avoid getting pulled back into the side channel from where I just emerged. Immediately I felt more comfortable and relieved to be going with the flow. Surprisingly, it was not very windy way out in the wide-open space of the main channel, pretty shocking considering the weather we’ve been getting lately.

20190413_150203.jpg
Missouri River, approximate mile marker 15

It took about an hour of relatively leisurely paddling to make my way back to the park boat ramp. As I pulled up, a group of 4 kids wrestled in the thick and creamy mud on the banks while a reluctant mother watched them knowing they were about to wreck the minivan into which they soon piled. I pretty much did the same. With gummy legs, I fell getting out of the yak and managed to muddy myself, the boat and most of my gear. I didn’t mind very much at all, knowing that I’ll be getting a lot more Missouri River mud in my life in short order.

All packed back in the car, I headed to the top-secret workshop of Timber Longboard Co. where I met with Shane and took a look at the progress on the cedar craft that will propel me down the river. I am delighted with the boat so far and look forward to sharing the finished product as it nears completion.

Saddle time in a boat on the river is a critical part of the preparation for this trip. Not only testing gear, fine-tuning the paddle stroke, monitoring physical needs, but all the time to think about additional gear I might consider, or ideas about storage of gear, logistics and plans. With little to no distractions on the river, my mind is left to wander about what is to come shortly as I embark on this adventure.

mf

Winter of Dehydration

Late last year, when the concept of my trip was slowly coming to fruition, Sara asked me if I was going to dehydrate food. I really hadn’t thought about it up until that point. I kind of just thought I’d wing it, buy some instant rice meals, packets of tuna and chicken, trail mix and jerky supplemented by grocery or convenience store stops along the way. It was around that time where she ordered a book that was going to fundamentally and nutritionally change my summer.

RfA
https://www.amazon.com/Recipes-Adventure-Healthy-Homemade-Backpacking/dp/1484861345 

Shortly after the book arrived, we started looking at food dehydrators. It helped that Sara (and now me) is a regular visitor to the r/trailmeals subreddit. We opted to not go all in and start with the Cadillac of Food Dehydrators, but something a but more economical and entry-level, the Honda Civic of dehydrators – the Nesco 5-tray Snackmaster Pro. (The only downside to this particular dehydrator is a lack of a timer, initially meaning I had to get up in the middle of the night to turn it off. Never fear, technology is here: I picked up a cheap smart outlet than can be controlled from your phone or turned on/off via timer.)

Shortly after the new year, the dehydrator arrived, and I went ahead and tried it out in earnest the first few days. I started with a few easy things, kiwi and potatoes. The kiwis were amazingly delicious, sweet as candy. The potatoes, super thinly sliced were a pretty good snack but not spectacular. Then I went all in and did jerky. I picked up some high quality, Eye of Round and then some 90% lean ground beef. Over the course of a weekend, I followed the recipes in my book to prep, spice and marinate the meat. While I didn’t have a true jerky kit, I improvised my way through it. The results were fantastic, especially the ground beef jerky.

I was hooked. I quickly moved on to more adventurous things: plantains (not good), broccoli (great rehydrated), beans, canned chicken, jasmine rice and pasta. Next was the leather. Thicker liquids can generally be dehydrated then rehydrated at camp with good results. First came pasta sauce, then blended blackberries, bananas with raspberry and bananas with blueberry. The result is indeed a leathery sheet that can be torn and divided to make single serving snacks like a fruit roll-up or rehydrated and added to oatmeal for a tasty breakfast. Then I went back to some whole fruits: blueberries, strawberries, banana, apricots, mango and…pineapples. Probably my favorite item so far, I slap 5 cans of slices pineapple to fill the dehydrator to the max, 12 hours later there’s a chewy delicious snack.

I started assembling meals with 3 or 4 ingredients. Usually it was a protein like chicken, ham, ground beef or tofu, then either rice or pasta, with a veggie like broccoli or edamame.

Of course, with all the food coming out of the dehydrator, I needed to be able to preserve the meals for longer term storage. We went ahead and sprung for a NutriChef vacuum sealer. As the meals and snacks started piling up, I began packaging, sealing, labeling then into the deep freeze for longer term storage. Freezing the items isn’t totally necessary but will extend shelf life a few months. Almost nonstop since the new year, I’ve had something in the dehydrator and my new hobby has turned into a bit of an addiction.

