July 13th, 2016
We awoke to the silent sounds, as the wind was no absent from our lives. We sprang into action once the alarms woke us from our slumber. Exactly a week ago today we paddled into the marina. Besides a short paddle of 4.5 miles and 1 .2 mile portage, we haven’t traveled a full day in a week! It was time to get on the water, back in the canoe paddling. From the west end campground it was a relatively short walk, on paved paths, to the Missouri River. With our food pack fully loaded again, from the resupply and our water jugs full, it took us two trips to get everything by the water.
Boat fully loaded and only a slight wind blowing into our faces, we set off! Oh it felt so good to have the paddle in hand, water beneath and even the wind in our faces felt welcome. We had been away from the river for too long. After only a few miles the river curved east and the wind became our paddling partner, pushing us from the stern (back) of the canoe. The morning went by quickly and in no time we were at the confluence of the Milk River. It gets its white-man name from its murky coloring, giving by the l and c expedition. The clear line in the water, between the Missouri and milk rivers was prominent and we played around paddling exactly on the line. Back on the river, we used the current to our advantage and enjoyed a floating lunch, all the while making forward progress. It was amazing to be back enjoying the current!
Having not really moved for a week, the afternoon started to drag on. We stopped to swim and the icy cold water was rejuvenating. With renewed energy we paddled on for about an hour before the ominous clouds of thunderstorms stated to creep in on us from all sides of the sky!! As the clouds began their concentrated descent on us, we rounded a bend and discovered a glorious spot to camp. A little muddy right by the waters edge, a large flat sand embankment was enticing. Ample sage bushes and drift wood made it the perfect place to camp. So although it was only 2 pm, we called it a day. It is so easy to get out of the daily routine of paddling 8-9 hours; we were happy to have made it 5 hours and 20 miles! We are currently 3 days ahead of the timeline and are in no need to rush. We have 10 days scheduled for this stretch of 224 miles and with ample current should have no problem staying ahead. Though with river time, everything can change and you can get wind bound for days! We are thankful to have only had a few wind bound days!
With camp set up and the storm clouds rolling by, Lisa made river art and collected sage. Alyce enjoyed listening to the sounds of the river and writing. With dinner time approaching we began to collect fire wood. It is abundant on this stretch of the river. Big clumps washed up during high water. Though it is also tangled together and at times difficult to pull apart. Though we are able to gather a good amount, enough for a cooking fire and enjoyment fire. A delicious dinner of quinoa sweet potatoes and canned chicken! With the river meandering by, the sun swaying to the horizon, the heat from the embers glowing orange red, And another day of this magical life we get to live comes to an end.
July 14th, 2016
It felt so great to get a paddle back in my hands. It’s been hard to kick the sluggish feelings that linger from spending a week confined to land. It was nice to rest, but now it’s time to get back into the routine. Well, as always, river routine is ultimately dictated by the environment. We paddled a good distance, when a storm cell to the north of us and one to the south began to make their presence known. They were two east-bound trains just like us. The sun shone on the middle, right on us and, looking around, it seemed like it was shining on us only. We begged some of the clouds, not the stormy ones but the fluffy white ones to shield us a little from the mid-summer heat. Ahead of us, the two storms met each other in a winner-take-all battle of the Titans. Bolts were thrown across the sky and down to earth. We heard thunder and calculated it to be about 4 miles ahead while we were still frying in the sun. Two different worlds, not so far apart.
It’s always a give and take when you live totally subject to the weather. Giving up the lackadaisical floats in the often relentlessly soul-sapping sun for cloudier and breathable conditions is nice but you add to it the heightened vigilance of watching for lighting and battling wind. Not that you have any say in the matter, but it’s important to recognize that both extremes have their positives and negatives and at least they keep you from getting bored with one or the other. The wind advised us to get off the water earlier than we intended as another storm cell moved in behind us. We made camp quickly and got lost in an afternoon of rest. Energy remains low. Morale, however, remains high and that can be directly attributed to the intention and effort we have been putting in to honoring, if not resolving, our differences and respecting and listening to each other. Though times have been rocky, our core of friendship and, truly, peace is strong. We are solid and we have to work on maintaining that strength most days in an ever-humbling experiment.
