We woke up early this morning hoping to get a good start on the river. The temperature outside had dipped to 31 degrees, but the sun was out and I was looking forward to paddling. Alan and Gina wanted to treat me to breakfast before I left and that was an offer I couldn't refuse. It took a fair amount of driving, but we found a Perkins restaurant. Alan and Gina ordered a Southwest breakfast to split and I ordered one for myself. We ate what we could and headed for Three Forks.
loaded my gear into the boat, said Thank
you and good bye to
Alan and Gina, and was on the water by 11:00. The river is
beautiful. Giant bluffs and cliffs rise from its shore, and I
can see snow covered mountains in the distance. It is like
a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. The water is swift with many
rapids. Some of them were big enough to make me nervous,
but I'm happy to report I didn't tip over or put any new scratches in
I reached the Tolston Dam, my first portage, around 2:00. I was checking out the portage route, which was well over a quarter mile, when a white Chevy Cavalier pulled in. I decided to ask the guy driving if he would haul my gear in his trunk. Not only did he agree to haul my gear, but he also folded down the back seat and let me stick the kayak in there, too. It stuck out about 12 feet, but we drove slowly and I didn't have to carry it. Thank you, Mark Langdorf.
After the dam, I entered a broad flat valley. It was windy, but I made it fifty miles to the head of Canyon Ferry Lake today. It will be the first large lake I will have to cross, although there will be many more. I hope someone helps me around the dam. Tonight I am in the tent and I am scared and lonely. Anyone in my position who didn't feel that way would have to have something wrong with them. I have 2250 miles of river left to travel alone, much of it through wilderness. I have to be strong, brave, and cautious. I'll make it to St. Louis. I had a good day today and I'm in some of the most beautiful country on earth. I'm proud of that.
I woke up this morning to a heavy coat of frost on the tent. I reached out to get my sandals and found they were frozen solid. It was cold getting started, but once I was on the water, I warmed up quickly. I crossed my first of what will be many big lakes today. Canyon Ferry lake is twenty five miles long and has a reputation for getting dangerous when the wind picks up. Luckily, the weather was on my side today.
The sun was out and the day warmed up quickly. The lake stayed as smooth as glass all day. It was a beautiful paddle. The water was crystal clear and I could see fish swimming twenty feet under my boat. I paddled along stunning cliffs with many interesting rock formations for most of the day. There were beautiful granite outcroppings for the last five miles that reminded me of the Boundary Waters. The dam at Canyon Ferry is far too big to portage, so I paddled to a marina to try to hitch a ride. As I neared the boat camp, I saw a Kevlar canoe surrounded by dry bags and gear. Fellow paddlers!
Kyle and Shawn were paddling to St. Louis as well, and they already had a truck on the way to get them around the dam. I hitched a ride with them and fifteen minutes later we were all on the downstream side of the big dam. I decided to paddle with Kyle and Shawn for the rest of the day and share a campsite with them. They had too much beer in their boat and needed to lighten their load. I thought it would only be right to help out. We covered ten more miles before setting up camp on a rocky outcropping beneath some beautiful pine trees. We spent the evening drinking beer around the campfire and swapping stories. It was nice to have some company. Tomorrow we will part ways. My kayak is faster than their canoe, which they have named Sewer Slut. They seem to have what it takes to make it to St. Louis. I hope they get there.
all woke up to a beautiful morning and got a nice early start on the
river. I said goodbye to Shawn and Kyle and paddled the few
miles to the Hansen Dam portage trail. There wasn't anyone
around to help, so I started carrying my stuff around the dam.
When I returned from my first trip, I saw the Sewer Slut
parked next to my boat, and Shawn and Kyle getting ready to
carry their stuff over the dam. When we had all of our stuff carried
to the put-in, one of the workers from the dam offered
to haul our boats down in his pickup. We gladly accepted his offer, but it would have been even better if he showed up in time to haul our stuff.
We loaded up our gear and said our good-byes again. A few miles later I entered Gates of the Mountains. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The river enters a four hundred foot deep canyon for ten miles. I paddled in awe for two hours before entering Holter Lake. Holter is about fifteen miles long and quite pretty. The lake isn't very wide and there are plenty of mountains to look at. I made good time with a tail wind the whole way.
By this point in the trip, I have learned that it is far easier to have someone haul the boat in a truck than carry it around a dam. So when I reached Holter Dam, I went looking for a driver. I tried the marina first, then the boat ramp, and finally the campground. Nobody wanted to haul my boat. Then genius struck. I went to the bar. In five minutes I had someone lined up. I just had to wait for him to finish his dinner. I walked back down to start unloading the boat. As I was unpacking the boat, I looked out at the lake. Shawn and Kyle were just in time for the portage. Our boats didn't really fit into a short box pickup, but they stayed in as long as someone sat on the bow.
We said our good-byes again at the put-in and I headed off into the only stretch of river I haven't enjoyed so far. The interstate runs on the right side and the railroad on the left. Between the interstate and the river there is a housing development that has gone on for nearly twenty miles. I also hit shallow water several times and managed to put three new scratches in the boat today. Even with the scratches, I am very pleased with how the boat has worked out so far. There weren't many campsites along this last bit of river. I finally settled on a flat spot with only one lump about fifty feet from the railroad tracks. I hope no trains come tonight; the interstate noise is bad enough.
I woke up this morning just in time to see Shawn and Kyle paddle past my camp. Half an hour later I had everything packed up and was on the river. The river was lined with steep mountains for several miles before entering the biggest rapids I have been through so far. I stayed upright, but was completely soaked after crashing through the waves. After the rapids, the river entered a wide flat plane. All I could see were the banks and the occasional house. I passed Shawn and Kyle several times throughout the day, but every time I would stop they would paddle by me.
I made quite a few miles today, but the day passed slowly with the slow current and lack of scenery. I saw a storm approaching around 6:30 tonight and stopped to set up camp on an island. Shawn and Kyle weren't far behind. We set up camp and drank beer as the storm approached. There was a lot of wind and a little rain, but it didn't amount to much. Even though the river wasn't that pretty today, I saw plenty of wildlife. There were bald eagles, deer, and even a large snake. I love being out here.
A storm passed in the night with quite a bit of wind, but very little rain. My new MSR tent held up well. Shawn and Kyle took off while I was cooking breakfast, so I paddled into Great Falls alone. The river was wide and slow with lots of twists and turns. The scenery wasn't the greatest, but I saw lots of wildlife. The highlight of the morning was four otters splashing in the shallows. Unfortunately, they swam to deeper water before I could get a picture. As I neared Great Falls, the banks became lined with giant mansions. Each house was big enough for four or five families. I guess I should have been impressed, but I wasn't. God's great wilderness - that's enough for me.
I caught up to Shawn and Kyle at the Great Falls portage. The Missouri drops twice as far as Niagara Falls in this fifteen mile stretch of river. It took Lewis and Clark a month and a half to get around it, and now there are a series of hydroelectric dams along the way. Luckily, the Medicine River Canoe Club offers a free portage service. I called the number on the sign and Gilbert Payne was there in fifteen minutes with his minivan and trailer. He gave us a tour of the town before dropping Shawn and Kyle at the KOA campgrounds where they are waiting for some important mail. I'll miss their help at the portages. Then it was on to the river where I thanked Gilbert and put in alone.
The river after Great Falls is quick with many rapids. There is plenty of great scenery with cliffs lining most of the river. I set up camp on a nice island where the morning sun will hit me. As I was getting things out of the boat, I found the mosquitoes hatched today. They were terrible, and I'm sure they will only get worse. That's the price you pay for being free.
The island I chose for a campsite last night also turned out to be home to a flock of noisy geese. I didn't get much sleep and today I thought about making a meal of every goose I saw. I stopped in Ft. Benton for breakfast, and then walked to the post office. It was closed, so I guess the website will have to wait a few days. I called a few friends back home and took off down the river. I entered the Wild and Scenic River after Ft. Benton. I'm not sure it's any more scenic than the rest of the river, but it certainly is wild. I only passed three houses in the sixty miles of water I covered today.
