2,400 Miles in 2,000 Words

I’ve gotten so many questions lately about the trip. It’s fantastic that people are taking an interest. I realize I’ve shared some details of the trip but haven’t really provided a real step by step narrative of what I’ll be doing. Here I’ll try my best to provide the overview.

***Disclaimer: the following details are certainly my best guess as to how things will progress based on my planning and from what I have learned from others who’ve undertaken this journey. I’ve tried to make this as accurate as possible, knowing full well I may have some of my facts wrong on a few minor details here. That being said…

Starting around May 4th, I’ll begin packing all the items I’ve been gathering for my trip for transport to Montana. I will pack up my Subaru with everything I will need during the trip as well as food for about the first 2 or 3 weeks at least. The boat goes on top, strapped down securely for the 1,400-mile drive. I plan to leave St. Louis on Thursday, May 9th and driving to Bozeman Airport, where I will pick up Sara who is flying in on Saturday. We’ll then head to Wise River, MT where we’ll stay at a friend’s mountain cottage for a night or two.

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Madison River

Sara will drop me and send me on my way down the river somewhere outside West Yellowstone, MT, on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. From there she’ll take off for the long drive back to St. Louis. This is the Madison River, one the three major rivers that forms the Missouri 100 miles downstream. For the first 100 miles on the Madison River, I will encounter 2 large lakes, several stretches of class III – V rapids which I will portage around, and world-famous fly-fishing territory. Descent of the Madison to the start of the Missouri River in Three Forks should take 6 to 7 days. There are established campsites along the way, so I’ll either stay at those, or set up camp at other public areas along the river.

Once I reach Three Forks, MT, I’ll likely stay for a night at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers come together to form the Missouri. I will likely try to coordinate a meetup at that point with a few Montana-based veterans of the MO River descent, picking up some good advice and stories.

For the next two weeks or so, I’ll be paddling the very upper stretches of the river through dramatic mountain valleys, flat agricultural lands, expansive and wind-swept lakes and meandering curves in the river with the goal of getting to the first significant town along the way – Great Falls, MT. On this stretch, there are a handful of dams that I will have to portage around. Some will be short enough to load my boat and gear onto my two-wheel kayak cart and pull it downstream to the put in. Others may require a longer distance portage, loading my boat and gear onto the vehicle of an obliging river angel to have them shuttle me down. There are campsites here and there, but likely I’ll be scouting out spots along the side of the river that offer some shelter, comfort or facilities for the basics. There is one pretty large lake on this stretch, Canyon Ferry Lake, that is notorious for being very windy and in turn, very choppy. I must be prepared to exercise much caution on when it’s safe to proceed, and when to pull off and wait until calmer conditions prevail. The water in this stretch will likely be very cold still – recent melting of snow and ice will ensure that. It’s still too early to tell if river levels will be at or above average, time will tell.

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Canyon Ferry Lake, Montana
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Gates of the Mountains, Montana

Great Falls is a pretty large town, with all the facilities and amenities that come along with it. I’ll probably rest for a day or two, get a good night sleep in a proper bed, get a few good meals, buy more supplies, and pick up a box of dehydrated meals I will have shipped ahead to supply me for the next couple weeks. I’ll talk to a few local outfitters who run trips on this stretch of the river to get intelligence and advice for what I can expect to encounter. There are 5 significant dams and some stretches of potentially dangerous white water just downstream from Great Falls, so I will arrange a portage around the dams, either by paying an outfitter to shuttle me and my boat, or possibly enlisting friends of friends or river angels to help me along.

After Great Falls, it’s a relatively short stretch to Fort Benton. After Fort Benton, I’ll quickly enter the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. This stretch of about 150 miles was designated as a National Monument in 2001 and will likely be the most beautiful and natural section of river during the entire trip. There are spectacular mountains, walls, overlooks, table tops and valleys that surround the river in this stretch. It’s very popular for floaters and paddlers and I’ll likely encounter the most traffic here.

