Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Keeping tabs on the weather

The Augusta, MO, landing

Celebrating 500 miles milestone

500 down and less than 60 to go

500 miles and counting!

I've hit that magical milestone of 500 miles paddled for this trip. Not a bad tally for 14 days of actually being on the river. Doing the math, I've averaged 36 miles per day. I tried to put it in perspective and Mapquested a route across Nebraska and it turns out that I've paddled the distance from Omaha, NE, to Cheyenne, WY. Fortunately, the scenery on this trip is much better than that of the I-80 corridor!

I piddled around this morning at the New Haven waterfront and didn't get on the river until a little after 9:00 a.m. One chap stopped and talked to me about river conditions and how things have been coming down from Jefferson City. He's waiting on a group of paddlers to come through in the next 24 hours and stop for lunch before continuing on to Washington, MO. That's the second rumor I've heard of other paddlers being on the river behind me but I've yet to encounter anyone else using muscle power to drive their boat. In fact, I've only seen two barges on the river and a few dozen motor boaters, mostly people fishing. It's been a real secluded stretch of water the last few weeks and I'm not complaining.

Today's paddling was a real contrast with yesterday. The water dropped about 2.5 feet overnight and I had trouble putting in as the landing at New Haven was covered with about a foot of thick, slimy silt. I hauled my boat and gear down to another location to make a bank launch and was just about to shove off when the city dozer came to clean up the mess. Timing never seems to be on my side.

That water was as smooth as a mirror and little wind so I made good time down to Augusta. There's a nice campground for bikers on the Katy Trail here but it turns out that it's about a mile from the landing. Not real useful to us paddlers and nothing new in terms of being ignored when the powers that be were planning these landings and camp areas. People tell me all the time the location of different facilities and all I can say is that if it's not 50 feet from shore it's useless to a paddler.

When I got to the Augusta landing the ramp was clogged with silt and debris. Some yahoo designed this one with the landing facing into the current. It is choked and useless as a boat ramp until the State comes and clears it. I paddled up and down the shore and eddy to find a way to pull out and ended up hauling my canoe and gear up a 10 foot bank. One good thing about paddling 4-5 hours a day for two weeks straight, the arms don't lack for strength when tossing a 30 or 40 pound bag.

Since there's nothing here I'm just chilling and watching the day go by. I have two more days of paddling and one more night of camping. Where did the time go?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Police station, New Haven, MO

1800's riverfront home, New Haven, MO

Front Street (downtown), New Haven, MO

Only double digits left on this trip!

Hello wall!

Well, I wondered when I would get to the point where the body just didn't want to go any further. Today at about 1:00 p.m. would be when it happened. The day started well, I was on the river at 8:30 a.m. and making good time. I even took a small side channel around an island for about a mile just for a little adventure. I was down to Hermann, MO, around noon and had about 18 miles to go when the wind kicked up. There must be a law that strong winds are only allowed to blow in a canoeist's face because this one was relentless. The river has widened and there are more of those blasted roilers and whirlpools to worry about on this stretch. My arms were spent by the time I got to New Haven. It was one of those "I can't go another inch" kind of days.

When I got here it was clear that accommodating canoeists isn't a high priority for this town. There is a boat ramp and ample parking with a bathroom but no place to camp. I was expecting a few places from my reading on the MO Parks and Game website. I eventually set up my tent on a spot by the river that used to have dock anchored to it. I'm basically at the river front park and lots of people pass by walking and exercising. One couple walking their dog stopped to talk as I was setting up my tent. He's a carpenter (not much work these days) and also a canoeist/kayaker. He actually owns the same model of tent as I do and we spent some time talking about my trip and some of the trips he's done (down the Colorado in a kayak and being tossed out 3-4 times, "do you run a trail line off your stern in case you dump and have to recover the boat?"). He also informed me that where I set up camp was fine and was used by most paddlers that stop in New Haven.

After I set up camp I pulled out the camp chair and sat and watched the river. Eventually, I fell asleep and took a nice little nap. I was awakened by a couple showing their brother from Boston the riverfront. I'm now part of a tourist's vacation photos. He was quite intrigued by my boat and the trip I'm doing. I pointed them to my website so maybe they'll see themselves in print!

I have two nights of camping and three days of paddling left. Since my ride won't pick me up in St. Louis until Thursday there's no rush to get to the end of the trip. My next three days are all 25 miles or so which will allow me to take it easy getting up in the morning and paddling. By noon tomorrow I will have officially paddled 500 miles. That's a pretty good number but one I had hoped would be higher this summer. Oh well, such is life.

A few people stopped to chat this afternoon including a fireman from the town over from here. He told me that he was briefed this morning that the river will rise again starting sometime next week. It had gone up about 3 feet when I was at Cooper's Landing and floating down to Jefferson City. This morning it had dropped about 6 inches to a foot and was still going down this afternoon. If he's correct, they are expecting peak waters rivaling last year's and maybe as bad as the 1993 floods. It's the weekend and the stream gauge information hasn't been updated on the USGS website but if he's right then I'm doubly smart for having made the decision to stop at St. Louis.

