Overall, strong and successful first week. The 100 miles of the Madison River and the first 70 or so miles of the Missouri River presented your craft with various challenges and hurdles to overcome. Hydrodynamic classifications encountered include but not limited to: open calm lake water, wind-disturbed lake water, quickly flowing river, quickly flowing river with distrubed flow caused by obstructions, braided channels with tight turns, lazy river (not the water-park kind). Non-hydrodynamic features included a shit- ton of portaging a heavy-ass load on a questionable portage cart over pavement, rocky/gravel roads at various slopes and elevations.
Happy to report that watercraft exceeded all expectations. Some contact with rocks early on on the Madison, no significant scraping or damage to the boat. Kevlar layer on the bottom of the boat was a stroke of genius. Quite maneuverable when needing to navigate tight turns or corners. Some light cosmetic damage to top of boat due to repeated loading/unloading on top of vehicles for more significant portaging.
Cockpit comfort is nothing short of perfect. Captain did not attach seat to actual boat until 3rd day of paddling. Once that was done, no further slippage encountered. Perfect fit on cockpit skirt to aid in warmth and dryness on cold/wet days. Some issues with rudder not fully deploying, Captain having to manually deploy rudder in certain situations, though not an issue with Timber Longboard Co. but with rudder maker. Hatch stowage capacity has been satisfactory. All gear accommodated with no issues, Captain still trying to find out where the 30 rock of beer will be stowed.
Many compliments given by third party observers of watercraft in action. Craft able to be conveyed at upwards of 5mph in slack water, 10mph in short stretches in swiftly flowing water. Deck rigging, handles and other cosmetic work has been ideal as well.
Overall, 10/10 for initial performance of virgin watercraft. Would paddle again.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
February in St. Louis usually means lots of time spent indoors, out of the cold, snow, ice and general bleakness of winter in the midwest. Last weekend was unseasonably warm and did afford the opportunity for a nice paddle on the Big River and Meramec, from Byrnseville down to Route 66 State Park. Yesterday the thermometer barely touched freezing, but I had the chance to explore the beautiful sandstone canyons and frozen waterfalls of Don Robinson State Park with some friends.
Preparation for the trip is ongoing. I am officially approved for a sabbatical from my job. After approaching my boss with the idea for the trip, it was run up the ladder to my VP, HR then eventually the CEO and consideration was tendered, approval was given. It took a week or two to work out the details but this past week I was able to make it official, as much as publishing a post on social media counts for offialdom. As Norm Miller commented on my post, I have to do it now.
I didn’t expect fundraising for Missouri River Relief to kick off this early in my prep, but I went ahead and added the fundraising option to my initial Facebook post and have generously recieved just over $400 in donations. I am very grateful to all those who’ve contributed.
The kickoff barbeque and paddle day on Sunday, April 28th is the next big task. The invites are out, but now to find sponsors for food, drink and raffles. I don’t think there will be any shortage of boats and boards for people to try out, but I do have a concern about having enough PFDs to go around. Plus the end of April in St. Louis is certainly a wild card weather-wise. We’ll at least have a pavillion for shelter if needed.
One of the biggest logistical puzzles to solve for the trip will be supplying my body with enough calories and nutrients to fuel about 6 days a week of 8 to 10 hours of paddling. Late last year, Sara encouraged me to look into food dehyration. She follows a few food dehyration subreddits and ordered me a fantastic book detailing methods, ideas and recipes. Since the new year, I’ve really gotten into it. It probably warrants a separate post to detail out all that I’ve made, but suffice it to say, I’ve been dehydrating something almost every day and have been assembling meals to freeze now, and consume somewhere along the Missouri River this summer.
Hopefully over the next 6 weeks or so, a key component to my trip’s success will be procured. My friend Shane of Timber Longboard Co. will be crafting me a new kayak. While he has made some amazingly beautiful and functional stand-up paddleboards, this kayak will be his first. I have little doubt the he will make a top-notch boat. I am hoping he will complete it with ample time for me to try it out, to get comfortable with it, and to ensure it will be able to get me down 2400 miles of big muddy water. There is however, a backup plan in place should things not go according to plan with the new boat.
Others have already asked me, and have made tentative plans to meet me at certain points on the river. I am grateful to those who will make the journey, whether that be to Montana, the Dakotas, Omaha or much closer to home. I am certain that seeing familiar faces along the way will lift my spirits and keep me going. I hope to polish up a rough itinerary in the next few weeks which I’ll share.
Work is very busy and will contunue to be until my departure in mid-May. I don’t think the reality has set in quite yet, for either myself or coworkers, in terms of roles and responsibilities when I am out. I put together a rough plan, but it will certainly need to be more detailed and I’ll need to prepare those who are assuming my responsibilites to be successful with me out.