Missouri River Expedition
Part 2. Bismarck to St Louis
Thursday 7th September. Day 25
I didn’t sleep much in the night due to packing so late, so I was a bit weary when I had to get on the move. My back was still a little sore from the big portage so I booked in to have a massage with a local lady masseur, who had her office just across the road from the motel. It was an hour of absolute bliss. I just hoped that I was going to feel free of stiffness once I got back on the river.
I needed to do some washing so I found the motel laundry but it only had one machine and it was being used. We packed up and drove to a Laundromat near the shopping centre instead. I left my clothes to wash and we headed to MacDonald’s for Ed’s favourite drink, a coffee. We returned later to take my clothes out and put them in the dryer. As we moved out of town Ed found a hairdresser and when the lady had finished I forgot to tip her, but the lady reminded me, so I handed over my credit card and the tip was added to it. With every thing complete, it was now time to return to Southport Marina and carry on with my journey.
We unloaded the car and I loaded the kayak and before I left Ed he took a few photos of me. I would see Ed again in a few weeks time at the end of my journey, but now he had to drive 720 miles back home to Ogden. I had been in town about 24 hours and at 12.39pm I was paddling down the channel by boats and apartments that had slat figure ornaments in their gardens. I moved out into the main river and within minutes I could feel some pain in my back. Oh God it was now much worse than it was. The massage had really stirred up the pain.
I struggled on and as I approached a boat ramp next to a camping site I could see this guy with his old 4 wheel drive vehicle on the ramp up to its axles in water. At first I wondered what he was doing, but then I realised he was washing it. I stopped and talked. The man was heavily tattooed, wearing camouflage gear and with a Mohican hair cut. He said he had come across from Colorado. I left him and moved around the next left hand bend and came across the local beach. Several people were swimming and messing around and one guy asked if I was going all the way. I thought of my sore back, which had shaken my confidence, but I still said yes.
I moved around the next bend to see another RV campground. I briefly stopped and a part of me wanting to camp for the night, to talk to people but the other part of me wanted to carry on. I carried on and rounded another bend where a big chopper flew overhead, it looked like the army. I kept going with the niggling pain in my back and knowing that if I wanted to finish the river I couldn’t keep stopping. But just before the locality of Huff I found a beautiful sandy camp spot that I just couldn’t go by. It was perfect.
I pottered around camp and the sun went down and the moon came up. On near dark I could hear the chopper in the distance and a few minutes later the chopper passed before the moon leaving me with this vision of the chopper being silhouette through the moon. It was just as you see in the films. It was magic.
Friday 8th September. Day 26
My tent shook in the night due to strong winds and when I ventured out it was a cold morning. I pushed off, just before seeing two deer, which were walking downstream along the riverbank. I passed some steps near Huff and started paddling between some islands and the riverbank. I didn’t realise at the time but there were a few remnants of the Huff village over the bank, so I didn’t stop.
The Huff Indian Village State Historic Site is a classic prehistoric Mandan settlement dating to about AD 1450, perhaps two hundred years before Euro-American influence reached the Missouri Valley area. The village is a very large, well-planned community where perhaps a thousand or more people once lived. Huff Village was probably occupied only for a short time (perhaps 20 years), as indicated by the clarity of the village plan and lack of evidence for rebuilding and trash accumulation.
Suddenly when I rounded an island on the right a loud shot rang out. It startled me as it was so close. I looked towards the left and saw a duck shooter 100 yards away on the island. When we were in the Bismarck sports store there were a lot of people looking at guns and the shop assistance mentioned to us that it was the opening of the hunting season. Oh shit. I may have duck hunters shooting at me all the way to the end of the river.
I paddled on and 3 more shots rang out. A few seconds later, 2 geese fell out of the sky and landed nearby. It was quite a shock to be within shooting range of a hunter. I just kept paddling. By 9.50am I thought I was far enough away from the duck shooter so I stopped for five minutes. I stopped again at the deserted Fort Rice ramp where I decided to do some stretches to help my back to heal.
It was a cool day and because of my back I decided to stop again under a power line, where a squirrel visited me and a house sold sign floated by. I carried on following the right shore down a narrower channel that broke off from the main river. When it narrowed even further I thought it may lead me into a swamp or take me from the main current for a long time, so I turned my kayak to paddle back upstream. I had gone down the channel over 200 metres and with the current being fairly strong, it was a hard paddle back up to the main river. I got settled into a good paddling rhythm and into a dream and thinking of Steve Irwin when I spotted the Beaver Creek low water ramp which was well away from the water.
I was getting close to Lake Oahe, but I knew upon reaching it, I would lose all current and slow my progress. So although I was looking forward to paddling this long lake, a part of me wasn’t. Looking at my maps it was hard to know where the river turned into a lake, so I thought I had better stop wherever I could find a good camp spot as this would prevent me from being caught out in the muddy swamps at the beginning of the lake. I stopped about 2 miles from Fort Yates on a flat section, which in high water would have been under water and part of the lake. It was early, but my back still had a slight ache, so I didn’t think it would hurt for me to stop paddling a little earlier.
My campsite was riddled with small holes and on inspection most were the home of a frog. With so many frogs around I imagined it was going to be an interesting night. As darkness crept in, the lights over at Native Village of Fort Yates started to twinkle. Some of the Native Reserves don’t allow camping without permission, so I was trying to keep a low profile amongst the long dried reeds. I retreated to write my diary in the tent and soon after something hit it pretty hard. I thought it must have been someone throwing rocks, but when I looked outside, all I could see was a beautiful moon rising higher in the clear sky. After closing the tent door I realised that after taking a Nurafen tablet my back was feeling good. I never liked taking any tablets, but on this occasion I thought it wise to help my back get better. A few moments later something jumped onto the tent and when I looked out again, it turned out being a big frog.
Saturday 9th September. Day 27
I slept well despite all the geese, ducks and other water birds that were calling and chattering most of the night. I was camped in their habitat, so I really couldn’t complain about all the noise. It was a cold misty morning with a little rain. As I squatted next to the kayak three deer walked into my camp. They stood there frozen just looking at me. I waited a while keeping still and then I slowly made a move for my camera, but they decided my morning face wasn’t very inviting, so they moved off into the dry reeds.
I cast off and after paddling around a couple of bends I spotted two coyotes on shore. They also saw me. Their heads were slowly moving and eyes following me as they watched me drift by. One decided to sit down but the other one was more wary and continued to stand and stare. I started paddling towards them and got closer and closer, until I was too close. The wary one decided that I was close enough and started moving away. The other soon followed looking back as it pushed through the long grass. I didn’t quite get my camera out in time to get a good picture.
By my map Lake Oahe should have been a couple of miles wide at that point, but in reality it was still a narrow river that meandered around low lying land. About 20 minutes after leaving camp I found myself opposite Fort Yates and the Standing Rock Reservation, but the town was several hundred metres from the river and not easy to get to. From this angle it now looked much bigger than from where I had camped and there looked to be a huge mansion or hotel in the community. The community was in two sections, one closer to the river and one sitting further back separated by a low plain, which when the lake was high would be under water.
Standing Rock Reservation was where Sitting Bull lived for a long time and was later shot and buried. In 1953, his remains were moved to Mobridge, in South Dakota not far from where I was.
The current in the river was still good even though I was going through some shallows where big flocks of pelicans were gathered on sandbars. A few miles further, near the state border I lost the current which was a big set back. It meant that I had a 160 mile lake to paddle without any current and probably with the wind against me, so I expected it to be hard work.
The lake started to form but there were still sandbars, so I couldn’t take any short cuts. Instead I had to follow the deepest channel that meandered the long way around. I soon came to a forest of dead trees which were once living in the river valley but now flooded because of the Oahe Dam. The trees were not huge, as the big trunks were buried, but the branches were thick. Luckily for me the current was non existent and the wind hadn’t created any big wind waves that could throw me around and get me impaled on one of the branches that looked like meat skewers. I paddled through them with care. Although the big trunks were hiding just below the surface, my hull scaped over the bigger branches several times. I could also hear creaking, which sounded as if one of the bigger branches above me were going to fall. Eventually I threaded myself through the drowned forest, as deeper water completely covered them.
After a short reprieve the trees returned, this time even thicker, bigger and closer together than the first lot, but it was a blessing that they only went on for a few hundred metres. As the lake turned to head south the area was more exposed and the wind became much stronger. I stopped to take photos, but I was soon pushed sideways and towards the stumps. It was too dangerous to linger long, so I quickly put my camera away and started threading through the narrow gaps in the stumps and branches.
When I was free from the dead forest, the lake before me opened up and became much deeper. A little further, at 12.30pm I landed for a rest on the left side of the lake about 500 yards from a farm yard and houses. Back on the water and after nearly 2 hours of paddling I came across a boat ramp with a fisherman from Minnesota casting his line. Apparently he had a holiday home close by. It was still windy and lake choppy when I passed a cluster of houses. I was aiming to camp on the east side of the lake but changed my mind as I cut the corner of a wide bend. It was cold and windy and the waves were lapping up the shore as dodged a few drown trees to land.
When I started unloading near frozen I realised that my back had improved so much that I could hardly notice any pain. The shore was scattered with cow dun which I had to clear to erect my tent next to a large washed up tree which I used to tie my guys ropes to and used it as a table. I was soon in dry clothes and trying to get warm. I had paddled 37 miles today and it was at this point that I was halfway through my journey. From now on it was all down hill. I was a good feeling.
Sunday 10th September. Day 28
The wind was strong in the night but I felt cosy snuggled in my tent. Although it was cold there was little cloud when I awoke, so the sun shone through. Once on my way I passed through a bunch of huge flooded tree trunks on the corner before paddling the next 10 open miles to Mobridge. An inlet joined the main body of water as I approached the Mobridge Rail Bridge. The bridge was connected to a narrow long groyne that jutted ¾ across the river. A train was just passing over, taking it slow as it crossed over. Beyond the rail bridge there was a big bay on the right and after a few hundred metres a road bridge.
I moved under the road bridge and on the opposite side there was the Indian Memorial Recreation Area and the confluence of the Canal River, but I didn’t bother going across. A few houses were visible on the left just after the bridge, but very soon after the vegetated shoreline blocked all views of the town. I was thinking of stopping as on my map the lake appeared to be very close to the town, but in reality it was several hundred yards away. The shoreline was very scrubby and difficult to walk across, so I decided to keep going to the Indian Creek Recreation area several miles further. I could get water there.
A coyote stalking two pheasants was walking along the river bank not realising I was there watching. It made a dash, but the pheasants quickly took off leaving the thin coyote to hunt something else. Across the river on the right side of the river my map showed the Sitting Bull Monument and Burial Site and the Sakakawea Monument but it was hidden behind the vegetation. The wind became stronger as I turned east and passed an inlet, where at last I could see some of the houses in town. Minutes later I turned into a small bay which housed 6 boats and a boat ramp that was being extended by a bunch of workmen. With the water level in the lake going down, all the ramps needed to be extended so boats could launch, but this was the first one that I seen being done. All the others were several hundred metres out of the water.
I saw a lady walking her dog, so I asked her about the Marina. “It’s around the corner a few hundred yards,” she said, “I will show you, follow me.” I paddled slowly along the shore talking to her as we went. When I arrived at the next bay, which was smaller and water lower, there was less than a dozen boats moored. It was not much of a marina. The lady showed me the toilet block in the nearby campsite as I needed water. When all my water containers were full and I was ready to take off again, Jerry, the camp manager came down to the river on his quad bike. “Why don’t you stay the night,” he said. “I will give you a lift into town tomorrow if you want one.” With that invitation I couldn’t refuse so I decided to stay, and a shower wouldn’t do me any harm. I moved around the corner and camped on the shore and down from the camp ground. It was too far to carry my gear up to the camping area, so I erected my tent near the water’s edge instead.
Soon after showering, which incidentally was like heaven, I decided not to wait for a lift, but to walk into town. The walk would do me good, I thought after so much sitting. Once out of the camping ground horses galloped across the fields, they looked free and high spirited, pity about the fences that kept them contained. It was the sort of county that I would expect wild horses to run. In the days of the Indian Tribes thousands of buffalo would have been running free across these hills and the plains around here. What a sight it would have been. A little further a young boy and his sister whizzed down a track on their unlicensed motor bike and sneakily crossed the road and followed another grassy trail along the fence line. It looks as if kids out here were free and high spirited as well.
After walking a mile or two, although it was very pleasant, I was hoping that someone driving by would offer me a lift, but by the time I got to the main road, no-one had gone by. Once on the main road I had no hope. By the time I reached town I had been walking for nearly 1 ½ hours and it was hot and I must admit it had tired me a little and I still had to walk back. Whilst in town I decided to check to see if there were any massage places or physios, so I walked out to the hospital, which was on the other side of the town. Unfortunately being a Sunday every thing was closed, so by the time I walked back to Burger King I deserved to sit down for a meal, but I didn’t enjoy it. After phoning home I started my long walk back. By the time I arrived at the turn off to the campground the sun had gone down making it much cooler and the best part of the day. Back at camp I erected my tent in the dark and slept like a baby.
Monday 11th September. Day 29
It was a calm night and I awoke to a misty morning. Before leaving I had a shower and rang the physio to see if there were any appointments but there wasn’t, so I decided not to waste any more time and get moving as my back was feeling much better any way. I found Jerry down at the tiny marina or should I say small creek with a board walk and a few boats in it. He was trying to demolish a beaver’s dam that a beaver had been built around the jetty. “The beavers are a bit of a nuisance,” he said. They will just build it again but if it gets too big it will take forever to move. Most of the boats in the marina were in pretty poor condition and needing a good clean. I thanked Jerry for offering me a lift in town and returned to my kayak and left.
It was still misty, the lake was choppy from the wind and when the rain came in the conditions worsened. I passed a cluster of houses, a boat ramp and a farm yard with several tall silos. There were three boats skiting around but none came near. When the lake calmed and the sun came out so did several grebe type birds. I stopped for a rest and took a self timed photo next to a big washed up tree, using part of it as my camera tripod.
The lake just went on and on for miles, I started to nod off so I decided to listen to music to pass some time away. A toilet perched on top of a hill with not a tree or building around which looked strange as I passed it by. The lake was now extremely calm and when I heard one of my favourite songs, I started singing to it. Time and time again I rewind the track and listened to it. I was in one of those moods that I didn’t mind slowing my pace and sing as loud as I could to my hearts content. There was no one out here who could hear me, so in reality I could do anything. I paddled miles with nothing much to see only a barren landscape. As I approached a huge washed up tree 20 metres from the water’s edge, which an eagle had been using as its perch I stopped and made camp.
Tuesday 12th September. Day 30
I rang Lawrence but he wasn’t in. The eagle I saw the previous day was perched on another washed up tree nearby when I left. There were lots of black headed white necked, black bodied water birds flitting around. Pity I didn’t have a bird book and I could have checked to see what they were. Highway 212 appeared on my right with little traffic and a few modest houses lining the road. There was an Indian Reservation on my right, and although I couldn’t see it the West Whitlock Recreation Area and campground was on my left. With the tourist season over it would more likely be closed.
As I cut a right hand bend before the highway 212 bridge I could see a boat ramp way over on the left with a few boats motoring to and from it. The bridge was under repair and as I moved under it there were a few workmen repairing and painting it. Just beyond the bridge three car bodies lay in the lake. I stopped about 500 yards further for an early lunch.
By the time I was rounded the next bend, where I met up with two fishermen, it was now a beautiful day. One of the fishermen had been to Tasmania, the other one had been to Sydney, Cairns and Ayres Rock. One was a farmer renting several hectares of Indian Reservation land to grow his crops and the other, well I can’t remember what he did. They had a big 225 hp motor on their boat and when it took off it was impressive. With that boat I could get to the end of the lake in no time, but that wouldn’t be fun, would it!!
I listened to my music and my favourite song came on again, so this time I started writing the words down in my waterproof notebook. This meant I could memorise the words and sing it whenever I felt like it. After replaying the song over and over again I eventually had all the words on paper, so all I had to do now was to remember them and have a good sing-along.
I paddled to shore to have a pee stop where a mangy coyote was scooting up and down the bank. I was surprised that he didn’t take off, but he trotted back and forth and just looked on. Back in the water I could see 20 or 30 horses slowly following each other up a ridge. It was the first big herd of horses that I had seen so far on my journey.
For the next few miles there were some beautiful rolling hills interspersed with green fields that were being farmed. I couldn’t see what they were growing but there where several small golf buggies type vehicles, being driven around the green fields. For some reason the vehicles reminded me of the daleks from Doctor Who. There must have been at least 15 of them scooting around high on the hillside. I couldn’t see who was driving but it could have been some little green men. I started imagining that it was some sort of new futuristic world up there controlled by aliens or an isolated place that drug runners had taken over. It seemed a very strange set up and whatever was happening, my mind was racing with theories. Were they from outer space, drug runners harvesting drugs or just locals tendering a tea plantation?
It did seem that I was quite isolated and a long way from nowhere and for some reason as I watched the activity I did feel as if I was the only real human being in the world. Or if they were drug runners, I hope I wasn’t seen. I crept by.
It was very still and quite hot. It was too nice to paddle and I was really fascinated with the green fields and buggies. Soon after I saw a group on houses further along and left of a boat ramp on the hill. I wasn’t alone after all. There was also a big mansion or something high on the ridge above Sutton Bay. I found a camp at 1133 mile mark in the mouth of a gulley. There was lots of horse dun in the water which had collected in my small bay and was far from healthy to wash in. The days were getting shorter as the sun was setting at 7.50pm. I proudly erected my tent on a nice spot, but when the wind came up it was facing the wrong way, so I moved it to a better angle to stop it from being blown down.
The stars were bright and I could see aircraft lights moving across the sky and the twinkle of a building on the ridge.
Wednesday 13th September. Day 31
The wind picked up in the night so there was a lot of flapping from the tent fly, but the wind had steadied by first light. I had paddled for 31 days and now I was over halfway in time and distance so it was a good feeling. By 10.30am the wind had calmed and the lake was like a mill pond. Two water birds sped across the water in front of me but their feet barely left the water for 200 metres and then they stopped. I neared and they dived and I never saw them again. There was a ramp and a huge car park at Bushes Landing across on the left side although there was no one there, but to have such a big car park it must get very busy around here in summer. I spotted a tractor working on a hill of a narrow peninsular and creating a lot of dust, as the earth was dry. It went up and down with the dust following it. I had spent a few years driving tractors when I was in my teens. If I was to walk across the peninsular where the tractor was working it would only be 1600 yards but to paddle around it, was over 15 miles.
I stopped at midday for lunch and had some mash potato on the right shore and as I crossed back over to the left side of the lake the wind picked up and became very rough with high waves hitting me broadside and making paddling difficult. The change in paddling conditions was so sudden. I stopped at the end of the peninsular to shelter for a few minutes as two power boats whizzed by at great speed. Being in the shallows and out of the wind was comforting but as soon as I moved off and rounded the U bend the lake was horrendously rough. I was warned that the lakes can blow up without much warning, now I was experiencing the roth of the wind, which I expected to happen several times on my trip.
The hills all around me were barren with little vegetation to stop the wind from blowing over the hills and down the river. It was so windy I hardly made headway and as minutes were passing by, it was getting worse. It was really ludicrous paddling on against such dreadful conditions but I didn’t have anything else to do, so I kept going trying to achieve another mile or two. Over to my right I could see the wide Cheyenne River enter the lake, but in old times, before the dam it was probably less than a quarter of the size it is now. It reminded me of the cowboy movies I used to watch as a child. It is approximately 295 mi (475 km) long.
I wasn’t able to look more than a moment at the Cheyenne River as it was too rough to turn around. Suddenly a power boat crept up from behind and a man and a woman slowed and asked me if I was okay and if I wanted a lift. I shouted I was okay. It was a kind offer, but I couldn’t imagine how I would get out of my 18 foot kayak and on board the small dingy in these rough conditions. They sped off leaving me to battle on. I passed a lone toilet on a ridge overlooking the lake on the Bend Recreational area, it looked lonely. In the next bay there appeared to be workmen building a new ramp, but I only got a glimpse as I was more concerned with the big waves coming towards me.
It was now rougher than rough and I made even less headway than I did before. I passed another small bay and as I looked ahead all I could see was a lake full of large whitecaps. I inched forward, but then I realised that it was just madness to go on and get nowhere and possibly capsize trying. It was time to stop. I tried turning the kayak in the high wind and breaking waves but it was difficult. When I managed to turn completely I was soon blown back to the last small bay I had passed. I landed in a sheltered area on a rocky, muddy shoreline and found a clear spot big enough to erect the tent about 10 yards from the water. The wind was gusting strongly and it was near impossible to put the tent up. I managed it, but it was that windy I didn’t have complete confidence that it would stay up all night.
I walked up and over the hill and looked south towards the small community of Pike Haven which I had hoped to have reached that evening, but in this wind I had no chance. It was hard enough to stand, let alone, paddle and I was feeling grateful that I was off the water and on the safety of the shore. It was too cold to stand around so I moved back to camp to cook in the shelter of the tent.
I sat in the dark rugged up in warm clothes, eating dinner, listening to the wind howl and looking at the amazing bright stars. I had only paddled 27 miles and virtually nowhere in that last 1 1/2 hours but I was safe, for today at least.
Thursday 14th September. Day 32
I kept waking up due to the tent wanting to take off in the night and the thought that it may collapse on top of me. It wasn’t a pleasant night. The morning wind was virtually as strong and still howling as much as it was when I arrived the previous day, so I had one hell of a job taking the tent down. My gear, even some of the heavy stuff was blowing all over the place and I had to chase it before it blew into the water. Luckily, by the time I moved off the wind had eased a little and I was able to made some headway to the next bay where there were houses on top of the hill. Despite the cool morning a warm breeze started blowing so it wasn’t long before I had to stop take my jacket off. I paddled passed the Pike Heaven boat ramp and campground, which looked quite busy with several small RVs camped there. It was certainly busier than all the other campgrounds I had passed recently. I was going to call in, but the wind was picking up so I just kept moving to make a few miles. If the wind was going to keep slowing my progress on the lakes, I would find it hard to keep to schedule.
For the next few miles I pushed into a strong wind and moved like a snail along the lake. I turned a bend and had to cross over a lumpy lake to the other side and landed before a point. I ate leftovers for lunch which I had saved from the night before, mixed mash with Thai curry, it was good. Water had seeped into my rear hatch again, so I sponged out.
I rounded the point and started crossing over to Peorrie. There was still a headwind and when I reached a flat point I stopped. I really wanted to keep going and cross the lake again to get to the right side, but I was worried I wouldn’t get across it before dark.
By stopping at 5.15pm, it gave me a chance to check out and repair the leak. I had been dragging it across rocks that wouldn’t have helped. I also had time to have a good strip wash in the dying rays of the sun. I sat on a big rock naked as a jay bird and let the wind and sun dry me. Although the place that I was camped at was low I was able to erect my tent in the shelter of a 1 ½ metre high bank. Later I sat back on the big rock in the hope of watching the stars, but unfortunately there was no stars as the clouds had moved in. I could however see some lights of houses on the hill on the other side of the lake to my south. I was camped around the 1083 mile mark on the north side of a point.
Friday 15th September. Day 33
I dreamt that I went to Harvey White Water Course with a gang of people, Neil, Penny, Rosy and others. For some reason Penny put water in my down sleeping bag. In my dream I also walked over this big Asian river and through a cave – how weird.
It didn’t seem too windy when I took off but as soon as I rounded the point all hell broke loose. I paddled and hardly moved for about ten minutes. Gale force winds whipped across the 6km wide lake creating large breaking waves and a near suicidal crossing. I paused on the lakes edge debating if to risk leaving the relative safety of the shores, though I knew if I stayed, the low barren hills would give me no place to hide from the wind. As I wanted to get to the Lake Oahe dam wall that day, I just had to make an attempt on the crossing.
I took off knowing that the crossing was going to be tough and even with the knowledge that I may capsize and be swept away in this lonely cold place, it wasn’t enough to deter me from giving it a go. Immediately the cruel conditions had me reeling. I had a strong faith in my own capabilities, but after 15 minutes, that was being shaken. Should I really be out here? I thought. Waves broke on the kayak’s deck and wind gusts tried forcefully to push me sideways, but for me, there was no turning back. As much as I could, I kept the nose of the kayak pointing towards the wind and at the same time tried to angle it slightly towards the opposite shore so I could at least make some headway. Progress was slow, but it was the safest way to paddle.
When the wind gusts eased I pointed the kayak more directly towards my destination, but it was often only for a few moments at a time. I knew that if I was thrown side-ways to the wind I would find it almost impossible to get my boat back on track, as the extreme wind which funnelled down the lake was too strong to fight and the waves too messy. I paddled with caution thinking out every moment. Progress was excruciatingly slow and by the time I got a third of the way across the lake, it was becoming a suicidal mission but yet, it was now still safer to go on, than to go back. I was very vulnerable and on a knife edge, but that was life as an expedition kayaker and taking calculated risks is a part of every expedition.
With immeasurable relief I finally made it across to the other side of the lake where I expected the conditions to be easier in the shelter of the hills, but I was wrong! The water was still rough, though not as bad as in the middle of the lake. Wind gusts blowing off the barren hills, down the gullies and across the small bays were so powerful, I was often at a stand still. My biggest concern though, was keeping hold of my paddle as the wind tried desperately to wrench it out of my hands. Even if I capsized and missed a roll just 5 metres from shore, I would simply be blown out into the lake, as the wind was too fierce to fight. It gave me good reason to stay up right!
Although I was now hugging the shoreline as much as I could the wind tried constantly to whip my paddle out of my hand with strong gusts continuing to create rough conditions even as I crossed the smallest bay. I was at a virtual stand-still most of the time. A boat went by and I could only nod and just keep paddling.
As I neared the big wall of the dam the wind didn’t get any calmer, it was howling and it continued being extremely hard work right up to the end. I landed on the big boat ramp just as a boat was coming in. It was gone within minutes leaving me alone. It was cold and wet. I unloaded and then put my wheels under the kayak and loaded it with my light gear and packed my heavier gear in packs and lifted them on and across my back.
I started pulling the kayak up the hill and towards the top of the dam wall, and it was tough. I rested at the top and then started the walk down to the marina which was roughly 2 ½ miles.
The marina restaurant was packed with Vietnam vets, but the shop had little food that I could enjoy. The shop manager said there was still 40 knot winds blowing out on the lake, that’s why there were no one out there fishing today. The camp ground, a few hundred metres away was completely full with Vietnam Vets so I had no choice to load the kayak, which I did slowly, and at 5.50pm pushed off out of the marina bay and back into the river and around to another campsite 1.6 miles downstream.
I reached the camp site and landed on a beach on a corner of the channel that the water from the hydro electric was coming down. Within moments the heavens opened up and a severe thunderstorm was passing over. It was quite warm considering the fowl weather. I waited for it to ease a little and then I started erecting my tent on a beautiful grassed area in the shade of bushes and popular trees. Everything was wet but it was dry inside my tent. The campsite host soon came over on his quad bike for his $10.00 camping fee and then offered to take me to town if I wanted to go.
There were no showers, so I washed in a basin in the toilet. It always feels good to be clean. As I cooked my meal I could hear a concert playing several miles away in Pierre, apparently the Beach Boys were playing. I had a late night.
Saturday 16th September. Day 34
When I walked down to the river’s edge the water had dropped about 6 – 8 feet. Sandbars were now in the middle of the river and covered in seagulls. The sand bars weren’t there the previous day so I had paddled over them without realising. The power station must have generated less power in the night so less water would have gone through the turbines.
I carried my kayak down to the beach and by the time I had loaded the water had risen over 3 feet. It was an easy 4 mile paddle into Pierre on a wide, straight, calm river. The first lot of houses I came to were basic, but the closer I got to town the bigger the houses became. One huge house was situated on a hill and had hundred of steps that led down to the river and their boat. I could imagine them having a drinking day on the river and then having to complete the long climb back up to their home. The US flag was flying from many houses along the shore and many had kayaks sitting in their front yards. There was 1 at one house, 3 at another, 2 at the next and 4 at another. There were more kayaks here than what I had seen on the river so far.
I saw one of the small US postal vans motoring along a street and it reminded me of the times I cycled around the US back in 1998. I had so many happy memories from that trip. A rock bank lined the river and when I saw a jogger running by, I asked him where I could pull ashore. He told me of a boat ramp and floating deck a little downstream. I arrived there at 9.45am and soon changed into my respectable town clothes and started to walk into town to pick up a few supplies. A garden nearby was full of small flags with names of soldiers that had died in the Vietnam War. It was a sad reminder of the consequences of war.
I noticed a shop called Dakota Adventures so I went inside expecting to find some outdoor equipment, but they had nothing to sell apart from some animal skins, hats and gloves. The main road a block away had every fast food outlet you could find in America. There were so many choices, but I didn’t feel hungry for any of them. I just yearned for something fresh.
Pierre was the capital of South Dakota and it was celebrating a Vietnam Veterans home coming (a little late some would say) and the place was abuzz. There were Vietnam Veteran welcome signs all over the place.
I found a hardware store and bought a gallon of fuel, I took less than a litre and gave the container back to them. The store had a video playing whilst I was there so I stopped to watch it for a while. It was about the Vietnam War with interviews of the soldiers. It was so sad to see what went on there. Even in the friendly towns they had to have steel mesh windows in the army buses, to prevent people throwing grenades into them. I left the store with more appreciation of what the soldiers had to go through.
Back on the main road the vets were driving small hot rods, old cars, motor bikes, big pickup trucks and riding on horses and driving horse carriages. It looked as if most of the vets were enjoying the recognition. Many of them were scared for life, some physically, others emotionally. Not having experienced a war, I will never know the fear, and the pain they have been through.
I stopped at a super market and bought a few provisions, but I didn’t need much, only a few things to top up my supplies. I walked back to my kayak passing all the festivities, parades and all the welcome signs. The vets were really getting a welcome but it had been 31 years since the war.
Back at the kayak I sat down on the scenic waterfront and ate fresh bread, cheese, tomato and ham. How delicious. The weather was just gorgeous and there was a lot of activity in the park and band stand stage nearby. It looked as if the people there were readying for a concert or something.
Ducks and waterbirds were active in the river and I watched them as I slowly ate lunch. It felt such a nice place to be and I was finding it hard to leave. It had been the first big city that I was able to pull up to a jetty and walk into town.
I left the city of Pierre on a calm windless afternoon a little sad because I had left all the activity. A few hundred yards downstream I met a boat anchored in the middle of the river with people relaxing and drinking wine. I stopped to talk and they told me a fireworks display was about to take place. Odd I thought because it was still day light. “These are daylight fireworks,” they said. I was a little sceptical about there being such a thing as day light fireworks but they assured me that there were. We exchanged goodbyes and I left them drinking wine and eating delicacies with their feet up and really relaxing. For a moment I was quite envious. I was in for another hard day.
I moved on around a left hand bend with steep banks towering over on my right. The city was completely lost as a big island park on my left was covered with trees that blocked my view. When I reached the end, a creek opened up into a big bay and gave me views of the city and the Capitol building again. It was quite a sight but it didn’t last long as trees again soon blocked my view. Being only a couple of miles out of the city, it still felt quite remote.
Civilisation was now behind me and ahead a lonely river that would soon turn into a lake. I got into a nice paddling rhythm when moments later a frightening set of bangs echoed down the river. I instantly looked back and saw an array of daylight fireworks blasting off and lighting up the day time sky. The people were right, you could see fireworks in the day time, but they certainly weren’t as colourful as night time fireworks. It didn’t matter I was treated to a display that I have never seen before, so for a few moments I just sat there, in my kayak drifting with the current and taking it all in. When the smoke, white phosphorus plumes and the skies became quiet, the show was all over.
I started paddling again just as several aircraft that had been circling the city earlier, came together for an aircraft bypass display. It was quite moving, as I thought of the Vietnam Vets and what they had gone through. Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured physically and emotionally. At the parade there were several veterans in wheel chairs as well as many using crutches to get around. War is savage. When the aircraft disappeared the celebrations for me was over, it was back to paddling. I still had a thousand miles to paddle before I could celebrate truly, but I knew that I had been lucky throughout my life so far, as I hadn’t experience war.
Everything was looking good for a perfect day then unexpectedly a loud sonic boom rumbled behind me. I look back expecting another aircraft display, but I could see nothing but a heavy, black, fierce looking cloud drifting over the city. I paddled on glancing behind and watching the build up of a spectacular sky. Within minutes the city was in a thick haze as the huge set of thunder clouds towered over it. Moments later the buildings were lost as the heavy rain lashed the city. That will dampen the celebrations, I thought.
The storm looked as if it was headed to the north-west, so I felt safe, and I didn’t have to worry. Within minutes though, the large black cloud full of heavy rain was headed my way. Now I was worried. I took off like a rocket trying to find a safe way to get to shore as there were a large number of tree stumps blocking my way. I looked behind again and I could see the storm bearing down on me at a very fast pace. The river had turned white as the wind waves coming down the river developed into thousands of big feisty white caps. The storm was after me.
With the help of the strong wind I was moving at an unbelievable speed, but I could see that I needed to get to shore even quicker to shelter. Normally that would be easy but with the tree stumps scattered along the shoreline for about 300 metres out into the lake, it wasn’t easy at all. They were dangerously positioned in my path, but I just had no choice to run the gauntlet and paddle between them before the storm hit me fully. It was a dangerous move and I only needed to be pushed sideways onto one and it would be curtains for me.
Suddenly the first part of the storm caught up and all hell broke loose. The wind gusted stronger as the rain pelted and the waves began to increase even bigger in size. It all happened within minutes. I just focussed on paddling the clearest, straightest path between the stumps towards a tiny beach on shore that I could see in the distance.
The wind intensified further and I was forced to stop paddling to prevent my paddle from being whipped out of my hands. I even laid back in my kayak seat to create less wind resistance and to help keep the nose of the kayak from burying into the waves that I was surfing. As the wind waves pushed me along, I surfed, I used the rudder to steer and I was moving at a speed that I could never attain by mere paddling!
It was the fiercest and most frightening storm that I had encountered for years whilst on the water. It was impossible to fight, I just had to keep a low profile, keep the boat straight, let the wind blow me and hope for the best and pray that I would reach the beach before being capsized. If I was pushed sideways to the waves or hit a stump, I couldn’t imagine what would happen, but one thing I knew, it wouldn’t be pleasant!
I was joyous as I hit that tiny beach, it surely saved me. I jumped out of the kayak in not so perfect fashion, grabbed the front toggle and pulled the boat up a steep two metre bank and raced across some grass and quickly turned the kayak and faced it directly towards the oncoming storm, hoping it wouldn’t be whipped away with the wind. I was safe but what an experience!! I donned my raincoat, kneeled down next to the boat to avoid being blown away and just watched the storm as it passed over. I would hate to think what would have happened if I had been kilometres away from shore. The wide river was now one mass of breaking waves, it was an amazing sight.
Within 15 minutes of the main storm passing I was on the move again, the waves had dissipated to a safer height. It was still very rough but just paddle-able. Within 20 minutes another storm, not looking quite as big as the first, started to veer across towards me. With the wind increasing with every minute I thought enough was enough and decided to pull out when I saw a sheltered campsite. It wasn’t yet 5.00pm so I felt a little guilty to be stopping so early but it was the safest thing to do. I set up the tent beside some trees on the edge of a small meadow, which gave me good shelter. I had time to do some washing and hang a line in the trees and with the high winds the washing soon dried. I had cheese and tomato rolls for tea. It was a cold, stormy and a very blustery night.
Sunday 17th September. Day 35
I could hear the wind whipping through the trees in the night and it was quite frightening. I couldn’t imagine what it was like on the lake. I woke up a few times and had such a weird dream. Alaine was getting nasty phone calls at the shop. I was then playing ball and then 6 of us went under a building to find a guy and he ambushed us and used a flame thrower to set us on fire. Pretty weird!
It was cold under the shade of the trees and with the wind blowing through the tunnel of branches I had to keep rugged up. The lake didn’t seem as rough as the previous night when I left, but my camp had been sheltered and it wasn’t long before I was in the thick of it again. Five boats with fisherman casting lines were just drifting in the middle of the narrow lake and letting the wind do all the work. I saw one man catch a fish, he looked overjoyed but he also looked cold. It was such a cold day, apparently it only reached around 6ºC. Tree stumps in the water became a concern again as the wind and the swell of the lake lifted me up and down. If there was one just hidden under the water and I dropped on it, the kayak could be severely damaged. I stopped around a bend near the 1040 mark at 11.00am and ate cheese and bread. It was so cold that I had to put on an extra thermal and neoprene gloves to get some warmth back into me.
A pack of motorbikes were cruising along a highway that was running close to the river, Vietnam vets going home most likely. A head wind around the next bend slowed me. There were corn fields (maize) and a house on the bend. The highway was lost and then returned, before another house appeared. When I turned to the west it calmed a little but it didn’t last long, the wind returned, the big waves returned and so did the stumps. It was like playing Russian Roulette with the stumps again. Horses and cows nearby were sharing the same field which is not unusual but it has been rare on this trip. Away from the river there were some nice hills and I could see pine trees when I turned west a little more.
It was hard to believe, but the lake became even rougher. I was really fighting the elements and I mean that literally. There were tree stumps in the lake again to dodge. I was getting very wet, not just from the rain that came in heavy downpours but also from the large waves that pounded the boat and washed over the bow and stern. The wind blew a gale, and waves increased in size. The conditions made it hard for me to keep control of the kayak and it made paddling that much more difficult. When the really big waves rolled over the kayak the whole boat was literally underwater and the kayak would wallow and flounder with the weight of the water.
The lakes had much shorter wave lengths than in the ocean so while my bow was on the top of one wave my stern was also on top of a wave with no water underneath the centre of the kayak, which made it awfully unstable. Other times the kayak was picked up by a wave and nosed dived underwater. So whenever I heard a big set of waves rolling towards me from behind I would angle my boat into the wave hollows and ride up them sideways, so as to counteract the boat’s bow from submerging. Although I still got wet and had to be ready to do support strokes, I had more control of the kayak and it felt a safer method of paddling. But this method was far from safe when the tree stumps appeared again. Hitting one of these stumps broadside could destroy the kayak and bring a crashing end to my journey and maybe my life, as the water was so cold and wind so strong it would be hard to survive more than half an hour in the water.
Conditions were bad, but they got worse when frightening strong wind gusts came rushing through making it virtually impossible to stop my paddle from being wrenched out of my hands. At these times I had little control of the boat and I was always praying that there were no tree stumps in my way. I paddled on a knife’s edge and pushed my luck and although I knew that I wasn’t infallible I just wanted to keep going, keep warm and keep on schedule, whilst taking as much care as it was possible.
I have paddled in the ocean for thousands of kilometres in all conditions but the conditions on Lake Sharpe were as bad as I’ve ever encountered on the ocean. However, unlike the ocean, where the swells can get big, and waves are usually less steep and longer, the lake waves were quite high, steep and rolled in much closer together making them near impossible to surf.
Kilometre after kilometre the shore was lined with a large number of big floating trees that had been washed up, making landing in these trying conditions very difficult, if not impossible. There were irrigated fields, rolling hills and a deer, but it was far too difficult to take much notice of anything today. I was too concern in keeping upright. As nightfall was edging closer, the wind got stronger, the temperature got colder and with the shoreline in my sight almost impossible to land on, it was with great relief when I saw a boat ramp in a small bay, free of trees. My spirits soared as I spotted my home for the night and a place that I would be safe.
As I dragged the kayak up the boat ramp the cold was so intense it was hard for me to function properly and to get motivated to find a place to erect my tent. The days paddle had been a trying experience. It had been like playing Russian roulette in gale force winds and rough seas with the tree stumps that littered thickly at times along my path. I wondered what tomorrow was going to bring.
There were no good camping spots with shade from the wind so I had no choice to erect my tent at the edge of the bitumen car park and pressed hard against a barrier of bushes to get as much protection as possible from the howling storm. If it rained heavy in the night the water draining off the big car park would flood my tent for sure but there was little alternative, every where else was too exposed and windy. I changed into a thermal shirt, a tea shirt, my Kokatat jumper, a vest, a fleece jacket and my thermal bottoms and pants and I was still cold.
A few cars drove into the car park, had a quick look at the inlet and drove out again. I cooked my evening meal, but my stove was playing up and needed a clean.
Monday 18th September. Day 36
The lake was only 140 kilometres long but it was proving to be more difficult to navigate than the larger ones due to the weather conditions and the tree stumps that were in the water. With the cold and strong westerly winds continuing to turn the lake into one big mass of whitecaps and huge waves, I decided not to push my luck and have my only complete rest day of the journey.
I was still snuggled up in my tent when three local Indian women from the Lower Brule Indian Reservation came to the car park and emptied the rubbish bins. We talked and they were extremely friendly. Later Joel, another worker from the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, who had been told by the ladies that I was in the car park, came down and asked me if I needed anything. When he left I wrote a lot, cleaned my stove, talked to two couples from Kansas and went for a short walk. About 4 cars drove in and out of the car park that day. It was very stormy all day, but it started to clear a little around 6.00pm.
Tuesday 19th September. Day 37
I was up at 6.15am and raring to go, the storm had passed. When the sun came up it was blue skies and light winds. As I was packing the three Indian ladies arrived and brought me a present of popcorn in a huge flash cone box that was made on the Reservation, and 6 packs of chemically activated hand warmers. I was hoping the popcorn was going to be like you buy at the movies in England, and coated in butterscotch, but it was raw and I had to cook it myself. Fitting in the big cone box into my kayak was difficult, but being a present I really couldn’t leave it behind whilst the ladies were watching. We hugged and said our good byes. They were three really nice ladies, with one much shyer than the other two. They said they would look out for me as I paddled through their reservation.
What a difference a day makes. This morning the lake was amazingly calm. Yesterdays rough conditions were due to the strong winds. Now the winds have stopped the lake was calm. There was no swell like you would get in the ocean after a storm. The lake was less than a mile wide at this point so I cut the corner and stopped on the next bend to take a thermal off as the morning had soon turned warm. It was only 38 miles to the Big Bend Dam so I was getting excited to get back on the river with a current helping me along again. Before me was a big U bend in the river which was 10 miles around, but to portage up and over the peninsular was only 0.67 of a mile.
I crossed back over to the right side of the river and landed on a gravelly shore and had a cheese roll for lunch. There was a boat with people fishing nearby and they were rugged up in orange coats. There was a slight north wind as I worked my way around the big bend stopping briefly next to a pumping station on the tip to take my jacket off. I worked myself around the bend and watched a tractor pulling a tanker drive up to a bore to collect water. The area was completely cropped and being irrigated.
I paddled a little further around the bend and stopped at the 1000 mile mark and celebrated by eating a snickers bar. Yippee it was a happy time. Like many of the lakes it had several bends so just after a big patch of swampy reeds I crossed over the lake again. As 4.15pm approached I paddled by a boat ramp and a camping area which looked good but I decided to keep going to the dam wall as it wasn’t time to stop. I arrived at the ramp in Good Soldier Creek as a boat was leaving. There was a picnic area and toilets and it was quiet. I carried my gear over to a table and returned for the kayak. The front hatch had a bit of water in it and I noticed a chip in the gelcoat at the rear, so being a beautiful night I decided to do a fibreglass repair.
It was a very still night and only two cars came down, but didn’t stop. I saw a white cat and there was a continual hooting of a bird somewhere in the bushes. I pigged out on chocolate and two meat jerky sticks. I didn’t put my tent up till dark just in case some undesirables arrived. I was only a few hundred metres from a road and I was hoping that a car load of drunks didn’t decide to give me a visit.
Wednesday 20th September. Day 38
The morning’s portage was less than 2 kilometres which I was very happy about, but the first part out of the picnic area was all up hill, pretty steep and hard work. Once it became down hill it was easy and I was much happier, although a bit of hard work didn’t really bother me. If it did I wouldn’t be here. There were people fishing at my put in point below a big new jetty. It was probably put there so people could fish off it, but the water was that low, it was nowhere near the water. I wanted to top up my water from the toilet but a sign said it was not good for drinking.
I loaded and left the fisher people and headed into a cold and strong easterly wind. Although there was supposed to be a current the wind seemed much stronger so it was slow going. I passed Crow Creek where it was said that there had been a massacre there and now it was sacred ground. I passed it by and stopped further along below a cliff and as I walked on the slate rock at the base of the vertical rock, all the slate cracked as I walked.
Once around a bend and after I passed through some tree stumps in the water I could see the town of Chamberlain which has a population of 2400 people. I reached the American Creek campground at 3.15pm and walked to the shop to buy a few basic food items. I also topped up with water from the shower block and got myself ready to leave. As I was on the verge of dragging my boat in the water, I thought why not stay and do my washing and post some mail.
As I stood at the river’s edge I was still in two minds, but then I said to myself, “bugger it, I will stay.” I walked back to the camp ground office and paid my $10.00 and got a campsite at the top of the ramp. As soon as I had everything set up, I walked over to the brand new laundry that was a few hundred metres down the road. Three local women and their kids were doing their washing as well.
I had no desire to cook pasta on the stove tonight so after I returned my freshly washed dry clothes to my tent, I walked into town and found the restaurant, the Anchor Grille. At the table there was a place-mat which doubled for a South Dakota information sheet. I was fascinated with a few of the trivial tit-bits that were on it. I didn’t realise that Mount Rushton, where the heads of five Presidents are carved into the mountainside, was nearby. I loved learning about the area and I was getting to know more about the US than most Americans did. Sad but true.
Walleye fish was on the menu and as I had heard a lot about walleye from fisherman and notice boards along my way I thought I would give it try. I was soon disappointed as the fish wasn’t at all tasty and the salad, which I usually adore, must have been sitting around all day as it was wilted and I felt as if I was eating weeds. The meal was disappointing but the beer and a good sit down at a table was a pleasant relief.
On the way home I posted some letters at the post office and bought a hot chocolate and an ice cream drumstick at a shop near the camp. I then retreated to the tent and listened to music.
Thursday 21st September. Day 39
It was one of those drizzly mornings with a lot of fine moisture in the sky. It was hazy with dark clouds that matched the murky grey water of the river. There were no bright colours to be seen, only the shades of grey and drab green so the scene around me wasn’t so striking. As I moved away from the camp ground I soon passed the tall signs of motels and fast food outlets which were located at the south end of town, close to the interstate highway. I paddled under three bridges, the first two had earth rock groynes built more than half way across the river to shorten the bridge span, where as the third and last bridge was a rail bridge and had pylons going all the way across although near the left hand bank the pylons were wider to allow boats to go through.
It could have been pretty scenic, but the day was dull. It was also chilly but my morning brightened up when I watched two coyotes stride along the left bank seemingly frightened of no one. I looked back and had my last look at the town and civilisation. Near on an hour later I stopped on a shallow bend for a sandwich, about 1.7 miles from where the White River joined the Missouri. I was soon chilled to the bone, so I didn’t hang around and within minutes I spotted a very long stunning sand bar over to my right. A mile later the White River entered the Missouri and the current started to liven up. A little further, around a left hand U bend the current became even faster and I was rejoicing at the fast ride. Unfortunately it didn’t last long.
It was a cold grim day but about 1 ½ miles from Nicholas Creek it became even grimmer when I saw a cow stuck fast in the mud on the edge of the lake. With the lake dropping in height on a daily basis, as the summer season drew to a close it left several yards of the drying mud along the shoreline. I could see deep indentations of cattle hooves in the mud as it walked towards the lakes edge to get water. Unfortunately it hadn’t quite reached it and the cow became stranded about 10 yards from the water’s edge. This cow was really wedged in and suffering.
I stopped and carefully exited my kayak in the thick mud. My feet sank deep and the mud oozed around them making it a struggle to get to the cow. My idea was to frighten it, so it would make the effort to get up and then I would be on my way. Millions of flies were covering its whole body and the cow looked weak and helpless. It was lying in its own shit and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I shouted and waved my arms to frighten it, but it only tried a feeble attempt to lift its bum. It was too frail so it just fell back down again. It was a sorry sight and despite more attempts to try and get it to move, it couldn’t, as it was too wedged into the mud and I soon came to realise that I could do nothing to save it. Nor could anyone else, it was too far gone. Its body was all bone and it looked as if it had been there for days. No one would be able to get it out unless they had a crane with a long jib. It had a number 62 branded on its back. It was surely going to die.
I carefully headed back to my kayak bringing inside a load of mud and a smell, as it was impossible to clean my muddy boots before getting in. I paddled away quite sad, knowing it was suffering and I couldn’t do anything.
As I rounded the next bend it started to rain and became very misty. It was still calm, but it was cold and I soon had to put another thermal on. The shoreline and hills were rugged and there were rolling hills up to the summit of Twin Butte Mountain that stood nearby at 2042 feet. Rain fronts continued to sweep across the river bringing more rain and mist. The left side of the river became low and muddy. I paddled over to the right to try to find higher ground for camping and landed about 6.00pm in the pouring rain. I found a flat area up on the higher desolate shoreline but it was a long way from my landing spot due to the low water levels. I erected the tent first. It was wet from the heavy rain but I was able to put up the fly first and the inner later so to keep the inner dry. Cow dun was littered all around my camp and I had thoughts of ticks and parasites living in the grass that I was camped on. Would I be itching tomorrow or prying off the ticks?
For the next twenty minutes I carried my gear and kayak up to the tent, trudging across slippery mud and rock in the rain. It felt that I was at the end of the earth, I was wet, cold and the only way to eat food was to cook inside the tent vestibule, which I did. There were no stars to enjoy when it got dark and it rained continuously all night.
Friday 22nd September. Day 40
Light rain was still falling in the morning and the sky was full of mist and every thing felt wet and damp. I took my inner tent down first to keep it dry as the outer was saturated. I was away by 8.40am and I stopped a little later to eat some left over black bean and rice from the night before. Some of the freeze dried meals that I had bought as a treat were for 2 people, so often I wouldn’t eat it all in one meal but save it for the next day. It tasted great and it was a real luxury.
Around the next bend I could see a bridge in the distance and to my right only a short distance away was the Buryanek Recreation Area, which looked to be an excellent campsite with lots of shade and very close to the water. It also had a sandy beach, picnic shades, rental huts and a boat ramp and it was certainly one of the best camp sites I had seen. The area was surrounded by orange and red leaves which looked magical and indicated fall was truly on its way.
It was cold and blustery as I paddled the two and a half miles to a bay that was situated just before the bridge. As I paddled across the opening to the bay and the Dock 44 Marina I could only see a few boats on the water, but otherwise I saw no-one and it looked pretty deserted. There was a tiny church sitting almost under the bridge. It was a quaint little thing but I could only wonder if it was still used today. There were now more trees on the hills, especially on the right hand side after the bridge. Most of my journey so far had been pretty barren but now I was beginning to see some forested hills which had trees that were changing colours.
I stopped on the left after the bridge at the Snake Creek Recreation area, but it was deserted. There was volley ball court, basketball courts, picnic tables and toilets with a number of deserted wooden chalets. I ate a sandwich as I walked around. It certainly appeared that the holiday season has truly finished here.
Black clouds were still present although the rain held off, but it was still cold. I paddled by the Platte Creek inlet entrance where there were three boats whizzing around. I soon passed 3 other smaller inlets, one with an old house on the hilly shoreline and a farm at the end of the inlet and back from the rugged shores. There were also a few irrigated fields.
I stopped a couple of more times before seeing a farm on the right hand side and a flock of gulls diving into the water and in a fishing frenzy. Black clouds filled the horizon so I mentally prepared myself for a big blow and moved closer to the left shore just in case, but luckily the storm passed behind me. I eventually pulled into a bay at the North Wheeler Recreation Area and noticed some car campers near the bottom of the small bay but the shore was too muddy there. I then paddled over to the west side, but campers before me had left the area with rubbish and in such a mess that I couldn’t bring myself to camp there, so I moved closer to the boat ramp. It too wasn’t a suitable site, so I moved around a finger point towards the lake and camped on a good section of gritty sand. It started to rain as I levelled the ground and quickly erected the tent. It was too wet and cold to be outside so I cooked in the vestibule and listened to the rain. I went to bed with a slight muscle twinge in my left arm.
Saturday 23rd September. Day 41
It rained heavily in the night and it was still raining when I awoke and it was also a lot windier than the previous day. I visited the long-drop toilet near the boat ramp and it smelled of fish and wasn’t very clean. Nevertheless I sat and listened to the echo of the cricket sounds in the bottom of the big open pan. The rain continued to be heavy and black clouds raced across the sky being pushed by strong winds, so I decided to stay put. At 10.00am the rain cleared a little and with no writing paper to spare to write a letter I decided it was time to move on.
The conditions started off okay but deteriorated as I moved across the 1.7 mile wide lake heading towards the South Wheeler Recreation Area on the other side. By the time I reached it the waves were pretty big which came at me on an angle, so at least if I did capsize I would have been washed towards the shore. I rounded the next bend in a cloud of mist and rain and paddled onto South Scalp Creek, but I kept going to another small bay which didn’t have a lot of water in it and a boat ramp out of the water that couldn’t be used on the southern side.
I decided to get out for a quick break on a sandy finger point on the north-west side of the bay close to the lake. It was still extremely windy and when I pulled up to the shore and about to get out the wind and waves crossing the shallows started pushing me back into the bay. By this time I had half stepped out of the kayak and when my feet reached the sand I was in waist deep water and then my legs sank up to my knees in the mud. Suddenly I found myself stuck fast in the mud with the kayak trying to get away from me. I pulled onto the kayak to drag myself out of the mud and luckily I was able to free myself and struggle to shore. For a moment there I thought I had struck quick sand or quick mud as it turned out. Wet, bedraggle and freezing cold, the strong wind cut through my body, as if I had no clothes on at all. I had a quick sandwich, sponged out the water from the back hatch and the cockpit and got going before I froze to death.
I was about 7.5 miles to the Fort Randall dam an easy paddle in normal conditions but today wasn’t normal. The rain had my visibility cut down to a few hundred yards and my kayak was bouncing up and down as if it was in some kind of fit. The poor thing was trying to cope with the big waves and white caps, which came in sets and which in turn made the boat extremely unstable. I had to be more than alert when the big breaking waves hit me from the side, as I didn’t fancy capsizing. The lake was only 1.7 miles wide at this point but the waves still had a lot of power in them when they reached me.
I got closer to the dam wall but the wind and rain wouldn’t give in and the rain was chasing me again, as it came in waves across the sky. Within two miles of reaching the dam I couldn’t see it through the mist, but then all of a sudden about a mile away it appeared and I could see trucks and cars driving over it.
My guide book talked about taking out at a beach and getting a lift by some kind person but no-one was around on such a terrible day and that didn’t really matter as I felt much better about my trip when I walked without help. I decided to take out at the ramp, rather than the beach. It was a little longer but I would be able to paddle up to the concrete and put the kayak straight onto my trolley and not have to carry any gear up a beach. I was cold, extremely cold when I got out of the kayak and it was still raining and the wind was still raging.
I eventually had all my light gear in my kayak and all the heavy gear lifted and strapped to my body and started walking up a hill on the wet, soft gravel road. It was a punishing ordeal and I changed arms regularly as to prevent any back problems like I had before. It was roughly a two mile walk but it seemed longer. I stopped briefly at the Old Fort Randall Church and ruin and about 0.6 of a mile further I pulled my kayak into the Fort Randall Creek campground. It was deserted, not a car or a person to be seen. I walked up to the campground office and no one was there and the toilets were all locked up. I walked down the road further and still saw no-one, surely there must be another camp somewhere. It was a huge place with no life.
I walked to the boat ramp and decided to camp behind some trees near the toilet block. I tried the phone box nearby and it was as dead as a door nail and at 6.45pm I managed to get out of my wet clothes. It had been a hard day so I was pleased to be cooking in my vestibule and getting some energy back. It was still blustery and it rained on and off all evening and by the time I was about to sleep, the place was still deserted and being a public place it seemed as if I was the only person in the world.
Sunday 24th September. Day 42
The sun was out soon after I got up so I decided to put up a washing line to dry all my clothes and gear. I had been in wet or damp gear for 3 days and it was such a joy when everything was dry. It was like a new start. I took it real easy getting ready and to my surprise a man drove up to the ramp towing a boat, so I wasn’t alone in the world after all.
He said he met Australia’s bull riding champ Troy Dunn. (Troy Dunn was born 8th May 1967; he is the second youngest of 5 children. Dunn began riding calves at age 9, he had his first open bull rider at age 17, and started to rodeo professionally in Australia in 1987. After winning the Australian Professional Rodeo Assoc (APRA) bull riding title he moved to Canada to compete in 1990.
Dunn qualified for his first Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assoc PRCA National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in 1991. He was plagued with injuries during 1992, 1993 and 1994. Troy resurrected his career in 1995 with a solid performance all year on the tour and completed it winning the Professional Bull Rider (PBR) World Finals. Troy goes on to do much more…)
The guy said he had ridden bulls for 6 years until his body got such a thrashing he could no longer do it. I told him that I used to bull ride for a short time, but I wasn’t very good. He and his friend took off in his boat leaving me alone again. I finally left at 10.35am taking pictures of the spillway which looked quite spectacular. Not far from the ramp and after the camp ground that I camped in, I noticed a few RVs that were camped in another section further down.
Ochre coloured cliffs and rolling hills with scattered bush were over on the left bank. I was soon away on a swift current which made me happy and it was much better going with the current than fighting the wind and the waves on the lakes. I talked briefly to a man in a boat who was drifting and fishing, but sadly he didn’t have much to say.
It was sunny with a few clouds and several plane vapour trails that crossed the sky. I was helped by a cool breeze that was pushing me from behind. It looked as if it was going to be a great day. I passed a border sign saying Nebraska/South Dakota. I was now heading south at a good pace and where the hills were beginning to foster a lot more trees. There was a hide on the left, a turtle on a rock, a speeding boat going by and holiday homes, cabins and caravans on the right on a bend of mile 869. The miles were getting less so it was good to be getting closer to my target.
A farmer had dumped loads of rubbish over the high river bank and it was scattered all down the slope and very much an eye sore. It shouldn’t be allowed. At 1.00pm just before a line of houses I passed a sign saying canoe camp, although I saw no-one there. One of the houses nearby looked very much like a water tank, and another house had a jetty that lifted up when not in use. It was a good idea to have a lift up jetty because it was out of the way of other river uses and with a strong current being along the bank it made sure that no boats would get swept into it.
Further along on the left bank there was another house that was coned shape, and a shoreline that was being severely eroded and trees slipping in. I could just imagine the trees talking to each other, one saying to the other at the top of the bank, Fred slid down the bank yesterday and it looks as if Joe will go over the edge soon and join him.
I passed under some power lines and came across a line of high beautiful bluffs on the right. Trees here were hanging onto the cliff edges for dear life. Some were angled severely and ready to fall and how they managed to grow in the rock crevices was quite amazing. Three deer, mum and two juniors were in a gully between the cliffs and as I approached them they scampered off between the trees and up the gully. I stopped briefly on a flattish small grassed area of a gully between the bluffs and studied the trees that were hanging by only a root or two. With no one to talk to I said to myself, I wonder when they will fall. The limestone craggy bluffs were impressive and a delight to look at.
A flag outside a small farm downstream on the left looked as if it was at half mast. Within minutes a man jumped into his power dingy and headed downstream at a fast pace as if it was life and death. He was gone within seconds. The bluffs were getting lower and lower until eventually, as I approached a community of houses they were gone. I passed a paddle wheel boat with a small vehicle on board, just as I approached another small community. In front of many of the houses, cabins and permanent RVs, owners had used brick and concrete rubble to line the banks from erosion. The banks look awful and a real eyesore. One house had a line of duck and deer ornaments, which in my eyes were really tacky. Most of the houses along here were really shacks with a few good homes in between. Most must have been holiday homes as they were few people around. Behind the houses, there were fields with crops.
The current had picked up and I was soon floating passed the local boat ramp at a good speed. I rounded a right hand bend to find a stunning vertical bluff with the sun shining on it. The sun brought out all the red and orange colours and as I paddled by them I felt the day could go on forever as I was really enjoying it. Two miles further a gang of five on quad bikes were tearing up the dirt and mud and racing across bumps and jumps along the shore. One guy came to the water’s edge, raced through the shallow water did a few wheelies in the mud and after looking straight at me, to say I’m good, he took off. What a showman.
It was now calm, most of the clouds had gone and it was a beautiful evening. It became marshy on the right and then on the left. A shot rang out and I thought that I was under fire and it turned out being a man doing some target practise on shore. I felt quite vulnerable but when I got well away from his position, I felt safer. I threaded my way through a number of islands, skirted marshes, reeds and saw an old looking railway bridge, over in the distance, which turned out being Niobrara Trail Bridge. The Niobrara State Park and the town of Niobrara, which was partially hiding behind a swamp were over on my right hand side.
I skirted to the right of the group of islands called the Jones Islands, turned a corner and in the distance saw a bridge and a bluff that was lit up brightly by the dying sun. There were several hides in the swamps, more than likely used by duck shooters. The sun was spiralling in a downwards direction at an alarming rate and I was a little worried that it may get dark before I found a good camping spot and be trapped in the swamps. Plane vapour trails criss-crossed the blue sky like a number of overlapping lines of a noughts and crosses game. It was magical just looking up at them. I was certainly under a direct and busy flight path. The sky was clear and perfect and it was such a beautiful evening.
I weaved through a bunch of shallow sand bars and ahead on one of them were hundreds of pelicans huddled together. I tried not to disturb them by sneaking around their island but they still took to flight. Nightfall was coming quickly, but I neared the bridge with a little day light left and spotted two deer grazing along the shore. I pushed on trying to find a suitable campsite and half a mile further I came to the Running Water boat ramp. I was happy, although being camped at a public place where drunks could arrive at any minute wasn’t so good. I erected my tent on a piece of grass but it was a bit off putting when I had to flick away the dog poo that littered the area. A beaver that seemed to be patrolling his part of the river continually swam up and down passing the boat ramp and slapping its tail.
I cooked a Mountain-House vegetable meal and it tasted great. I tried cooking the popcorn that I was given by the three Indian ladies and got the pot a bit too hot and burnt some of them. I sat on the jetty that had been chewed by the beaver to eat under a canopy of bright stars with not a breath of wind in the air. It was still, and apart from the noise of the odd car in the distant and the insects in the trees, it was quiet. With the beaver there to entertain me I finished off my meal with some nuts, a poptart, two chocolates and a hot cup of drinking chocolate. It had been a perfect day and I had achieved 39 miles.
Monday 25th September. Day 43
The sun was just about to rise when a black Labrador dog came over from one of the nearby houses that were less than 60 metres away. I had all my gear spread on the jetty pontoon and the dog wanted to play in the water and jump around. Of course I didn’t really want all my gear wet, so I made no move to play with it and get it excited. Of course it would have been nice to have a friend, as I had been alone for sometime, but it was too big a dog to get wound up. After doing a poo on my piece of grass, it walked home to find another playmate in disgust.
It was a cloudless day and the current was good. Within minutes I saw an eagle perched on a tree and another one on a dead tree limb in the swamp, which was being harassed by a flock of terns. The river moved over to the right bank where it met up with a rock bluff and divided into several channels. Here the river widened and the channels headed through a huge swamp. I had to be careful to take the right route and not to get lost. My route however veered to the left with several other channels taking off from it each snaking towards the lake through the tall dense reeds. I was headed to Springfield, a town on the left side of the swamp and where the main deeper channel entered the lake.
I followed the channel around and met up with a couple fishing in a flat bottom dingy. I said what a beautiful morning and the lady replied, ‘yes it is” and the conversation stopped there. The channel meandered and eventually came out near the town where I followed a high bank to the boat ramp and picnic area and camp ground. As I had a break on a bench eating a few nuts, Bob Fender who was fishing near the boat ramp came over for a chat. He said, his family had been in the area not long after Lewis and Clarke came through. He also told me that Custer’s dead body was carried to a place nearby and put on a boat that took the dead body downstream to Kansas. He said that Custer’s body hadn’t been torn apart, unlike what was reported at the time. He also said that his horse’s body is in the local cemetery. Now was that all true I don’t know, but he seemed a genuine person.
Custer died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand which was a battle between the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army and the combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people. It occurred on June 25th and 26th June, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, near what is now Crow Agency, Montana.
So Bob’s version could be true as it is said that the body of Custer, which was buried on the battlefield after the battle was later exhumed from the battle site and reinterred at West Point in 1877. So with the battle site being 150 miles away they could have transported him overland to the Missouri River, where he could have been taken downstream by boat Kansas. I’m not so sure about the horse story though!
Bob also said that they are dredging the lake up ahead to make a sandbar suitable for a plover bird that has been robbed of its habitat since the dam was built downstream. It’s costing 2.5 million dollars to make three sandbars with the total area of 175 acres. Officials hope that the new sandbars at the north end of the Lewis and Clark Lake near Springfield will attract the threatened and endangered birds like the least tern and piping plover.
I left Bob and pulled away from the picnic area with miles of reeds and swamps to my right. On my left the vertical rock bluffs returned and there were several birds like swallows nesting on the vertical cliffs and a load of bees buzzing around. The bluffs were a pretty sight. Forty five minutes later I passed the Sand Creek Ramp where my guide book told me to stay left, but because the current that was going straight ahead was faster, I took it. It eventually met up with the real lake where it was completely clear of reeds and just open water.
As soon as I was out of the swamp, I came across the dredger that was building the sandbars. A couple of small boats were ferrying a few of the workers to shore. I must admit I don’t know if I would be spending millions of dollars in developing a sand bar for a bird!
I stopped in a small bay full of trees, debris and an irrigation pump and had a break for lunch. Soon after, I saw a big piggery on the hill just back from the cliff face. The lake was now lined with scenic bluffs, and they looked amazing with the sun illuminating them. Some of the bluffs looked like cathedrals, others further down looked more like faces of faeroe. Yachts started to appear on the horizon as they sailed across the lake, then sailed back again. They just continued to zig-zag from one side of the lake to the other. It’s funny what gives people pleasure.
There was a huge house on the hill on my left, some body richer than me and then a Boy Scouts camp ideally situated on the lake shores right on the water. This was truly a lake for recreation. Apparently people drive miles to visit this lake which was the only water for miles around. There were eagles soaring above the bluffs and trees that were changing colour with the season. Less than a week ago the hillsides and terrain around the lakes that I passed were barren, now further south they were alive with trees and vegetation. As I neared the Lewis and Clarke camp ground a man in a boat asked me if I had paddled by here 2 years ago, as he thought he had seen me then.
With all the activity and the fact that this was my last lake, I decided to camp above the dam wall instead of below it. It was only 3.30pm, so I had plenty of time to portage, but I loved my surrounds and I wanted to savour the experience. I pulled ashore at a sandy beach and then ran across the green grounds to book in at the office about a ½ mile away. I ran back and erected my tent away from the RVs and close to the water and opposite the bluffs, which were on the other shore. It was a spectacular and a special view. I walked over and talked to some people in the big RVs and with it being the end of the tourist season, there were very few here and many of the toilets and showers were closed for the winter.
At last I went over to have a shower and I was trying to remember where I had the last one and it was at Chamberlain only 5 days ago. The sun was setting just as I returned to my tent. It was a fitting and beautiful end to my journey across so many lakes and now I was at an end, not of the journey but of the lakes. There were no more left. With the last remnants of light I walked along a path to the marina, which happened to be further than I thought. The staff members from the campground and park were having their end of year party next to the marina. There was a hot air balloon nearby and people were inside the basket giving it a go, but it was tied by a rope, so it went up for a few metres and then they pulled it back down again. It didn’t take off.
There was a lot of food, but it was a private gathering so I asked a woman if there was a restaurant nearby and she told me there was one a mile or so further down the road. I walked over to the dam wall and then decided to head for the restaurant and the set of lights in the far distance. When I arrived at the restaurant it was closed, but the service station next door was open, so I bought some bread, cheese and beer and rang home. On my return to my tent it was pitch black, cars whizzed by me on the highway and by the time I got back to my tent my legs were feeling the strain of walking.
I sat on a bench near my tent, rested and ate my bread and cheese, drank my beer and toasted to my journey. The night was still and the stars that I had been seeing since the start of my journey were still up there twinkling away.
Tuesday 26th September. Day 44
As soon as I stepped out of my sleeping bag I felt the urge to go to the toilet, so I ran about 250 yards and made it just in time. I had another shower and walked passed 3 deer on my way back. The sky was slightly misty, the sun was just coming up over the dam wall and it was just what I was waiting to see, it was a special moment. There had been a heavy dew and the grass was wet, the lake was dead calm and I even saw a dog owner pick up their dogs poo. The day was looking good.
Many of the RVs owners had dogs. Dogs are more welcome in US National Parks and camp grounds, whereas they are not allowed in Australia National Parks. But I suppose they don’t have as many cute native animals for the dogs to chase after here.
I started paddling across the last part of the lake at 8.30am heading for the mariner to do my last portage. Fifteen minutes later I landed on the marina beach, unpacked and put the kayak on the trolley and started walking across the car park to a cycle path that was lined with a beautiful row of shady trees. I continued pulling it to and across the dam wall, down to a small lake and to a difficult launching point that had a steep bank. I lowered the kayak into the deep water and struggled to load the gear due to there being nowhere for me to stand easily. It was 300 yards across the lake to a camp ground boat ramp and toilet where I filled my water bottles. Back on the small lake I followed it around to where I hoped there would be a channel out into the river, but unfortunately there wasn’t, so I had to do another 100 yard portage, which wasn’t so bad.
The river from here ran free, there were no more lakes to cross and I would have a current all the way to St Louis. It sounded like bliss. I was back on the river by 11.35am leaving two fishermen at the boat ramp and started my paddle down to the next town, Yankton. The river on the right was lined with timber pylons and I assumed they were there to stop erosion or used to tie boats up to in days when paddle steamers were popular. Locals have now erected their own private jetty and seats on them.
Yankton was only a few miles downstream and as I neared it the shoreline was littered with broken concrete and a few car bodies. Not the prettiest entry into a town, I’d had. At the end of my straight, where the river sharply turned right I could see a church and a hospital on top of the rise. There were several messy jetties below the high shores when I turned the bend. Before me though was one of the most interesting and intriguing bridges I’d seen. It was an old steel bridge with two tiers. The top tier the traffic went from west to east and the traffic on the bottom tier went from east to west. Quite clever I thought.
The Meridian Bridge was built by the Meridian Highway Bridge Company and was completed in 1924. At the time, the bridge was the first constructed over the Missouri River. It is unique in the fact that it was constructed by a private group of investors and was originally constructed to carry vehicle traffic on the upper deck and rail traffic on the lower level. The bridge was constructed to include a vertical lift structure to allow for Missouri River boat traffic.
The tracks on the lower level were never used and were converted in 1953 to allow the two level one-way vehicle traffic configuration. In 1984, the lift span was deactivated and the mechanism for lifting the 220′ span was removed.
A new bridge was built in 2008.
I drifted under it checking out its intricate construction and just after I passed the local park at 12.25pm, but I didn’t bother stopping. Within minutes I was back in the country heading under a tree that an eagle was perched on. As I drifted underneath the tree the eagle majestically took to flight and landed on another tree nearby. A little less majestic, but still splendid, a grey crane just in front of me kept taking off to continually leap frog me. It did this for miles then suddenly it was gone and my amusement for the day had gone with it.
As I approached a pile of stranded logs on the right shore, with the current strongly pushing against them, I thought I saw a canoe wrapped around the end of one log. I could see people downstream on the bank so I thought they must have had an accident and here I was coming to their rescue. Buoyed with the fact that I was in for some excitement and action my spirit lifted and I was raring to go. I came alert, started paddling like a pro and generated a rescue plan in my mind. This was it, I was going to help a couple in distress and be a hero. I pushed on with vigour and then realised that it wasn’t a canoe at all, it was a big piece of red plastic sheeting. My heart suddenly sank as I realised there would be no rescue or accolades.
I rounded the log pile and headed for the two people stood on the bank. I pulled in and stopped at 1.35pm and met Leah and Rick who were having a day off work and had driven down to the river on a quad bike. They were not married to each other but they looked very friendly. Leah’s family had a property nearby. We drank two beers as we talked and when I was about to leave they gave me another for the road. With two beers in my system, the way ahead was looking rosy. I picked up the pace and I felt really good for a time.
Eagles were common along this section of river, they either watched me pass by when they were at a distance, or took to flight if I neared. I came up to some scenic rocky bluffs and then a jetty on the left, where a lady in very fine clothes was standing. I thought she must have been looking at the river with a glass of wine in her hand. Maybe I could join her, but she was actually fishing, which surprised me as she was so well dressed. I said hello and paddled by.
I came up to Goat Island where there were houses and a steak house on the mainland shore. A boat was drifting down the river, so I pulled along side and talked to the couple briefly. The current was running well as I passed a few more houses along the channel. It was so good to be helped along. The river suddenly opened up and became wider and it soon shallowed. I followed a channel that went over to the left skirting sandbars and gaining good speeds at times. The sandbars made navigating a little tricky so I was trying my best not to get beached. I eventually entered another deeper channel and landed at a boat ramp where I saw a guy fishing and who actually caught a fish when I was stepping out of the kayak.
I carried my gear up onto the bank next to a big tree. A girl playing a guitar and singing was sitting with her friend nearby. I talked to them as I was unloading and they said they were studying at a university nearby. I erected my tent next to the big tree overlooking the river. It was a perfect spot, just so beautiful looking out across the river and the islands where a white canvas tepee was erected on one island. My friends left and as I settled in the wind picked up and the tent became more like a parachute. My spot had that perfect view, but it was exposed, so begrudgingly I decided to move camp to where there was more shelter. Unfortunately it did mean carrying all my gear across the car park to a better spot about 50 metres away, so it was a long haul. Here I had a table to spread my gear on and to cook off. I made it a special night by having a special freeze dried meal, some popcorn and a beer that I saved from Leah & Rick. My meal turned out being a strange combination.
There were osprey towers nearby with cameras set up to watch their every day life and breeding cycle. Managers are trying to introduce and increase numbers of osprey in the area. Apparently though, they fly to South America after summer.
Wednesday 27th September. Day 45
It was a calm night after such a stormy evening, but it was still a cool and cloudy morning. The river was shallow and wide with lots of dead trees in the river bed. I had to pick the best channel, but it was a great paddle as the speed of the current whipped me down the river in no time. A bridge came into view sooner than I had expected. There was a recreation area after the bridge and a ramp and further, around the bend, there were houses on the left. I paddled left of an island, hills were on the right and full of trees, many changing colours. They looked great. The Uni student said the town of Vermillion, which wasn’t that far away was named after a red bush. She said it’s always red but the Vermillion bush that I saw had green leaves on it.
I passed another boat ramp and then on the right I noticed a little red cabin ahead, which was virtually on the waters edge with an old tractor outside. It was a cute cabin on a beautiful stretch of river. A little further downstream however there were car bodies in the river that had been dumped down the embankment. Now it wasn’t as pretty.
Deer skipped away and ran up the hill. As the river widened there was a landslide just after an old cabin on the high bank. I paddled around the fallen trees and moved into an eddy to land and eat a cheese sandwich, some jerky and put my jacket on as it was so cold. Two osprey were circling overhead at the time. I moved off again making good time dodging trees and following channels around the sandbars. Paddling was fun.
A few miles later at a left hand bend I could see a boat ramp and a concrete pylon or something similar. There was also a ridge of beautiful high hills full of colour. Near the top of the ridge a little further downstream amongst oak-laden bluffs there was a tourist’s timber lookout called the ‘Three State Lookout’ nestled between the trees in the Ponca State Park. The park has over 20 miles of hiking and horseback trails. Ponca was named after a Native American tribe. There is an Oak Tree there that is said to be 350 years old. Although Bur Oak is predominate tree species in the park other trees, basswood, walnut, elm and several other species are also found there.
I suddenly left the wide shallow braided natural river bed and entered a deep channel that had been purposely built for barge traffic. I was sad to leave the natural river, as the section ahead looked pretty boring, but it was here that I entered another chapter in my journey. Timber posts, wing dams and rocks now lined the river banks. I moved under a pipe that crossed the river suspended on a wire, which headed towards a tall structure a few hundred metres in the fields, on the left side of the river. I had no idea what it carried.
I rejoiced as I passed the 750 mile marker on my right. The hills were scattered with reds and oranges due to the leaves changing colour. Soon after, there were cabins and RVs, that at first were mostly on the right, between groynes and wing dams that were poking out in the river. Between two of these wing dams, on a sandy beach, I stopped to change film and to have a snack and a quick look over the bank to see what was growing in the fields. There wasn’t much but bare earth, although it could have been the start of a housing development. Whilst paddling in the river the banks were often vegetated or high and unbeknown to me I didn’t see all the irrigated fields that were sometimes hiding from my view.
It started to rain as soon as I opened my camera and pulled out the film. Further along there were more houses, cabins and RVs on and off on both sides of the river. Wing dams were now jutting out on the inside of the bends every few hundred metres and sometimes closer. They were there to help drive the water to the opposite side of the river to keep a deep channel.
The current was good and it wasn’t long before I was passing huge flash houses and mansions sitting back in private coves. I was passing the valley of the rich. It was still raining, misty and cold and about 4.00pm I saw a bridge as I was paddling towards Sioux City. I paddled on beyond it and got out at a boat ramp on the right hand side of the river. I jumped out and walked up over to a park to see where the campground was. I walked quickly for a few hundred yards and found the campground, but to get to it I needed to paddle a little further downstream. Suddenly I realised that I had been away several minutes and I hadn’t pulled my boat very far out of the water, so now I became a little concerned that it may get washed away by a power boat wash. I walked quickly in my soggy booties and clothing back towards the kayak and was relived when I saw it still there. I jumped in and paddled along the shore for a few hundred metres and just after a casino boat, which was parked on the left side of the river, I moved into a small cove on the right side.
I was happy to land next to the campground and when I booked in at the office the lady allowed me to stay free, which was a first on this trip although I had only stayed at three. To get out of my soggy clothing and have a real hot shower was bliss. The shower was great, but the toilet block in general was old and needed a little attention, modernising and a good paint. By the time I finished cleaning up it was still raining but I needed to find a supermarket to top up my supplies, so I walked several hundred metres along a dark wet road towards a livelier area and found a major road and a few shops. I called Jenny and found a supermarket which happened to turn out being an Espanic supermarket. They had no cereal, only rice bubbles. In fact it was hard to find anything that was in my usual diet. The assistants couldn’t speak English so they were no help in finding anything. As I left I called Alaine and she said she had sold lots of kayaks this week, so that was good news.
As I couldn’t find much in the supermarket I called in to a service station and bought a few odds and sods, a map and got money for an ATM. I called in at MacDonald’s and had salad and French fries and a caramel sundae. It was a bit dirty inside for a MacDonald’s restaurant and the service wasn’t that good either. Back at the tent I cuddled up inside and listened to the rain, the traffic and the horns blowing from the trains. Like always, it was cosy in my tent.
I was now in Iowa at the 732 mile point, so I had paddled 50 miles today.
Thursday 28th September. Day 46
Whilst I was in a town I thought I would take the opportunity and get a massage to loosen me up so the lady in the camp site office rang a masseur for me, but they couldn’t fit me in until 1.00pm. It was only a luxury, I didn’t really need it as I was feeling good and by 1.00pm I could be 25 miles away, so I didn’t bother staying around and left by 8.15am.
I left my cove and entered the river and within minutes I came up to an old draw bridge type loading ramp on the left. I was trying to think what it would have been used for. It must have been used for loading something on barges. As I moved out of town and turned right and I could hear the traffic on the highway that followed the river. Through the trees I could just see a part of the Sergeant Floyd’s monument.
Floyd, was on the Lewis and Clark expedition and it was thought that he died due to a burst appendix on the 20th August 1804. His death was the only fatality on Lewis and Clark’s amazing expedition. His gravesite consists of a 100-foot high sandstone masonry obelisk, which was dedicated to him on Memorial Day in 1901. It is the second largest in size, the Washington Monument being the first.
I soon passed a big grain or flour factory and some old metal structures that were rusting away and had been decaying for years. Steamboats started to chug up the Missouri River by the 1850s and it wasn’t long before 60 of them were being used on the Missouri and of course hundreds more on other rivers around the US. Compared with navigating the broad Mississippi River, the Missouri was notoriously difficult. The river was like an obstacle course, with moving sand bars, tree snags and eroded and caved in banks. Steamboats used to work at night and in all weathers making navigation so much more difficult and without buoys or lighthouses.
Many of the Steamboats were more like luxury liners, furnished in mahogany with silk draperies and quality carpets. A steamboat could earn big money. A $15,000 steamboat to build could earn as much as $80,000 in a single journey, but rarely did a Missouri steamboat last more than 3 years. Boats caught fire, blew up and sank routinely but it was probably snags, dead logs and trees fallen in the river that was the biggest threat to a paddle steamer. Between 1830 and 1840 alone, as many as 1000 lives were estimated to have been lost on Western Rivers. Steamboats are now long gone from the waters of the Missouri. The Civil War, the collapse of the plantation economy and the rise of the railway spelled the end of the river trade. Only a handful or steamboats continued to operate into the 20th century although there are a few that have survived as tourist vessels.
Some of these sunken vessels are still being located today under metres and metres of dirt, and often several hundred metres from the present day river. Over the years the river has changed course and silted up burying a big number of wrecked boats. One such boat the ‘Arabia’ was located under 30 feet of mud in a Kansas corn field about a half mile from the river in 1987 by the Hawley family who have been trying to locate sunken steamboats for a number of years. Using a magnetometer, which measures the intensity of the magnetic field beneath the earth’s surface, they finally succeeded in finding a very significant steamboat.
The Arabia was launched in 1853, in Pennsylvania and although it was said to have sunk in 10 minutes, all 130 passengers and the crew survived. It took 17 days of digging with heavy machinery to unearth the vessel. Thousands of articles salvaged from the steamboat can be seen in the Arabian Steamboat Museum in Kansas.
A kingfisher with a crown was darting in and out of bushes and a big flock of birds, which I recognised as starlings were shooting across the sky like on a raiding party. Starlings are a bit of a pest as they tend to eat lots of farmers grain and although they are not native to Australia, Starlings have managed to colonise Eastern Australia. They probably managed to stow away in boats arriving from England. The good thing is that they are not found in Western Australia where I live because of the desert between east and west and because Western Australia has a strict quarantine and eradication program to ensure they don’t enter WA. Keeping out non-native birds and animals is very important, but unfortunately WA hasn’t been able to keep the introduced rabbits, foxes and feral cats which are a huge problem for the native birds and fauna. Another pest, the cane toad that was introduced to the Queensland sugar cane fields to eat the insects is well out of control and heading across the tropical north and about to invade WA.
At the 721.9 mile mark I passed a big power plant, then another power plant a little further. A father and small son were fishing from one of the wing dams, and as I have seen very few people on the river they became an interesting distraction. A grey crane kept flying forward in front of me and continually landing and then when I got closer it flew in front again. Soon after I passed a sign saying ‘Public Hunting’ which I was quite amused about because it was next to another sign saying, ‘State Conversation Commission.’ Somehow they didn’t really go together.
I passed inlets on the left and right and then some scenic bluffs appeared on the right at the 710 mile mark just before a deer swam from one side of the river to the other. It was amazing how fast it was swimming. The river was now dotted with a few houses, cabins and RVs and squirrels were active along the shore, fish were jumping to catch insects, deer were grazing near the water’s edge and huge flocks of Starlings, like armies of the move, seem to have taken over the skies.
By nightfall I came to the Huff Access boat ramp which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and when I pulled up at the boat ramp a married couple, Amy Anne Marie and Clint were fishing. I unloaded as Amy caught a fish, but as it wriggled and dangled on the end of the line she shouted for Clint to take it off the hook. I carried my gear up to a nice high grassy picnic area that overlooked the river. As I walked back for more gear, Clint gave me a beer and then another beer as I returned for my boat. Amy caught another fish so she called for Clint’s help again. She said she loved fishing but she wouldn’t take the fish off the hook. Clint’s dad arrived, his 4 dogs jumped out the back of his vehicle and started running around. He said he was born and bred around here and he had lived here all his life and he had no intentions in leaving.
I erected my tent watching a beautiful sunset which red rays were streaming through some billowing clouds. The moon was shining brightly and deer were walking through the shallows near the ramp. As I cooked my evening meal on the bench, the night started to get chilly, but I sat there for the next 45 minutes just watching the moon and the stars cross the night sky and listening to the beaver coast up and down the river slapping the water with its tail.
Friday 29th September. Day 47
I had put an extra jumper on in the night to keep warm, but it was clinging with tiny feathers from my sleeping bag when I got up at 6.00am. My tent was dry, which I always liked and it was a pleasant morning although slightly cloudy. I started sorting a few things out at the table when Clint suddenly drove up in a cloud of dust, raced down towards me and handed me two paper plates sandwiched together with toast, two eggs, and 4 sausages and crispy bacon between them. “Sorry I can’t stop, I have to get to work. Have a great trip,” he said as he ran back to his car and took off. I was a little shell shocked as he drove away. I opened the paper plates and checked out my breakfast feast. How considerate of him to bring me breakfast I thought. He went out of his way to show hospitality and make me feel good. I was quite moved.
I sat down at the table and started tucking into my breakfast that was perfect and just to my liking. The eggs were runny, the bacon crisp and the sausages were very tasty and the toast was something special spread with the jam I had with me. It was one of the best breakfasts I had on my journey.
Clint’s thoughtful gesture had me all hyped up about the day and I couldn’t wait to meet more nice people along the way. I will remember that breakfast as long as I live.
I had seen several splashes in the water near the bank the previous day and this morning I found out what they were. I started to see turtles on rocks and when I got near they would slide off their rock and into the water and make a splash. Mystery solved, I thought. On the inside of every bend there were still wing dams poking out into the river with eddies behind them. Wing dams are rock groynes that extend out into the river and divert the water towards the centre to keep the channel deep and from silting up.
At Scannon Landing they were selling 2 acre blocks of land for 99,000 dollars. I had no idea if it was a good price but it seemed high to me. Boat ramps, private homes and RVs were becoming increasingly part of the river’s shores. I stopped briefly at Pelican Ramp, which had got its name because Lewis and Clarke had seen hundreds of pelicans nearby. It had a nice camp ground.
A couple of small waterways came in from the left around the next left hand corner near the Three Rivers Wildlife area. Squirrels were scampering about along the shores on my way to Remington Ramp which was very basic with no bins or a toilet. I ate a tin of sardines and had a stick of jerky at the top of the bank in the car park. An information sign, said that Lewis and Clark experienced a violent rainstorm here. At that moment a big wind unexpectedly developed and I immediately became concerned about my kayak and paddle being blown into the river. I hadn’t pulled it completely out of the water. When I ran back to it, I was relieved when I saw it still there.
A few hundred yards downstream on the right, where a channel came in, there was a big house with a man fishing nearby and a crane backhoe unloading rocks and reinforcing the banks. As there was little barge traffic using the river nowadays it seemed a big waste of money to spend so much time on the banks. I passed more boat ramps and just after 1.00pm I came across the Cottonwood Marina, so I did a quick paddle inside it, but it was dead, with no one around so I didn’t think it worth getting out of my boat. Soon after the Blair bridges came in sight and when I stopped at a ramp a man asked me if I wanted any thing from the shops. I thanked him and said no. Further, there was industry and an awful smell and water being pumped into the river.
All along the river there were oxbows that were now cut off from the main river, and I’m assuming they were once part of the river before the river was formed into a channel around the year 1945. It was strange because the state boundaries followed these old oxbows and the old river path, so I kept crossing the Nebraska and Iowa state boundaries all the time.
I passed Wilson Inlet campgrounds, which looked a beautiful place to camp if it was the right time of day. Just beyond it, dust was being blown up into the air and when I came along side it was a rock crushing site with loaders and machines working away. One side of the river was picture perfect, the other side was quarry. A lonely pelican stood on the river bank. It didn’t move and for a moment I thought it was an ornament. Swallows were swooping and skirting the river surface and feeding on insects. Downstream I came across a narrow channel, the Boyer Chute, a 3 mile long channel and if I had taken it, it would have been a short cut, but it had a big sign saying ‘no boats allowed.’ Apparently it had snags and rapids on it so not wanting to ruin my day I continued on around Boyer Bend.
Once back on the straight river I saw two jet skis speeding my way and for a moment I thought they were going to ride straight into me, but at the last seconds the riders cut their engines. Bloody hoons I thought. They stopped only metres away and to my surprised I was confronted by two women, Terri and Cindy. They stopped and talked and then told me to stop at their place, which they said was up on the right a mile or so downstream. They then took off again in full flight.
I was excited at the thought of stopping and talking to people. I even might get asked to stay the night. I soon reached their place which was a row of houses and RVs on the right side of the river. As I pulled in two men, as well as Terri and Cindy greeted me. They invited me on board their motor boat where they were drinking the afternoon away and gave me a beer, and an Arby’s roast beef roll. One man had lived in Perth 20 years ago and the other had been in the US Air Force and hated Bill Clinton for screwing in the oval office and getting away with it. He was very patriotic and very proud to have been in the services. I spent the next 20 minutes talking and when I realised they weren’t going to ask me to stay the night I decided to move on to find a camp, as it was getting dark. I left with an apple pie, 2 savoury rolls and a big packet of sweet popcorn.
About 6.00pm I found a good spot to camp, so instead of going further to Dodge Park 1½ miles away I decided to stop, and camp alone. With all the food I had eaten and was given, I didn’t need to cook an evening meal which I was quite pleased about. The sweet popcorn was absolutely delicious but I tried to save some for another night but it was difficult. I rang the shop and the Grand AFL Final was going to be played between the Perth Eagles and Sydney Swans. My mobile phone (cell) worked, which was a surprise as it hadn’t worked much before.
When I looked up into the sky and into the dark clouds I could see the reflection of the lights of Omaha City. There was a deer or something in the water, I couldn’t see it in the dark but whatever it was, it was big.
Saturday 30th September. Day 48
There was a woodpecker knocking away and chipping at a tree repeatedly in the early morning light and several fresh deer imprints were in the dirt around my camp when I crawled out of my tent. I could hear planes take off, which reinforced the fact that I was near a big city. After taking off it wasn’t long before I reached Dodge Park marina and boat ramp. I pulled up and they were dredging part of the marina. It looked a good campsite but it was a long way from the water and although there was a good grass strip nearby it was pretty public, so I did the right thing by camping where I did last night. Since the start of my journey I had carried a Crazy Creek back packer’s chair but I had never used it, so it was time for it to go, to be put in a bin and reduce my weight.
At a bend after the bridge on the right I passed the Coast Guard headquarters. The Coast Guard look after the river and responsible for putting in and taking out the channel marker buoys. A little further there was a power plant, warehouses and factories. Between a factory and the airport I saw a girl and boy hugging. They didn’t realise I was paddling by, but it was very innocent and lovely to see. Aircraft were taking off straight over me from the Omaha airport that was situated right there on a big bend in the river. I paddled around the bend and stopped at a Council Bluff Park, where I found shallow water, mud and plenty of mosquitoes. I took a short walk around the park and ate the apple pie that I was given, and a few noodles before heading for the city centre. I soon came across an old disused swing railway bridge that looked pretty derelict. Although the bridge went to the middle of the river, the swing section was abandoned on the left shore leaving the bridge permanently open on the left for boats to go through. I drifted next to the old steel bridge looking with interest the amazing workings of the bygone days.
A little further a submarine and a big ship appeared on my right. They were both on blocks on shore and now museum pieces. A channel to the Sandpiper Cove Marina was a little further and nearby there was a parade with many of the people being on horseback. I continued floating as a tourist boat and the city buildings came into view. The people on the tourist boat waved. I twirled my paddle above my head a couple of times as a sign to acknowledge their waves. Around the next left hand bend I came across another tourist boat and the city centre. I stopped near a statue that represented a worker, and a crowd of people, who were up on a concrete walk-way were looking at it. I made polite conversation for a few minutes and then paddled off with the current. A minute later a man came running along the shore waving at me. I stopped paddling and turned and paddled back as I thought it must be important, but he just wanted to know what I was doing.
Downstream of the highway 6 traffic bridge and on the left on the Council Bluff side of the river I passed a casino boat anchored and a couple of Casinos on shore, one being the Ameristar Casino. A little further I could see a huge glass dome through a gap in the trees, which turned out being the Omaha’s Zoo’s Desert Dome. Standing 13 stories high the Desert Dome was opened in 2002 and is the largest indoor desert in the world and features plants and animal life from three deserts, the Namib Desert of Southern Africa, the red centre of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest United States.
I was soon swept downstream losing visual contact with the dome and heading out of the city passing only a few houses and a boat ramp on my left. Heading around the next sharp left hand bend, after the Lake Manawa State Park, I stopped in an eddy across from a power station. The water was so stagnant that old bottles trapped in the eddy were green with slime. Not a healthy place to be. By 1.00pm I was passing under another bridge where I met several pleasure boats, passed a big boat ramp and came across a marina. I wanted a cool drink to celebrate my last 600 miles (1000kms) so I paddled inside the marina and to the boat ramp, but there were no shops, only boats being unloaded at the ramp. Disappointed I left the cove and paddled back into the river and found the 600 mile marker hiding behind some bushes. I stopped paddling and got a picture. I was happy because I had now completed ¾ of my journey. It was a great milestone.
Five miles later I arrived at the Platte River confluence. There were several people fishing on the west, right side of the river where the two rivers met. The Platte River is 310 miles (500kms) long and is one of the most significant river systems in the watershed of the Missouri, draining water as far away as the Rockies. Further downstream I caught up with a boat drifting piloted by Sandy & Scott. I had two beers with them before Scott asked me if I wanted to smoke some weed. “No thanks” I said, “come on, you will love it.” Scott replied. He walked to the back of the boat and lit up.
I left them to smoke their weed and trundled on passing silos, watching eagles soar and seeing thousands of starlings. One flock was drinking and cleaning themselves in the river and then flying back into the trees again. I hadn’t seen many good camping spots along the way so when I found a small sand patch just big enough to make camp, opposite a house near the 577 mile mark at 5.30pm it had to do. Across the river was the locality of the Wa Con-Da Lake, a new suburb surrounding a lake. A rotting log lay on my sand patch, which was a heaven for crawlies and snakes. The sandbar was surrounded by a thick barrier of trees and a raised bank so it was difficult for me to leave my spot or for any one else to disturb me, unless they came by river.
When it became dark the sky was lit up by fire flies. They would come alight and then moments later would fade out. I watched them and the moon and the overhead planes whilst I relaxed and ate the tasty sweet popcorn. There were beaver noises in the night and when I rang home the Eagles had won the AFL championships by 1 point. How close was that!
Sunday 1st October. Day 49
I was now into October and the trees were changing colour before my eyes and it was as the Americans say, the beginning of fall. It would only get colder from now and the nights were longer with the sun going day much earlier. I rang Lawrence, but my three god children, Matthew, Nicholas and Christopher were at the Royal Show. Matthew and Nicholas were twins and born on the 1st January 2000. I managed to ring Jenny on my mobile phone as well, which I was excited about as it was cheaper than on the satellite phone.
It was sunny, but the sun was low in the sky, so the trees shaded me. As I was about to take off a resident from across the river waved me over. He wanted to know where I was going and if I was the local guy from Plattsmouth who he had seen in the paper and was paddling downstream.
I soon arrived at the Nebraska City Boat Ramp and I got talking to a couple. The man said he had been down river in his power boat and there weren’t many shops close to the river, so it was easier to get supplies here in town. “Just go down stream about a mile, to where that big shed is and turn into a drain. You can park your kayak there and walk 11 blocks into town.” I still had several days of food left, but it sounded easy, so I thought I would give it a go.
When I turned into the drain, South Table Creek, it was muddy and then it shallowed, but I was able to scrape over some rocks and concrete slabs and land precariously near a road bridge on a big rock. The banks were covered at first in mud but the way up to the road was nothing, but high thick grass. The rocks around me were slippery giving me no easy way to get out. I was in two minds to back track and forget about shopping as it looked a bit dangerous and difficult to get to town. No, I have to give it a go I thought. At that moment a snake was swimming in the water and heading towards me. Oh shit. I didn’t think America had too many deadly snakes so I wasn’t that worried, but I thought I had better be cautious and not get in its way. It came within 2 metres, stopped and slivered into the grass that I had to trudge through to get to the road.
I managed to get to the bank without slipping over and made my way up the bank by pushing the grass down with my feet. When I reached the road I walked across the bridge trying to figure out which way to go when another snake slithered along a gutter. Not a good sign as I retraced my steps through the long grass and returned to my kayak to get my gear. To ensure no-one saw the kayak I dragged it around some rocks to a better, safer place under the bridge. I pulled it up a muddy concrete slab and nearly fell over into the putrid water. My little excursion was turning into a nightmare. I had thoughts of abandoning my shopping spree, but I had come too far. The concrete slab had a small dry part, enough for me to stand on and unload a few things. I took out my big dry pack which had shoulder straps so I could carry it easy and put all my valuables in. I didn’t want to leave any thing expensive behind just in case someone found the kayak and took a fancy to them.
I walked into town which roughly took 25 minutes to find a supermarket. The death of Steve Irwin was on the front cover of 2 magazines on the racks. He was very popular over here in the US. When I finished my grocery shopping a young guy had the job of helping to carry customer’s groceries to their car. He asked me, but if I had taken up his offer he would have to walk a long way. I called in at a service station on my way back to buy jerky and then visited the hardware store to buy some fibreglass, but they didn’t have any. There seemed to be a post box on nearly every second street corner, I hadn’t seen so many. There were lots of very old buildings and many were vacant and looking shabby. On one of the street corners there were a bunch of protesters with placards saying, yes to adoption.
I walked back down the main street and looked into a big Western Clothes store but there was nothing in there that I wanted, but if you were a cowboy or a country western fan, there was plenty. I recognised the warehouse at the end of the main street as being near my kayak, so I walked straight down to it, which was a shorter route than the way I took to get into town.
It was a relief to see my boat still there when I returned. I managed to put a little food away, but I couldn’t load the kayak properly on the slippery slab as the hatches were over the water, so I dumped most of it in the cockpit and pulled the kayak out of the shallows trying not to slip into the disgusting water. I managed to get back into the kayak and stacked all the food in my lap in the hope to find an easy place to get out and load the kayak properly. There was no place close by, so I had to paddle down the drain, across the river and land further down on a mud bank which proved to be a little tricky in the strong wind. After repacking the food in the hatches I was off by 1.35pm wanting to get to Brownville that night, 27 miles away but I knew I would have to paddle fairly hard to get there.
I started off doing 7 minute miles but then as the wind strengthened and was against me I started doing 8 minute miles. I spotted a nude couple on shore walking around their boat and camp, but I couldn’t see any of their dangling bits very clearly as they were too far away. Two fishermen in a boat, who I had seen earlier, stopped and asked me what I was doing and if I wanted anything. They later pulled out Peru Ramp further downstream.
I arrived at the historic town of Brownville after sunset and talked to some boaties who offered to take me to get some water, but as it wasn’t that far, I didn’t take up their offer. As it was, I needed to get my gear up onto the grassed area overlooking the river before it got dark. Opposite my camp sitting on shore was a big disused paddle steamer, the Meriwether Lewis Dredge, which has been turned into a museum and tourist attraction, although it was closed when I was there, and looking a little sad.
I walked into the small village centre and found water, looked into the closed tourist shops and visited the pub and bought two beers and had cheese and meat sandwiches for dinner. On my return to camp I washed my clothes in my big dry bag and then had a beautiful strip wash from head to tail overlooking the river on a very balmy hot night. The locals had said that they were experiencing unusual hot weather.
Monday 2nd October. Day 50
It had been a warm noisy night due to the traffic but at least my washing had dried in the strong wind. I packed up as quickly as I could and walked into town in the hope of getting some breakfast at the café. At the busy post office, where locals were collecting their mail, I asked if I could charge my mobile phone and leave it there for a while. I looked around the Wheels Museum close by and went over to the café. As I was looking through the window wondering where the people were, the owner walked across the road and apologised to me that they were closed on Mondays. Just my luck I thought. If you need groceries however I can drive you to a supermarket, she said. I thanked her and walked around the village a little more and sat on bench watching the locals and waiting for my mobile to charge. Brownville was a very pleasant, vibrant historic town with small tourist shops, galleries, museums and a nice feel. It only has about 150 residents and no big shops that I could see, but in the tourist season the tourist apparently out number the residents. The tourist season however has gone. I felt so at home that I could have spent the day lazing around. It was just over 202 years ago, on July 15th, 1804 when the Lewis and Clark expedition camped here during the exploration of the Missouri River.
I eventually collected my mobile phone, gathered up some water from the toilets next to the Wheels Museum and headed back to my kayak. As I readied myself on the boat ramp to leave there was a tourist paddle steamer docked near by and when I hit the water another newer paddle boat was anchored a little downstream.
Within 20 minutes of leaving Brownville I came across a Nuclear Power Station on the right side of the river. The Cooper Nuclear Station is a boiling water reactor type nuclear power plant and it is the largest single-unit electrical generator in Nebraska. As I was passing I wondered how safe Nuclear Power Stations were and was the river affected by the water that comes out from the plant. Not having heard of any accidents in the US I suppose that so far they have worked well and are safe. There are about 71 Nuclear Power Stations in the US.
The Cooper Nuclear Station was first put into operation in July 1974 and generates approximately 800 megawatts of electricity and employs about 730 people so it is an important source of income for people living in the area.
It was hot and the wind was coming from the south again directly in my face. I met an army corps repair barge and later another one with a crane on board repairing the shoreline. Two eagles circled overhead and a grey crane flew straight towards me like a flying dinosaur. I thought my days were numbered as it seemed the bird hadn’t seen me but it veered off at the last moment. That was close.
There were a few houses scattered along the river mainly on the left, but it was when I passed the Indian Cave State Park where the trees were turning red and yellow that the countryside blossomed with colour. As turkeys roamed freely on my right, and cows chewed grass in the pastures I came upon a power boat drifting. Lazing away were James and Shirley Kelsie, who soon handed me a can of beer and started chatting. James worked at the nuclear plant for 20 years and he said he had no safety concerns about working there and enjoyed it. It was good to talk and get other peoples opinions about things.
Near the 500 mile mark the Army Corps had a lot of machinery that looked as if they were building or repairing a channel. I was told that they build channels off the main river to allow waterfowl to breed, as it is difficult for them to create a breeding habitat in a river that has been channellised as the water is always on the move. The channels turn into back waters where reeds can grow and water birds can make nests and breed.
With 500 miles to go I was getting very excited as I knew physically nothing could stop me from completing my journey. Yippee 500 miles, I passed another milestone. It’s funny really, because I enjoyed being on the river but to know that I had done a certain distance and nothing could stop me from getting to the end was so energising. I moved under the Rulo rail bridge which was extremely noisy as a train was going over it and then under a road bridge and stopped a little downstream at the Rulo Ramp and had a bite to eat. The ramp area was small so there was very little room for me to park up as a boat was being hauled out of the water on my arrival.
Just before crossing the Nebraska/ Kansas border 2 deer skipped along the water’s edge. I stopped at the White Cloud boat ramp, which had several silos nearby. I thought about camping there but there was no water in the toilets and without water the toilets wouldn’t flush and it would be hard to go to the toilet next to the busy road that ran beside the picnic area. The start of the town was only a few hundred metres away, although when I went for a quick walk it was fairly deserted with several derelict buildings. I decided it wasn’t the place to camp so moved on.
When I left and I could find no other suitable place along the river to camp, so in one way I was wishing I had stopped, but then I saw a private campground with a few vans and a boat ramp. I nearly paddled right on by as I was a little shy about asking, but then I said to myself, be brave Terry you can ask to camp, they won’t bite you. I turned my kayak and headed to the ramp and walked up to a caravan and asked the only man around if I could camp there. Without any hesitation, Butch was happy to allow me to stay.
As I unloaded there were frogs jumping on the ramp and lots of mossies annoying me. With winter on its way the nights were drawing in so I didn’t have as much daylight as when I started my journey so there were less hours in the day to achieve the miles. I carried my gear up and wheeled my kayak to a nice piece of grass between the vans and the road. Butch said that I could use a toilet next to his van, so I was set. He said all the vans were privately owned and most were his relatives.
Tuesday 3rd October. Day 51
Halfway through the night I awoke when I heard a gun shot sound right next to my tent. I was in a dream world being half asleep and confused. It was quiet outside. I unzipped my tent and stuck my head out on the right side, but I could see nothing. I was so dreamy that I couldn’t be bothered to get up and have a look around and to find the man with the gun. There could have been a killer out there but I didn’t seem to care. I went straight back to sleep and never gave it another thought.
The road was quiet in the night, but by morning the traffic was noisy. It was only metres away and several big trucks were racing around the slight bend. I realised that if one failed to take the corner, it would run straight over me. I didn’t think about that last night when I erected the tent, but at that time there was no traffic, only mosquitoes trying to eat me.
I started pulling my tent down and noticed that one of the poles had snapped. It suddenly dawned on me that it was the pole snapping in the middle of the night that had made the loud shot gun crack. There was no dangerous shooter on the loose at all. Luckily the snapped pole hadn’t gone through the nylon tent.
At 7.55am I said my thanks to Butch Clulk, who gave me fresh water and offered me ice. There were more earthworks going on at the 480.5 mile mark as machines were making more channels and cutting away around wing dams. Several brown hawks were circling near a boat ramp and further along on the left at 472 mile mark there were several trailer homes. I again marvelled at the trees on the hills which were mixed with red, yellows and greens, they just looked brilliant. I stopped for a few nibbles on the side of the river under the shade of a line of trees. I sat in my kayak and ate a few nuts and raisons listening to a woodpecker busily tapping away at a nearby tree and watching leaves gently fall into the river. It was peaceful.
My guide book indicated that there was a marina at mile 462.5 near the Nowaday River but when I arrived it was closed and it looked as if it had been for a long time. As I approached the Sunbridge Hills on the last big bend before St Joseph, they were ablaze with colourful leaves and before and below them dredging barges were scooping up the sand from the bottom of the river and filling barges that were then pushed by towboats back into St Joseph. I dodged them as they came up and down the river. They were the first real barges I had seen along the way. They were very quick going down river but much slower as they pushed back up stream against the current. As I approached the city at 1.40pm the sand barges were being unloaded by a loader. The loader motored onto the barge scooped a big bucket full and emptied it into a bin and the sand dropped onto a belt that took it up onto a big pile. The sand looked as if it was of very good quality.
I drifted for a few minutes watching the barges unload. A freeway ran in front of the river so there was little river access in the last few miles for residents apart from a ramp at the Sunset Grill 452 and another near the St Jo Frontier casino. When I saw the industry and the freeway taking up the riverside, I thought about Perth where we can walk or cycle around and next to the river without any interruption. Surely they could beautify the place and make a park or something so it included the river. There were several museums in St Joseph including Jesse James Home Museum, which is on the site where Jesse was shot and killed.
I was soon out of the city passing a boat ramp on the right just after the Highway 36 bridge and a boat club or two, a RV park and lots of open space on the left. It was very windy from the south and became quite rough when dredging barges motored by going upstream against the current.
The air was soon full of dragon flies and two landed on my deck bag and were coupled together. I watched them for a few moments but when I started paddling they flew off, hand in hand. I wanted to reach the 430 mile mark before I stopped, but when the sun went down and I couldn’t find a camping spot, I decided to paddle into the town of Atchison in the dark to where there was a boat ramp. The moon was bright so upon seeing a clear area at a disused boat ramp beforehand I decided to stop. There was no point in overdoing it. I unloaded and wheeled my kayak up to the top of the bank. It was still hot so I had a strip wash down by the river and it was so refreshing. I had paddled about 58 miles (nearly 100 kms) and I was camped close to the 433 mile mark, near where Lewis and Clarke were camped on July 4th 1804 and again September 13th 1806 on their return journey.
Wednesday 4th October. Day 52
The tent was flapping in the night and I could hear trains in the distance which couldn’t have been more than a few miles away. I was off and paddling by 7.45am rounding a bend with an area on my right called Benedictine Bottom. Benedictine Bottom is a wetland which is said to be as close to what it was like when Lewis and Clark passed by. Many of the plant and animals species they saw still live at the bottom.
In the distance, at Atchison I could see a big church and the Benedictine College on a hillside abound with colourful trees. The vibrant foliage in the hills made them look so perfect and splendid. What a view the people living in the hills would have from that position.
Independence Creek, named by Lewis and Clarke in 1804 came in from the right not far from Independence Park where I stopped at boat ramp. I went for a short walk stopping at the lookout that had stunning views of the whole area and across the river towards the Lewis and Clark State Park. From what I could see the town appeared to an interesting one but I didn’t stop to investigate. How good would it be to come back one day and follow my route by car and see it from another perspective!
At 10.30am I came to a power station which had a sign nearby saying, “Watch out for big jumping Asian Carp, they get excited hearing motors and jump.” I was waiting for a fish to jump into my lap but it didn’t happen. I passed Weston Bend State Park where it is said the land is much the same as it was in 1804.
I reached Leavenworth campsite before a bridge and a small boat ramp at 12.42pm, but I moved by, instead I stopped at a spot further downstream at mile 395 where the author of my guide book camped. Dave has a picture in his book of his campsite so I wanted to see if it was still the same. There was the same fallen big branch that looked similar to the antlers from a huge elk, but it was so overgrown that it was impossible to camp there. It was the same place but since Dave camped here the grasses and bushes had grown.
Back on the water I could hear a harvester working away over the bank. I watched the dust fly in the air to see the tops of machinery, but I couldn’t fully see what type of harvester it was. It brought back memories of when I worked on a farm. The Platte River, although different from the one I passed earlier came in on my left. There are so many place names in America that get used by every state, so it gets so confusing. The state prison was on the opposite bank and further I paddled by some silos with a beach opposite that looked extremely good. As I was entering the outskirts of Kansas City I stopped just beyond the highway 435 to put on my spray deck just in case I get bombarded by power boats and barges. I passed another great beach and one of the best I had seen so far and for a moment I got really excited, then I started catching up with a dredging barge and a sand barge that were moving away. I passed a little industry and soon after arrived at a boat ramp in the town of Parkville.
As I pulled up to the ramp a dingy with Greg, Chris and Adam were just on their way out. They stopped after a few metres near a small creek and started casting a net to catch some bait fish. It took them quite awhile but eventually by using a throw net they caught a few to get them going. I talked to them whilst they were casting and as I was waiting for darkness. There was no camping here and my guide book mentioned that a 60 year old kayaker who tried camping here previously was moved on by the police, so I was taking no chances and would be erecting my tent after dark. I would say the man may have tried camping on top of the bank and on the oval and could be seen by everyone. There are always problems when trying to camp in towns and cities where there are no camping places. You just have to stay low key and expect that it was always possible that you may get moved on if the authorities saw you. Although canoeists might not like the rules and often don’t abide by them, rangers and police often get over zealous and uphold the laws even when people camping are not hurting anyone. The good thing is, not all rangers and police are the same, you might get one bad one but there are usually several good ones that understand your situation.
A man with 2 kids came down and talked to me, then I moved to the top of the river bank and watched lots of runners, cyclists and children playing sports and soccer in the lush green park. It got chilly, so I started unpacking just before dark and erected my tent only a foot from a trail that people used along the river bank. There was nowhere else flat enough to put it up.
For dinner I ate cereal, jerky, a poptart and chocolate instead of lighting my stove and having something hot. When I retired inside my tent, four young people came down to fish. I could hear them talking and smell a cigarette that was laced with something more special than tobacco. They left after 45 minutes.
About 10.00pm Adam, Chris and Greg returned with no fish and I spent a good hour talking to them. Greg was a Chiropractor, Chris ran a restaurant, and Adam who was in the marines is an electrician, but he was ready to go off to war, if he was called up again. They said that people were afraid of the river and hardly anyone used it. They backed their boat trailer into the muddy water, retrieved their boat and off they went.
Thursday 5th October. Day 53
There were sand barges going back and forth in the night and the trains sounded their horns every time they came up to the railway crossing nearby. At 6.00am a boat turned up and dropped off some workers who had been on night shift and picked up others.
There was no dew so I was able to pack all my gear away and into my hatches dry. I left my kayak on the bank and walked into town to have breakfast. I found the River Rocks Café and whilst there charged my mobile phone. My first course I had croissants with bacon, and egg. That was followed by pecan pie, coffee and an orange juice. After weeks on the river it was so good to have breakfast at a café. The town must have a university or high school as several art students came in for coffee.
Instead of my usual nuts and raisons, muesli bars and sometimes bread and cheese for lunch, I nipped over to Subway and bought a foot-long roll full of the works. It would make a change to have a subway roll for lunch. As I walked back I collected water from the taps in the public toilet. The toilets were certainly not as clean as the town. Back at the boat, there were several students at the bottom of the boat ramp drawing. As I took a photo and left them there at 8.35am, I thought how cool it would be to sponsor one of the students over to Australia. For the next few days I was thinking about sponsoring a student. I would send the photograph to the local school and get their names and then somehow pick a student to sponsor to Australia. I became quite excited about it all. Like many of my great thoughts on my trips, it never happened.
As I rounded a bend at 9.53am at the 370 mark I could see the Kansas City skyline. It was a bit hazy but the city was bigger than I imagined with skyscrapers dominating the skyline. I arrived at Kaw point, where the Kansas River joins the Missouri at 10.00am. The park looked a bit dodgy to camp so I was pleased that I had stopped in Parkville the previous night, although I did see a sandy beach on the left hand side of the river a few hundred metres before the park. It was here, on June 26th 1804, that Lewis and Clark camped for three days. They repaired one of the pirogues, dressed deer skins and dried dampened stores, explored, measured and fixed the position of the Kansas River and noted a great number of Carolina parakeets, a species that is now extinct.
As I headed closer to the city, shunting trains and scrap yards dominated the river banks. It was far from pretty, and again I realised how lucky I was to live in Perth with its open spaces and beautiful river frontage. Being a young less industrial city has its rewards. There seemed little chance of me going ashore and explore on the city side, and it just looked too dodgy of a place to leave my kayak anyway so I decided to carry on. I passed under a couple of bridges and stopped to change the film in my camera on the left near a white cross that was between a few trees. The view looking towards the city was not very scenic, the railway and other near derelict buildings were in the way.
A little downstream between two bridges near the 365 mile mark was the Berkley Riverfront Park. I believe its here that a kayak/canoe race starts and heads downstream to St Charles. It is a non stop race of about 340 miles long. Participants are allowed 88 hours to complete the course. There are nine checkpoints and cut-off times are associated with these checkpoints. The current is believed to run at 3mph at the time of the race. The first race was run in July 2006 so I had just missed out, it had already been run. Only a small field entered this first race but nowadays there are hundreds of competitors. If I kept paddling non stop I could be at the finish in four days.
I passed the open spaces of the park and was soon out of the city and heading down a wide straight with a coast guard barge heading up river towards me. It was picking up buoys which are place in the river after the thaw to define a channel and help barges find the deeper water. Now the season is over and the river will soon ice up they are no longer needed. There are also markers on each bend, which when seen by boats, advise them to cross over the river into a deeper channel.
I passed a big ramp on right and a little further Harrod’s Casino was on the left before a bridge. The river was full of wing dams and as I was slipping by one I was surprised to see another paddler, paddling towards me. We both came together and we both introduced each other. Bryan Hopkins was paddling the same boat as I was. It was even the same colour. Bryan turned and paddled with me downstream. We talked and talked and stopped at a muddy ramp and shared my subway roll. We carried on and I did a bit of coaching and Bryan tried my wing paddle and loved it. He said he wanted to buy it after I had finished my trip. Bryan said there were no marinas along this section because it floods. Eventually Bryan had to turn around and paddle back to his car and leave me to continue my journey. It was great to meet him. He was also part of clean-up the Missouri River.
I passed a power station on the left, just before the locality of Missouri City and here the current was slow, which I didn’t like. I stopped at Sibley ramp which was next to Fort Osage, a historical fort, which in 1808 became a trading post for 20 years. I soon passed another power station and rail bridge.
The river was now calm and the sunset was upon me. As I looked back I could see a red sky and a plume of smoke rising in the far distance from the last power station. At the same time as the sun was setting, the moon was coming up on the horizon and straight down the river. What a picture it was to have the sun going down and the moon coming up at the same time, reflecting in the same part of water, but from opposite directions. It was an amazing feeling being on the water enjoying the sight of three of life’s precious natural wonders, the sun, the water and the moon. I managed to get to an ACE Ramp at Napoleon before it was completely dark and carried my gear up to a nice grassed area next to and outside the fence of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) headquarters and yard.
Friday 6th October. Day 54
A few trains came through during the night but at least they didn’t blow their horn although being camped only 20 metres from the train line I could feel the ground tremble like at earthquake every time one went by. I was up at 5.55am but there were no toilets nearby and I was at a place where I couldn’t squat behind a bush as there were no bushes and I was exposed to passers by, although I didn’t see any in this sleepy little town. Instead I had to hold on and find a spot further down the river. Thank god I had subway roll to block me up and not nuts and raisons the previous day.
Along the highway 224, which at times ran beside the river and through the small town of Napolean that I camped at, there were also the communities of Waterloo and Wellington which were only a few miles apart. Someone had been creative in naming the nearby communities. Across the river from Wellington, about 1.5 miles inland was Sunshine Lake which my guide book mentions that it was said to be a getaway destination for gangsters such as Dillinger and Capone in the 1930s. Battling a head wind and cool breeze I came up to a stationary train carrying coal and a dredger loading sand barges. A little further there was a boat ramp on the right and then a fairly newly built bridge and it was near here in 1852 that the steamboat Saluda exploded just offshore killing everyone on board. As I passed the locality of Lexington I couldn’t see much of the town due to the thick trees along the banks but Lexington was famous for a battle taking place there during the civil war.
I stopped at 10.30am and had a poo and some mash potato. I was so proud that I had lasted so long without going to the toilet, usually I have to go as soon as I get out of my sleeping bag in the morning. Unlike some people I have no trouble going to the toilet a few times a day. A train driver saw me, so he blew the horn and opened window and waved.
It was 11.30am when I stopped at the Waverley boat ramp at the 293.5 mark. I now had less than 300 miles to go. I left my boat at the ramp and walked passed the toilets and up the hill to a road that led towards the town centre. I walked a good mile before I came to a service station where I managed to buy bread and a few other goodies, including an ice cream. The lady asked if I wanted to buy a raffle ticket, which I did, but I explained that I wouldn’t be around to get my winnings, but it was for a good cause, so it didn’t matter. I walked back to the boat ramp, topping up my water from the toilet taps.
There was an amazing sandbar island on my right at the 282 mile mark. I should have camped there, but it was a little early. At the 279 mile I decided to stop for a pee and put a thermal on as it was getting chilly. There was enough sand to erect my tent so I decided to stop as it was the best I had seen for a while. The sun was going down and I was shaded from the wind and I could hear no sound. The bank was a little sloping and only a metre above the water level so I was hoping it didn’t flood in the night. There were lots of spiders, deer marks in the sand and when I went to bed I could hear something pushing through the trees but it was too hard to check it out.
Saturday 7th October. Day 55
I had a good sleep and no noise from the trains and no flapping of the tent. I was up as the morning moon was going down. There were spiders all over the ground and in the bushes and on my tent. I brushed them off my tent when I packed and wrapped it up.
I pushed off at 7.30am and within minutes a good sized carp jumped clean out of the water beside me. I was only reading about them the night before. They can cause a bit of damage if they hit you, but on the other hand they could cause some joy if you fall in your lap. It was sunny but chilly and fairly windy from the east. I saw a tent on the right bank, but there was no-one around and no canoe.
At 272 mile mark I paddled by the Grand Pass Forest area which was on the right and around the next bend I could see the Miami road bridge. I stopped at Miami Ramp at 10.00am and had tinned chicken sandwich. It was quite nice. All the buoys along this section of the river had been taken out and stacked on the bank in places along the river. Along this section there were three boats with fishermen in and sticks with fishing lines attached and placed at the end of several of the wing dams along the way.
As I approached Glasgow at 3.45pm I could see people on a giant sandbar about ½ mile from the town. They waved, so I stopped and went over to talk. David, Doug, Sherry and Theresa asked if I wanted a beer and some food. I just couldn’t refuse such an offer so I was soon out of my kayak. They had a raging fire going, I mean raging and they had several fireworks ready to be let off. They also had pork chops, ham, salad, dips and a pie ready to be eaten. I was excited.
Because I was in Glasgow I decided to ring Alaine’s dad on the satellite phone as he was from Scotland and had been following my journey, so it was the perfect opportunity to call him. I had a brief talk and handed the phone over to David who talked to him for quite a time. Doug was drunk when I got there but by now he was really drunk and kept falling over. He started lighting fireworks and at times we didn’t know which direction the rockets would go. I could see how accidents happen. It was a joy to meet people and be able to socialise. Sherry was telling me about the history of the town and of the floods in 1993. She also said she had to drive 90kms one way to go to work every day. I can’t imagine doing that.
When I thought I would have company most of the evening they packed up and left leaving me with a lot of pork chops, portions of ham and a burning camp fire. I had 4 beers before they left which was a record for me, but I didn’t feel effected and I was camping on the beautiful sand bar, so I didn’t have to go anywhere. Although I had stopped early I had paddled 53 miles (86 kms).
Sunday 8th October. Day 56
I could still smell the smoke in the morning despite the fire being out. I was waiting for the sun to rise so I could take a photo of my amazing camp with the morning moon in the background. I loved this camp, although it would have been a little exposed in a strong wind. The town of Glasgow was perched on the top of the high riverbank so I decided to paddle to the boat ramp a little downstream of the bridge rather than to try to land on the steep shores below the town.
It was a mile into town and when I reached the main street it was deserted at that time in the morning and many of the shops and businesses were closed for ever and boarded up. It would have been a lovely town in its hay-day but it looked a sorry sight today. I found the Riverbend Café that the guys I had met had talked about. They suggested that I had ham and eggs as the ham here was pretty special. Despite having a mountain of meat the previous night I didn’t quite know why I decided to have more meat. The restaurant was filled with old pictures and memorabilia of the past and typical of an American restaurant in the 50 and 60s. There was only one couple having breakfast, but I suppose it was early. The waitress was very nice and chatty and she soon had my thick ham slices and eggs on the table in front of me. The ham was tasty but by the time I had consumed it all, I felt that I didn’t need any more meat for a while. I have been going for weeks without meat and within the space of a few hours, I had nearly consumed a cow. By the time I ate the thick ham slices and eggs, three pancakes with syrup and drank 2 coffees I was pretty full. I could see a bulge in my belly but after a few hours of paddling I’m sure it would disappear.
I walked to the supermarket, which turned out to being one of the newer buildings in town and bought some film, 2 bananas and 3 apples. I didn’t really need anything else. I saw at least two magazines that had Steve Irwin on the front page. He was so popular in the USA, and if no-one knew him before his death, they surely knew him now.
I walked back towards my kayak topping up with water from the taps of the filthy toilets. Even the vault toilets near my kayak smelled as if it was the sewerage works. There was no way I could use them. A couple of boats were being put in the water when I was leaving. Most of the boats around here were green or camouflage. Fishing and hunting was very popular. The boaters told me that water fowl move into area when migrating and that is the time to go hunting. I must admit after leaving Bismarck some weeks ago, when the hunting season had opened, I had expected to see more duck shooters on the river, but I have hardly seen any unless they prefer all the lakes that are around. It was interesting to see all the different types of small boats used on the river since leaving three forks. Different waterways were suited to a particular type of boat.
An Army Corpse barge called Jumbo motored up river loaded with rocks and I’m assuming they were on their way to repair the river banks. The channel buoys were still in the water downstream of Glasgow, so they gave me something to avoid. I passed a small scenic rock bluff on the right with a seat next to it and a paddock behind, but I stopped further down on another beautiful sandbar for a pee where there were several scenic hills on the left. Downstream further a group of people in two boats were pulled up at a sandbar. I stopped for a chat and they gave me a beer. I later stopped on another sandbar to eat some of my chops that the guys have given me and some toast that I hadn’t eaten at breakfast. Meat and more meat!
The current was slow and there were a multitude of flying cobwebs and I even saw my first white egret, well I think it was my first. I crossed the 200 mile mark and to celebrate I had a drink of coke that Sherry had given me. I passed the Boonsville rail bridge at 2.00pm, but it didn’t seem that it was still in use. A group of cyclists were going across the road bridge as I passed under it. They waved. A little further I caught up with a boat that was drifting and I talked to the family on board. One of the ladies had been to church with Cherry and knew her very well, as they were from Glasgow. I left the family to drift and passed by the Rae Marie Dredger, although it wasn’t working at the time.
By 3.36pm and a few miles downstream I captured views of the beautiful big Manitou Bluffs near Rocheport. They were impressive not just for people paddling on the river but also for cyclists and walkers as the Katy Trail ran beneath them. Being Sunday there were several walkers taking advantage of the trail.
Seeing such beauty had me in a happy mood and I always treasure these moments and look back and remember them. Even if there isn’t beauty, or if things are not going quite to plan I rarely get in a bad mood. The traffic on the bridge of highway 70 crossing the river was extremely busy with trucks and cars even though it was a Sunday. Downstream of the bridge I caught up with a dingy with two fishermen. They were sitting comfortable on beach chairs in their boat. They had several floats drifting across the river with a line attached to each one. After a while they would pull in the floats and see if they had any catfish on the hooks. It seemed a sedate and relaxed way to catch a fish. I left the guys to drift, passing more scenic bluffs and Daniel Boone’s Cave, which didn’t look easy to get to from the river, but easy for the cyclists riding the Katy Trail. I saw campers on bicycles at the Katfish Katy’s Campground, so as soon as I was able to land easily, which was at a boat ramp, I landed and went to explore. Unfortunately if I stayed there the night I would have to carry my gear a long way to camp so I decided to move on.
Within 3 miles I found an amazing huge sand bar at the 177.1 mile mark, that the locals call ‘California Island’ and a popular place for parties and a music festival. Tonight it was quiet with no one else around. I had the big sandbar to myself. You can’t believe how nice it is to have the perfect place to camp. Over the years I have had some stunning camping places and some really shitty ones. Tonight’s was a good one. The moon eventually came out and I was able to sit there with sand between my toes watching the night sky. My peace was interrupted for a few minutes as a train went by. The track was less than 100 yards away.
Monday 9th October. Day 57
I woke up at 5.40am and gave Lawrence a call, but there was no one in. It was very cool and extremely misty outside and it was hard to see the rock bluff across the river. I was rugged up in my thermals and polartec jacket trying to keep warm. The mist swirled around and moved away in patches, but it took a long time to clear along the river. I took photos and tried to dry out my tent before I moved off, but it didn’t work. There was a buoy opposite my camp and 6 coots kept swimming up river and then floating down about 15 yards and then swim back up river again and repeated it over and over again. They kept me amused for a long time.
The sun had broken through by 8.00am when I left. Eagle Bluff was over to my left but I saw no eagles just a big flock of vultures lulling around a high power pole. It didn’t take me long to get to Coopers Landing, an outdoor centre, with a restaurant, a shop, and a campground. I was told I must stop here, the owners make you welcome. I was dying for a cooked breakfast, but they only do a breakfast at the weekends, so I was disappointed. I checked out their small shop, but there was nothing in it that set me on fire, so I returned to my kayak and ate my cereal. Mark and Jane, who were cycling the last part of the Katy trail stopped for a chat. Mark worked in a cycle shop in Kansas and before he left he gave me one of his T shirts.
The river meandered and went back and forth from one bluff on the left to another bluff at the next corner on the right. As the river seesawed from one side to the other I was suddenly faced with a snake in the water before me. I was too slow to divert so the snake rubbed my bow and made contact all along the kayak until I managed to steer away from it. It was close, but I didn’t expect it to be poisonous, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
Sitting near a boat ramp on the right side of the river a man and a woman were sharing a conversation and drinking wine. How romantic is that I thought. All along the river there continued to be sticks with a fishing line attached to them and positioned on the end of the wing dams. I was told they were put there by people and left unattended to catch catfish, but I never saw any one checking them, so I wasn’t quite sure what happened to the fish once it was on the hook.