I did walk around New Haven today. A very picturesque midwestern river town. There's a nice educational display here about John Colter, one of the guides on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Turns out he married and lived near here after his life as a guide and mountain man. I'm getting educated as I float along! I really should have stopped at Hermann at lunch, it looked like a cool place but their landing looked hairy and I was in the mood to keep paddling since I was making such good time, at least that's before the gale force winds began!

There's not much else to report. I'm savoring the quiet times on the river where I stop and just float with the current and look at the world. So much of the satisfaction of doing this trip is about those moments and not about the daily mileage tally or destination. I sure wish I could bottle those times and take them home with me but for now I'm happy with a soul that's been wrapped in nature for over two weeks.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The shelter along the Katy Trail at Portland, MO

Required vehicles if you live in central Missouri

Main Street (really!) of Portland, MO

A barge coming up the MO River in front of my campsite

Bruce Rogers & Kathy Carew, the finest people you'll ever meet

Back on the river!

I've stuck to my original plan to paddle 6 days and take one day off (isn't that what they call the sabbath?). I put back in at Jeff. City this morning at about 9:15 a.m. and started downstream to Portland, MO. It was a pretty easy float but towards the end I was beginning to feel the heat. I still haven't had much luck predicting what to wear at the beginning of a paddling day that will be spot on for comfort at the end of the paddling day. Unless, of course, the weather is cold and miserable all day long, then I just keep huddled in my cold weather thermals and tough it out. Hot days like today are another matter.

Kathy had to take a friend to the airport this morning so I said goodbye prior to leaving the house. Bruce drove me to the Jeff. City landing and saw me off. I spent the rest of the day scratching my head about to what to make about my time in Jefferson City. As far as I can tell, Bruce Rogers and Kathy Carew took me into their home and showed me kindness and hospitality for only one reason; to make me feel at home and welcome. They didn't ask for anything in return. We went out to eat several times and they refused to let me pay for their meal and insisted on paying for mine. They showed me the sites of Jefferson City and introduced me to some very nice people. At the end of it all I could ask was why? The only answer I have is that they are are the finest of the finest and a credit to heart and soul of America. I'm told that President Obama will be visiting the Missouri capital soon. If he really wants connect with middle America I suggest he give Bruce and Kathy a call.

I'm back to river life and it's also a holiday weekend. I had an easy float down to Portland, Missouri, where I set up camp and hung out for the afternoon. There's a small bar and grill here, the only business in town, where I had dinner and hung out a while. As the day has worn on more and more traffic is coming down to the landing to put in their boats or just hang out. Right now there are three boatloads of college kids at the landing that are a bit tipsy and loud. As I said before, the river is a totally different creature the weekends. One more day and I'll have my girl back for the final few days of paddling down to St. Louis.

When I talk to people about my trip it sounds like a big deal to them, especially if they've never spent anytime on the water. The days have flown by so quick that I'm beginning to realize that this has just been me dipping my toe in the water. I know I can't continue past St. Louis but I'm kicking myself for not having designed a different trip and started in Montana and floated down. That would have been a 2200 mile trip and would have been something. As it stands 560 miles is just a warm up exercise.

Oh well, you learn as you go along. Maybe one day I'll be a bit quicker not the uptake!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Missouri state capitol as seen from Noren Access

Joe Wilson with his waypoint sign in the background

Cooper's Landing store

It's a small world, after all

My stay at Cooper's Landing was enjoyable but too short. I pulled in around 5:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon and by the time I set up camp, showered, and ate the evening was pretty much spent. Cooper's is located on both the Missouri River and the Katy Trail so they get a mix of boaters and bikers coming through. There's also a population of hippies and river folk that appear to live at the landing and just kinda hang out and live life for living life. All in all it was a pretty cool place to be. The owner tried to talk me into staying a day or two more to take in the music they were putting on over the weekend but I was already packed and I wanted to be sure to stay on schedule. I did enjoy sharing the tent camp area with Ed, a chap bicycling the Katy Trail. We stayed up late solving the world's problems and kept the conversation going so long this morning that I didn't get started until after 11:00 a.m.

The river rose about two feet overnight and I was awoken several times by large logs slamming into the channel buoy about 20 yards in front of my tent. The rising water let loose all sorts of logs, large and small, that are now marching downstream to St. Louis. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of that mess after I pushed off from Cooper's Landing. The current was again fast but I had a strong wind in my face and was working hard to stay clear of all the debris. A few times I did run over a smaller piece of wood but that created the problem of it catching my rudder and flipping it in the up position. The rudder is bound up and won't drop by itself so I had to pull over and put it back down, not an easy thing to do with the high water and fast current.

I arrived at Jefferson City mid afternoon. Joe Wilson was waiting for me at the landing. Joe is kind of the self appointed mayor of Noren Access. He has brought in sand to form a beach area, installed raised bedding planters, created nature trails, and put up bird feeders and a "miles to..." crossroads sign. He and I had been exchanging emails for the last week about my arrival and what I could expect. He got my name from Steve at the Brickhouse Deli in Jeff. City and Steve got my name from Carol Snow, his cousin, that happens to live in Lincoln, NE (thanks Carol!). When I pulled into the landing (on a sand beach, the best landing I've had of the entire trip) I took one look at Joe and my jaw just about dropped. If my father ever had a long lost twin brother I'm certain I found him. The two not only share a physical similarity but also a personality that has a healthy skepticism of the competency of elected officials.