This week I’ll be packaging up what will likely be my last meals for the trip – roast turkey, brown rice and edamame. I have almost 70 total meals. I anticipate this being enough for a 100+ day trip as I’ll also be buying fresher groceries and eating real meals along the way. Jerky and fruit will be my snacks or breakfasts. I’ll likely carry 2 to 3 weeks’ worth of meals at a time, then ship boxes along the way with another 2 to 3 weeks’ worth.

I’m happy I listened to my wonderfully thoughtful wife to pursue food dehydrating. The summer will absolutely mean much more nutritious and delicious food options as I watch the spectacular sunsets along the river over the Great Plains.

(I have quite a few photos of the results on my Instagram feed – link over on the right.)

Log of dehydrated foods and ingredients:

What Temp Time
Kiwi slices 135 ~7hrs
Potatoes 135 ~6hrs
Ground beef jerky 160 ~8hrs
Eye of round jerky 160 ~12hrs
kiwi, pineapple, clementines, mango 145 mango-10hrs, the rest 15 hrs
Plantain 135 ~7hrs
Broccoli 125 5.5hrs
Rice – jasmine 125 5.5hrs
Chicken – canned 145 4hrs
Black beans – canned 125
Broccoli 125 7.5hrs
Tomato sauce – jar 125 9hrs – flipped at 7.5hrs
Chicken – canned 125 5hrs
Ground beef 145 5.5hrs
Pasta – elbow mac 135 4hrs?
Blackberry leather 135 9.5hrs
Pineapple – canned 135 12hrs
Ground beef jerky 160 11.5hrs
Rice – jasmine 125 5.5hrs
Pineapple – canned 135 5hrs
Ham – sliced 145 8hrs
Pasta – elbow mac 145 4hrs
Fruit bark – banana, raspberry 135 9hrs
Fruit bark – banana, blueberry 135 9hrs
Sauerkraut 125 7hrs
Banana 135 8hrs
Pineapple – canned 135 12hrs
Pinto beans 125 7hrs
Apricots 135 11hrs
Blueberries 135 14hrs
Strawberries 135 11hrs
Tomatos – cherry 135 14hrs
Potatoes – thin sliced 125 6hrs
Pineapple – canned 125 12hrs
Pears – canned 125 12hrs
Ground beef jerky 160 10hrs
Butter chicken sauce 135 10hrs
Chicken – canned 145 6hrs
Rice – jasmine 125 7hrs
Pasta – tubes 135 5.5hrs
Soup – chunky chicken noodle 125 10hrs
Ground beef 145 7hrs
Tomato sauce – jar 135 10hrs
Edamame – shelled 125 6hrs
Mixed veggies 125 6hrs
Blackberry leather 135 12hrs
Pineapple – canned 135 12hrs
Mandarin oranges – canned 135 12hrs
Blueberry leather 135 12hrs
Rice – jasmine 125 7hrs
Pineapple – canned 135 12hrs
Pasta – shells 135 6hrs
Applesauce leather 135 14hrs
Lentils 125 9hrs
Chicken – canned 125 8hrs
Broccoli 125 6hrs
Ground beef jerky 160 9hrs
Kiwi 125 8hrs
Ground beef – taco 125 6hrs
Wild rice 125 7hrs
Broccoli 125 6hrs
Various cheese 95 18hrs
Brussel sprounts 125 8hrs
Tofu 125 8hrs
Goat cheese 95 18hrs
Turkey – oven roasted 145 8hrs
Rice – brown 125 10hrs
Blackberry leather 135 18hrs
Strawberry leather 135 18hrs

 

Log of assembled meals:

Meal/Item Quantity
Chicken, Jasmine Rice, Broccoli 4
Macaroni & Meat Sauce 12
Ham, Noodles, Sauerkraut 7
Beef, Ramen, Beans 2
Ham, Ramen, Sauerkraut, Beans 1
Ham, Ramen, Sauerkraut 1
Butter chicken, rice 5
Chicken, rice, beans, tomatoes 2
Rice, beans, tomatoes 1
Beef, beans, pasta, tomato 3
Mac & Cheese w/broccoli 2
Chicken, edamame, tomato sauce 2
Chicken, edamame 1
Chicken, lentils 1
Chicken, lentils, rice 7
Ground beef – taco 3
Tofu, lentils, wild rice 2
Tofu, brussel sprouts, wild rice 1
Chicken, brussel sprouts, wild rice 1
Chicken, broccoli, wild rice 4

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