There were a few ramps, several squirrels and some nice sandbars along this stretch. I also came across a dredger using a grabber crane to unload a barge and then another barge on its way upstream. By this time I was only a few miles from Jefferson City and I could see the impressive Capitol building in the distance. After going under the city highway bridge I had good views of the Capitol Building and the city but then a train stopped in front of the striking building. The barges I saw earlier were being unloaded at a sand operation on the left side of the river across from the Capitol Building. I paddled on but continued to look back at Jefferson City to keep getting glimpses of the Capitol building as I was impressed with it. Finally it disappeared out of my view.
I carried on passing the Moreau River mouth, where a boat was moored and a man had allowed his small son to paddle about in a canoe alone. I was a bit concerned that the child may get washed away with the current or get pinned against a wing dam but his guardian didn’t seem to mind. I then passed the regional jail which was on my right about a mile downstream.
Lewis and Clark camped at Moreau River mouth on June the 3rd (my birth date) 1804. They also camped for 3 other days a few miles further downstream at the Osage River mouth. Today the Osage River mouth is 5 miles further downstream than it was when Lewis and Clark explored the area. I arrived at the present day Osage River mouth at 5.10pm. As I turned a left hand bend, just where the two rivers met, there was a high large sandbar sitting there waiting to be camped on. Now with only 130 miles to go I decided to go no further but to camp on this beautiful sand island opposite a line of cliffs. With time to spare before it got dark, I cleaned my stove as it was not working properly, but after it was cleaned it was good.
There was a silence on the island, but that was shattered when a train went by and the cicadas started to get excited. I sat for a while, watching the moon rise, geese flying over and bats circling and weaving across the sky above me. A train, on the other side of the river came by, but stopped dead opposite my camp and then all the carriages bumped one by one as the train finally came to a complete halt.
Tuesday 10th October. Day 58
I woke up at 5.00am, probably due to the trains. The day was cloudy and grey with light rain, so I hurried along. The river had gone down in the night and a coast guard boat was motoring up river collecting the navigational buoys. The barge season was definitely over, although apart from the sand barges I hadn’t seen many barges at all. Maybe I was also too late in the season to see them all.
I passed Mokane ramp on the left and then Chamois ramp on right and then I reached and went by the big Callaway County Nuclear Power Plant. A little further I stopped to have a chat with two cyclists on Katy Trail at Portland, but they were too hard to make small talk to, so I left them to talk amongst themselves which I doubted they did!
I met a barge full of rocks and watched two eagles, one flying and scouting for dinner and the other just perching on a branch in the water. There were two fishermen on the right at the mouth of the Gasconade River and the hills all around me with trees full of colour. As I approached the town of Hermann workmen were building a new bridge across the river and just after I pulled up at the boat ramp at the river front park and dragged my boat through the mud to a dry safe spot. I soon got changed and took my valuables with me in my seal-line pack, and walked to the supermarket. On my return from the shops I found a bench under a river park shelter with an electricity plug so I was able to recharge my mobile phone whilst having lunch. I returned to the shops later to buy a double pecan ice cream. I was slowly sampling delicacies of a world I was going back to.
I spent two hours in town which was established in the 1830s by German immigrants and not long after I left, I again was subjected to some beautiful bluffs on the left hand side of the river at the 90 mile mark. There were now a few more houses and grass paddocks between bluffs and the occasional ramp. Although the river was lined much of the way by trees there were however tracks of farmland on the flat river plain sections.
By nightfall I had arrived at New Haven and got settled in on a brilliant sandbar opposite the small town. I was getting close to my trips end, so I rang Bryan and Ed to let them know when I would be arriving in St Louis. After dinner I sat and looked at the town lights and watched the trains go by before rain chased me inside.
Wednesday 11th October. Day 59
It rained in the night and I woke up about 4.00am either because the tent was flapping or because the trains were going by. Their horn is so loud when they engage it. They seem to sound their horn at every crossing no matter if they are in the middle of nowhere or town. I tried to get more sleep for the next two hours waking up every twenty minutes.
It was cloudy and quite cold with a bit of rain, which was a pity because the hill opposite was pretty, but it needed the colour of the sun. There were more colourful hills ahead and a few houses on the right at Dundee, a small community. Just before Washington at the 70.7 mile mark I met a towboat Jamie Lee, pushing four barges. It was the first real barge that I had seen apart from the dredging, the sand barges and the maintenance barges. The two men walking along the barge shouted, “it’s going to be cold tonight.”
I could see three church spires sticking up in the town of Washington as I neared it at 9.45am. When I arrived my first impressions were that it looked a lot cleaner than Hermann. After a quick change and a walk along the main street I found a coffee shop. I just felt that it was time to ease myself back to civilisation by enjoying a few luxuries on the last part of the river. I asked for a cappuccino. With or without milk the man said. With milk I replied, not really knowing what I was going to get. The cappuccino turned out being full of froth. When I returned for another and I told him that wasn’t an Australian cappuccino, he said a latte must be like Australian cappuccino then. He served me another coffee and topped it up with milk. It still wasn’t quite what I was used to but it didn’t matter, having two delicious blueberry muffins with the coffees was like heaven. So this is what people are drinking and eating back home. A lady came over when she heard that I was from Australia and told me her son was in Australia for the Olympics and he was building and taking it down some of the structures. Two other women having coffee also started chatting to me. I left the coffee shop and passed a bank that had a sign saying ‘no firearms allowed inside.’ I was quite amused.
When I returned to the kayak a guy came over for a chat and said he was waiting for a train so he could take a picture. Apparently his dad went on a train through here when he was young and now he takes photographs of trains and it reminds him of his dad. I started feeling a little sorry for him.
I ate some bread, cheese and salami before I left at 11.30am. Flags were flying from the park flagpoles, and it was unusual to see no houses, sand piles or industry, straight opposite the town, although sand barges were being unloaded a little downstream. I soon passed the Labadie Bottoms Power Plant on right about the 57 mile mark. Like most other power plants it had a water intake building by the river’s edge and a long channel that returns the water back into the river.
The trees surrounding the bluffs of Klondike were looking stunning but further along in the distance, on the St Albans hill they looked even more impressive. I stopped on a sandbar about a mile away and took a few self timed camera shots of me, my kayak and the colourful hills in the back ground. I realised that I didn’t have many shots of myself in the kayak and my journey was coming to an end so I extended my short tripod by using sticks found on the ground, and set it all up. I would select the self timer and run back to the kayak, jump in and pretend that I was paddling up to the bank. I did it a few times as I didn’t have a lot of time to position myself properly. It worked well but it would have been easier if someone else was there.
The St Albans hills, which were directly in front of me was full of leaf colour and dotted with big expensive houses. Some of the trees in the forest were near red. Further along, this time on the left I passed Weldon Springs ramp and drifted along looking at the scenic bluffs eating nuts. There were lots of creepers climbing and strangling some of the trees. It was one tangled forest. The current had been better today and as I headed towards a major highway bridge thirty to forty vultures were circling on the right. You don’t want to fall to sleep on the ground around here or else the vultures might get you! There were several islands along this section and logs that were jammed in wing dams and would certainly be a danger if paddling at night, which I really hadn’t done on this particular trip.
After the bridge a storm hit, it was gusty and raining and the water soon chopped up leaving me very exposed. I thought I saw a good camp spot on the right side so I ferried across the wind on a really rough river. For a moment I thought the conditions were going to beat me. When I reached the other side and checked the spot it was too exposed to the wind, so I had to ferry back over to the left side again. It was even more difficult to go back and extremely cold and the heavy rain was stinging my face. The river was one mass of breaking waves whipped up by the wind and for a few moments I wobbled and wobbled again. I just didn’t want to capsize here. I noticed a beautiful big sandbar ahead, but it too was too exposed and I knew I would never be able to erect my tent in the strong wind.
Finally I found a more sheltered beach behind a wing dam and as long as I kept low and out of the wind I was okay. It was freezing as I erected the tent so I used the chemical hand warmers in my socks that the Indian ladies gave me back at Brule, but they didn’t get hot enough to warm my cold feet. I rang Ed to let him know where I was as he and Sue were going to meet me at the end in St Louis. I was at the 40 mile mark surrounded by fields on a flood plain with a power station being at the end of the straight. It continued to rain and to be very cold but when the rain did stop I came out of hiding and ate sandwiches for dinner.
A beaver continued to swim up and down slapping its tail and making me think that someone was around.
Thursday 12th October. Day 60
I packed up inside the tent before going out in the cold, it was freezing and my water bottle had iced up again. I opened more hand warmers and put them in my booties which actually worked okay, probably because my feet weren’t as cold as yesterday. It was partly cloudy outside and the beaver was still swimming around and when I wasn’t looking, dived and slapped its tail. I watched it for several minutes but when I watched it, it never dived. When I stopped looking, it slapped its tail and down it went.
The wing dam had certainly made a good wind break and I was thankful for finding it at that particular time although a bit further at the 38.5 mark I noticed a small beach between a rock levee which seemed to have been sheltered from the NW winds. So I will know next time I paddle this way, although I can’t see that happening. I soon passed the power station and another structure that had two guys leaning on the railings. The current was pretty quick and when I turned to go north the wind made the boat crab sideways and I got wet just from the spray from my paddle.
I passed under two bridges and arrived at St Charles and landed at the boat museum where I changed into my going out clothes. I walked into the Lewis and Clarke boat discovery centre and the two ladies inside allowed me to charge my mobile phone. It was good to be able to look around the exhibition and get a better perspective of how Lewis and Clark lived and what they achieved. My trip was nothing in comparison. They certainly deserve all the accolades that they got.
After looking around the exhibition I walked into town. It was still very cold. The town centre was very pretty and loaded with tourist shops, gift shops, pottery shops and cafes. It was a town that deserved to be looked around. I must admit I wasn’t expecting this sort of town. I carried on with my recent tradition and walked into a coffee shop. I ordered coffee and cake and the man said, if the coffee is not to my liking he would make me another. As I was leaving I talked to a lady who had an English husband.
Before I returned to my kayak I bought a butter pecan ice cream double and walked across to the Frontier Park and checked out the statue of Lewis and Clark. Back at the Discovery Centre I bought a book and videos and met two cyclists who had just cycled the Katy Trail. Tony and Bob came down to my kayak and Bob said he had walked the Appalachian Trail and we think it may have been the same year as I did it because he said he walked with an Australian called Drongo. Then again there may be a lot of Australians walking the trail with the name Drongo.
I left at 11.52am a little later than I wanted as I still had 28 miles to go before I reached the Mississippi River. I met a barge and realised I needed to change film so I had to stop again. I passed another barge and then a dredger which wasn’t working. The skies were clear but it was cold. I passed a good sand bar on my right, but I didn’t now need one until the end of the river. Near Pelican Island it was extremely windy, even in the shelter of wind I could hear the wind strongly whistling through the trees.
The Mississippi River was now only 3 miles away to the north, but I still had 14 miles to go to reach it by river. I had cold hands, wet gloves, from the water being blown back at me off my paddle. There was a ramp on the left behind a wing dam, a Cottonwood tree, cabins a little further and machines making new wing dams on the right.
With a head, side wind the kayak was crabbing. At the end of Pelican Island there was a sand bar and boat ramp. There were several posh houses on the hill on right before the bridge of highway 67 and the last bridge on the Missouri River. One of the houses on shore looked more like a paddle boat than a house. A white egret took to flight a few metres ahead and I think it was only the second one I had seen on trip. Four grey blue egrets took off at the same time but they had been common along the river. I paddled those last few miles thinking about the journey behind me.
There were more posh houses on the right near, before and after some power lines crossing the river around mile 6. At mile 5, at the end of the posh houses there was a boat ramp and a dredger that wasn’t working. There was another ramp with toilets on the right and this one was probably the last ramp on the river. Another white egret took off and a little further four grey egrets took off together. I usually see them alone.
I arrived at the one mile marker at 4.14pm. It was disappointing to see so much rubbish, coke bottles etc washed up beneath it. I took a photo of that last marker.
Once I left the mile marker the Mississippi River came quickly. I stayed to the left and moved around the corner and pulled out on an eroded shore. It was hard to believe, but I had finished the Missouri River. There was no-one there to share my last moments of this near 2400 mile (4000km) of ever changing waterway.
It was too cold to rejoice too much and with no one around I couldn’t even brag about it, instead I walked less than 100 yards to a flag and information board. It was that cold I couldn’t feel my right hand and it was difficult to press camera button. The extreme wind made it worse. I think I had finished in the nick of time as the cold weather seemed to be setting in. I did a little dance at the monument wall, not because it was ritual but because I was cold and I needed to get warm.
I walked back to my kayak took a couple of pictures and ferry glided across the Missouri River as sun was going down. I landed on a sand island only 100 – 150 metres from where the two great rivers met. I soon had the tent up, put hand warmers in my socks and called Jenny and Alaine to tell them I had finished my trip. It was another great moment.
There were barges on the other side of the Mississippi River parked up and a few motoring up and down the river. It reminded me of the old times when I paddled the full length of the Mississippi in 1998.
I ate a cheese and salami sandwich, some pilchards and a pasta dish for dinner. I then finished off with an instant pudding, a snickers bar, and a hot chocolate drink. The evening was still and calm, the stars were out and the aircraft lights were flickering across the sky and I could occasionally hear tow-boats and barges moving around in the darkness.
Back towards the meeting of the two rivers I could see shadows and reflections of the turbulent water of the Missouri River entering the Mississippi. I walked up to it and stood there. It was silent except for the hum of a distance barge. With 2½ days left before I would get on a plane to fly to Boston I was happy to have made it. I phoned Ed and Sue and then retired and put some more hand warmers at my feet to warm them up. It was going to be a cold night, but my last one.
Lewis and Clark wintered at Wood River across from where I was camped and it was on May the 14th 1804, with 45 men Lewis and Clark started their amazing journey up the Missouri River to the Pacific and return . Together they logged 8,000 miles and interacted with dozens of tribes and described 178 plants and 122 animals.
Friday 13th October. Day 61
It was a clear crisp morning and my water bottles were frozen and my tent fly was stiff and frosty. This was it, my last day on the river and I was on an island where two great rivers met and it was such a fantastic feeling. From my island home I now had the choice of paddling down the Chain of Rocks Canal, which is a very calm canal with a lock at the end and where all the shipping are diverted down. Or I could take the main river which would have the flow of the current but it had the very dangerous Chain of the Rocks Weir across it. At the weir I would have to do a portage as the rocky weir was life threatening even for the most skilful white water paddler. I took the second option as I had done the first option when I paddled the Mississippi River a few years back and it was a hard slog and pretty boring.
I loaded the kayak and took some more self timed photos from my sand island before I left. A towboat pushing a string of barges was just entering the Chain of Rocks canal when I took off. It was only 15.3 miles to St Louis but by the time I was a mile down the wind had intensified and the river was stirred up with waves clashing violently with my bow. Although I had finished the Missouri River, I hadn’t finished the trip. There wasn’t far to go, but the conditions were testing me, however it was exciting to have my kayak slam up and down and to be fighting my way down the river again.
I was soon paddling under the 270 road bridge, a main highway across the Mississippi before reaching the more spectacular Chain of the Rocks Bridge a few hundred metres further. The bridge was once the route used by U.S. Route 66 but now it only carries walkers and cyclists. I carefully crept up to the weir keeping close to the left side so I didn’t get swept down as I couldn’t imagine surviving the long ledge of rocks with a mass of white water going over it. Thankfully there was an eddy just before the weir near the car park and a couple of circular structures capped with cement. To portage around the weir was a good 100 yards. I stepped out and had to carry my gear up to the car park, which wasn’t that easy, and then walk across the long car park and finally across a soft sandy beach to get to the water. I struggled, but it was my last portage, so it was well worth the effort.
Several Asian looking fishermen were fishing below the turbulent rocky weir. The weir was really a huge pile of rocks that stretched 0.65 of a mile across the river and all the water from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was flowing violently over it creating a wide rapid with no natural path. As I walked back and forth three times to get all my gear, I just watched the whitewater cascading over the man-man falls. It was quite impressive.
I loaded easily because I had less gear to stow in the kayak, so I was off in no time. The river current was running fast and being wide with the wind blowing against the current, my ride was bouncy. I could see the St Louis big Gateway Arch in the distance, it looked good. That was where I was meeting Ed and Sue. The river calmed down as I turned a corner where there was a small ship yard and tow boats and barges lining the river. The Chain of Rocks canal entered a little later from the left. I now only had 6 miles to go, one rail bridge and three road bridges to go under. There was little activity and the shores were lined with industrial sites, some looking very sparse, disused and derelict. I started getting glimpses of the arch again and again in-between the buildings and it was getting bigger and bigger, which meant that I would soon be home.
Moving under the rail bridge on the last straight, I started to fire up, but my entry into St Louis was no-where near the spectacle I had when I arrived here in the late afternoon in 1998, when I paddled the entire Mississippi River. Today there wasn’t the river traffic, the setting sun, the people milling around the arch, the McDonalds restaurant and even the shores looked more derelict and shoddy. Today there were a couple of casino boats parked up, and a couple of towboats and barges that passed me in those last few miles. Otherwise St Louis seemed quite deserted. It was sad to see such a change.
I moved under the last bridge before the Arch and saw several cars parked on the concrete shoreline and Ed and Sue waiting eagerly by the waters edge. It was good to see them in the distance. I drifted in the middle of the river and clicked a couple of pictures being washed downstream with the current. I regained control of the kayak and paddled over to them and landed on the rocky shore. Ed and Sue had just driven all the way from Salt Lake City to be here to see me finish and to pick my kayak up and take it home.
After a hug and a handshake we lifted the kayak onto the rock shore and a tourist with a big camera took a few photos. Within 30 minutes we had every thing loaded and Ed was driving me out of St Louis and back to St Charles where Ed and Sue had booked two motel rooms. We celebrated with a meal and later a bottle of Champagne. My journey was finished. In some of the material you read the river is said to be 2565 miles (4130 kms) long but other material said it is 2341 miles (3767 kms) because the channelling of the river on the lower section has shortened its course. Whatever the right figure was I paddled between 2355 to 2565 miles which is around 4000kms give or take a few kilometres.
After a bit of tourist shopping with Ed and Sue in the beautiful centre of St Charles, Ed and Sue made their long journey home, leaving me to spend another 2 days sightseeing. It was good to see Ed and Sue, but sad to see them leave. I can’t thank them enough for the help they had given me which made my journey that much easier to achieve.
I returned to St Louis and toured the city by foot and went up the Gateway Arch, which gave brilliant views of the surrounding area. The following day I was on a flight home via two days in Boston and a week in England.
I return home from another big journey which was so different from the last.