While Joe and I were chatting a couple, Bruce and Kathy, pulled up to the landing. The next thing I knew I had an offer for warm bed at their place. Since tomorrow is my rest day I seriously considered the offer and then the thought of spending a day at Noren with the wind and rain that's predicted sealed my decision. I went ahead and accepted the offer as I figured I couldn't do any worse! They had to run some things home and then came back and picked me up. After we unloaded my gear at their place I changed and then we went out to dinner at a new Mexican restaurant in Jeff. City with Kathy's cousin and his wife. The fun part of the story is that the cousins are from Wyoming and he was chief of police in Cheyenne and his wife graduated from LCCC (where I taught for 7 years). I never would have guessed at the beginning of today that I'd be eating dinner and comparing notes about people I knew 10 years ago. What is it that they say about six degrees of separation?

Today was my seventh day of paddling without a break. In the last three days I've clocked over 120 miles. I'm ready for a day of rest and glad for some friendly hospitality. One thing I keep telling myself on this trip is to be open to the kindness of others (balanced by a healthy skepticism). I marvel at how helpful people have been. It's good to know the good olde U.S. of A. still has such good people (yes, I did use good three times in one sentence!). We could use a few more stories on the nightly news about the good versus all the rotten crap that gets reported.

I'm not sure what the rest day will hold. I do need to take apart the rudder assembly and see if I can clean it and get it to work properly. I seem to remember Austin (the elder and evidently wise son) saying "what happens if that breaks" when he first saw the canoe. Well, I have an answer, carry a spare replacement. Unfortunately, I didn't think of that little tidbit until I was 200 miles down the river!

I'm currently canoeing down the Missouri River from Nebraska City, NE, to St. Louis, MO. Check out my location and blog at canoequest2011.blogspot.com.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Only 200 miles to St. Loo-ee! (I've paddled almost 400 miles in 11 days)

How I navigate (I write my final day's mile marker on my arm with side of river)

A big mileage day

The weather here turned a bit nasty and cold overnight and I awoke at about 4:00 a.m. to rain and a temperature in my tent of 52 degrees F. I've had colder nights on this trip but not any as damp. I was freezing my tail off the rest of the night and most of this morning!

I got up and had a cold breakfast since I didn't cook last night and didn't want to set up the stove this morning. As I was finishing my packing Troy, the Army Corps of Engineers guy, pulled up and updated me about the river conditions. He also gave me a copy of the new river map book the Corps just published on the lower Missouri. Overnight the estimates for the high water mark for Glascow, MO, had risen from 30 to 32 feet. I'm not surprised as the water had also risen two feet in the few hours after I went to bed.

I had to hoof it quite a distance from my campsite back to the river. I have to make about four trips to get all my gear down to the put in point so I can pack the boat. Troy had hauled my gear in his truck up to where I camped yesterday so that wan't too much of an effort on my part but this morning's packing time was a different story. It was 8:30 a.m. by the time I had everything at the landing. I went to fill up my water bottles when a local fisherman pulled into the landing and launched his boat. The problem was that he left his truck and boat trailer parked in the water at the landing. I was able to load my canoe but I couldn't launch it in the small space left a the landing, especially with the high water we have. He returned but not before I had lost 30 minutes of paddling time.

I finally got on the river just after 9:00 a.m. It was clear from the get go that things were flowing fast. I pretty quickly realized that I had traveled 2 miles with little paddling. My original goal for today was to do 31 miles, a respectable day, but I had that done by the time I stopped for lunch. At lunch I mulled over my options. I could stay at that day's destination, even though it was an ugly little spot, or I could paddle on. Since I was in a groove I chose the later. It was 15 more miles down to Katfish Katy's and a full service campground.

When I got to Katy's I looked at the landing and the barren landscape and said "no way." I wanted a place with real character for my final destination. I knew Cooper's Landing was 10 more miles down river but I thought what the heck, It's only 4:00 p.m. and I'll be there after 5:00, 5:30 p.m. at the latest. So that's how I ended up paddling 56 miles in one day. It's kinda crazy considering I did 36 miles yesterday and it nearly killed me. When the wind and current are at your back it's best to go with the flow.

Today I think I may have met the person today with most amazing life story of anyone I've come across on this trip. As I was finishing my lunch at Booneville, MO, and about to depart for another few hours of fun a chap pulled up to the landing site. I've noticed there's a steady stream of people coming to the river to see how it looks, especially since we're at such high water levels. Tudor got out of his Jeep and had a look around and then came over to talk to me.

We talked a bit about what I was doing and then he asked what would happen if i fell out of the boat. That's not something I plan to do but I told him I'd swim to shore and hope I could collect my gear. Tudor then started to tell me the story of how he got hypothermia when we was swimming to freedom from communist Romania. Of course I had to stop him and hear the full story.

It turns out that he was a 26 year old member of the Romanian military and suffering from the feeling that "there was no air" and wanting freedom. He and a friend decided to swim the river between Romanian and Yugoslavia and make their way to a free country. As soon as Tudor got in the river he went numb and nearly passed out from hypothermia. If his friend hadn't been there to help him to shore he would have drowned. Of course, they were both quickly caught and spent a month in a Yugoslavian prison only to be returned to Romania where he sat in prison for another eight months. He said that during that time he talked to all the other prisoners that had failed in their attempts to flee the country and learned what they did, what they saw, and what he should do different the next time he tried to escape. When he was released he and his wife made a second attempt and were successful using the knowledge (he called it mental images; "I could just see where I had to go and what do to do") he learned in prison. He made his way to Italy and was granted political asylum to live in the United States (Jefferson, MO).

When I got to Cooper's Landing one of the owners looked at my canoe and decided it was a kayak and that my canoe paddle was all wrong. He forced me to take an old paddle of his because it's much better and I'll love it. So, I have a second hand paddle that would be fun to try out except for the big water I'm passing through. Not a time to try new things. I won't complain, though, as this is a real river camp with a lot of soul. And there are a bunch of odd characters here that give it an odd Jimmy Buffett kind of vibe.

I got another hot shower tonight and had Tai food (why there's a guy here running a restaurant here I have no idea). I did a load of laundry and spent time talking to my campmate Ed who's peddling his bike along the Katy trail for the Memorial Day weekend. He's an Iraq vet that served two tours of duty that now works for the USGS.

The water is still rising on the river and will do so until next week. The folks at Cooper's Landing expect to be flooded out in the next five days. I'm beginning to think this river just doesn't want me on her. I hope to stay a few days ahead of the major flooding event but it's clear now that my decision to pull out at St. Louis was in the cards all along, no matter how much I wanted to go on paddling this summer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Weather, weather, weather!

Last night we had rain early in the evening. I ate my dinner and then crawled in the tent at 8:30 p.m. to rest a bit and listen to music. I must have been pretty tired because I woke from a deep sleep at midnight to the sound of thunderstorms moving into the area. I listened to the weather radio and it was clear the worst of it was to the east. We did get some hail and about a half and inch of rain.

I overslept this morning and didn't wake up until 7:00 a.m.; not good since I wanted to get on the river "early." I was packing and almost ready to haul the canoe and equipment to the river when Mike, my neighbor in camp, came over and offered me a hot cup of coffee. It was too good of a deal to pass up so I went to his campsite and chatted a bit. Another round of thunderstorms was predicted to come through before 9:00 a.m. so I was actually being good by being lazy!

Mike is one of those guys that looks a bit like a character out of Deliverance and a customer at your local Walmart (actually, I bet he shops exclusively at Bass Pro Shops). In my usual life I doubt I'd ever have spoken to him as he's a tall, rough around the edges kind of guy. It turns out that he is one of the most kind and soft spoken gentleman that I've met on the river or in any other walk of life. It's clear he loves fishing (but hates eating fish, he only does it for a big fish fry he throws for up to 500 people every year) and easily makes friends with the people in this area.

About the time we were having coffee "Eggman" drove up in his four-wheeler golf cart thing (I'm not sure what to call it but it seems everyone in every town I've been through drives one). Eggman owns 700 chickens outside of town and harvests 30 dozen eggs a day that he sells to local stores. He also has the place just up from Miami landing with all the rabbit cages.

After I got on the river it was clear it was going to be one of those days that never seems to end. My mileage goal for today was 36 miles. I'm getting to the point where I know my body and the physical challenge of paddling that far and I wasn't in the mood to do it. That, and the fact the river rose 6 inches overnight, put me in a bad mood. The high water has flushed all sorts of debris loose and it's all traveling with me. I spent the entire morning dodging huge logs, small logs, and garbage. By noon I was tired and ready to stop. That's when the storms rolled in...

I pulled off to eat just about the time the thunderboomers were approaching. I listened to the weather radio and it was clear I needed to wait it out for at least an hour. After everything passed I got back in the boat only to face even more flotsam and jetsam. Then the wind kicked up with gusts of 30-40 miles an hour. A real grind.

I did make it to Glasgow, MO, my goal for the day. I surveyed the scene and looked for the highest campsite I could find. Mike, from Miami, warned me that the entire parking lot and camping area will flood tonight with the forecasted river rise. I carried my canoe up to a spot above the rest of the camping area and was just about to get the rest of my gear when a chap stopped to talk with me. I told him my usual story about where I was headed but that I was worried about the river rising and getting wet in my tent tonight. I asked him what time it was and it turned out it was after 5:00 p.m. Darn, I missed talking to the staff at the Army Corps of Engineers office in town about what to expect here in Glasgow and down river. He responded "30 feet here, no more." How did he know? Turns out he is the Corps here in Glasgow.

Troy filled me in on conditions and says he thinks I'll be fine all the way to Jefferson City. He also recommended I go into town and eat at Beckett's if I wanted a good steak or hamburger. After a hot (did I say hot!?) shower here at the campground I hoofed it into town and had one of the best hamburgers of my life. I poked around a little and then came back to camp to check emails, etc. Glasgow is a quaint little town that appears to be holding on quite well. Quite a contrast from the other old river towns I've been through in the last few days (although Miami, MO, holds a special place in my heart).

So here's the quote of the day from Troy: "I've seen lots of canoers and kayakers come down that river. They all say the same thing, after a while it just begins to grind you down." Damn, I hope he's not right! I'm looking forward to another day of paddling tomorrow...

I'm currently canoeing down the Missouri River from Nebraska City, NE, to St. Louis, MO. Check out my location and blog at canoequest2011.blogspot.com.

Abandoned home in Miami, MO

Old Methodist Church, Miami, MO

Storm squall at Miami, MO

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A wet day!

I'm currently sitting beside a rock in Miami, MO, trying to get a cell signal to send this post. I will have to make it quick as I'm running low on battery life.

The day dawned gorgeous and I was in a mood to get to the water quick. Good thing I did as a huge thunderstorm chased me downriver to Miami and I got camp set up just in the nick of time to avoid being washed away. The ride down the river was very scenic but not mut to talk about. The days are beginning to blend together and one part of the river looks much like the next by this time in the trip.

I set up my tent within 15 minutes of arriving at the Miami landing. I tossed the necessaries (sleeping pad & bag, etc.) in the tent just as the thunderstorm came down the river. The NOAA weather radio station was tracking its position and when it hit I dove for cover in the concrete outhouse here at the campground. It was a pretty big thunderstorm with heavy rain that lasted about 30 minutes. Things are pretty soggy now and more rain is predicted for tonight and tomorrow and then clear and sunny all weekend.

After the rain I chatted with two fisherman, Mike and his friend, that got off the river just in the nick of time. They invited me to go back out with them to check lines but I declined as I wanted to go "into town" and see Miami. There was a general store here last year but it close over the winter. The owner and his wife were sitting on their porch when I walked into town to look around. They informed me that Miami was once a boom river and railroad town with with over 10,000 citizens. They had a hotel, bank, stores, schools; the whole works. The usual fate await the town when the railroad moved south of town and the river boats quit coming.

I looked around and took some photos of the Methodist Church (closed last year), the old hotel (nearly decayed) and main street (most buildings vanished long ago). I was hoping to see the Miami Museum but Liz, the curator, hasn't come home from work. I was told by the Postmaster what she drove and when she was expected but I walked back down to camp. A couple of local women stopped and chatted as I was coming down the hill to camp and they told me about the MR340 river race and the Liz probably would drive through before she went home. One of the gals is visiting from out of town and wants to see the museum too and they said they'd come get me if it opens up. Got to love that small town hospitality.

I'll close here. I have to eat dinner and I want to be done before it rains again. Besides, it will take 10 minutes to send this with the horrible cell service in this area.



Sent from Jerry Bricker's iPad. Oooooh!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A perfect day and some great numbers!

Today I finally had the magical day on the river where everything came together perfectly. It was certainly a contrast to yesterday's events at the Lexington Landing. The river is two completely different personalities between the weekdays and the weekends. Now that the work week has begun and the party hounds are back to work (with a Monday hangover?) I have my simple pace of river life again.

When I pulled into Lexington yesterday the tornado sirens were going off. The bad weather actually was to the east of Lexington and hit the small town of Waverly, MO, my current location. I was told by a person in town that the storm tore up the public park to the south of town. It missed the town proper which is good because there's not much in this little hamlet.

Most of the drunks left the Lexington Landing last night by 6:00 p.m. but there was still quite a bit of traffic until around 11:00 p.m. with the locals coming and going. I thought things were done when the last of them pulled out but then a new crew came in and fished until after midnight. It's always fun hearing parents yell "I'm gonna whip your ass" over and over to a young four year old that's tired and cranky and should have been home in bed hours before. Like I said, it was a whole different jive happening along the river on the weekend.

This morning dawned warm and sunny. The overnight low was 62 degrees, a full 20 degrees warmer than my Nebraska camping just a week ago. I think spring is nearly over in this area and summer is soon to be in full force. As I mentioned yesterday, if you have a canoe and you're at a landing you're sure to get lots of questions from the locals. It was 8:30 a.m. and I was putting the finishing touches on packing my dry bags when a chap came up to talk to me. He has lived in Lexington his entire life and he proudly told me all about the Civil War history of the town, the riverboat history, and a lengthy description of the 1993 Flood. I've been hearing about that one a lot as I've come down river. It must have been a sight to behold.

By the time he finished chewing my ear off it was 9:15 a.m. when I got on the river. I didn't mind as I knew I had a very short day and I'd be to my destination shortly after noon. As I floated down river I officially passed the 250 miles traveled mark, the 50% trip completed mark, and "only" 300 miles left until St. Louis mark. A pretty good set of numbers!

I'm now in Waverly, MO, and it's a pretty sweet little river town. They have the best city campground that I've encountered since leaving Nebraska. There's water, electricity, and even a flush toilet here. I chose a site up high in the park that overlooks the railroad and the river. I figure that if I'm going to have trains keeping me away all night that I should have a great view to go with it.

Today is the first time I've actually walked into one of the river towns. I was going to do so yesterday at Lexington and visit the Civil War site but I was afraid my equipment would be gone when I returned. The atmosphere in Waverly is completely opposite of what I experienced in Lexington. It's a lazy little town on a glacial moraine overlooking the river that's seen its busiest days decades ago. After I set up camp and cabled my canoe to a tree I walked up to the old commercial district. Only the post office, a bank, the funeral home, and town hall are there now. The old highway that ran through town was moved south so all the traffic bypasses the old business center. I stopped in at the post office and asked directions to the hardware store; "there isn't one. General store? Nope, don't have one of those anymore. How about an auto parts store? Yes, we do have one of those. Just head east on this street the road swings to the right then you'll see it along the new highway." Fifteen minutes later I was in possession of a can of silicone lubricant (the Missouri river water is gunking up my rudder and keeping it from dropping like it should when I launch the canoe). Unfortunately, the watch that I broke today portaging the canoe to my campsite couldn't be replaced, at least not in this town.

As I was headed back to the river front park and my campsite when an elderly couple sitting on their front porch started conversing with me about their lives, the river, and the declining town. All in all, it was one of those kinds of days that I was hoping for and one I wish would occur more frequently. Unfortunately, with all the flooding over the last 20 years many of these towns have retreated from the river. That and the changing shopping habits of the citizens means that people now head to where the local Walmart is located, usually about 20 miles away, and shop there. I doubt any of these little burgs will ever come back to what they used to be. The old couple told me the status of the towns I'll come across in the next few days. It sounds like they're not doing much better than Waverly, MO.

Oh well, time to make dinner and maybe enjoy a sponge bath (the bathroom here has a sink and running water!). There's a private camp (Cooper's Landing) that I'll stop at in four days that has hot showers and a laundry facility. I guess Waverly is about the best accommodations I'll have until then.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it but I feel like I'm in a bad episode of King of the Hill. Every person I've encountered in the last two days mumbles like Boomhauer on that show. It must be Missouri River thing but it really cracks me up!

Sent from Jerry Bricker's iPad. Oooooh!

Looking upriver from Waverly, MO

Campsite in Waverly, MO

The oldest house in Waverly, MO?

"Downtown" Waverly, Missouri

250 miles down and only 313 to go!

300 miles to St. Loo-eee!

Public library in Waverly, MO

Fishing at sunset

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Peace, solitude, and two-fifty!

I've come to the conclusion that if you're looking for a little privacy and don't want to be the center of attention then you shouldn't pull into a boat landing in a closed deck solo canoe. Yesterday afternoon I unpacked as no less than five people carried on a conversation with me about my boat, the trip, the river conditions, and "how much fishing have you done?". I guess I can't complain about being lonely!

A strong storm system moved through the area in the middle of the night and I awoke at about 11:30 p.m. to strong winds and lightning all around my the area but nothing too close to the tent. The Dusty and John crew that was sleeping in the open by the river was quickly scrambling to pack up and get out of the incoming rain. I listened to the weather radio and when it was clear that the worst of the weather was far away from my location I rolled over and fell back asleep. It was the best night's rest I've had since I left home.

I awoke at about 6:30 a.m. this morning and was listening to the weather forecast for the day when a chap started talking to me about my trip (I wasn't even out of the tent yet!). Curt is a local that lives about a mile from the Cooley Landing and had come down the evening before to walk his dogs with his wife. He said he had wanted to talk to me then but ran into other friends at the landing and didn't get a chance. He was a real treasure of information about river conditions above and below Cooley, local fishing holes, and the kind of hunting/animals one sees in the area. Evidently, there are a number of large bobcat along the river and every once in a while one either gets hit by a car on a neighboring road or is sighted along the river bank. Something to look for as I float downstream.

Curt had lots of questions about how I'm doing my trip. His key phrase is one that I've heard dozens of times in the last week: "man, I've always dreamed of doing a trip like that." When I started organizing this trip I figured I was about the only person crazy enough to want to do something like this. It turns out lots of other guys share the dream. Funny, I haven't heard any women talk about paddling almost 600 miles in a canoe!

I saw my first other paddlers today. The weather was getting a bit rough just after lunch and I had paused to put on a rain jacket and zip up my spray cover when out of nowhere Dave and Grant appeared behind me. They were in sit-on-top racing kayaks and were doing a training run for the MR360 race in July. They paused long enough to chat and then kicked it in gear and disappeared into the distance. They were both traveling pretty light with just water, lunch, and a life jacket but it was impressive to see how fast they could travel.

Today was a short mileage day with me only paddling 25 miles. I did cross the monumental mark of having paddled 225 miles since I left Nebraska City a week ago. Actually, I've put in 247 miles in just a week. As a result I'll be a member of the 250 Club shortly after launch tomorrow morning. Not too bad considering this is the longest single trip I've ever made by boat.

When I got to Lexington today it was a mad house. Someone up river had told me that the river changes completely on the weekend and now I believe it. When I pulled up to the landing I saw a red school bus with the word "Emanuel Baptist Church" painted on the side. There were some teenage boys standing near the bus so I made the assumption that it was a Boy Scout or church group camping for the weekend. Turns out it was a group of local drunks letting loose on a Sunday afternoon. I unpacked slowly and set up my tent and waited for them to drive off in their red bus and I was thankful I'm not on the road myself this weekend. About an hour after they departed the police drove through and he said they're pretty well known and that he expected he'd be out to their house sometime this evening on a disturbance call. For some reason, I wasn't surprised!

That's about all I have to report today. Tomorrow is another short day, the shortest of my trek at only 23 miles. After that I'll be running about right around 25-30 miles a day for the rest of the trip with only one more long day (Wednesday) that will have me do 36 miles.

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Getting left in the dust by racing kayakers

Educational display at Napoleon, MO

Ft. Osage from the river

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today's campsite (Dusty and John are fishing in the background)

downtown Kansas City as viewed from the water

Returning back to the river

After a nice full day off in north Kansas City it was time to head back to the water. While at the Vacca's I was able to go through my food bags and whittle down what I needed for the run to St. Louis. I also weeded out the equipment that was weighing me down. The canoe is now riding as it should and the equipment bags are finally an appropriate weight. That ride from Nebraska City to Kansas City was definitely a strain because I was so overloaded. The good thing is that I've now had my "shakedown" trip and I'm in a very confident frame of mind about camping, paddling, etc. from here on out.

For my day off I went to dinner with Lora, Abbey, Grant, and one of Abbey's friends, Tiffany. It was a delicious meal at Buffalo Wild Wings, I'm so glad Grant told me it was my favorite restaurant and that I "just had to go"! Afterwards, we shopped at Zona Rosa where I picked up a new canoe seat at Dick's Sporting Goods and had a Cafe Mocha at the Barnes and Noble.

We didn't leave the house this morning until after 11:00 a.m. and it was about 11:40 a.m. when I finally got in the water. I paddled all afternoon with a single stop for lunch and made it the 36 miles to Cooley Landing at 5:40 p.m. The fast flowing high water is certainly a blessing. Even so, I'm not expecting to arrive in St. Louis until June 3rd. I intend to average 30 miles a day and enjoy the ride. Below Kansas City things are opening up a bit and it's a real pretty stretch of river. My favorite part is that the wild grapes are in bloom. When the wind dies down to a gentle breeze I can smell the grapes a hundred yards or so upstream, a very nice treat for a flower lover like myself.

The river was very busy today since it's the weekend. I saw more boat traffic in the few hours below Kansas City than I saw in the entire trip from Nebraska to KC. Lots of speed boats but no other paddle craft although I expect there will be a few coming along now that the weather is warming up.

Cooley Landing is another of those popular locations. Lots of people here fishing and I spent time talking with a couple guys who are camping out for the night. John and Dusty arrived just as I was pulling in and unloading the canoe. They are childhood friends that are now in their late 30s. John says he's just a Redneck but he wears the title as a badge of honor. They offered me a cold beer and we chatted a bit before this old man retreated to his tent to write his blog and go to sleep. Thunderstorms are threatening off to the west and it will be interesting what they'll do if it starts to pour since they don't own a tent.

The rest of the activity here tonight was an impromptu party at the boat landing after a group pulled out their boat. They were getting pretty loud and having a good time but they've since pulled out. Things have quieted down which is good as I'm one tired puppy.

Not much else to report. It was nice to get a real meal and a few hot showers the day and a half I was off the water. I was a bit sore before my rest day but I felt pretty good today, even though it was a hot and long day.

Thanks Brian and Lora for your great hospitality!



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Thursday, May 19, 2011

OK, now you know I'm not paddling the river, just driving along the bank with the boat on top!

Only 400 miles to St. Loo-eee

Red triangles, green squares

The rain started gentle enough last night to make me think it would pass over and not be a problem. Boy, was I wrong! Put a paddle in my hand and point me down river and it was a sure bet it would pour all day long. Not to worry, though, the wind took away what little resistance to misery I had left in me. At one point the wind was blowing so hard that white caps were forming on 1-2 foot waves blowing upstream on a current running about 8 miles and hour.

Actually, it was a very nice morning of eating breakfast and packing to leave. Just as I was finished and ready to load the canoe a huge barge appeared at my "doorstep." It was quite the site and a real contrast with my little yacht. I gave it a wide berth as I started down river. It seems nearly everyone I've run into on this river has some story about a person getting sucked under a barge or dock and spit out the other side. Those are wonderful conversations for a guy in a canoe in a rapid current.

My goal for today was mile 377 and English Park Landing, just shy of 42 miles total. Today was my day to pull out and take a rester and repack and review my options for traveling downstream. Brian had been following my progress on my SPOT tracking map and was there to meet me just as I pulled into the landing. Later, he showed me the track map on his computer and it has enough detail to show when I switch from one side of the river to the other. Pretty cool.

Navigation on the Missouri River is pretty easy. I have the maps from the Corps of Engineers on my iPad and I look at my daily mileage goal and then determine what landings are in that general area on the river. The river is mapped from the confluence in St. Louis and the actual river miles are tallied upstream. Thus, when you pass a day beacon you know it will have a river mileage on it and how much further to St. Louis. That comes in handy when determining how much further until your destination. As I get closer to that day's goal I switch to the side of the river where I'll pull out and start looking ahead to the landing and how I'll make the final maneuver.

The Corps has a mandate to provide a navigable channel that is 9 feet deep along the entire river course from Montana down to St. Louis. To do so they use wing dikes to divert water into a narrower channel. Since the river bends and twists the navigation channel switches from one bank to another. When the channel is going to change to another side you will see either a red diamond (left side of river heading downstream) or green diamond (right side of the river) telling you to cross over. A red triangle means continue on the left side of the river and a green square means stay to the right bank.

All of this isn't real important at this high flow stage. The water is high enough over the wing dikes that I don't have to worry about staying in the navigation channel. The problem is that as water passes over the dikes it "piles up" and creates what I call roilers of swirling water that threaten to tip over the canoe. The other big issue is that the Missouri is so high that every time I pass a large eddy the water at the downstream exit is also roiling. The same is happening where rivers and creeks meet the main river. At those places the water is actually flowing up the tributaries.

All of the above reminds me of running the fast rivers in Alaska when I was in college working for the BLM. This water is pretty smooth in comparison and doesn't demand any high level of paddling skill but there are a few of the big roilers that I've paddled across the channel to avoid which takes some anticipation because of how fast my canoe is moving.

Actually, the biggest threat today was about five minutes from my landing. As I was paddling in the eddy approaching English Landing I was nearly knocked out of the boat by an Asian Carp. They are an invasive species that gets over a foot long and hates noise in the river. Every time I dipped my paddle in the river the damn things jumped over the canoe. One smacked me hard and for a second I thought he wanted me to join the other fish.

We've been looking at stream gauges down river and it's clear this is a Nebraska to St. Louis Canoe Quest 2011. My final mileage will be about 600 miles, about half of what I was hoping. On the up side, I'm sitting in a warm and dry house sipping a cold beer after a great ride down from Nebraska City. I won't fret much, however, as the world is supposed to come to an end in two days and I wouldn't have made my final goal anyhow!



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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is this why they call it the "Big Muddy"?

My squatter's camp

St. Joseph, MO from the river

Day three stubble...

Today was a very good and productive day

Collin Fletcher wrote the Backpacker's Companion back in the 1970s. He once said that every time he left on a trip he got what he called the Fletcherisms. The blues from what you will be missing, what you don't know what's to come, and the transition between. He said it always surprised him when it happened and should have been of a different mindset. Well, I get the Fletchers every time I leave on a trip too, this is just the first time I've blogged about the experience. The good thing is by day three things are looking up and you move into a new groove and I got mine today.

I woke to blasting trains at 4:17 a.m. and then dozed for 30 minutes the rest of the night, just the exact time a train took to reach my location. I did get up for good at 6:30 a.m. I checked email (this still amazes me) and posted a notice to the MR360 website, a site dedicated to racing the Missouri River from KC to St. Looo-eee. I got a tip that if anyone could give me a solid answer about the likelihood of continuing on from St. Louis up the Mississippi that group could. I haven't checked the message board yet but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I ate and packed as fast as I could but it was still 9:00 a.m. by the time I departed from Nodaway Island landing. That was a barren site if there ever was one. The one good part was a nearly abandoned vacation home next door that I borrowed their pier and water supply to sit and watch the river and replenish my stock. The stretch of river down to St. Joseph, MO was very pretty. About fifteen minutes into the day I saw a strange site, two deer swimming across the river. The current was pretty strong but they made it easily. I knew deer did such crossings but it was my first eyewitness account. About 500 years down the river I came across two more deer that had done the same but they had come ashore at a site with 6 foot banks and they were exhausted from trying to climb over the edge.

It was a quick trip down to St. Joe, my first major river town. It is clear that the city turned its back on the river at some point as nothing is happening along the shores except dredging and heavy industry. I was hoping for something more appealing but I guess that's life. I did stop for lunch at Jenteel Brees, a Lewis and Clark site for lunch. There were two college aged chaps there staring at me as I was trying to find a good foothold in the big muck at the landing. It was like they had never seen anyone in a canoe. It became clear that I had interrupted a black market deal in action. The had arrived in separate cars and had the trunk open and where speaking in hushed tones. Needless to say, I ate quickly and headed back on the river.

The water below St. Jo got very bellicose and lazy and I didn't make very good time down to Atchinson, Kansas, my goal for the day. When I arrived in Atchinson it was clear the city had turned its attention back to the river. They have a beautiful new river park but the downside is no place to camp. The river rats in Rulo had told me Atchinson was a boater friendly town but that's evidently changed. I stopped in a bar and grill just up from the landing and asked about camping. Of course, I asked the wrong person, a gal that didn't know what canoeing or camping was about. She did call the City Clerk for me (she looked up the number on one of those plastic covers on the small phone book, ah I remember small town life!) and was told no camping in town, send him down river. Great, I could either get thrown in the clink for loitering or I could paddle another three hours with no hope of finding a camping site.

My only hope was a park on the map two miles downstream. After I had paddled three miles it was clear it didn't exist or had no river access. I was in a foul mood when the most beautiful of camping sites appeared. It's a fishing camp that hasn't seen use this season, and yes I'm a squatter, but it's my home for the evening. I'll be out of here in the morning and no one should be the wiser.

This site has me thinking about the energy I've seen expended to live on the river. I've passed house after house and many mobile homes that were destroyed by flooding, most likely in the last few years. There is so much debris in the river it's hard to believe. I actually saw a block of styrofoam today with seedlings growing out of it. I don't know where the foam is coming from but I've come across probably 100 of them, some blocks as long as 4 feet. I guess it will float to New Orleans and then out to the ocean to join the Texas size plastic zone in the Pacific Ocean.

Oh well, not much else to report. I'm a day ahead and I expect to be able to meet the Vacca's tomorrow evening. I hope they get my messages that I'm ahead of schedule.


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