The wind picked up this afternoon, and as always, it was blowing up river. I hit some pretty big waves on the long straight stretches and I found that the waves crash over the bow and hit all the crap I have strapped to the deck. This shoots the water up and into my face. I'll rearrange some stuff in the morning to try to fix that. I set up camp an hour earlier than usual to avoid a dark cloud that was rolling across the sky. It rained for a few minutes, than passed, but the thunder in the distance tells me there's more to come.
The forecast calls for wind, rain, and cold for the next few days. I am over 150 miles from the next town. It will take me at least three days to get there, and probably more with the foul weather. I didn't remember to tell anyone that when I was making calls in Ft. Benton, and now I'm worried. I enjoy talking to my friends back home, but the main reason I call is to let them know I'm safe. Now everyone will worry about me for the next few days. All I can do now is pray for good weather and paddle hard as long as it's safe. At least the mosquitoes aren't bad tonight.
I woke up to a beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the wind wasn't blowing, so I parked up quickly before the weather had time to change its mind. I made good time throughout the morning. The scenery was pretty, and I'm getting tan enough I don't burn. There still aren't any houses or people, but there sure are a lot of geese. They're pretty birds, but they sure do make a lot of noise! After lunch, I came across a group of college age kids in canoes I paddled up hoping to get some free food, and maybe even some beer, but when I started talking to them it was clear they had been doing a lot more than drinking today. I paddled away as quickly as I could.
It started to rain around 5:00. I saw the front coming and could have set up camp, but it looked like it would pass quickly. By 6:00 it was pouring and I was shooting a long set of rapids. The rain let up a little around 7:00, so I hurried to set up camp. Right now there is quite a thunderstorm going on outside, but in my tent I'm warm and mostly dry. Hopefully, the rain will be done by tomorrow morning and I can get a full day of paddling in. I'm less than fifty miles from a state park where I can call home and let everyone know I'm not dead.
It was still raining when I woke up, so I slept in a little. I was on the river by 8:30. It looked like it could rain all day, but it never did. I made good time and was at James Kipp State Park by lunch time. There wasn't any cell phone reception, but there was a pay phone where I was able to let the folks back home know I'm not fish food yet. The highlight of my brief stop at the park was when a couple in a motor home gave me some cookies and apple pie.
I left the park and paddled towards the headwaters of Ft. Peck Lake. This is the fifth largest man made reservoir in the world. It has over 1500 miles of shoreline. That's more than the state of California. I had hoped to camp on the lake tonight, but some campers offered to share their barbecued hamburgers with me and I was forced to stop ten miles short of my goal.
The two highlights of my day were calling home, and getting a good picture of a bobcat on the bank. It is cold and looks like rain right now. I'm hoping for good weather tomorrow.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning, eager to get a start on Ft. Peck Lake. It was a little windy cloud was moving quickly across the sky. As I write this, it has been raining steadily for over 13 hours and there is no end in sight. My boat didn't move at all today, but , as always, I have high hopes for tomorrow. I'm glad I stopped at the campsite rather than push on last night. I've been taken in by a group of fishermen. They've been kind enough to share their shelter, fire, and food. They are all Christians, and talk openly about their faith. A few years ago this would have driven me away, but a lot can change in a few years.
Tonight, we will be frying up a 17 pound Missouri River catfish under our tarp shelter. I wish I had more than my thanks to give these kind strangers in return for all the generosity they have shown me, but there isn't a lot of room for gifts in the kayak. I'll just have to do my best to be kind to others along my way.
Once again I woke up early ready to put some miles on the kayak. Once again, mother nature had other plans. It rained until 10:00. After twenty seven hours of nonstop rain, I was ready to go. I thanked my fishermen friends who have been so kind to me, and headed down the river. I didn't reach the actual Ft. Peck lake until ten miles after my map showed it starting. The last few years have been pretty dry and the pool is quite low, so I was able to enjoy some unexpected current. When I did reach the head of the lake, I had to cross a huge shallow mud flat to get to deeper water. I picked my way through the shallow braided channel for the next five miles. I ran aground quite a few times, but was able to free myself without getting out of the boat. I wasn't the only one stuck in the muck. I passed a mule deer that had made it almost half way across the lake before sinking chest deep in the mud. He was struggling to get out, but only digging himself further in. I couldn't get to my gun to put him out of his misery, so I just passed by and hoped he wouldn't suffer long.
Once I reached open water, it started to rain and the wind picked up. The waves picked up quickly, as well. They were coming mostly from behind and were of the two to three foot tall variety. I made excellent time surfing across the lake and my rain coat kept me dryer than if I didn't have it, except for when I had to take the waves head on. Then I got soaked. I paddled until 8:00 and set up camp as the rain stopped and the wind died down. A coyote watched from the weeds as I unpacked my tent, but ran away when the wind caught it as it unrolled. My sleeping bag feels extra nice after a cold wet ten hours on the water, and I'm proud of my day. My map tells me I covered 55 miles today, and 30 of them were on a lake. I'm hoping for some warm dry weather tomorrow. Tonight I have a beautiful sunset to watch, and the sound of a lake that finally settled down to listen to.
The big lake was smooth and calm as I packed the kayak, but as soon as I hit the water, the wind picked up. The wind was blowing cold and hard from the east. My clothes had dried out some overnight, but within an hour I was soaked to the bone. The sun looked like it would peek out of the clouds all day, but never did. I ran into a fisherman after dinner and asked him when the wind was going to die down. He said, September. I think he may have been serious. Then I asked if he had heard the forecast, and he said, more rain.
I set up camp at 6:00 because of a dark bank of clouds forming behind me. It is now 8:00 and the clouds haven't moved any. My decision to stop cost me two hours of paddling and eight miles, but being caught on the big lake in a storm could have cost me my life. I made the right choice. I covered forty miles today, and if the weather lets me, I can make the thirty miles to the dam tomorrow. I don't think Ft. Peck Lake likes me. I can't wait to put it behind me.
The thunderstorm hit about 9:00 last night and it brought a lot of wind with it. It tore up a couple of my tent stakes and the rainfly started flapping wildly. I expected the whole tent to blow down, but outside of a noisy night, it stayed intact and I stayed dry. I woke up this morning and it was still raining hard. Everything outside had turned to a sea of mud. Nature was calling and I didn't want to answer. Finally, things got urgent and I grabbed the T.P. and made a run for it. I finished in record time, but had ten pounds of mud stuck to each foot by the time I made it to the tent. I had to walk down to the river, wash my feet, put on my sandals, and walk back to the tent. By then I was soaked and still tracked plenty of mud into the tent.
I spent the day reading, listening to AM radio out of Canada, and being bored in general. I hate being trapped in my prison by the rain. I can't even go out and walk around. The rain stopped at 3:00 and I packed up and hit the water in record time. The sun actually came out and the wind quit blowing. The lake was as smooth as glass and I made good time. I still have fifteen miles of lake to cover and the wind is picking up again. I hope I'm able to get off this miserable lake tomorrow. I was able to get reception on my cell phone tonight and let everyone back home know I'm still alive. I was thankful for that since it's been over a week since anyone has heard from me.
I woke up this morning and for once, the sun was shining. It was cold and windy, but the sun was shining. I packed up camp in the mud, and headed for the dam. The wind wasn't bad for the first ten miles, but when I started across the last big bay, it picked up. I was about a mile into a five mile crossing with three foot tall waves hitting me in the right side. I wasn't going to make it across without tipping, so I turned and followed the waves to a campsite about two miles into the bay. I called the Ft. Peck Marina, and they agreed to portage me from there. A man arrived a few minutes later with a pickup to take me first to the marina for a burger, then to the put in below the dam. He was very nice and I gave him twenty dollars for his trouble. It was a small price to pay for a four mile portage.
The Missouri flowed crystal clear for a few miles before being joined by the muddy Milk River. I paddled the line where the two rivers mixed. It was like flying over a thunderstorm as I watched the chocolate brown Milk River mix with the clear Missouri. Tomorrow, I'll be stopping in the town of Wolf Point to pick up some supplies I had mailed there. Here's what I know about Wolf Point from my Missouri River Paddler's Handbook. In 2004, a paddler was badly beaten by a group of young toughs, and when the author passed, he was shot at from shore. Luckily, the company I work for is supporting me on this trip. I work for Knife River/MDU Company, and, not only are they giving me the time to take this trip, they are also helping out along the way. Someone from the Wolf Point branch will meet me.