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Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana

Passing through Upper Missouri River Breaks, I will quickly enter the first of three very large reservoirs – Fort Peck Lake. The three major lakes, Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe were formed when the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with building massive dams from the late 40s, completed in the early 50s, to generate power and help with flood control and irrigation along the river. The dams at the end of each of these lakes, as well as Gavins Point dam further downstream, have a huge effect on the flow along entire length of the Missouri River, as well as any person or entity who has any kind of connection to the river. All of the recent (and past) flooding issues circle back to the Army Corps’ management of river flows via these dams. There are endless debates and controversies around river management that all tie back to these structures, and I am eager to learn more firsthand.

The first difficult aspect of these large lakes is actually getting into them. Where the flowing river dumps into the massive pool of stagnant water, there are many braided channels that are constantly changing. What I see on Google maps (or any other map I have) may be totally outdated and inaccurate. I may be paddling in what looks like a main channel, only to suddenly run into sloppy mud and with much difficulty, have to navigate, sometimes walking in hip deep mud, back into open water.

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Braided channels entering Fort Peck Lake, Montana

The second major consideration and potential danger on these large lakes is weather conditions. Wide open spaces with little to no natural wind breaks mean more often than not, conditions on the water are less than ideal. Even a light wind can lead to large waves when the lake is 1 or 2 miles wide. Keeping control of your boat and being able to paddle where you are planning to becomes a tiring exercise. Navigation-wise, there are many large coves and fjords that look and feel like they are the continuation of the main branch of the lake. Unless you keep a close eye on your maps and navigation tools, you can easily get off track and on a lengthy and costly detour. And finally, not being able to see for a long distance over hills and mountains means storms can approach very quickly. Being stuck 1 or 2 miles away from land or shelter when a massive upper midwestern thunderstorm blows up is a dangerous proposition. I am fully expecting that due to weather, I will be shore bound for potentially days at a time waiting for conditions to improve.

Fort Peck Lake is 134 miles long. Covering that amount of distance in non-moving water, in potentially rough conditions will take a while. Fort Peck is located at the end of Fort Peck Lake, I’ll portage around the dam there then gladly get back into to flowing water. From Fort Peck to the eastern edge of Montana and the border with North Dakota, the river meanders and makes its way through various Native American reservation land. I will have to remain aware of where it’s permissible to stop and camp and where it is not.

Crossing into the second state on the journey, North Dakota, I will quickly enter another massive reservoir/lake – Lake Sakakawea. I’ll encounter all of the same conditions and dangers on this lake, and it is 177 miles long. I’ve been in touch with the owner of a lovely resort in this lake at Tobacco Gardens. I imagine I’ll stop to refresh and recharge for a few nights there.

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Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota

After Lake Sakakawea, it’s back into moving water for a relatively short stretch which will get me all the way to Bismarck, ND. I’ll likely use this as another chance to get a good night’s bed rest, a shower, a couple square meals and some shopping for necessities, and possibly a food resupply. Because shortly after Bismarck, it’s back into yet another lake – Lake Oahe which checks in at an unbelievable 231 miles in length. It’s the longest of the three major lakes. On the upper end of Lake Oahe is the site of the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline in recent years. Many of the lands around Lake Oahe are also Native American lands, hence the need to plan out where it is permissible to pull off and camp.

Completing Lake Oahe will take multiple weeks and will push me to my physical and mental limits, I am certain. Once completed, however, I will have crossed from North to South Dakota and will be done with the three major Missouri River reservoirs. Unfortunately, the next few hundred miles is also mostly on lakes – Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case and Lewis and Clark Lake. Though not as wide or difficult as the three big boys, these will still be challenging, nonetheless. I’ll get to consider doing fun things, like cutting off 20 miles of paddling by portaging my boat and gear up and over a narrow ridge at a huge bend in the lake.

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The big bend on Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

At Yankton, SD, the Missouri River reverts back to a free flowing, undammed and hopefully quicker mode of transport. Unfortunately, much of the flooding that’s taken place this year has occurred near Yankton, which is where Gavins Point Dam is located, or further downstream into Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. One major challenge I may face is the aftermath of the calamitous flooding that’s already occurred or will continue to into the Spring and Summer of this year. Time will tell if this stretch of the river will continue to be at flood stage by the time I get there. Even if it is not, I am certain I will experience its after-effects, including more trash and debris in and around the river, riverside sites and campgrounds no longer open or accessible, sloppy mud everywhere and a general lack of facilities. And a recent headline mentioned flood induced raw sewage pouring into the river at Omaha for possibly months to come, so I got that goin’ for me.