A marauder came to camp tonight. A black-ringed scout. She came within a boats-length to recon the scene. When she realized she had been discovered, she bolted back to the cottonwood trees. I moved the non-critterproof food to under my tent vestibule where I could defend it better. We’ll see if we get raided by the true river bandits tonight.
A chillier morning greeted us, as we stirred life into our tents. The orangey haze of the ball of fire in the sky making her stand. It felt so great to be back on the river, after the week long break in Fort Peck and paddling the reservoir. The river is a magnificent creature and to behold her in the early hours of the day is a true privilege. On the water in our standard hour and a floating breakfast of Simply Native cereal was greatly enjoyed. Still as tasty and filling on day 64 as it was on day one, so long ago now. Especially as we get closer to the North Dakota! Our time in Montana has gone by way to fast.
The day floated on as usual, with lunch eaten in the boat, a quick swim from shore. Around 1pm storm clouds started moving in from all sides! It started to get really dark and ominous by 1:30. The wind started about quarter till two. We found a some what protected area with a sandy landing and quickly unloaded the boat and got our tents set up, as fat rain drops began to jump from the sky. Alas, nothing to worry about as it was just for a few minutes. Still adjusting to being back on the water after a week long break, we were on the water two hours longer than yesterday so that was something.
The afternoon went by quickly, socializing on my patio (the ground sheet I put on the ground under my tent is larger than the tent body and creates a perfect place to sit and watch the river pass by), reading and writing. With dinner made and consumed, we went to bed straight away. Since it seems the bigger storms start to stroll in around 1/2 pm, we wanted to get on the water by 6am, to make more miles. Although we were ahead, we want to save that time in case of wind and weather that forces us to stay put. It is a humbling experience being at the mercy of the weather and we are thankful for the good weather we have had so far.
July 15th, 2016
No raiders…except the mosquitos. These ones almost rivaled the skeeters back home. Almost. It was a mostly quiet morning. We got on the river at 6 am and paddled all day. We had one break on an excellent sandy bank with millions of tiny rocks, in almost every color. I felt like running after we swam, so I did. Sprinted about 200 meters, just for fun.
We got back in the boat and laughed and sang our way to our next campsite. I made a small bag out of some canvas and thread from our repair kit for Alyce. She really likes to collect rocks, and has been saying she wants a pouch for them. I like making things, especially out of limited materials. I think it’s really fun. I’ve also stitched up about a dozen holes in my clothes and some of our gear by this point. I’ve even had to do a repair on my guitar strap. It’s a rough life for expedition equipment.
We did it! We awoke to our alarms at 5am. Given how the weather takes a dramatic turn in the afternoons, we wanted to be on the water early to get some miles under our boat before lunch. It was an amazing morning, the mist celebrating the life force of the sun, starting her rise. The colors were a range of pinks, purples, oranges and a deep blue. Reflecting on the water. Getting up early sure has her perks.
It was a cool crisp morning, that went by all to quickly. Perfect paddling weather! It stayed this way until noon. We paddled past wolf point around 11am and had moved almost 20 miles. We went a little further and ate lunch in the boat. Relaxing in the sunshine. The river is so curvy and is constantly switching back, so we go north south east and west all in the span of 30 minutes. Later in the afternoon we meet a group of people out in their motor boat. We chatted for a while, floating with the current. They lived near wolf point and they had all grown up there as well. Two of them were visiting the area, for the annual rodeo and school reunion. After a time we continued with our paddling and they with their motor boat ride.
Around 3:30 we made camp at a wonderful spot, complete with trees for shade!! It is wonderful to have tress around us again, after the breakers section and fort peck lake. Laundry day! Washing our clothes in the river, there is a primal feeling to it. I don’t usually like doing laundry in the front country, though out here it is an enjoyable task. The rest of the evening went by, reading and writing. We made dinner of lentils, sweet potatoes and onion stew. During dinner a group of horses sauntered up to the river on the opposite bank of us. Great dinner guests, we watched them drink from the river. The mosquitos came out in full force, so we retreated to our tents. Having kept our rain flies off, we enjoyed views of the river and setting sun. All the while protected from the pestilent mosquitos! Lisa checked the weather one last time, which was fortunate as the forecast had changed. The chance for rain was sixty percent, so we each put on our rain flies. This was an annoying affair, as the mosquitos quickly descended with a rage. Causing us to rage. With that ordeal over, back in the protection of the nylon and mesh tent, With sage as an air freshener, we drifted into peaceful sleep.