It was a nice sunny morning. My tent was dry and I was finally able to shake off some of the mud that has been stuck to it for a week. I made it to the town of Wolf Point around 1:00. As I rounded the bend into town, I was greeted by a group of four kids around twelve years old on the opposite bank. As soon as they saw my boat, they started swearing and throwing rocks at me. I was too far away to be in any danger, so I ignored them. They continued to swear and scream until I was out of sight.
I called my contact from work and they turned out to be great people. Randy and Nancy live right on the river. They cooked a great barbecue dinner, and there have been friendly people coming and going all day. They were even nice enough to wash my clothes and let me use their shower. I spent the afternoon fishing and drinking beer with them. I'll spend the night here and take off in the morning. This was a great break before the big lakes of the Dakotas. I'm over 650 miles into my trip, and all is going well, even if the weather hasn't been the best. I hope Shawn and Kyle didn't run into any trouble on the big lake with their canoe.
I was planning on a good early start today, but when I got up Nancy was already cooking breakfast. There was no way I could turn down fried eggs, hash browns, and sausage. I thanked everyone and was on the water by 8:30, only an hour behind my usual start. It looked like rain, so I paddled hard to cover some miles before the storm hit. The river meandered through a wide open plain with not much to look at for most of the day. The wind was blowing hard out of the west and the clouds looked menacing throughout the day, but it never did rain.
I passed a few people fishing and enjoying the river. They were all very nice to me and none of them threw rocks like those little brats in Wolf Point. I'll finally be entering North Dakota tomorrow. I hope the people there are as nice as the ones in Montana. Towards the end of the day, I entered some very pretty hilly country and there has been quite a bit of wildlife around. I can hear trains in the distance from my campsite. I really notice them after hearing only the sounds of nature for so long. I checked my maps tonight and found that I covered over 75 miles today. All that home cooked food did some good. I wish I could eat like that more often. (Bobcat along shore at left)
It was cold and windy this morning and it looked like rain. I set off early to beat the showers, but they never came. It never warmed up, either. I made it to the North Dakota line around noon. I'm proud of myself for making it through Montana, and now have almost 800 miles of river behind me. So far, North Dakota has been flat, cold, and windy. I hope it improves soon.
Tonight I am camped a few miles out of Williston. Just beyond that lies Lake Sakakawea. It's a massive lake and I'm not looking forward to it.
I will have to cross a giant mud flat to get into the lake, much like the one I crossed on Ft. Peck. Crossing a mud flat requires a commitment of several hours on the water. Once I enter, I can't make it to shore until I'm through. The forecast calls for heavy rain and storms for the next two days. If I take a chance, I might end up stuck like the deer I saw on Ft. Peck. I may be sitting a few days. The weather has been cold and rainy for nearly two weeks, now. I'm trying to keep a positive outlook, but it's tough. I want to be warm and dry for a while.
I was able to arrange a shuttle to the MOU office in Williston for the day. MOU is the company I work for, and they are helping out along the way. Steve Rehak picked me up, bought me lunch at Applebee's, and took me to the office for the day. It was nice to catch up on phone calls and email. I found out that a friend of mine was almost killed in a roller blading accident and had to have brain surgery. Thank God she's OK. Rita, wear your helmet! I don't want to have to come home for a funeral.
It didn't actually start raining today until around 5:00. I could have made it onto the lake today, but it's better safe than sorry, and it was nice to have a day off. Steve brought me back to the river and I've set up at a nice campsite near a shelter. It's still raining now, and it's supposed to rain all day tomorrow. At least if I can't paddle, I'll have a dry albeit cold place to spend the day rather than the tent. This lousy weather is supposed to break Friday. I sure hope it does.
It poured all night long and well into the morning. I looked out of the tent at first light and saw the river had risen several feet. There was also a very strong east wind throughout the day. The rain tapered off in the late morning, but the wind persisted. The river was a sea of whitecaps all day and I was unable to paddle. I spent the day in the tent reading, eating, and sleeping. The sun did peek out a few times, but it never did warm up. I explored the area around my campsite and all I found was mosquitoes. The wind has died down considerably tonight and the forecast calls for rain, but less wind tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll be able to get in a good day on the water. This lousy weather is really getting me down.
I looked out of the tent this morning and the weather was cold, windy, and it looked like rain. The whitecaps that had been raging on the river all day yesterday were gone and the forecast called for conditions to improve throughout the day. It was time to get out of Williston. The river stayed mostly in a channel for the first 20 miles out of town. The current was quick and I made good time. The banks were lined with thick willows. I spotted several patches of what appeared to be morel mushrooms and was going to pick them for dinner tonight. Then I realized I don't know if morels grow in North Dakota. I didn't want to get sick, so I left them.
I finally entered the mud flat delta where the river widens to a lake. The flat was nearly a mile wide and the channel was very hard to see due to a strong headwind. There was a strong current along the shore, so I followed it. The water kept getting shallower and shallower. I passed an old canoe that someone had gotten stuck in the mud and had to leave. I was going to turn around when I saw a moose on the shore ahead of me. It wouldn't hurt to go a little further to see a moose. I ran aground and the moose ran away. I tried to back up, but the boat was stuck! I made a stupid mistake and was mad at myself. I couldn't get out of the boat. The mud was like quicksand and would trap me if I did. I jammed my paddle into the mud, pushed back as hard as I could, and rockedthe boat back and forth. I started to move. It took nearly twenty minutes to back myself out of the muck and find the main channel. If I had turned around when I knew I was going the wrong way, there wouldn't have been a problem.
Five miles later, I was in deep water and winding my way through a sunken forest of cottonwood trees. The Army Corps left the trees standing when they flooded the lake. They make great fish habitat, but they can be a hazard to boaters. I wasn't worried about the trees I could see. It was the ones lurking just under the surface that made me nervous, and to make matters worse, the wind was picking up and the lake was getting choppy. The maze lasted nearly ten miles. I ran into a few stumps, but managed to stay upright. I was glad to leave the trees behind me The sky cleared up in the afternoon and I even saw the sun a few times. Aside from the wind, it was turning into a pretty nice day. Then around 6:00 a dark cloud rolled in and it started raining. I wanted to keep paddling, but the rain bummed me out so much I had to stop for the day. I heard on the radio that it had been the 4th rainiest May on record. I'm sick of rain. The weather is beautiful right now and I am camped on a very pretty beach. The next few days are supposed to be nice. I'm looking forward to some sunshine!
It was sunny this morning, but very windy and cold. I decided to head out, but only made it a few miles before the waves got too big and I had to stop. I was feeling pretty miserable. It seems like the weather just won't give me a break. I tried to be positive, but it was hard. I called some friends and took a walk on the beach. It made me feel a little better. Later on, a bank of clouds rolled in. It looked like rain, but the wind eased up a little. I decided to have another go at the lake. The waves were big, but my kayak glided easily over them. I stayed close to shore in case I went over, but I was really having fun. I made it 15 miles before the wind picked up again and I had to stop. I felt a lot better. I had handled 15 miles of big waves without any problem, and at least I went somewhere today.
I grabbed my camera and climbed to the top of a butte. It was beautiful. I could see for miles in every direction. I enjoyed the view for a while, then climbed down to walk on the beach. On my way down, the sun came out and the wind switched directions. Now it was coming from behind me instead of from my right side. That meant I would be able to surf on the
big waves and fly down the lake. The sun was shining and I was cruising down the lake like I had a motor. It was wonderful! I could finally see all the bright colors in the hills that had been hidden by clouds for so long. I had been ready to give up on this lake at 8:00 this morning. I'm glad I gave it a chance. I rode the waves until sundown, then set up camp on a rocky beach. It's warm and calm outside, and I left the rain fly off of the tent for the first time in weeks. I checked my maps and found that I covered 38 miles today. Not bad for a windy day.
When I awoke this morning, the sun was just rising over the bluffs on the other side of the lakes. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the water was as smooth as glass. I couldn't wait to get on the water! The day warmed up quickly. By 9:00 a.m. I had to get out my shorts for the second time since Three Forks. I wasn't the only one enjoying the beautiful day. There were fishing boats everywhere. I was hoping to get some free food from a fisherman, but no one offered. It was nice to have some company, but the boats are noisy and I'm always afraid of getting run over. I had been paddling south when I reached the point where the lake turned east; it was a little intimidating. Behind me, the lake stretched uninterrupted to the horizon. The sight was the same to my right. This is a big lake!