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Gavins Point Dam, South Dakota

The Missouri River forms the border between South Dakota and Nebraska, then Nebraska and Iowa further down. I will pass through Sioux City, IA and Omaha, NE before finally seeing my home state of Missouri coming up on my left. I’ll pass through Atchison, KS, where my parents first met at Benedictine College. Kansas City will represent a major milestone, as everything downstream of there are waters I am pretty familiar with as a MR340 veteran. From Kansas City, I hope to take a leisurely 7 to 10 days to make my way back home. The final stretch, from St. Charles, MO, through the confluence with the Mississippi, over the Chain of Rocks and finishing at the Arch, I hope to paddle with as many of my paddle buddies who are willing to finish off the trip with me.

Piece of cake.

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April Fool’s Eve Update

With about 6 weeks to go before my planned departure on the Madison River in Montana, there are so many question marks around weather conditions, river levels, availability of facilities along the river, and other important factors that will affect the outcome of my expedition. As I have absolutely no control over any of that, I can only focus my attention elsewhere: my preparation for the trip.

I have almost all the gear I need for the trip. The big things have mostly been procured: tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, hydration system, dry bags, first aid gear, communication system. I’ve been dehydrating food almost non-stop since the new year and I have over 60 meals ready to go as well as snacks like fruit and jerky. I’ve arranged drop points for shipping re-supply packages during the trip. Still working on my sleeping pad and pillow, and oh yeah, the boat.

At this point, the kayak I will be taking on the trip is not currently in my possession. Weird, yes, I know. The plan is that Shane at Timber Longboards is currently constructing a custom-made kayak for me based on the specifications and ideas we’ve discussed. He stopped by yesterday to go over some measurements and ideas. He feels confident he’ll be able to finish the boat in time for me to get some critical saddle time in to get used to how she performs on the big river. My backup plan is currently being touched up at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood. I purchased a Current Designs Nomad from a friend last summer, a nearly 19ft touring kayak that will more than meet my needs. He’s fixing a few scratches and touching it up. I’m hoping once the temperature starts cracking 70 consistently, I’ll have that back in order to start getting in a bit more prep. For now, I am paddling my trusty 16.5ft Eddyline Nighthawk, later today I hope to get out on Creve Coeur Lake for a few miles.

I tried to get out on the lake yesterday, but the heavy rain filled the lake to flood-level and the icy wind swept up some whitecaps something fierce. I had to adjust my plans and did a little exploration along the banks of the Missouri River near St. Charles.

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Missouri River just below St. Charles, MO. Panorama shot taken from a small moored barge.

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Waterworld

Too early to tell how this will affect my trip this summer. My hope is that the first month or so of the trip will be in Montana, which is out of the flood risk area. By the time I hit the Dakotas, I am hoping the water levels will be normal. But will every shore I camp on be a soggy mess? Will I be carried away by floodwater-borne mosquitos? Will there be any facilities or campgrounds left open? Time will tell, and adventure awaits, no doubt.

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St. Patrick’s Day Flooding and Some Perspective

St. Patrick’s Day in St. Louis is pretty huge for a dude whose mother’s side of the family is Irish and who is a resident of Dogtown, St. Louis City’s Irish neighborhood. Participating in one parade and just enjoying the other is a chance to catch up with family, many I haven’t seen since last St. Paddy’s day, and many, many friends. Temps in the 50s certainly doesn’t hurt as it seems like we finally might be getting to Spring.

I’m also closely following my beloved St. Louis U. Billikens, who with one more win today against St. Bonaventure, will clinch an unlikely trip to the NCAA basketball tournament. Even if they lose, there is a chance they’ll make it into the NIT, which may even get them another home game, which would be amazing.

With all that’s going on this weekend, I’ve been also trying to keep up with developments around the catastrophic flooding on the upper Missouri River. It hasn’t gotten a lot of mainstream media coverage, but things are pretty bad. I’ve been getting a lot of updates from the Missouri River Paddlers facebook group as well as Missouri River Relief posts. It is way too early to determine how this flooding might affect my trip so I am trying to keep a level head and not worry too much about it. The larger worry is all of those who’ve been affected or soon will be as flooding makes its way downstream.

