Winter Update – January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mf

 

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

PS – throw them a like on the Facebook or Instagram:

The Trip: The Why

There will be ample opportunity and time to explain the How of this trip. Planning, logistics, preparation: I can (and will) write for hours about what I’ve already done and what I will continue to do leading up to departure in May. What’s more difficult to put down on paper are the reasons I’ve chosen to do this trip.

As I’ve had the opportunity to try to explain what I am planning on doing to curious friends and family over the recent holidays, I have a decent grasp on what my motivations for this trip are. First and foremost is the adventure and the challenge. I’ve tested myself on the MR340 a handful of times. Every time I finish that race, I tell myself that’s the hardest thing I have ever done and will likely ever do. By undertaking the MR2450, I am changing that realization. I believe this will be the hardest thing I have ever done, and will ever do (until my next idea, I suppose…) The planning that I’ve done has already been challenging and very educational, as I’m certain the next few months will be. And when my loaded up car pulls out of the driveway in mid-May, it will be time to test my planning skills, my ability to deal with challenges that arise and my day-to-day capacity to just survive. Physically and mentally, it will be totally different from anything I’ve done before and I expect to learn much more about myself and the world in the process.

My secondary motivation is not quite as selfish. I’ve learned that many people who’ve previously undertaken a Missouri River descent trip have done so in an effort to raise money for various noble causes. The attention and publicity a long distance paddler will inevitably receive from not only friends and family, but from local media along the way and of course the ever-expanding reach of social media is a wonderful opportunity to do something great. I’ve decided to raise money for an amazing organization, Missouri River Relief. The first line of their mission statement is something that has been on the forefront of my mind since before my first experience on the river and will certainly remain a focal point in my life for the foreseeable future:

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.

Certainly, I plan to expand on what this organization does and what they mean to me, and why I’ve chosen them as the source of any fundraising I am fortunate enough to undertake.

In my personal and professional life, I feel like I am in an ideal spot to take this trip this year. My ever-patient and understanding wife is up for this adventure as well. She’s helped me plan, work through ideas, acted as my reality check and will be my virtual ground crew during the trip. She will travel to Montana to push my boat into the water and will be my eyes and ears back in base camp here in St. Louis during the trip. And she might even come meet me somewhere along the way. My employer will know about my plans soon enough. I’ve been a loyal and effective employee for 13+ years, and I am crossing my fingers that my proposal for a sabbatical will encounter understanding, flexibility and encouragement from them. To be continued…

Thanks for taking a moment to read and hope you’ll continue with me on this adventure.

mf

The Trip

The Missouri River: from the confluence at the Mississippi River in North St. Louis County, 2,341 miles upstream to Three Forks, Montana. The Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers come together within a half mile of eachother and create a clear, cool, calm flowing river.

My experience on the Missouri began in Cousin Hugo’s Bar in early 2010. Until the time, the Missouri was there. It was something to look at from the bridge, or to look out at from the safety of a wooded bank or levee. In Cousin Hugo’s that night, I learned that a fellow runner in our local group was going to participate in the Missouri River 340, a 340 mile paddle race from Kansas City, MO to St. Charles, MO – taking place that July. Charlie’s first attept at the race at a time he was 68 years old*, had his loyal friend Dan worrying about him surviving the race, much less finishing. Dan suggested I join Charlie for the race. A few beers deep after that day’s run, I was in!

8+ years and 4 MR340 finishes later, I’ve come to love the Missouri River and have set my sights on something bigger: to paddle the entirety of the river (plus a little more). I want to put my name on the relatively short list of those who have done it. I want to explore the bends, the coves, the rapids, the portages, the windswept lakes of the unfamiliar upper Missouri. I want to approach Kansas City from the upstream side, then finish with the now familiar 340 miles to St. Charles. Then I’ll paddle 26 more miles to the Confluence, then 9 more miles to the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the finish line. Oh, and I am going to start the trip on the Madison River, 100 miles upstream from Three Forks where it flows out of Yellowstone Park, a couple miles from Old Faithful. 2,450 miles.

The plan is to start in mid-May 2019 and finish sometime in September.

I always thought the MR340 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and likely the hardest thing I will ever do. I no longer think that. Over the next few months, I hope to provide a peek into the planning and preparation I am undertaking, the amazing people and groups that are already helping me towards my goal. Then during the trip, I plan to share experiences, images, video and my progress towards the finish. I’d be honored if you would join me.

*Charlie is planning on participating in the 2019 MR340, at age 76, paddling with his son and grandsons!

mf