I turned on my cell phone and I had a message from Shawn & Kyle in the canoe. They were in Williston getting ready to head out on the lake. I'm glad they're all right. At 3:00 I had to stop for a thunderstorm that was rolling across the lake. It was too early to set up camp, so I put on my raincoat to wait it out. It rained for two miserable hours before the storm finally blew over. I hit the water hoping to paddle until dark. I only made it an hour before the next round of storms hit. I was able to set up camp before the rain hit, so all of my stuff is dry. I hate pitching the tent in the rain. It's been raining for over two hours now, with no end in sight. I'm trying to keep a positive outlook on the weather situation, but it's hard. I keep telling myself tomorrow will be better, and it keeps raining. A trip like this isn't supposed to be easy, and if it rains, it rains. There's nothing I can do but make the best of it.
It poured all night. The rain was hitting my tent fly so hard it was difficult to sleep. The rain finally tapered off in the early morning and the wind picked up. When I broke camp, the lake was covered in white caps. I watched the waves crashing against the shore and decided to wait a while. Maybe things would bet better. A while later, the wind was still blowing and the waves were still crashing. I decided to take the boat out and see if things were really as bad as they looked. There wasn't any good place to launch the boat and I took on several inches of cold water before i managed to get in the boat and fasten my spray skirt. I set out into the surf with a wet seat. The waves were nearly four feet tall and hitting me directly from my left side. Waves were breaking over the deck of the boat and soaking me. It really was as nasty as it looked.
I pulled into a sheltered bay and beached the boat. I was able to get cell reception and made a few calls before hiking into the hills to do some exploring. I found some more mushrooms that look like morels. I'll have to ask someone if I can eat them. I wish I had a paddling partner to test them on. When I came back from my walk, the lake had calmed enough to head out. I paddled as hard as I could all day and made great time. I covered forty miles of rough water today and was absolutely exhausted when I stopped for the night. The good news is that I made it to the dam and have a portage lined up for 7:00 A.M. tomorrow. I made it safely across the 150 miles of Lake Sakakawea. There are still plenty of big lakes ahead of me, but at least they're easier to spell.
It was cold when I woke up this morning. It would have been a good day to stay in the sleeping bag for a while, but I had a ride lined up at 7:00 and didn't want to be late. I paddled to the boat ramp at Captain Kits Marina. I went in and talked to the owner, who's name I can't remember. He gave me two cokes, a Snickers bar, and hauled my boat around the dam free of charge. I thanked him for his kindness and offered him twenty dollars, which he refused before he took off.
Below the dam, the water was clear and very cold. It hurt my feet to stand in it as I loaded the boat. The current was swift and the river was lined with tall bluffs. I was looking forward to the day's paddle. I rounded the first bend and the river dumped into a wide open plain. All I could see from the boat were the tall mud banks on either side. The river bed was three to four hundred yards wide. The channel wound from bank to bank through a maze of shallow sandbars and islands. I was covering a lot of extra miles to avoid running aground. To make matters worse, I was fighting a strong headwind.
I battled the wind and the shallows for as long as I could. By 7:00 I was exhausted. I feel better after a good meal, but my shoulders are really burning after fighting the wind all day. I am about twenty miles from Bismarck. If things go reasonably well, I should be there by noon tomorrow. Some people from MDU will be providing me with a hot meal and a shower once I get there, so I have a good reason to hurry. It also sounds like there is rain moving in, and I want to beat it there if at all possible. I have covered 1000 miles of river now. Considering the crappy weather I've had for the last two weeks, I'm pretty proud of that. The kayak doesn't leak yet and I haven't tipped over. I hope the next 1000 miles go as well, but with a little better weather.
The talk on the radio is about the severe weather moving in. There was a warm bed waiting for me in Bismarck, so I intended to get there before the storm hits. Once again, I had a headwind to contend with. It wasn't as strong as yesterday's, but it was enough to obscure the many sand bars, and make going tough. I wound my way through the shallow braided channel. By 11:00 I was passing giant riverfront homes. By noon, I was in Bismarck.
I called Cindy Levi, my contact through MDU (Montana Dakota Utilities, which owns the company I work for). She and her husband, Kevin, picked me up at the boat ramp. We left the boat and my gear in their garage. Then they treated me to dinner at the Pizza Ranch. Kevin took the afternoon off from his job at the DOT to haul me around town. I caught up on all of my errands, and that night, they treated me to dinner at Applebees. Tonight I am freshly showered, wearing clean clothes, and will be sleeping in a real bed. I'm glad to be indoors, since it's starting to rain and the forecast calls for some really nasty weather overnight and through tomorrow.
A storm raged all through the night. I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to be indoors each time I was awakened by thunder crashing outside. The weather was still terrible this morning, so Cindy and Kevin invited me to spend the day. I slept in and spent the morning watching TV and listening to all the flood and wind warnings throughout the state. I was sure lucky to get to Bismarck when I did. Kevin showed up at noon and took me to the buffet at Bonanza. Then he brought me back to his house to relax. The weather was terrible. I'm so glad I wasn't in the tent! I spent the afternoon watching movies on HBO. Kevin and some of his friends came home in the afternoon. We sat in the garage and drank beer for a while. It finally stopped raining, but the wind was still blowing at nearly 40 mph. Bismarck got over 3 inches of rain in the storm.
Cindy cooked sausage for dinner. I ate my fill before heading to bed. I'll be back on the river first thing tomorrow morning.I can't thank the Levi's enough for their hospitality. They gave me shelter from the storm. They fed me, which is like feeding two or three normal people. I needed to go. They have a beautiful home and they let a river rat into it. They have to be great people to do something like that. I'm very thankful that I didn't have to ride out a storm with winds over 40 mph and three inches of rain in the tent!
Kevin and Cindy brought me to the river first thing this morning. They stayed at the ramp while I loaded the boat. I thanked them to the best of my ability, although I could never thank them enough, and shoved off. I turned around and waved, and then went off on my own. The weather was beautiful in the early morning. The sky was clear and the winds were calm. The forecast called for a stiff south wind, so I hurried to make some miles before it hit. The wind picked up at 9:00 AM. The river is still very wide with many sandbars to wind around. There was no place to get out of the gale. I had to stop on several occasions for an hour or more to let the worst of the wind pass.
I passed some very pretty bluffs and even saw another bobcat, but the waves were too big to let go of my paddle and take pictures. By 5:00 I was exhausted. I passed some tall sandstone cliffs that were large enough to offer shelter from the wind. I decided to set up camp in the shelter. It warmed up nicely today. I bet it's nearly 80 degrees right now, and the radio says it's supposed to be nice tomorrow. I haven't heard them mention any wind for the next few days, either. Maybe I'll finally get a full day in on the water.
The sun was just breaking over the horizon when I woke up. There wasn't a hint of a breeze and the river was as smooth as glass. I couldn't wait to get going. Around 10:00, I caught a headwind. It was enough to notice, but not brutal like yesterday. It stuck around for most of the day. I reached the town of Ft. Yates right at lunch time. It looked big enough to support a restaurant, so I stashed the boat in the weeds and walked into town. I found a Taco John's. I thought about a six pack and a pound, but decided four tacos would be safer. It hit the spot.
After Ft. Yates, the river widened into Lake Oahe. At fool pool, Oahe is over 200 miles long. It's down about forty feet now, but it's still over 150 miles to the dam. Oahe is the biggest Lake I'll cross on my journey. I have a great deal of respect for this lake. It gets windy fast, and Oahe can go from calm to deadly in minutes. I'll be glad when it's behind me.
I spent my afternoon weaving through the thick sunken forest at the north end of the lake. There are limbs and branches everywhere just waiting to flip a kayak. I hit a few, but wasn't knocked over. I have named the upper portion of Oahe The Bay of Twigs. I passed into South Dakota at 3:30. I turned around and waved good bye to North Dakota and all its foul weather. It's sunny and warm down south. I hope it stays that way. I paddled until after 8:00. I had a hard time finding a campsite on the steep rocky bank, but finally came upon a flat spot just big enough for the tent. There is a warm breeze tonight and, surprisingly, no mosquitoes! This nice day really brightened my spirits. I hope I get a few more like today!