If you aren’t fully aware, the nutshell version is that the bomb cyclone that recently moved through the Great Plains dropped a ton more snow further north, but also a massive amount of rain further south – in Nebraska and Southern South Dakota. This rain on top of a large amount of snow and ice caused extremely fast thawing and overwhelmed the waterways with rain and snowmelt. A large dam on the Niobrara River in Nebraska as well as multiple bridges were washed out. Now towns along many waterways in the area are under water and there have been multiple fatalities.

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Photo from https://www.myknoxcountynews.com/

While this round of flooding will crest and start receding in the next few days, communities further downstream – into Missouri – will face more danger. On top of this, the higher than average snowpack of Montana, North and South Dakota has yet to see any melting. So this round of disastrous flooding may just be the first of what could be a pretty long spring and summer for high water on the river.

I know I need to have perspective: my trip down the Missouri River this summer is something that’s important to me, but it’s not as important as what others along the river are experiencing. Peoples’ lives, livelihoods and property are at risk right now and will continue to be further into the summer. What happens on the Missouri River over the next 6 weeks or so will determine how I am spending my summer, but for many, it will likely determine how they spend the next few years, or perhaps the rest of their lives.

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Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, Junior Billiken

The path I will be taking down the Missouri River follows in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on their return from the Pacific Ocean in the Spring and Summer of 1806. I try to make it a habit of reading as much as I can about the places I’ve travelled and lived in my life and certainly this trip is no different. I’ve been exposed to the stories of Lewis and Clark my whole life as their influence is obviously huge in my home of St. Louis, MO. The main branch of the library we went to as kids was the Lewis & Clark Branch. In the past year, I read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, which might be the most well researched account of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s lives, with a focus on their exploration of the Louisiana territory and beyond. I’ve also been reading the journals of Lewis and Clark.

At some point, probably in high school, I learned that Sacagawea‘s son went to my high school – St. Louis University High School. Lewis and Clark’s expedition returned to St. Louis in 1806, Sacagawea died in 1812. After that Jean Baptiste Charbonneau lived with William Clark and attended St. Louis Academy – the precursor to St. Louis University and St. Louis U. High. SLU and SLUH claim their founding as 1818 and was located at Market and 3rd street in St. Louis, now the site of the Gateway Arch, where my journey will conclude.

One thing I treasure about living in St. Louis is its rich history and the crazy connections between people, places and families that is innately St. Louis. I’ve had the experience of being on the other side of the world and meeting someone from St. Louis, or meeting someone with a connection to St. Louis only to realize you have mutual acquaintances. However tenuous the connection, across many generations and over 200 years, I still think it is pretty cool to be able to retrace the steps of a fellow alumni as he traveled down the river on the famous expedition as a 1 year old.

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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

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Snowpack Worries

It’s been snowing in Montana. A lot. A huge factor in the success, or even feasibility of my trip is the conditions on the river. Whether it is high or low, fast or slow, the amount of snow melting and flowing the 3000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico is the largest factor.

I haven’t been following the snow reports too religiously, only knowing that snowpack up until a week or two ago in the upper Missouri River basin was at 80 – 90 percent of annual average. This was good. Lower water levels mean a more manageable trip logistically. Boat ramps and landing areas are exposed, less muddy. Potential campsites are available and easily accessible, versus having to paddle through flooded fields, forests or mudflats on the side of the river. Alas, things have changed.

Some of the key drainage areas for the upper Missouri are now at 110 to 120 percent annual average. And it is relatively early in the year – there are 2.5 more months of potential snow still to come. The Army Corps of Engineers has apparently been preparing by releasing more water from the massive reservoirs further downstream to allow more water in and not have to release more so quickly, potentially causing downstream flooding.

How quickly the warmer Spring weather hits the area is a big factor as well. A slower thaw allows the water to be gradually passed downstream, whereas a quick warm up may overwhelm the system causing massive flooding, river closures and damage.