July 16th, 2016
The morning was a pleasant one, cool and crisp. Clouds covering the sky up like frosting on a cup cake. Saying good bye to another delightful campsite, we ate a quick floating lunch and got to paddling. The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms around 1pm (I have become skeptical of the weather forecast, as it did not rain at all last night) and we wanted to make some miles. This stretch of river is fun and beautiful. The current is nice, around 2 miles an hour without paddling. Though the main channel, the deepest one where the current is faster by almost a mile an hour, can be challenging to follow. It twists and turns; there are shallow sandbars that require a watchful eye to find the line that extends into the quicker moving water. At times one can feel the pull of the current on the canoe, and allowing the boat to direct itself in a sense helps. With the right temperature and proper lighting from the sun it can be fun to chase the chanel. It breaks up the occasional late morning monotoney of paddling. The river likes to have her fun. A bonus to the shallow sandbars is the minimal amount of motorboats, compared with fort peck lake. The bluffs and cutbacks and hills and forests are spectacular. The Missouri River does not fail to impress! These were the thoughts rambling through my mind as the morning transitioned to afternoon. We passed the town of Poplar and took a swim break shortly after. Lunch was consumed in the canoe per routine
Lisa took another quick swim to rejuvenate and reenergize. She was starting to feel under the weather and pretty tired. The clouds had also started to multiply, going from open blue sky to white and fluffy cotton balls dancing around. Assessing the mileage, we had paddled 26 miles by 1:45, surpassing our original timeline daily mileage goals. A sign from the river: while all is this was happening we came upon a premium camping spot and headed straight for it! With camp set up, large thunderstorm clouds began their march in our direction. This first set let out a little sprinkle, for a few minutes. Not even enough to warrant the rain coat and it passed quickly. Only to be shown up in less than an hour by a second massive wall of thunderstorm clouds. More ominous and a deeper gray blue than before. It did not disappoint, as it stormed the rest of the late afternoon and into evening. Dry and comfortable in our tents, reading and writing, thankful to have made our miles early in the day, allowing us the luxury of an early stopping time!!!
The rest of the evening went by reading, writing and napping in our tents. Around 6pm there was a break in the rain and we made a quick dinner of trailtopia. Thank you for producing these tasty and easy to make dinners! They are perfect for rainy nights. The rain came back and finished her show around 8pm. Early in the evening Lisa presented me with a medicine/rock pouch, to be worn around the neck. There was a note inside inviting me to Lisa’s tent and that is exactly where we found ourselves still at 10pm. We had our first tiger eye session. The moon made her grand appearance and as we talked we revelled in the beauty. The moon is close to being full; discussion of a possible night paddle happening in the next few days was also had. We finished our tiger eye session, adjusted our wake up time to 7, since we had stayed up later than anticipated snd said nighty noodle.
Missouri River, west of Brockton, Montana
One of the ways we prepared for the expedition was by doing research on the climate and terrain we would be traveling over. There are a lot of different environments to travel through from Montana all the way to Louisiana, but luckily, there is good information available from experts and others who have traveled through these places before. Alyce worked really hard to put together a timeline for the expedition that would help us break up the 4,000 miles we would need to travel over seven months. This timeline gives us something to rely on in the moments when we feel overwhelmed by how far we need to go and how difficult the trek can be sometimes. It gives us peace of mind knowing how many miles a day we need to travel now in order to get to the Gulf of Mexico by the end of November. Somedays, when the weather is nice and we are feeling good, we paddle extra miles so that we can be at ease taking a break when our minds and bodies need it or when big winds or lightning force us to stay put.
We got up at 5 am and were on the river by 6 in an effort to paddle our minimum requirement of 22 miles a day. We were hoping to get off the water before the afternoon thunderstorms, now a regular occurrence, might rumble through. I’m usually pretty foggy for an hour or two after waking up, but my mind felt alert enough to engage in the morning conversation that Alyce always seems ready for much earlier than me. I like when I can meet in the middle with conversation, because it makes both of us happy. In general, I prefer a little more silence than Alyce, but I’ve learned that too much time thinking isn’t a good thing for me either.
As the day wore on, the sun wore me out. The clouds seemed to circle it, without coming close enough to be of any use as shade. You could see the clouds in all directions, except directly above where they were really needed. We’d yell up to the sky every once in a while, trying to encourage the clouds to band together and block the sun for us. Occasionally a small one would wander over, giving us a momentary reprieve before being burned up, evaporated, by the mid-day rays. When the clouds come in big groups they have the strength to withstand the sun, but on their own, they don’t stand a chance. Once again, regular swimming provided the only real relief from the heat.
All the heat and relentless sun have a way of clouding up my mind with worries. Today, even the cold water didn’t help to shock away some of the troubles. Anxiety about writing and typing up all these experiences we’re having filtered in along with some familiar feelings of guilt about some of the arguments that Alyce and I have found ourselves in over the last few months. As the clouds in my mind took over my internal sunshine, the world around me seemed to follow suit. The clouds in the sky eventually ensnared the sun in a lightning storm that would last for three hours. With camp fully set-up ahead of the storm, there was nothing to do but wait it out.
As the rain poured down around me, tears rolled down my cheeks. Reading didn’t take my mind off my troubles like I knew the writing I often dread would. That’s the thing about worry sometimes. You can let it build up by procrastinating to a point where it stops you from being able to do much at all. If you can figure out where it comes from, you can usually solve it by doing what started the worry in the first place. Problem is, sometimes you just feel tired and need a break, so then you are left to sit with that worry until you are ready to face it.
As the lightning got closer, I decided I needed to get out of my tent and away from the aluminum poles and all the electronics we carry around. I put on my rain gear and went out to squat low near a stand of small trees. When the lightning gets close (within two miles or so) you want to be away from anything that conducts electricity like metal or water, and you don’t want to be the tallest thing around.
As I crouched in the rain, wishing I had put on a warmer shirt under my jacket, I watched a grasshopper take shelter under a pile of dried cow dung. As the lightning flashed close by and the thunder boomed louder than before, me and the grasshopper sat there looking at each other. Me in my nearly $500 rain jacket, a donation to the expedition from the Patagonia store in St. Paul, and the grasshopper underneath a pile of poop, both waiting out the same storm. I couldn’t help but laugh at my too-serious and sorry-feeling self. Nature is always ready with a lesson for you when you need it.
As the storm ran its course, I made my way back to my tent and took an unexpected and much-needed nap. I woke up to the sound of more rain and Alyce hollering over from her tent that she had managed to make dinner in between the two downpours. All of a sudden, I knew what to do. I took two of the things that had been causing me stress earlier and put them together. I wrote three sentences on a small piece of paper: I love you. I feel sad, tired, and lonely. Will you come over to my tent when the storm is over? How I felt and what I wanted. I didn’t know exactly what would come of it, but something in me told me that company would be good – maybe better for me than my usual choice of being alone – to calm my worried mind.
I had made a small pouch out of a spare piece of green canvas we carry in our repair kit the night before. I stitched it up with white thread and added a button I never use from my shirt to keep it closed. I sewed in a piece a green cord to make loop for carrying it. I had made it the night before as a gift for Alyce to keep some of the rocks she likes to collect in. I folded the little note I’d written in half once, slipped it inside, and then buttoned it up. The rain hadn’t stopped but I was getting hungry so I threw my rain coat back on and darted over to Alyce’s tent to get the foil Trailtopia pouch that contained my half of dinner. As Alyce handed me the packet of teriyaki chicken and rice from under her rain fly, I replaced it with my gift and expression of vulnerability.
With the exchange made, I ran back to the shelter of my tent and solitude as her shrieks of joy over the little bag rang out. This made me happy as did the dinner filling my empty belly. When the rain stopped, Alyce came over and I just started talking. Something in me told me to spill my guts about what really troubles me deep down, stuff I usually just keep to myself. It took courage to be vulnerable with my real fears about how the world sees me and about how I see myself. It wasn’t easy, but surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. Even though we argue and get mad at each other sometimes, me and Alyce love and respect each other a lot. We are like sisters and in that moment, she listened to me like one. It took me letting my guard down, letting her in, to get there. Another lesson, I’m learning slowly over time.
After getting the weight of worry over our friendship off of my back, I was able to tackle my other big worry: writing and reflecting on our triumphs and trials while under the stress of the expedition. It’s a lot to do but it’s what we want to do to invite people into our world while we are living it. We want to show girls and women how we, as women, build and use confidence to accomplish our dreams. Our dream is big and big dreams come with a lot of challenges. That’s how you know they are worth chasing though because every challenge seems to lead you to a greater feeling of success when you figure out how to overcome it.
What we were able to figure out in my tent that night was that we needed a system to help us stay on track with processing what’s happening for us as individuals and as team. Kind of like the timeline we use for our physical travel days, we needed something to help us stay on track with our emotional and mental travels. This is how we came up with what we are calling the Tiger Eye Sessions. Every three days, we plan to have a meeting to check-in with our emotions and set a couple of small goals that can be achieved before the next meeting so we can really celebrate all of the little things we are doing that are going into this big, 4,000-mile journey across the country.
Alyce went back to her tent and I, feeling like the weight of the whole world was lifted off my shoulders now, was able to get some of the thoughts that had been stuck up in my head out and into the computer. A new feeling washed over me and replaced the tired worry. It was pride. I felt really good about doing something hard – being vulnerable with how I was really feeling – and making the most out of it. Now we have a plan that will help us achieve the part of our dream that, for me, is often harder than paddling the river and being exposed to Nature’s wild elements all the time. With the slow, patient effort it takes to paddle a river, I have new confidence about processing and sharing what I’m learning about who I am and what I can do.
July 17th, 2016
The morning greeted us clear and calm. Feeling incredibly well rested and refreshed from the tiger eye session, the mornings paddle went by incredibly quickly. The river also began to change her landscape. The once ever present bluffs, that had not been present since we left fort peck, returned. Groves of trees stood their guard by the banks of the river. The sun laid her blanket upon the land and the grasses shown green.
Around lunch time we were approaching Brockton, where the Google maps on the phone showed a road leading up the water, providing access to the town and convenience store where we needed to get drinkable water (at this time we have about 2 days worth of water). We are using a combo of paper maps: colored ones, from an atlas, that were gifted to us by Ellen Mcdonah and the pages of maps form David Millers book: the complete paddler. These are black and white satellite images of the river, complete with the river miles marked every 5 miles. Well the google maps let us down and there was no road and by this time there was a high fence between us and any roads leading to town. We had nothing else to do but paddle on. We had two days of drinkable water, if we didn’t make coffee or hot meals and if the temperature stayed under 90 degrees. At this time we also began discussing a night paddle and trying to get to Fort Union in two days instead of 3. The moon was only a night away from full; this was one of the biggest impetus for paddling into the night.
So that is what we did. We ate cold packets of lentils in sauce, with crunchy ramen noodles thrown in for more calories and texture. As the sun lowered herself in the sky, the temperature began to drop and the conditions for paddling became perfect. The sunset was incredible. The colors played on the water, like children in the school yard. Running around and crashing into each other. Truly breath taking. The moon came out and we were in a direct line of the setting sun and moon. A truly magnificent river moment! We paddled on until the Suns fading light was almost gone. The moons light danced like diamonds on the water surface and tranquility wrapped the land in her warmth. Around 10 pm the main river chanel (already hard to follow in the day light) had essentially evaporated. After getting beached on a sand bar, it was time to get out of the canoe. We found a level and less muddy spot and got into our tents. Quickly falling asleep after the 12 hour day in the boat.
Missouri River, east of Culbertson, Montana
The Tiger Eye session worked really well last night. I released a lot of stress and it seems like Alyce did too. Sleeping in until 7am helped too. I feel pretty alright today. Even better after eating breakfast.
We planned to grab water in Brockton but the landing was inhospitable. We would have had to climb over a tall barbed wire fence, cross the railroad tracks and walk about a mile into town. We calculated 67 miles to the next known water source at Ft. Union and assessed that we had enough water to get there.
After looking at the weather on phone and seeing temperatures in the 90’s on the way as well as strong east winds, we decided to make it a long day. It felt good to have a mission and to mix up the routine a little bit. I’m glad we took the time to talk things out last night so we could make this happen.
We heard from our friend, Norm Miller, today about Kris Laurie. Kris is also paddling the same route as us. He is several hundred miles ahead of us though. Norm told us that Kris had just weathered a big storm on Lake Oahe in South Dakota. Lake Oahe has legendary storms, “not to be sneezed at”, we’ve been told. Kris’s tent was blown to smithereens in a storm and he had to wait out the lightning and 70mph winds wrapped in his poncho, laying on the muddy shores, all by himself while “ocean-like” swells crashed up on the beach next to him. Honestly, that must have been really, really scary. We were really glad to hear he was ok.
Even though it wasn’t awesome news, it was great to hear from Norm. He sent us the phone numbers of the 3 other parties who are travelling the whole river right now so that we could be in touch, share info, and help boost morale. Even though we aren’t paddling together, it feels good to know there are others of us out there, weather their own storms at different times, but all going to the same place. We especially appreciate Norm, who isn’t paddling right now but is helping keep everyone going and sharing as much information as he can to help everyone out. Thanks, Norm!
July 18th, 2016
We let ourselves sleep in a little this morning as we were both still feeling tired from our long paddle on the 17th. With about 4.5 gallons of drinkable water, and the forecast calling for hot temperatures, we skipped making coffee and a hot breakfast, to conserve the water for hydration of our bodies. On hot days I consume 2 gallons of water just for drinking and Lisa about 1.5 gallons. We use about another gallon of water for coffee and making hot food, so on an average day we use between 4 and 4.5 gallons of water. We were still a long days paddle away from Fort Union, where we knew there was drinkable water. We sort of needed to get there, as we only had that days worth of drinking water, and one extra gallon (that is if we didn’t cook any hot food requiring water) to use for drinking the next day. If we got wind bound at all we would run out of drinkable water and with the heat that could be very bad.
The weather was not in our favor this morning. A Lightening and rainstorm storm had us waiting it out on shore for about 30 minutes. As the storm passed us by, the sun came out and it eventually turned into a nice day. Although the sun was shining, the wind did a nice job of cooling us off and at least it was mainly coming right into our faces for most of the day. The day sort of trudged on for no particular reason. We Meet Diane and Warren in their yellow kayaks. Nice people they put in at Fort Benton and don’t have any stopping point in mind. It’s always fun to meet other paddlers and adventurers. In the later afternoon we had a disagreement about stopping, as we were rounding the bend in the river, into North Dakota. It was around 3pm and we were both tired, yet we also didn’t have enough water to cook with and have enough in the morning to drink while paddling. On the maps Fort Union isn’t right on the river and we had been given instructions by a Jeff Brown, who visitors the fort annually as a voyageur, on how to access the fort. A path through the surrounding willows had been made, that lead into a gravel path. It was about a quarter mile walk from the river. We could camp along the shore here and be able to walk into the fort in the morning to get water. For me camping here provided a bit of insurance, in case the weather wouldn’t allow us to paddle in the morning.
The disagreement centered over that Lisa wanted to stop right then and I wanted to get to the tipi pole, which marked the beginning of the path, giving us easy access to Fort Union and drinkable water. Both thinking we would have made it to Fort Union earlier in the day, we had not discussed a possible plan on where to camp. We were also tired, exhausted from the heat and hadn’t eaten in a while, so both not really thinking clearly. We had a heated discussion in the canoe and the disagreement took a personal turn when Lisa stated she thought I was being irrational about needing to get somewhere with access to drinkable water. This was incredibly frustrating for me because it seemed irrational to not to get to an area where we could easily access drinkable water. Especially with the storm this morning that kept us on land for a while; we could easily get stuck on the river and run out of drinkable water. I do have anxiety around running out of drinkable water and thus always try to have extra with us. Though at this point we had about 1.5 gallons of drinkable water; not enough to cook with and have drinkable water for paddling tomorrow.
Looking back now it’s funny because the tipi pole was literally directly across the river from us, on the left shore. Because of the maps we use and not knowing exactly where the tipi pole was, we both thought we were further away than we actually were. While on shore we didn’t notice the tipi pole, only after paddling past it did we see it! Hazzaa! We both got what we needed, done paddling for the day and a short walk to drinkable water. We decided to have a rest day tomorrow and get more water then. The forecast was calling for extreme heat and we were hoping to be able to hang out at the fort all day. With the thicket of willow trees, camping along this shore would have normally been mosquito infested, though the wind had become our friend, keeping the pesky bugs away. More swimming and bathing in the river happened. Along with reading and writing. Trailtopia pesto chicken for dinner, easy and delicious. The sunset painted her colors in the sky. I left my rain fly off to fall asleep to the oranges and pinks playing in the sky.
Missouri River, Ft. Union Trading Post, North Dakota
A new state, a new state of mind. The sun and the moon, now full, share the same spot on the horizon line around 9 pm these days. The moon in the east, the sun in the west. As the sun sets, it becomes the orange of the evening; the orange that doesn’t cause the anguish and sweat like the noon-time yellow. The moon reflects this radiance in a soft and beautiful way surrounded by the quickly deepening blue of the incoming night. This same scene had also captivated us the night before from the seats of our canoe as we paddled nearly 14 hours, because we could.
The long day of paddling into the starry night, though worth every minute, took its toll on me. I paid the price this morning, feeling somewhat tired in my body, but really groggy in my head. Due to an apparent shortage of drinking water, there was no coffee made today. This did not help my slow-to-wake-up mind. We had six gallons of clean water to make it the 26 miles to Ft. Union but with unpredictable weather, it can be hard to say how long it will really take to get to a destination. We consume about 3 gallons of water a day, and closer to 4 when it’s really hot. Alyce gets more nervous about the water situation than I do, so I understood her want to be conservative. Today, of all days, though I could have really used the coffee.
We loaded up the boat and started paddling only to be kicked off by an unexpected thunderstorm. We pulled over, harried by the lightning that caught up to us much quicker than we anticipated, and got ourselves into the safety of a coulee. We only had to wait about 30 minutes for the sudden storm to pass. It seems like the quicker they come on, the quicker they are to leave.
Later in the day, I experienced a moment of joy as scene that seemed straight out of another century unfolded before us. A train rumbled down the tracks just a few hundred yards from us and the river. The train chugged west against the the white and red-sand cliffs behind it while we rolled east on the current in our canoe; two age-old trades sliding past one another through a landscape that doesn’t give much hint to that date. Aside from our solar panels catching the sun in the middle of our boat, this moment, as many of the moments we experience on the river, could have been a snapshot from another time. We soaked it in as we played “Down in the Valley,” a song about time well-lived on a river, on repeat on my iPhone. We are still products of the modern era, after all.
Despite frequent swims, my exhaustion and what felt like an illness creeping in made it seem like everything and nothing was getting the better of me today. It is so hard to regulate tone of voice in these low moments, even though I try really hard. I sensed my need to stop soon and I didn’t have the energy to deal with the myriad of instructions detailing how to get up to Ft. Union which is not readily accessible from the river-edge. I asked Alyce if she would either be willing to navigate, even though it was my day to do it, or if we could stop and make camp and paddle the last couple of miles to Ft. Union in the morning. I was sure we still had plenty of water to do that.
Be it time of day, both of our exhaustion, Alyce’s anxiety about the water, or the way I asked, the request didn’t go over well and we found ourselves in yet another tense moment. This time, however, I had hit a new limit. I had spent the last of my energy conveying something I wasn’t that excited to admit – that I was too tired to do go much farther. I focused on expressing what I needed in as neutral a tone as possible because I know how I can come across as too impatient sometimes. Alyce made a snap response about needing to get to Ft. Union and not wanting to take over navigation. This drew out an angry reply from inside of me that I didn’t even see coming! In fact, I don’t hardly ever raise my voice out of temper and yet there they were, my loud and upset words hanging in the air.
I recognized right away that tone of voice was certainly not the one I wanted to use and told Alyce I needed a few minutes. After I regained my composure, I told her that I was sorry for raising my voice and she acknowledged that she should have kept her mouth shut. We took a swim, Alyce took over the navigation, and we made it to Ft. Union. No hard feelings, at least from what I could tell. We really are learning how to get along with each other when we need different things and how to apologize to each other when don’t get things quite right the first time.