I woke up to another beautiful morning. I didn't want to waste any of this good weather, so I packed up early and was on the water by 6:00. Oahe was as smooth as glass. I needed to cross the three mile wide lake and decided to do it early before the wind picked up. The line that separates Central from Mountain time runs down the lake. I was able to reach the west shore before I left. It wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped. The lake is very pretty with rolling green hills on each side and clear blue water. Both shores have a steep drop off of one to four feet for most of the lake. I'm having a hard time finding places to get the boat out of the water.
I stopped for a stretch break just above the town of Mobridge and found some interesting shards of Indian pottery. You aren't supposed to take artifacts from the lake, and they would just get broken in the boat, so I left them. I wanted to walk into Mobridge, but the low water levels have pulled the lake nearly a mile from town. It wasn't worth fighting through the thick grass for a hamburger, so I settled for boat food. After Mobridge I fought a stiff headwind and heavy boat traffic. My campsite tonight is about fifteen miles out of town. There are houses on the hill just above me, but I'm camped behind a thick stand of willows. I don't think anyone will see me.
I woke up last night to the sound of thunder. I hadn't put the rain fly on the tent, so I grabbed my flashlight and went out to attach it. I also grabbed some rocks to put over the tent stakes. In the time it took me to do that, I was bitten approximately ten thousand times by mosquitoes and another thousand got in the tent through the fly I left open. I spent the next half hour squashing mosquitoes. Just when I had fallen back asleep, a violent wind rocked my tent. I would guess it was over 70 mph. The wind blew for most of the night. The tent stayed up, but I didn't get much sleep. I was glad I had put rocks on the tent stakes. It surely would have blown down without them.
I had trouble dragging myself out of the sleeping bag after my sleepless night. It was 8:30 by the time I hit the water. It was a beautiful morning, but the forecast called for high winds in the afternoon. I wished I had gotten up earlier. By noon, I was battling a brutal headwind. There had been a lot of fishermen on the lake earlier, but they were all smart enough to leave when the wind picked up. I pulled into a small bay to eat lunch and see if the wind was going to die down. An hour later, it seemed to have let up a bit. I started paddling towards a point sticking out about two miles down the lake. I stayed close to shore and was able to make good headway. Things were going well until I came to the mouth of another bay. The wind pouring out of the bay was so strong I could barely move forward.
There was a large tree trunk sticking out at an angle from the shore. It was stopping most of the waves so I began turning my boat to pull in behind it. I was hit broadside by a big wave and was nearly tipped. I'm proud of myself for keeping the boat up, but I need to avoid getting into those situations in the first place. I landed safely and spent the afternoon exploring while I waited for the wind to calm down. The wind never let up and all I found was a jackrabbit and a bunch of cowpies. The wind is still blowing and there are supposed to be severe thunderstorms tonight. The forecast for tomorrow doesn't sound too promising, either. My plan is to be on the water by 6:00 and make it as far as I can before the weather gets bad. I have less than 100 miles left to cover on Oahe. I need to be careful, but I can't wait to have this lake behind me.
I had hoped the wind would die down last night, but it didn't. I was kept awake for most of the night by the sound of the wind trying to tear down my tent. I looked at the lake at 5:00 AM. It was plenty rough, but not as bad as yesterday. I was on the water at a quarter to six. The wind picked up steadily and by 9:00 I was pushing into three to four foot waves. I was
only five miles from West Whitlock State Park. The conditions were worse than I would normally paddle in, but I stayed within swimming distance of shore. There were plenty of fishing boats around to rescue me if something unfortunate should happen.
I pulled up to the boat ramp safely at 11:00. There was a storm cloud rolling across the horizon and dozens of fishing boats were lined up to get off the lake before the storm hit. I pulled the boat ashore and walked up to the shelter house to wait out the storm. I was hoping that the wind would calm down after the rain and I could make some miles yet today. It started pouring and just wouldn't stop. I walked to the bait shop to check the weather. All of South Dakota was covered in a thunderstorm. It's supposed to rain for the next two days with three to four inches of accumulation before it's all over. I waited all afternoon for a break in the rain so I could set up camp. It never let up. I finally gave up and pitched the tent in the downpour. I'm soaked! All my stuff is soaked! This is the rainiest year anyone around here can remember.
Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have semi-arid climates. I have to be careful not to set up my tent on a cactus. It isn't supposed to rain every day here! I'm trying to stay positive, but it's hard. I haven't spent two full days in a row on the water in over three weeks! It will probably rain all day tomorrow. It could quite possibly rain all day the next day. At least I'm somewhere I can go inside and get some real food. If it does rain all day tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can rent one of the cabins at the park. At least then I can dry out all of my stuff and be ready if the weather ever breaks.
It was still raining when I woke up this morning, so I put on my wet rain coat and walked up to the bait shop. Inside, all the fishermen were talking about the 3.75 inches of rain that fell last night. The morning news was showing all the small towns nearby that were flooded. The forecast called for the rain to be blown away by a strong north wind in the late morning. The rain quit around 9:30 and the north wind quickly picked up. I packed up and hit the water. The lake runs west for about five miles from my campsite. I was on the south shore, which meant I would be taking some big waves in the side until the lake turned south.
I made it about 100 yards and was completely soaked! I pulled into a bay ready to give up for the day. I could see the point where the lake turned. If I could get there the waves would be behind me for the next 20 miles. I knew I had the skill to make it those first five miles. I just didn't want to be wet and miserable. I got back in the boat and headed west. I was cold, wet, and miserable for nearly two hours, but when I finally rounded the bend, it was worth it! I was flying as the big waves pushed me down the lake. I covered 28 miles today and am only fifty miles from the dam. The forecast for the next few days looks good. If the weather holds out, I could be done with this lake in two days. Oahe is a pretty lake, with its rolling green hills and clear green water. It's just too big! I can see for miles and I don't ever seem to get anywhere when I paddle. The wind always blows, and it rains a lot. In two days things should start getting easier.
I finally had a nice day on Oahe. It was cool and cloudy this morning and there was no wind at all. This was good, since I had to traverse the big bend. Oahe flows through a twenty mile long oxbow and returns to within a half mile of itself. This feature is surrounded by giant bays. If the wind picks up, giant waves can come from every direction and the bend becomes impassible. Luckily, the weather was on my side today, and the only waves I encountered were from the wakes of passing boats. It stayed beautiful all day, and I didn't want to waste this rare nice day. I paddled all day on water as smooth as glass. The sun even came out in the afternoon. It felt great to just paddle the boat and not have to fight the wind or the rain. By the end of the day, I reached the Oahe dam.
I covered 51 miles today, the best I've ever done on a lake, and I'll be on the other side of the dam in the morning. I found some interesting facts about Lake Oahe on my map today. It drains approximately 243,490 miles. It has 2250 miles of shoreline, and a maximum depth of 205 feet. Its power plant produces 595,000 kilowatts of power. It's a big lake! I've been on the river for a month now. I'm over half way through and the hardest part is behind me, now. I don't have much of anything good to say about the weather, but the rest of the trip has gone well. I haven't tipped over, yet, and the boat still floats! St. Louis still seems like it's a million miles away, but I'll be there before I know it.
I paddled to the boat ramp above the dam and called the Oahe Marina to arrange a portage. They said they would send someone, so I started unpacking the boat. Within minutes, a pickup showed up to haul me to the downstream marina. Once at the marina, I was able to get a very good omelet and catch up on phone calls. The clerk offered to take my mail to the post office for me. The Oahe Marina was a good stop! I left the marina and paddled a short stretch of river before entering Lake Sharpe. This lake is nearly eighty miles long, but less than half as wide as Oahe. It also lacks the big bays that generate many of Oahe's waves. The scenery is the same as it has been for the last week. The lake is lined with rolling green hills, but now there are houses along the way.
I covered thirty five miles of lake today, and I saw very few good campsites. I saw a thunderstorm approaching around 7:00, and started to look for a place to stop. Every flat piece of land near the river had been trampled into a mud hole by cattle. I paddled for over an hour before finding a very marginal place to set up my tent. Some of the amenities tonight's campsite has are a swamp for breeding mosquitoes, the skeleton of a cow, and cowpies of every shape and size. It started raining shortly after I set up a camp, which was good, since it didn't rain yesterday, and some of the puddles were starting to dry up. It rained for about an hour and things are muddy again. The wind has also picked up. I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm going to turn on my radio and try to catch the forecast. It should be interesting to see what kind of calamity tomorrow holds in store.