From here on out, I will certainly be monitoring the conditions of things, and consulting the faithful experts up and down the river for their thoughts, opinions and warnings. Fingers and toes will be crossed for a timely departure in May, but I’m now going to have to consider some type of backup plans. Yikes…

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The Gear List

What to bring. A massive challenge is to pack the most basic essentials to survive on the river for 3+ months and still make it all fit in a kayak. This is an ever-evolving list, but here is where it stands 83 days out from the start of the trip:

paddling
boat
seat
rudder kit
paddle
back up paddle
PFD
portage cart
straps/bungees
foam blocks
bilge pump
bail sponge + cup
spray skirt
hatch cover
camping
tent
pillow
sleep pad
sleeping bag
sleeping bag liner
tent footpring/tarp
camp chair
hammock
dry bags/gear bags
deck bag
small dry bag
medium dry bag
large dry bag
cell phone case
backpack/stuff sack
food prep
camp stove
gas
lighter
matches
utensils
ziplocs
dishes
cup/mug
foil
olive oil?
salt/pepper/spices
food
TBD
hydration
5 gal tank
soft canteens
nalgene
life straw/bottle
collapsible bucket
clothing/footwear
Hoka sandal
flip flops
communication
cell phone
garmin inreach explorer+
camera/tech
waterproof camera
bluetooth speaker
rechargeable battery brick
13w solar panel
power cords
ipod?
tablet?
bluetooth keyboard
miscellaneous
PFD knife
leatherman
hunting knife
hatchet?
shovel
para cord
elastic para cord
rope
head light
flashlight
batteries
gorilla tape
epoxy/patch kit
fire starter
binoculars
sunglasses
needle/thread?
fishing gear, hooks, bait
whistle
hygiene
toothbrush/paste
first aid kit
multi-vitamins
towel
rag
soap
anti-bacterial
wet wipes (BD)
snus
solid waste bags
floss
A&D cream
tinactin
sunblock
bug spray
laundry detergent
moleskin/KT tape
essential oils/deep blue
books/maps
L&C journal
personal journal
pens/pencil
The Complete Paddler

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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.

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The Journey Starts on the Madison

The Missouri River starts where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers come together in Three Forks, Montana. Brower’s Spring (44°33’02″N 111°28’20″W) is considered the ultimate source of the Missouri River. That is basically considered the furthest point from which water flows which ultimately ends up in the Missouri River. It is 300 river miles upstream from Three Forks. Those who want to say they’ve paddled the entire Missouri from the ultimate source paddle from Brower’s Spring. Many others begin their journey where the Missouri actually starts, in Three Forks. I chose to start on the Madison River.

Why? I think it’s for a few reasons:

In fall of 2017, Sara and I had the chance to honeymoon in the western US, and explored Yellowstone for a few days. We did the obligatory photo op at Old Faithful and strolled along the paths near there where the geysers and boiling springs dumped into the Firehole River. As soon as I could, I dove into google maps and started tracing where that water goes. The Firehole River dumps into the Madison in Yellowstone a few miles to the west of Old Faithful. 100 miles down the Madison to Three Forks. So yeah, the same water that shoots into the sky from Old Faithful ends up passing in front of the Arch in St. Louis. Pretty awesome! While I cannot legally paddle the Firehole River or the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, I can start at the park border on the Madison.

Another reason I chose to start on the Madison is because not many other people do. In talking to some experts on Missouri River expeditions, a few have started on the Madison but the great majority start at Three Forks, or further up the Jefferson. The more I researched the Madison, the more confident I became in my choice. It is a world class fishing river, very popular with fly fishermen. It has some fast-flowing water and some pretty challenging rapids – up to class V – but these areas are able to be portaged by a touring kayak unequipped to hit much whitewater.

The lower stretch of the Madison River is a popular place floaters like to go for leisurely summer days. There are some larger lakes on the upper Madison – Ennis Lake, Hebgen Lake and Earthquake lake, which was actually formed when a landslide triggered by a 7.5 earthquake in 1959 plugged up the Madison. Unfortunately, 28 people died in the disaster and there is a visitor center that I look forward to visiting. There are opportunities to camp and various spots along the river as well as a couple small towns to grab a bite or last minute supplies. I expect to take 6 or 7 days to descend the Madison to Three Forks, putting in at the head of Hebgen Lake just outside West Yellowstone – right around here (4°42’46.6″N 111°05’50.2″W).

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