Currently, I’m camped on an island in Missouri River Headwaters State Park. About 2 hours ago I finished paddling the last 4 miles of the Madison river. It flowed into the Jefferson River and I soon pulled out to set up camp on an island. However, this is not yet the Missouri River as the Gallatin river comes in about a 1/2 mile downstream from here.
Even though it was 45ﾟand raining, I think the last 4 miles of the Madison might have been the most beautiful. There are long, meandering curves, the water is generally calm and I think I saw more wildlife than I had on the entire Madison before. I saw pelicans, cranes, countless ducks and geese, other waterfowl I couldn’t identify; I saw 2 deer swim/run across the river right in front of me. I came around a curve to see a moose or elk sitting on the bank and staring at me. Plus, hundreds of small birds flying an inch or 2 above the water picking off flies for dinner. It was another spiritual experience not just for the natural aspect, but for the historical significance as well. Tomorrow morning, I will climb a rock that Lewis and Clark climbed as they reached the end of the Missouri River, and saw 3 rivers coming together. They also saw the forbidding rocky mountains in the distance. They knew their opportunity for making it over those mountains was short as the Winter was closing in. I on the other hand, huddled in my tent shivering, can’t wait for Winter to be over.
As the Madison and Jefferson converged, I snapped a quick photo of the spot that you see in the smaller picture at the top of my blog. Little did I know that one and a half years later, I wouldn’t be posing on that bank, but paddling by.
All in all, I paddled just short of 100 miles on the Madison. From the edge of Yellowstone Park, I tackled the first 2 lakes on the upper Madison. I skipped the dangerous sections below Earthquake Lake to Pine Butte and from Ennis to the end of Bear Trap Canyon. The scenery was unforgettable; the river was gorgeous. I feel like the varying conditions of the lakes and the different personalities of the river were an excellent primer for what is to come on the Missouri river. Tomorrow, the journey begins.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.