Things didn't look good this morning. There was a dark cloud on the horizon and I could hear thunder in the distance. The wind was calm and the rain didn't appear to be moving very fast, so I packed up and hit the water. I made it five miles before the rain hit. It started pouring and the wind picked up. I took shelter under some trees. At that point, I was ready to give up on the whole trip! It's been raining for a month and the forecast calls for more rain. I reached my rain limit about six inches ago. I thought about all the time and money I had wrapped up in this trip, the training, and the 1300 plus miles I've come to get this far. I'm not in this alone. There are lots of people rooting for me. In 200 miles, I'll be off of these lakes and onto a real river. I got into the boat and pushed off into the rain.
It rained hard for about two hours, stopped for an hour, then started again. The wind blew in my face all day. I pressed on; I'm not a quitter! The rain finally quit around 3:00. I paddled harder. The sun came out at 4:00. I kept going. When I set up camp, I had covered forty miles. I'm only ten miles from the dam. I'll start on my last big lake tomorrow. Tonight's campsite is a nice one. I have some trees to give me shade and shelter from the wind. I believe this is the first time on this trip I've camped under trees. It is also free of dead cows, which is a plus.
I woke up this morning to wind, and lots of it. The radio said it was blowing at 35 mph with gusts over 50 mph, and it was supposed to blow all day. I tore down camp and packed up in case the weather should happen to get better. It didn't. My campsite is in a small clump of trees next to a hayfield, so there isn't a whole lot to do. I heard an engine running, and looked over to see a tractor baling hay in the field near my tent. The farmer was slowly working his way towards the tree line. He would be bound to see me and my kayak when he made it to my end of the field. I could only hope he was friendly. I watched for the next two hours as the tractor drew nearer. When the tractor was within 20 yards of my camp, I decided to show myself. I told him about my situation. He didn't have any problem with me camping there, which was a big relief for me. I didn't want to head out into the big waves to look for another site.
A while later, a young man pulled up and asked me about my trip. I can't remember his name because I'm terrible with names. He offered to haul me to the other side of the dam in the morning, and said he'd stop back after he checked the cows. He returned an hour later with a pickup. He informed me that the area was under a tornado watch and offered me a place to stay for the night. I gladly accepted his invitation. He drove me to the Peterson Ranch where I was treated to a home cooked meal, a game of pool, and a couch to sleep on. The storm blew by with only a little rain, but I was glad to have some company and roof over my head for the evening.
My ride, who's name I still can't remember, took me to the downstream side of the dam first thing this morning. I thanked him for all of his hospitality and he took off. As soon as he was gone, I realized I left my tripod in his truck. I can live without it. I was looking forward to a good day on the water after a day of sitting. I made it seven miles before the evil wind picked up and pinned me to the shore. I spent most of the day being bored. I went for a walk and found an interesting fossil. Mostly, I just want to get moving. The weather has made this trip harder than I ever imagined it could be. I'm having a hard time not giving up. I'm going to tell myself the same thing I say seemingly every day. Maybe tomorrow will be better!
The wind finally blew itself out and today was a glorious day! I paddled ten miles to Chamberlain, SD, on water as smooth as glass. I needed to stop in town since my last roll of toilet paper was getting pretty skinny, and it might be 100 miles before I have another chance to get some. The bank along Chamberlain is lined with jagged boulders. I was wondering if I was
going to be able to land the kayak anywhere. I spotted a six foot long section of boat dock that had escaped from somewhere and wound up on the rocks. All I needed to do was turn it so I would be able to pull the kayak onto it. In the process of moving it, I slipped and dropped the whole thing on my big toe. It hurt and bled quite a bit, but nothing was broken. I pulled the boat up and walked into town. I came to a place near the interstate called Casey's Cafe. The sign said they also sold fireworks.
Inside, I found a cafe, pharmacy, jewelery store, liquor store, and souvenir shop, but oddly, no fireworks. I had a good breakfast, bought some T.P., and headed back to the river. I had a great day on the lake. The sun was out all day, the winds were calm, and the scenery pretty. I'm even starting to see some trees growing along the river. My only complaint about today was the fact that cattle were grazing both sides of the lake for the forty two miles I covered today. There weren't many places to stop that weren't either covered in cows or cowpies. Oh well, things could be a lot worse. I could still be waiting for the wind to blow itself out.
The wind picked up again, today. It was tough going all day, but I focused on the fact that each stroke I took with my paddle brought me closer to the end of the lake. With any luck, I'll be over the dam tomorrow and on the first stretch of river I've seen in nearly 400 miles. I stopped for breakfast at the dock 44 marina this morning. It took forever and a day for them to prepare my food, but it tasted great! After that, I focused on getting as close to the dam as possible today.
I covered forty miles today. Not bad, considering the headwind and long breakfast wait. The only lake I have left to cover is Lewis and Clark Lake. It's only thirty miles long, and I'll be there in a couple of days. I'm really proud of myself for making it this far. There were so many times I wanted to quit on the big lakes, but I hung in there. In eighty miles, I'll have crossed my last dam and be on a moving river all the way to St. Louis! I checked my messages and Shawn and Kyle are done with Oahe and have started Lake Sharpe. I'm really impressed with their skill and judgement. Not only are they going out on this big water in an open canoe, but they're making excellent time.
A dark cloud was already moving across the horizon when I woke up. I was only 12 miles from the dam, so I took off, hoping to beat the storm. I made good time, and the storm was still fairly distant when I made it to the boat ramp. I didn't have a portage contact and had hoped to catch a ride over the dam from someone putting their boat in. The only problem was there was a storm coming and no one was around. I had the number for the downstream campground, so I called them. They said they would send someone, and a few minutes later a DNR truck pulled up. He informed me that they could no longer haul boats, but the marina in town could help. He gave me their number and they sent a truck and trailer for me. We got everything loaded just before the rain hit.
We decided it would be best to leave the boat at the marina until after the storm passed. I gave the driver twenty dollars and walked to the cafe for lunch. The storm passed quickly and a different driver hauled me to the river. I gave the first guy twenty bucks, so I felt I should give him twenty bucks, too. Forty dollars is still cheap for a two mile portage. It was great to be on moving water again. The river was wide, and the current slow, but I was off the lake. I saw many eagles and osprey. I also paddled through a stretch of water where the river flows perfectly straight for over five miles. The right bank is a tall limestone cliff that looks as though it was blasted away for a road. I was caught by an afternoon thunderstorm and had to set up camp in a field of cowpies. There is severe weather and possibly tornadoes in the forecast for tonight. I am camped across from a trailer park, so I feel pretty safe from tornadoes. They always go for the trailers!
I stayed up late last night to watch a very impressive thunderstorm. The sky was aglow with lighting that stretched to both horizons, and I had some rum that made the show even more impressive. When the storm finally hit, there was torrential rain and constant lighting and thunder that shook the ground. I didn't get a good night's sleep. I slept in an extra hour in the morning, then headed for Lewis and Clark lake. The first ten miles of the lake is a grassy marsh with a maze of braided channels. My grid book warned me to take the channel to the left, but there was good current on the right and it looked like a shorter route to open water.
My nice channel with good current kept branching off. I kept taking the larger branch, but my channel was getting pretty small. Finally, it entered a shallow lake surrounded by tall grass. I thought I might be forever lost in the swamp. I paddled around the little lake and found an opening to open water. I had to drag the boat 100 yards through two inch deep water, but I made it to the lake. I only had twenty miles of lake to cover, and the first ten went smoothly. The last ten miles of lake was thick with powerboats. I stayed close to shore and prayed I wouldn't get run over. From the looks the boaters gave me, it was clear that not many paddlers ply these waters!
I managed to reach the dam without getting run over, and called the local marina to arrange a portage. It was quite clear that the lady on the other end of the line had never heard of such a thing. She took my number and promised to call back in a few minutes. She never called back and the locals weren't much help, either. After an hour of trying, I flagged down a couple of high school kids who agreed to haul me over the dam. I am camping just below the dam tonight. There is free flowing river from here to St. Louis, and the weather is beautiful! A hot air balloon just flew over low enough I was able to wave at the people in the basket, and in two days, I should be in Sioux City and on the navigation channel. Things are looking up!
I pushed off this morning into a swift current. It felt great to finally be off the lakes. I'm glad I never gave up, even though there were many times I wanted to. The river was very wide most of the way today. I didn't have much trouble finding the channel except on the bends. Every time the river rounded a bend, it doubled its width. There were many sand bars and deep water was difficult to find. The river was busy today. I passed quite a few boats. Most of them were stopped at their favorite swimming holes. I also passed a few canoes and one kayak. I talked to many of the boaters as I passed, and there is one thing I'm getting sick of. When I tell someone I'm headed to St. Louis they either say, You won't get there tonight! or You better get a motor! People had the same comments on the Mississippi. Everyone who says these things then laughs like they have come up with something terribly original. I just say Yep. I paddled an hour and a half longer than I wanted to tonight. I couldn't find a campsite. There are many nice sandbars along this stretch, but they are home to an endangered bird called the piping plover. Because of this, they are off limits. I finally settled on a somewhat flat spot on a small rocky beach.
Shortly after I left camp, I spotted what appeared to be a 150-foot tall rocket ship on the South Dakota side of the river. I thought I had really found something neat until I drew nearer and saw it was just a tower that held up a pipe crossing the river. Knife River, the company I work for, was going to help me out when I made it to Sioux City. I called Dan Lewis when I was about twenty miles from town and he arranged to meet me at The Marina Hotel. Shortly after that, I got a call from Fred Bauer, the president of Knife River. He said he was out of town and couldn?t meet me, but it was really nice of him to call.
I paddled past miles of enormous trophy homes, and finally into Sioux City. I met Dan at the boat ramp near the hotel. I put all my gear in Dan?s truck and chained my boat to a pole. Knife River paid for my hotel room and meals, and I very much enjoyed the time I spent with Dan. He enjoys outdoor adventures, too, so we had plenty to talk about. It?s nice to be sleeping in a real bed tonight, but I don?t like leaving the boat at the dock. I?m sure it will be OK. Dan will be meeting me at 7:00 AM with my gear and I?ll be back on the river.
Dan brought my gear to the ramp at 7:00 this morning. I was glad to see him, and even more glad to see the boat was all right. I loaded my boat, said my thank you?s and hit the water. I?m really lucky to work for Knife River. There aren?t many places that would let me take a trip like this, let alone help out! I also like what I do there and that?s a very important part of any job. In Sioux City, I entered the navigation channel. From here to the Mississippi, the Army Corps maintains a channel 300 feet wide and nine feet deep to facilitate barge traffic. In order to do this, they have narrowed the river to a third of its original width. The outside of every curve is lined with rock, and the inside is comprised of wing dikes that push water into the channel. The current is flowing at about 7 mph near St. Louis.
I covered 65 miles of water today. I faced a stiff headwind, but that seems to be the way the Missouri is. At least the narrower river let me hide from the wind a little. There were some very pretty bluffs and wooded sections of river today, but for the most part, the banks were lined with trailer houses and lots for sale. It?s a shame that so many people are trying to crowd into the last beautiful places in this country. Just before I stopped for the night, I passed my first towboat. It was only pushing four barges, but that was enough. The river isn?t very wide up here. I?m not worried about the tows, though. They move slowly and stay in the channel. It?s the powerboats you have to watch out for!
I checked my maps and I was forty miles from Omaha this morning. I decided to continue into town. It would be another twenty miles before I was through town. I made it to the last sure campsite before town a little after 3:00. That left me plenty of time to get through, so I kept going. There was quite a bit of pleasure boat traffic, but most of them were watching where they were going. I was only almost run over once. It was pretty impressive paddling past the airport. The jets were taking off and landing right over the river. I stopped on a sandbar to watch the show for a while. From there, I entered the industrial area of town. There were culverts everywhere dumping strange smelling water in the river. There were three colors of discharge. There was green, brown, and yellow. I would have to say the yellows were usually the smelliest.
I expected to pass a lot of barges in this area, but didn?t see any. There were only a few barge facilities, and they looked like they hadn?t been used in years. I have paddled 120 miles of navigation channel and seen only a few army corps barges. I wonder how much it costs every year to maintain that channel? I passed the impressive riverfront of Omaha and then the casinos of Council Bluffs. There were a good number of homeless camps on the Iowa side. I then passed the very smelly Omaha sewage treatment plant, and then entered a pretty tree lined section of river. I found a nice shaded campsite on a sandbar about ten miles from town. There are high school kids floating by in mom and dad?s boat with the radio cranked up, and someone is setting off fireworks on the other side of the river, but at least I?m out of Omaha.
I took off this morning with the goal of making it to the Missouri border. The weather was nice and I made it to the town of Bellvue, Nebraska just before 9:00 AM. I decided to walk into town for breakfast. The town sits on a hill nearly a mile from the river, but I felt up to a walk. I reached the top of the hill and found myself in a residential neighborhood. I'd come too far to turn back, so I kept walking. I traveled nearly another mile before I found a cafe. The omelette was good, but I'd wasted over an hour and a half to get it. I wasn't on the water long before it started to rain. There was quite a wind to accompany the shower, but it didn't last long. After the shower, the air was dead calm. It remained overcast all day and mist rose from the river. I kept waiting for the rain, but it never came. I crossed into Missouri around 5:00. I can't believe how far I've come! 1800 miles are behind me and only 500 to go.
I passed a few facilities that were set up for barges today, but no actual barges. I was ready to call the first two hundred miles of the navigation channel a waste of tax dollars when just before I stopped for the night, I met a tow pushing six empty barges. I thought someone was actually using the river for commerce until I saw that all the barges said Army Corps of Engineers. I passed the confluence of the Platte River today. With the extra water, the current is now flowing over 5 mph. I can cruise at 8 mph with very little effort. I covered seventy miles today and as long as the weather holds out, I should be able to meet my grandma in Kansas City in two and a half days.
My goal is to cover 80 miles a day for the next two days. That will allow me to meet my grandma in Kansas City for lunch on Saturday. I didn't have any problem making 80 miles today. I hope tomorrow goes as smoothly! The weather was pretty good today. It was cool and overcast, but no rain, and only a little wind. I had no trouble cruising at eight mph with the current. The river traveled through flat plains and corn fields for the first forty miles of the day. It was pretty boring, but the next forty miles were lined with tall bluffs and quite scenic. I walked into Rule, Nebraska hoping to get some lunch. There are two bars and nothing else in Rule. Neither bar would take a debit card and I only had three dollars in cash, so I cooked dinner at the boat.
I set up camp tonight and started cooking dinner. I was twenty feet away from my stove putting things away in the boat when I looked up and saw the stove was engulfed in flames. I poured the pot of water I was heating on the fire and it went out. The pump on the fuel bottle was pretty well melted and it looked like I might not have a camp stove any more. I replaced the o-ring that had caused the problem and tried the pump. It still worked! I was pretty lucky. I had a message from Kyle on my phone tonight. He and Shawn were in Yankton and glad to be off the lakes. I called back to leave a message and Kyle answered. They were celebrating at the bar in Yankton. He had plenty of war stories to tell, but was still in good spirits. I have a great deal of respect for those guys! I wouldn't be man enough to cross those big lakes in an open canoe.
It was cool and cloudy when I woke up this morning. It stayed that way and rained off and on through the day. I'm really ready for some nice weather! I paddled into St. Joseph first thing this morning, hoping to get some breakfast. The first place I came to was a casino. I'm sure they had a buffet, but there wasn't a good place to land and there were quite a few young men hanging around the river and not fishing. I didn't want to have my stuff stolen, so I kept going. When I came to the town itself, I found the interstate running right along the river, and a large homeless camp on the bank. I decided not to stop at St. Joseph. I came to the town of Atchison around lunch time. It had a large industrial area near the river and no place to land, so I kept going.
I was finally able to land at a boat camp in Leavenworth, Kansas. I filled my water at the park and walked into town to look for a restaurant. I found a Sonic drivethrough. I've never been to a Sonic before so it took me a while to figure out how to order. I had to push a button on a board and talk into a microphone. I couldn't just go in and order something. The burger was good when I finally figured out how to get it. From Leavenworth, I paddled into a stiff headwind to the outskirts of Kansas City where I found a sandbar to camp on. It's still raining right now and there is a chance of rain tomorrow. I hope it holds off. I'm supposed to meet my grandma tomorrow.
It rained hard all night and was still pouring when I woke up. I slept in until 8:00, by which time it was clear the rain wasn't going to stop any time soon. I put on my trusty rain jacket, packed up, and took off. The stiff east wind blew the rain into my face so hard it hurt. I pressed on through the impressive skyline and bridges of Kansas City. I was only able to snap one picture during a brief lull in the rain. Just out of Kansas City, I caught up to a green canoe. In it were a miserable looking man and his very miserable daughter. They had just set out on a three hundred mile trek and had been hit by the nasty weather. I told them the forecast was for rain and wind the rest of the day. I'm sure that wasn't what they wanted to hear.
I paddled a bit farther and stopped under a bridge to call my grandma. She still wanted to see me even though it was pouring. I made arrangements to meet her at the Fort Osage ramp. Two hours later, the rain had let up considerably and I was at the ramp. I had a great barbecue dinner at the shelter house with grandma, and my aunt and uncle. It was really nice! I don't get to see my mom's side of the family much. After dinner, I set back out on the river and it started pouring. The rain let up around 6:00. I reached the small town of Napoleon, just as the canoeists were pulling out at the ramp. I decided to camp in the city park with them, since it looked like more rain was on the way. I talked to a lot of nice folks in the park. I got a ride into Buckner with a fisherman for supplies, and when I returned I found that someone had brought us a pizza. Since everyone had already eaten, I'll have three slices of unrefrigerated pizza for lunch tomorrow. The sky is starting to clear, but the wind is still blowing. The forecast for the next few days looks good, and I'm not far from St. Louis. I'm cautiously optimistic that I may finish this trip without another major storm.
The weather didn't look promising when I woke up. It was cold, cloudy, and a strong wind was blowing from the east. It would have been a good morning to sleep in, but St. Louis was calling. I packed up, wished the canoeists luck, and pushed off into a stiff headwind. It was cold and I had to wear my coat all morning, but the sun finally broke through in the early afternoon. I took out my sunglasses that I hadn't needed in four days, and one of the things that hold them on your head fell off and into the water. I put them on anyway, but they were lopsided. I tried to bend the frame so they would fit better, but it broke and the lens fell out. So much for my $3.99 sunglasses.
The sun was really bothering my eyes by the time I reached the town of Waverly, so I pulled up to the boat ramp. I found a Casey's store in town where I bought a $12.99 pair of glasses and some pizza. My new shades have flames on the sides, so I'm sure my kayak will go faster! I fought the wind all day, but made quite a few miles. The river rose over a foot last night and is really moving. I had to dodge quite a few trees and some lawn furniture today, but the push was nice. The fishermen tell me the level should start dropping tonight. The river is up six to eight feet right now
The wind blew all night last night. I never sleep well when I can hear the wind. I can only worry about how hard the next day might be. I pushed off into a stiff headwind that stayed with me for most of the day. The water only dropped about an inch overnight, so the current was still very strong. The river flowed mostly through wide open plains today, but I did pass a few pretty bluffs. All the streams I passed were flooded and dumping logs and debris into the river for me to dodge.
I came to the town of Glasgow at lunch time. I found a Casey's store where I was able to get three slices of pizza and some chicken strips. It wasn't exactly a gourmet meal, but it was quick and I wanted to cover more miles than the wind would let me. I was able to cover seventy three miles today. I had hoped for an easy eighty, but the wind had other plans. Things finally calmed down around seven, and it's a very pretty night. I set up camp on a sandbar (not mud) and it's actually dry. I'm looking forward to tomorrow as the forecast calls for a beautiful day. I'm not going to talk about the forecast after tomorrow because I don't like it.
The day started out on the windy side, but it quickly died down, and I had a good day on the water. The scenery today was some of the prettiest I've seen on the channelized river. I was often surrounded by tall bluffs and limestone cliffs. The current is picking up speed. I've checked with my GPS and found it running six miles per hour in many places. When I paddle, I'm moving at eight and some times well over nine mph.
I covered seventy miles in ten hours on the water. I had good reason to hurry. I wanted to make it to Chamois. Chamois is Kyle's home town, and he had invited me to stay at his place when I came through. I walked up the ramp at Chamois and was immediately recognized. People in town have been tracking Shawn and Kyle's progress through my website. It wasn't long before we had the boat in the back of a pickup headed for Kyle's place. I got cleaned up and headed for the bar. Everything was on the house for the weary river traveler. I had some great food, met some great people, and stayed a bit longer than I needed to.
It was nice to wake up in air conditioned comfort and put on clean clothes. I took some time this morning to walk around Chamois. Everyone I met was great! It was definitely a good stop! I got a ride down to the river at 1:30 and was on the water a little after 2:00. I wanted to make it twenty miles downriver to the town of Herman to watch a fireworks display. The current was pushing me along at six mph, so I didn't bother paddling. I just drifted along and finished a book I had been reading. I made it to Herman in no time.
When I pulled up to the ramp I was greeted by Kyle's mom. She bought me dinner in the park and showed me around town. Herman is a very pretty old river town. I'm glad I stopped. I got permission to set up my tent at a bait shop next to the park. As soon as I walked away, a family set up their lawn chairs right next to my boat. Their six obnoxious children started climbing on the seat. The parents didn't mind. I chased them away, but as soon as I left, they were trying to destroy my stuff. Looks like I'll have to guard my stuff until they leave. It's probably going to be a pretty noisy night, but it will be nice to see the fireworks.
Trains run past my campsite constantly last night. I didn't get much sleep, but the good people there were worth the restless night. The river ran through some very beautiful country today. There were tall limestone cliffs and bluffs lining the shore. I think this was the prettiest section of the channelized river. I passed a towboat that didn't belong to the Army Corps today. That makes a total of three tows and eight barges in 700 miles of river. It was hot today, but it did manage to rain for about twenty minutes. I'd hate to finish my trip without a little more rain.
I wanted to stop for the night above St. Charles so I could get breakfast in the morning, but there weren't any good places to stop. I ended up paddling through town and another twelve miles before I found a place to pitch the tent. It wasn't much of a campsite, but I had a great view of the sunset over the river. Tomorrow night, I'll be camping on the banks of the Mississippi. By noon the next day, I should have taken out at the arch. Even with all the rain I've had, I hate when a trip ends and I rejoin the real world. I don't have much water to cover tomorrow, so I'm going to stay up late and enjoy my last beautiful night on the Missouri.
My plan was to sleep in until about noon today, but the hot sun baked me out of the tent by 9:00 AM. Since there wasn't anything better to do, I packed up and started my last day on the Missouri. I only had twenty miles to cover before I reached the Mississippi. The last stretch looked like most of the channelized river. I was hoping to see something grand as the last few miles passed by, but even though it was a very average stretch, there weren't any trailer houses, so that was a plus.
I reached the Mississippi at 1:00 PM and got out to stand on the point where these two great rivers meet. There were some people there, so I had them take my picture. I felt great! I had paddled the entire Missouri. I sat quietly for a few minutes before heading out on the Mississippi to cover the last few miles to the arch. The Chain of Rocks dam is just a few miles down from the confluence. There is a canal with a lock that bypasses this hazard and I took that route last year. This year, I decided to portage the dam. The portage was short and easy, but it looked like the place you could get all of your stuff stolen. I was glad when the boat was loaded and back on the water. I set up camp on an island five miles from the dam. It's a good spot with a beach I can swim at and a shade tree to pitch the tent under. Not a bad spot for the last campsite of the trip. I can see the arch from here. It's not very far away. I'll be there tomorrow morning! Then, I'll head back home, having covered 2350 miles of river in 53 days.
There were many times on this trip that I wanted to quit. It rained all the time, the wind blew like hell in the Dakotas, and it was cold. I made it through a lot of wet lonely nights, and I stuck with it. And now, I wouldn't trade it for the world! It wasn't easy, but I've paddled a kayak solo down the two longest rivers in North America. There aren't many people who can say that, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished.