Catch, Drive, Release, Recover. October 1-8, 2016

October 1, 2016Missouri River north of Rulo, Nebraska

A damselfly solar charging on a peaceful Missouri River afternoon.

Wow! It is the first day of October. We are now in the last two months of this expedition. Its really intense to think about may 13th, when we started hiking up to Browers Spring. I just can’t believe it. Also that we camped in Missouri tonight. Saying good bye to Iowa, the states are just starting to melt away. Along with the miles now that we are on the river and not on the reservoirs.

It was a cool and gray toned day, as the clouds in the sky obstructed the sun from shinning her hot rays down on us. Perfect paddling weather. Crept up on Diane and Warren at a boat ramp. Decided to keep paddling, as there was still some day light left. Found a spot of solid-ish mud. Played cribbage in the boat. Paddle to mile 506. The world turned pink as the sun began her dance down the sky.

-Alyce

Rhythm in the boat

When your paddle blade enters the water at the beginning of a stroke, it’s called the catch. This is when you engage your core muscles as your shoulders hold your slightly bent arms in a relaxed but firm position. Your abdominals and back muscles do most of the work. Stroke after stroke, mile after mile. Your arms would wear out after a few days if you relied on them alone.

As soon as that blade enters and your muscles engage, you are “locked on” to the water. It’s a fraction of a second but it feels powerful. As you transfer your power through the paddle, you propel the boat forward. This is called the drive. There are days when it takes great effort to move the boat if the conditions are rough or you are tired. There are also days, many of them, when the drive is effortless.

When the blade reaches your hips, you gently release it from the water. With a flick of the wrist, you can slice it horizontally and more aerodynamically through the air and back to the starting position. This is the recovery. Remember to breathe.

Catch, drive, release, recover. Catch, drive, release, recover.

Serene Missouri River morning gliding through Nebraska on the right and Missouri on the left.

When I was eighteen and a new student at the University of Minnesota, I walked on to the University of Minnesota rowing team. I’d never rowed before but “athlete” was my primary identifier growing up and I was terrified that I wouldn’t know who I was without the thrill, agony, camaraderie, and self-mastery that comes with competitive sports. “Catch, drive, release, recover” became my mantra for the next four years as I threw myself 100% into the deep and demanding end of Division 1 athletics.

Early mornings and hours on the Mississippi, in the weight room, on the ergometer, or in a bathtub of ice nursing sore muscles. Weekends on a bus or plane; every day occupied by “catch, drive, release, recover”. I was made for it. I loved it. I thrived. If not for those tiresome University classes, I’d have hit nirvana then.

After two years of the hardest and most focused work of my life, I found myself in the bow of the top boat in the program. The next season, I worked my way into the stroke seat. This is the last seat to cross the finish line but the seat that the other seven women in the boat follow. This seat is the rhythm. This seat sets the cadence and holds it, no matter what.

From this seat, you sit face-to-face with your coxswain and over her shoulder you can see everywhere you have been. You can also see the reflection of your sunglass-hidden eyes in her sunglass-hidden eyes and you are glad for the protection from each other’s fire. In the most high-intensity moments she is screaming at you as your muscles threaten to erupt.

It’s a great and dynamic relationship, stroke and coxswain. It is imperative that you trust each other because her eyes see what you only feel and you can feel what her eyes can’t see. Her voice calls out when a blade is early or late, when more pressure is needed on the port or starboard side, or everyone needs to relax on the slide back up to the catch. Her voice adds unity to eight powerhouse women pulsing with lactic acid and grit.

The coxswain has one of the hardest jobs in the boat. She has to tell someone when they are out of sync while they are doing something that’s really, really hard. That takes guts and a mutual understanding that she’s just telling you what she sees and it’s never personal. She also has to steer the vessel to keep everyone safe while making as few corrections as possible to avoid adding drag to the shell. She has to know the course, the buoys, all the bends in the river by heart so that she can focus on the eight blades in front of her and call out the good and off.

My job was comparatively simple: translate what she yells into a smooth beat, pull my heart out and don’t let anyone behind me rush the recovery. Catch, drive, release, recover.

A good coxswain knows how to get the most out of her athletes. She knows when to praise, when to demand, when to amp up, and when to drop her voice into a powerfully guttural call that comes from a deep and mysterious place inside the typically small-statured cox. As a rower, you are one of the privileged few to get to hear this sound from a woman and your muscles respond to it instinctively. With this sound, she is telling you to defy every limit, push past every barrier, ignore the lactic acid pooling, silence the pain, and catch, drive, release, recover. And you want to. Again and again until you cross that finish line.

I like being the rhythm. I have confidence in it. It’s hard for me to follow the rhythm of someone else. It’s a challenge for me in the boat, on the guitar, and in life. As we paddle our canoe, Drifty, we alternate who sits in the bow (front) and stern (back) every day. So every other day you are either setting the rhythm or following it.

If you want your boat to move with maximum efficiency, your blade should enter the water at the same time as your partner. This consolidates the drag added to the equation and keeps you in sync. The cadence is important to boat speed. A quicker cadence means a faster-moving boat. In windy conditions or when you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you need to increase the cadence. Most of the time, for us, the cadence can be pretty relaxed.

We aren’t out here racing but efficiency and good mechanics are a priority when you have nearly 4,000 miles to cover. Catch, drive, release, recover. We have to be our own coxswains out here. We have to be able to set the rhythm, feel and follow each other, make corrections, steer, and encourage each other all while making extreme demands on our bodies and minds day after day. Most days we hit the swing and occasionally we don’t. It’s really a lot to ask. I feel happy and proud about our ability to do it so well so consistently.

Alyce, river, trees, clouds, and happiness.

Catch, drive, release, recover.
– Lisa

October 2nd, 2016. South of the Nebraska and Kansas Border

Great day on the water. Paddled into Kansas! We are just cruising through the states now. It is outrageous to think back to how we spent three months in Montana. Now we spend only a handful of weeks in one state before moving into another. Once on the Mississippi River we will spend mere days in one state before moving on to another. AS we travel south, the forest along the banks is becoming more lush and plentiful. A great change from the plains. In the boat for 10.5 hours total today. Not a lot of hard padding, since the current is so powerful. The Missouri, what a river.

-Alyce

October 3, 2016. Missouri River south of Atchison, Kansas

Paddled through the town of Atchinson, Kansas today. This is the hometown of Amelia Earhart and it was enjoyable to walk through the the streets, especially the ones made of red brick. We stopped a moment at the home of Amelia Earhart. Now a museum, it was closed when we arrived. The rocking chairs on the porch provided a nice opportunity to enjoy the late afternoon.

Alyce & Lisa on the Porch of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home.

Dinner this evening was a real treat. A delicious pulled pork sandwich, toped with coleslaw and a side of french fries. Don’t forget the ranch sauce. Food tastes so much more delicious on the river and I love getting to have dinners like this. After a nourishing meal, it was back on the river. I enjoy these meals for another reason: no cooking or clean up. With daylight left, it was time to keep on paddling.

Muddy shore on left. Sunset on right.

The sun began to set on another day of river life, the camping prospects were looking bleak, as usual. Lots and lots of muddy shoreline make up the Lower Missouri River. As it began to get dusky, we paddled upon a kingdom, high enough up that if the river rose in the night (which was unlikely given the lack of rain north of us) we would be fine. It was also muddy free, given that is was a person made rock wall, jutting out from the muddy shore line. An attempt was made at sleeping out in the open, not wanting to set up my tent. Well low and behold the mosquitos were out in full force. Up the tent went, without the rain fly as the evening was oddly warm and there wasn’t any rain in the forecast. A delightful nights sky of stars and moon danced in my vision as I drifted off to sleep.

-Alyce

New game: stick or snake? 99.9% of the time it is a stick floating by but like four times it was a snake. Snakes are exponentially more eerie in the water. They move fast and can climb in your boat. No, thank you.

New hazards: black widow spiders, water moccasins, poison ivy that grows on vines so is not just confined to the ground, barges, and strange under-currents.

– Lisa

Missouri River kitchen. Fire by Alyce, food prepared by Lisa.

October 4, 2016. Dee and Ken’s Home, Kansas City, Kansas.

Another long day on the water, paddling our way to Kansas City, where a home and bed were waiting for us. Dee and Ken Landau had connected with us through the Missouri River Paddlers Facebook page. Several of the amazing connections we have had were the result of us posting on the page. Thank you paddler’s community for all you do for us long distance paddlers! Another typical day on the River, just paddling, eating and paddling some more. Apply sunscreen, drink water, repeat over and over again. It’s a simple existence and one I enjoy. Though the prospect of a change of pace in Kansas city was very enticing!

Lisa and 1-gallon water jug. Since you can’t drink the river water, we carry two 7-gallon water jugs with us. We have four 1-gallon jugs, filling them every morning from the larger jugs. We use to then fill our water bottles form the 1-gallon jugs. We had abandoned that part pf the process by this point in the expedition.

We arrived at the boat ramp and another river angel Tom Bailey picked us up and transported our boat and gear to his house, where we would be able to leave everything for the 5 day break we were about to have! I was looking forward to multiple days in a row resting!

Dee and Ken picked us up, got us ice cream! A major treat! Welcomed us into their home, where we each got our own room and the cats and dogs were so wonderful to be around. I love animals, their energy can be so calming. The bed was amazing, with lots of fluffy pillows and had the added benefit of being under a roof. This was especially appreciated tonight because of the storm that started and raged all through the dark hours. I slept like a little mouse. It was awesome.

-Alyce

A bed in Kansas City, Kansas.

Thank you.

– Lisa

October 5, 2016Dee and Ken’s Home, Kansas City, Kansas.

Yesterday, fellow Missouri-Mississippi paddler and river angel, Tom Bailey, scooped us up off from the river on the north end of Kansas City. We had had dinner and river talk with him before making our way over to stay with Dee and Ken Landau. Tom was a novice paddler before beginning his descent of the Missouri-Mississippi in Three Forks, Montana with a friend a few years back. Tom is running a shuttle and guide service in Kansas City to encourage and support more folks to get out and explore the river too. Cool dude!

Dee and Ken are Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, paddlers, and river angels that had been tracking our journey. They immediately invited us into their home and family when we put out the word on the Missouri River Paddlers Facebook page. We spent a couple nights with them enjoying the shelter and rest. We swapped adventure stories and back-country recipes and got to hang out with Dee’s amazing daughter, Jess, as well.

Big hearts and good people-people. No sooner had we arrived and Dee and Ken were already handing us the keys to the place as they took off for the weekend in Chicago. The trust and generosity that flows through the river community is a force of rejuvenation in itself. Before Dee and Ken left, they told us that we always have a home in Kansas. “Not just a place to stay,” Ken added, “but a home.”

As thunderstorms raged for the second night in a row, gratitude for the shelter swelled inside. It gets harder to weather those big storms as we go. Each day a little more tired, each storm seems a little bit badder and it takes a lot energy to get through them. You lose a lot of sleep. Not inside the house, though. A bed, pillows, walls that keep wind and rain out, a roof that protects from the lightning. No worries tonight.

Alyce, Dee, Ken, Lisa.

October 5-6, 2016

What amazing and much needed physical and mental rest. Staying in one place for days in a row can be a nice break from the sort of fast pace we have been going at while on the river. I enjoy a more laid back pace and its been hard keeping up with everything. I have had the opportunity to read for hours at a time, one of my favorite activities. Plus all the different and delicious food available because of modern refrigeration. What life must have been like before these inventions.

It has also been good, as Lisa and I have spent time in our own spaces. It is really good for me to get to spend time with just myself and other people. I am an extrovert and get energy from being around other people. Though I also need time with just myself and I can sometimes struggle to find a good balance. I have felt really good about balancing my alone and people time, reading a whole book and starting on another! Laying on a couch, with a dog snuggled up to you and a good book in hand is one of my most perfect days, which was what most of these two days was spent doing. This is also one of the reasons I love to paddle rivers like the Missouri. The mix of wilderness, towns and cities and opportunities to meet all types of people is incredible. River life.

-Alyce

October 7, 2016Wilson’s Serenity Point, Jefferson City, Missouri.

Goofing around with the one and only Rod Wellington at our Red Sox-loving host family’s house in Kansas City. (Photo curtesy of Rod)

I’ll always remember the day I met Rod Wellington. Rod is one of the few paddlers to take on the Missouri-Mississippi River system from source to sea. He kayaked it in 2013. Alyce had been in contact with him in the planning phases of the expedition to get intel on the hike to the source and navigating the initial tributaries.

Rod was honest in his accounts of the early phase of the expedition, likening it to a dark and winding tunnel that allows no light in until the very end. “You don’t know how dark it will get or how long the darkness will last.” On an encouraging note, he added that the initial trials through the snow, barbed wire, and low water would set us up well for the “real challenges downstream” – the reservoirs, the Great Plains, etc. He was right.

Rod is a native of Canada with waist-length dreadlocks, a lot of strong opinions, and more energy than the center of the sun. He’s also an author, a die-hard cyclist and kayaker, a vegan, and a really nice, genuine guy. He came and picked us up in Kansas City and drove us to Jefferson City so we could join the Missouri paddling community in celebrating the life of a river angel, Joe Wilson, who had recently passed.

We got two and half hours to gush about the river and adventure with someone who knew it as intimately as we did. Rod has dedicated his life to exploring rivers and writing about his experiences and it was inspiring to talk to him about his process. He has a really good sense of humor and smiles when he talks about selling books and t-shirts out of the trunk of his car for a living. His spirit seems far younger and more enthusiastic than his physical age. I’m so glad we got the chance to meet him in person.

– Lisa

October 8, 2016. Kansas City, Kansas.

Rod and I drove around the winding river-valley roads of rural Missouri looking for the start of the Race to the Dome. We talked some more about pursing passions and getting your ideas off the ground. The big take-away was don’t spend too much time doing a job you don’t like, follow your gut, and say “yes” more often than not.

We pulled over a few times so Rod could take some photos and admire the scenery. I appreciated his affinity for the beauty of the nature world and his willingness to follow his curiosity. I also had to laugh because I’m the same way which contributes to perpetual tardiness and here we were trying to make it to the start of this race while backing the car up to get a second glimpse of a pair of horses grazing in a field of “perfect light”.

With a little help from some fog delaying the start, we made it in time to mingle with some of the paddlers before they got on the river. There were serious racers, total novices, and everyone in between. The race is put on by Missouri River Relief, an organization dedicated to connecting people to the river through education, recreation, and river clean-ups. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits despite the fog.

Paddlers preparing for the “Race to the Dome”. This is a 15 or 27 mile paddle race on the Missouri River between Columbia and Jefferson City, Missouri. We saw experienced racers and people who were paddling a canoe for the first time. Confidence everywhere. It was fun to watch from shore!

My competitive instincts had me wishing I had entered the race when I had the chance, just for fun, of course. I had to remind myself that “recover” is part of the stroke sequence and should be applied to the expedition sequence too. I watched the start quite happily from shore. After helping some late-comers launch, Rod and I headed back to Wilson’s Serenity Point to find Alyce.

We spent the day watching the race, lounging, and getting to know the local paddling community. In the evening, we gathered to hear some folks talk about the life and work of Joe Wilson, a dedicated River Angel and paddling community advocate. He single-handedly orchestrated the clean-up and development of “Wilson’s Serenity Point”.

The access point/boat ramp closest to Jefferson City stood in disrepair for years and became a place for vandals to congregate and do damage until Joe took matters into his own hands. He wanted this place to reflect the beauty of the Missouri river and river people. He wanted it to be a place where paddlers would enjoy stopping. A place where community members would be proud to come and lend a hand or find peace next to the river. With newly planted trees and landscape features, river-log benches and wooden swings, paddle art, and trash cans, it is certainly one of the more beautiful and inviting access points on the river. Unfortunately, vandals still wreak occasional havoc but increased police patrol and community presence is helping.

While in Jefferson City, we enjoyed spending time with the community of paddlers to pay tribute to a man, Joe Wilson, who lived as a true embodiment of what it means to be a River Angel. Here we are at Wilson Serenity Point near Jeff City. Joe cleaned this place up and made it stop on the river to look forward to. His legacy will live on through his family – both those connected by blood and the river.

People came from all over the state to pay tribute to Joe and re-affirm the need for the paddling community to support other paddlers, the river, and the shoreline. I felt humbled to have been invited to share in this moment in time with people I had not known previously. I also felt proud to be called upon to carry forward the legacy of serving the communities I am a part of. Joe asked one thing: spread the love. Will you join me?

After the ceremony, I hitched a ride back to Kansas City with Karen, a friend of Dee and Ken’s. Time to get some introverted recovery space.

– Lisa

View of the Missouri River and Jefferson City from Wilson’s Serenity Point.

October 8, 2016. Wilson’s Serenity Point, Jefferson City, Missouri.

At 7:21 Lisa called out that she and Rod were leaving for the start of the Race to the Dome. As I was woken up by, this I declined the invitation and rolled over falling back asleep. I love being able to lounge in my sleeping bag and tent and not go any where in a hurry. Having finally rolled out of my tent I meet several volunteers with Missouri River Relief and was treated to a doughnut. I love meeting river people and paddling enthusiasts! I helped move some tables around and meet Steve Schnarr of Missouri River Relief; whose name I recognized from Facebook. This would continue to happen throughout the day, meeting people I had only known through Facebook, including Traci Lynn-Martin, who is setting out on her own expedition next summer. Titled Just Around the Pointe, she is setting out to kayak 8,600 miles and set a world record! So many inspirational people in this world. I had awesome day of socializing, eating pizza and watching the boats come in for the race. It went by so quickly and soon the race was over, awards were being handed out and lots of clapping and congratulating.

The Memorial and pot-luck dinner for Joe Wilson, one of the most extraordinary River Angel’s the Missouri River has ever seen. It was moving to hear family and friends speak about his dedication the park, which was once just a boat ramp. It was his dedication, persistence and motivation that was the force that made it the park it is today. The River is powerful beyond measure. She brings people together in a way that nothing else can. That was evident at the memorial and the proceeding circle of people who gathered around the bonfire, to share stories of Joe and the River.

I had a wonderful evening sharing stories and being by the river. I got to meet and chat with Janet Moreland, the first women to kayak the 4th longest river system in 2013 and one of my role models. Janet had paddled the Mississippi River, from Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico over this summer. I thought it was interesting how we had sort of flip-flopped rivers; since Janet had already done what I was paddling and I had paddled the Mississippi River in 2014. We talked about the work of planning an expedition and the task of writing about all of it. Janet is also planning on paddling the Yukon River the summer of 2017. One Woman Three Great Rivers is the title of her expedition and I am excited to follow along dexter summer when she’s on the Yukon. I love the paddler’s community and how the River brings people together. Just another amazing evening, surrounded by inspirational people.

-Alyce

Any color you like – September 17-31, 2016

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One of Alyce’s favorite river activities: collecting toys! Most of them travel with us, just in case we ever decide to have fun, but this one was promptly absorbed into the toy chest of a soon-to-be 5 year-old friend of ours.

September 17-18, 2016

Richard-Hoefelmeyer Homestead. Beresford, South Dakota

We decided to sleep in a little to commemorate the completion of the Upper Missouri River. It took us about 100 days to paddle from Three Forks, Montana to Yankton, South Dakota. Some of those days were top notch, world-class days. Some of them felt like the moldy bottom of the bag of mandarins we didn’t eat because we were too busy building a wind fortress.

The Great Plains: a wild, beautiful, and impressively indefatigable teacher. She’s not your garden-variety educator and she won’t be a gentle guide to answers. She won’t lecture or give homework; it’s up to you to take notes and write your own report, if that’s your style. She’s an independent-study kind of lesson-giver with no curriculum or plans.

She deals in challenge. Her style is relentless. Even after you see your short-comings, your failures, all the places you should have gone left when you went right, she will keep the lessons coming. She is not malicious. She fosters grit. Her brand of nurture suits those who have adapted to her. She provides opportunity; getting your needs met up to you. If you can hang in there long enough, you will certainly be thrust beyond many of your previous limits. From here, you have the opportunity to draw new conclusions about yourself and the world.

Her lessons resound because she does this very special thing for you: she holds up a mirror in front of you. Right in front of your eyes so you are sure to see. There are few trees to hide behind and few people to share in the burden of seeing. From the seat of a canoe, there are no distractions strong enough to hold your gaze long enough away from the mirror. In the mirror, you are sure to see what you look like, sound like, act like; who you are in the face of challenge.

FACT: The wind be always. All Ways. What direction do you turn? Do you face it? Brave the headwind? Or is it wiser to seek shelter? Each day is different and yet each day is the same. You must decide to take on the big water or wait on shore. You must decide what to think when your feelings start to defy your prospects. You must decide the words and actions you use to express those feelings and thoughts.

You must decide what to do before, during, and after the storms. The storms that come with increasing frequency as the mental and emotional landscape begins to reflect the physical one. Or is it the other way around? Is the internal storm calling the dark clouds to gather overhead and pumping more energy into the murky waves that rock your boat?

Here’s what I’ve learned: don’t stare into the mirror for too long at a time. Take your licks and tend to your wounds in a timely fashion so you can get ready for the next wave. Tent breaks, fix it. Shirt rips, mend it. You say something you didn’t mean, make amends. Think the unthinkable, “what if I’m not _____ enough to get through this?” Stop yourself. Can’t stop yourself? It’s time for a break. When the thoughts turn sour, it’s time for a break, even if it’s only a short one. In that break, look for something beautiful. There are sunflowers everywhere, did you see those before? Now you do. Allow them a smile.

You must decide over and over again to keep yourself and your team safe while living on the physical, mental, and emotional edge. The Great Plains held up a hard mirror for me. By acknowledging that what I see in front of me is a reflection of me, I can decide what to do with the things I see. Some of them are here to stay: tenacity; independence; curiosity; an insatiable appetite for better. Among other things, those are at my core. All of these traits carry a shadow. The way these parts of me play out in the world is up to me. The way I express myself, meet my needs, the choices I make to do so; all up to me.

I decide.

It is the hardest look I’ve ever taken in the mirror and in fact, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It’s so utterly humbling and at the same time empowering. To own your reflection and take responsibility for who you are is an act of liberation. I am growing to love who I see in the mirror, but I don’t always love watching my reactions. Sometimes I’m not proud of my thoughts, words, and actions in the immediate face of a challenge…and other times I really, really am. The mirror shows both.

After our final dam and onto the Lower Missouri, we hit the current. Sweet, smooth current and still 95 degrees. In a landscape that has been described as both harsh and forgiving, we were looking for a little bit of that forgiving. We found it.

Holly Richard, a PhD candidate at the University of South Dakota, contacted us way back in April, before the start of the expedition. Said she was hoping to meet us on the journey. Holly is a writer and artist. Right now she’s writing her dissertation on women’s river literature. She’s focusing on women’s writing from the Mississippi, Missouri, and Big Sioux Rivers. Match made in heaven! When we hit the landing, Holly and her husband, James, and daughter, Andromeda were there waiting for us.

We loaded up some of our gear, stashed the rest, and headed to their 8-acre homestead on the Plains. Chickens, cats, a dog, vegetables, and a precocious almost-5-year-old entertainer shared the big open space with us. This also happened to be the home of the 2nd largest telescope in South Dakota. James, a professor of chemistry at the U of SD also happens to be an astronomer and willing star tour guide. We wound up staying two nights at this oasis.

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View of Spirit Mound and sunflowers near Vermillion, South Dakota. Sacajawea, Louis and Clark were here more than 200 years ago.

We were folded right up into this family’s arms. We enjoyed meals, music, and political discussion with our new, kindred friends. We talked about the river and the Great Plains and what it’s like to live in a small and pretty isolated place. Short answer: it’s hard.

Holly told us stories about times when the wind would be so fierce that any attempts to work on the garden or do anything outside at all could be thwarted for days on end. She admitted to having shed tears of frustration in the face of the uncompromising weather. I get that. She has a good companion on the homestead in Andromeda, though.

Andromeda: a galaxy, a constellation, and a 5-year-old. This little girl loves to play outside, make her own clothes, and entertain through song, story, or dance. She could hardly contain her excitement at the prospect of someone new to play with in a place where you have to drive or walk for a long time to see your closest neighbor.

Of the two of us, Alyce is the one who’s got a way with kids. She loves them all and totally speaks their language. Hanging out with kids seems to fill her up like playing music does for me. I got to know Andromeda too though (she made sure of it!) and I am so, so thankful. The medicine that children carry and offer so willingly is as powerful as any other when we listen to them and accept their gifts.

We were making up stories together about magic fire shoes and pumpkins that were really apples when Andromeda really, really made me laugh. This made her laugh too. Later, reading a story together, she told me she liked how “strong my curls are”. This made me smile which made her smile too. Then, when we were coloring, she stopped and looked at me with wide eyes, “I just want to remind you that you can color the cat any way you like. It doesn’t have to be a color a cat normally is.” This almost made me cry. She didn’t pick up on that, but instead went back to coloring a tree blue.

Any color I like. Spot on, Andromeda. The most fitting advice to combat mid-expedition malaise and self-doubt. What you create, what you breathe life into, does not have to look like anything that has ever existed. But it’s also totally fine if you just want a brown cat. It doesn’t matter, just color. Whatever dust was still in my eyes from the weeks before, cleared up a little with Andromeda’s earnest words. Such a kind, gentle, generous spirit is good on the heart

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Andromeda watering her garden. When asked what would grow she said she hadn’t planted anything yet but “probably beans”.

Experiencing the love and good care this family takes of one another in one of the harshest places I’ve known, leaves a big impression too. It was a tough place to paddle away from and one I sincerely hope to return to. For the people, for the family that gave us a safe space in a rugged place.

The Great Plains is still there conducting her lessons. We took our tests and left but she’s still with us. She doesn’t grade the tests, by the way. She leaves that to your own integrity; lets you decide what do with your own reflection. That is why she is the most potent and effective of instructors, for me anyway. She’ll stay with me until my awareness blossoms into wisdom and can be planted somewhere else. Somewhere downriver where the land is more tenable, I hope.

– Lisa

September 17th

It’s all free flowing river from here to the Gulf of Mexico! Its astounding to reflect on how far we have come at this point and yet not even traveled through half the states we will canoe through to the Gulf. The reservoirs and portages of the Upper Missouri river are beautiful, amazing, challenging and long. So I cant let the anxiety of all the miles we still need to paddle, with less than half the time left, affect my ability to live in the moment and enjoy my time on the river. Because we are now on RIVER!!!

Since we were up later than usual talking with the Boy Scouts, we let ourselves sleep in a bit and got a later start on the RIVER! The current was amazing and we allowed ourselves a more leisurely paddling day. Plus that sweet, sweet current to help us move along at a nice pace.

In April a woman named Holly Richard had contacted us through Facebook in April 2016 about our expedition and her enthusiasm about it. She is currently writing her dissertation on women’s river literature, focusing on women’s writing on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Big Sioux Rivers. A Minnesotan and river paddler herself, she and her family live near Vermillion, SD on an 8-acre modern homestead called, The Telescope Farm as they have a private observatory with the 2nd largest telescope in South Dakota! We had communicated in April about meeting up when we were paddling through her area and today would that day. We went totally sure what our plan was going to be, if we would stay with Holly and her family or just have a meal. That is river life for you: figuring things out as you go and finding out what’s going to happen when it happens. Holly, her husband James and their daughter Andromeda were waiting for us at the boat ramp. Upon learning their neighbors had invited us all to dinner and that they had a guest room with a giant bed, we decided to spend the night with them. At this point we had to be in Sioux City, Iowa by the evening of September 20th (I would be getting picked up on the 21st to drive back to Minneapolis for two of my greatest friends, Chanelle and Kit’s wedding) and we didn’t have that many miles between Vermillion and Sioux City, so we could take our time and not have to rush.

The evening was an excellent time and its still astounding how generous and kind people are to us. We were treated to a musical and dance concert by Andromeda, one of the coolest humans on the planet! She made up all her own lyrics and dance moves and used Lisa’s guitar too! Another true river time experience, I went to bed well fed and extremely comfortable in the giant bed with multiple pillows.

– Alyce

September 18th

A late and relaxing morning, we decided to spend the day with Holly, Andromeda and James then get back on the river tomorrow. I was so thankful to get to spend the day with these top notches humans. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, followed with a tour of the homestead, gardens and wooded areas. It was so fun walking through the forested areas of the property and partaking in the imagination games of Andromeda and Holly. The amount of time Andromeda spends outside in nature reminded me of my childhood spent playing in the woods behind my house. That carefree, wild and imaginative space I was privileged to spend some of my most formative years in is really why I love to spend as much time outside as I can. It is always an interesting time to reflect on how my childhood experiences in a sense dictated the direction of my life. That I know how to create and find as many opportunities to live in the outside world as possible. Hence I am on a 7 month expedition, living in a tent and canoe. Really no other way I would want to live.

What a blessed day. The rest of the afternoon was a glorious time of conversation, book swapping and recommendations. I also was gifted with some new temporary tattoos by Andromeda and her markers. Having been a nanny for half my life now, I have some really good tricks for keeping kids occupied and allowing them to color on your legs and arms is terrific. You can keep a kid focused on that activity for like, over 30 minutes! Especially if you have them draw out their ideas on paper first, you can increase the focus to almost an hour! So you just get to sit there, read a book and wash it all off later! Following the tattoo session I took a glorious afternoon nap; a very rare occurrence on the river.

As evening started her approach, James got out one of the telescopes and treated us to an up close and personal viewing of the planets and stars. It was awesome! Another delicious dinner and truly enjoyable conversation, the time to fall asleep approached faster than I wanted. I didn’t want our time with Holly, Andromeda and James to end; alas the river beckoned to be paddled. With nightly noodles and sweet dreams wished, I was soundly asleep, with the luxury of multiples all around me.

– Alyce

 

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Kiwi and cookie butter, new flavor sensations shipped to us from our friend, Erin. Great river snack!

September 19th, 2016

Ponca State Park, Ponca, Nebraska

Thank you, Viki.

– Lisa

September 19th

It is always difficult for me to wake up early after a rest day, yet we were on a time schedule to get to the river. Breakfast consumed, selfies taken and all of a sudden we were back at the boat ramp, with James waving us off. The current was really cruising and we paddled all day. It is just wild to me that in two days I’ll be back in Minnesota. This has been one of the carrots of the expedition and I have been looking forward to celebrating Chanelle and Kits love and partnership for a long time. Yet it was strange that the time was finally here. It still feels like just last week we were hiking up the mountains to Brower’s Spring. Though now here I am, only a days paddle from Sioux City and then about a 5 hour drive to Minneapolis. It is a little overwhelming too, the idea of leaving this river life and jumping right back into my former life, which seems like eons ago. So for now I’m just not going to think about it and enjoy the river life.

For our home this evening we camped at Ponca State Park, which had the remnants of a weekend long event at the park, with big canvas tents, a sand pit for playing and a pirate ship on land. It was a fun evening playing around the park and we even got pizza delivered to us! A short time after arriving at the park two guys who work for the park service drove through and we talked with them about if we could camp and how to pay the fee. We also inquired about how to get a pizza and they offered to go pick one up for us in town. Awesome pizza delivery to the river! We consumed the pizza in the shade of the tent (the oppressive heat still reigns supreme even in September) and then had a magical time playing on the pirate ship. We also made the thank you and tribute video for Viki and had so many giggles. Viki is such an integral part to Source of Confidence, the expedition and spreading our message! Since she is behind the scenes she doesn’t get the credit she deserves! Thank you Viki for being the best! Another spectacular day on the river, capped off with the sun and her stunning waltz to the horizon, painting the sky pinks and oranges.

-Alyce

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We made it on the news twice in S. Sioux City! Also, see that cement box behind Alyce? That’s the cabin the park loaned us for the week to store our gear. According to the plaque inside, it was created by design students at a nearby college. A unique structure, with plenty of space inside and futuristic features. On a 100 degree day, like the one in the photo, the windowless unit can also double as a pizza oven. Tip: keep the door closed for a sauna experience or open to serve as a buffet for the relentless Plains flies.

September 20th

I woke up feeling a lot! Excited, a little nervous and with a strong urge to make it to Sioux City, the day went by really fast. Thanks to our friend Jarret, who helped us with the portage around Yankton, he had connected us with a campground in South Sioux City, Nebraska (just across the river from Sioux City, Iowa), where we could store our boat and gear for the next 5 days.

We paddled all day, as we do and arrived at the campground late afternoon. It was a really, really, really hot day and a long day of paddling. It was great arriving at the campground, discovering we could walk to a Mexican restaurant and that there were cold showers at the campground. The cabin was of an interesting design, with no ventilation. Remember it is really hot, like over 100 degrees and even when the sun goes down the temperature does not really drop.

In typical fashion, we had an explosion of gear and stuff, making it look like we had been at the cabin a lot longer than just an hour. A journalist arrived from the local TV station and we got interviewed about our expedition. A second local TV station had contacted us about an interview and that the journalist would be there in a few hours. Just enough time to get a cold beverage at the restaurant.

The thought of the air-conditioned restaurant motivated me to walk the mile there, all the while sweating profusely. With a tasty snack consumed and cold beverage consumed, the walk back to the campground wasn’t that bad. We completed the second interview, I took a shower and then we walked back to the restaurant for more food and air conditioning. What an exciting time. I was starting to look forward to going back to Minnesota more and was feeling anxious to get there. It is finally here, tomorrow is the day!

– Alyce

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A couple of river rats looking for some beverages with ice in them to survive this triple-digit heat index at the end of September.

September 20-25, 2016

Sioux City, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Omaha, Nebraska

The expedition pauses. Alyce went back to Minneapolis for her friend’s wedding and I waited in Sioux City, Iowa for a couple days. My family came down from Minnesota and picked me up on the way to Omaha for a fundraiser and celebration in the middle of the expedition. I had such an awesome time seeing my parents, sister, and aunts, uncles, and cousin who drove all the way from Minnesota and Colorado to support us in the expedition. That meant the whole wide world to me, that’s for sure.

The fundraiser was put on by a good family friend, Tim Shipman. He and my dad served in the Army together and I’ve known him since I was a baby. Tim’s a spontaneous, wacky, fantastic human that I’m thankful I get to see every few years. The fundraiser was really supposed to be Tim’s retirement party but then he didn’t retire. Instead he kept the dance hall and the Linoma Mashers, a land-locked ska band with a great sense of humor, and made it a Source of Confidence event. No wooden nickels.

I danced all night with my dad and the rest of the Nebraska crowd and we raised a good chunk of change for the expedition too. Huge thank you to Tim and my awesome family for showing up. Love you all!

-Lisa

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Lisa’s crew came out from Minnesota and Colorado to support the SOC expedition. The legendary Tim Shipman is featured in the festive NebraSKA shirt on the far right.

September 21st

A glorious morning of trying to sleep in! There were lots of flies and the heat was already assaulting at 7am. We had left the doors of the cabin open for ventilation and that sort of helped. We made a plan to go back to the restaurant and wait for my friend Shawn to arrive. The air conditioning and ice cold water, along with power outlets was a nice way to pass the day. All of a sudden Shawn had arrived and we used his car to bring Lisa to the Hotel, where she would wait for her parents to arrive and bring her to Omaha for the fundraiser her family friend was having for us! It was odd to leave Lisa at the hotel, as we have been together for a really long time. It was for sure strange and I knew would be a good time for us to be apart and recharge for the rest of the expedition.

The car ride went quick and all of a sudden I was back in Minneapolis, like I had never left. It is always an odd sensation to come back to some place and you have changed, in ways you don’t even know and yet the place seems the same. I always think there are going to be these massive changes and yet I am the one who feels different. At times out of place, yet not totally this time around because I would be going back to the river. I was also excited to see everyone and for Chanelle and Kit’s wedding!

Oh the one thing that had really changed: the bedroom at my mom’s apartment that serves as my room when I am not living on the river. So that was a real tangiable change I could relate too. I got back to my mom’s and immediately went to my sister’s for a pizza dinner. At this point I had not seen my sister since February, when she left to travel Europe by herself for 3 months, returning to Minnesota only a few days after I left in May to start the expedition. It was a joyous reunion and I got to meet her dog Finnely, an adorable and fun-loving golden doodle.

– Alyce

September 22nd-25th

Minneapolis, MN-My time in Minnesota flew by and I was a little shell shocked at times by the pace of it all. Shopping for a dress last minute at the Mall of America (running on pure adrenaline while there, as that was a strange land to enter), trips to the airport to pick up friends, and lots of tasty food consumed.

I was honored to be a bridesmaid and I did a reading of an original poem written by Kit, about he and Chanelle’s love. It was a beautiful ceremony and I was so thankful to be home to witness and feel all the love! It was lovely to see my family and my sister hosted a brunch for me before I left on Sunday. It was great seeing everyone and talking about the river, though I was also exhausted from the last few days. This break wasn’t really a time of rest for me and I knew I was going to suffer over the next few days for the lack of sleep, late nights and lots of different food consumed (as my body isn’t totally use to all the rich foods, I was experiencing some stomach issues).

Arriving back at Sioux City, I was really tired! It was great to be reunited with Lisa and hang out with friends Katie and Chris, who had driven from Minnesota to hang out with us! I was also glad to find out that a reporter would be coming tomorrow to take our picture and wouldn’t be there till late morning, so we could have a late start day!

– Alyce

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Alyce, cleaned up all nice, and Chanelle, the beautiful bride and amazing woman in Minneapolis, MN.

September 25, 2015

Sioux City, Nebraska

My family dropped me off in S. Sioux City where the good people of Scenic Park let us store our canoe and all of our gear for the weekend. As my parents pulled out of the parking lot, two of my best friends pulled in: the Schmieg-Millers.

Katie, Chris, and I met in college and have been long-distance roommates ever since. They married each other, and I make a great third wheel. Katie is one of only three people I used to call from a satellite phone when I worked on commercial fishing boats in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico (different story). I’d go offshore for weeks at a time, was sometimes the only person who spoke English, and always the only woman. I only got 20 free minutes a week before it was like $40 a second, so I had to be very selective about who to call. Katie, with an adventurous heart of gold and a shiny soul to match, made the cut.

Katie was the first person in my life to, very gently, challenge the words that I use. In a time when it was the *totally unacceptable* norm to refer to something or someone that you didn’t like or wanted to put down as “gay”, she boldly expressed a dislike of the term being used unconsciously and offensively. Maybe I had heard that before, but hearing it in that moment as an 18-year-old sitting cross-legged on the dorm floor, sipping from the straws of matching pineapple cups with a woman I admired and wanted to be friends with, inspired me to think critically and make a change. Am I using someone’s identity as an insult? Not intentionally. Is that disrespectful even if I didn’t mean it to be? Yes. Can I think of a different word? Easily. I will never forget that and continue striving to speak with intention.

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Lisa, Alyce, Katie, Luna, and Chris.

I love my bold friends. Chris is cool too. He wins employee of the month every month at Comcast, even when he doesn’t work there. He’s that good at reading people, serving people, and laughing in the most good-natured way at the folly of people. Luna “the dog” Schmieg-Miller came along too. We only just met a year ago- I can’t tell what her sense of humor is yet but she is excellent at being calm and running fast. Two qualities I admire.

The Schmieg-Millers brought love (snacks) from afar and stayed the night with us. Alyce showed up after dark with tales from Minneapolis and we enjoyed a good laugh about how hectic our “break” from the expedition had been. In classic river-fashion, the temperature unexpectedly dropped to 33 degrees and we all shivered together like a big, underprepared family in our pizza oven turned ice chest cement cabin. Thanks for coming to Nebraska, bruvs!

– Lisa

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Fulfilling our civic duty from the Missouri River.

September 26th-30th

Wow time is moving by like the swift current of the Missouri River. The end of September happened quickly. It took a lot longer to get back into the swing of river life and I felt more tired than usual for the rest of the month. I was so thankful for my time in Minnesota, though jealous of Lisa’s two days alone at the hotel. Since we had two different experiences during those 5 days, it felt extra difficult to get back on the same page about things and I was more irritable (due to my lack of sleep while home and trying to play catch up now). Though with the swift current we made good mileage, passed lots of places that I don’t remember now because I wasn’t actively writing during this period (exhaustion does funny things to you). Still in love and beyond words appreciative for this river life. And now we move into October, with thoughts of the approaching Mississippi River swirling through my head like the mud and water of the Missouri.

– Alyce

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The Connealys scooped us up near Takameh, NE and treated us to a steak lunch at their place on the river. We were tempted to stay the night but had more miles to put in before calling it a day. When we reached our final destination for the night, it happened to belong to Dennis’ son, so they came down and let us in to a deluxe trailer for the night. River magic strikes again. Incredible hospitality and kindness. Thanks again, Connealy family!

September 26, 2016

Somewhere in Nebraska, Missouri River.

Today, back in the canoe, back in the current, my soul felt revived. The forest is thick along the Nebraska shore. This is the closest I’ve felt to home in the Boundary Waters in a long time. And I just killed a mosquito. Minnesota vibes.

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How many power sources do you see pictured?

It felt good to have Alyce back. She had an awesome and exhausting time in Minneapolis and it was fun to actually catch up with each other as we’d lived separate lives for a few days. I feel really content.

– Lisa

September 28, 2016

South of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Missouri River, Iowa side.

A flock of birds flew over, chattering so loudly that I thought they were farm equipment working in a nearby field until I saw their hundreds of little black bodies diving and swooping together. I don’t know that we are camped legally, but I don’t think anyone’s going to wander by (camera pans across endless expanse of corn). Maybe just a raccoon like the night before.

We camped in Omaha last night and I moved all the food from our campsite to our boat, about a quarter mile away to avoid a notorious food-stealing raccoon we’d heard about. She found it. Should have hung it- the food, not the raccoon. She just stole a bag of rolls and a Cliff bar or two. Made a mess of oats all over the boat. Could have been worse but I did want those rolls though…

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Alyce “football head” Kuenzli. Anyone else used to watch the cartoon “Hey Arnold”? Laughing at our river personas is one of our tactics for defeating mid-expedition despair.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the trees, now that we have them again. Cottonwood is everywhere, a common river tree. Elm just showed up. Mulberry too, I think. Also poplars, maple, and willow.

A pair of hawks circling and screeching caught my attention today. Redtail, I’m pretty sure. They were really high up in the sky. Beautiful sound. Heron, eagles in pairs, Kingfisher, turkey vultures, wild turkey, osprey, swallows. The sky is alive these days.

– Lisa

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Temperatures are dropping and this pleases at least one of us.

September 30, 2016

Using your resources is a critical expedition (and life) skill. People are tremendous resources. We are fortunate enough to have one of the best people-resources on the planet when it comes to running a long and complicated expedition. Our friend and Outward Bound colleague, Annie Socci, has been with us from a distance since the beginning. She’s the person I call when I need to talk through the ups and downs of running a mega-adventure. She asks a lot of great questions and gives advice in story-from, which I love.

We call Annie as team from time to time to get an outside, yet still familiar and expedition-savvy, perspective. This routine maintenance helps us stay sharp and get on the same page when things get too confusing or tensions too high to effectively solve problems ourselves.

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Call this nirvana: current, setting sun, cooling temperatures, a wind-less river; reading a book AND moving forward. How long will these days last?

We talked to her this morning as a Day 142 check-in and it was great to hear her voice and words of encouragement. Both Alyce and I left the conversation feeling quite optimistic. I left thinking two things: 1. Alyce and I work best together when we divide tasks and then let each other do it in our own way and 2. We need to keep checking in with each other and praising each other. Easy things to overlook when under pressure.

Another top-notch day on the river.

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A few words on mud: There are many different types of mud to be found along the Big Muddy. This is the kind that is easy to walk through and usually indicates a harder surface (still mud) nearby. It also leaves your feet caked in plaster. We’ve encountered mud you sink in; mud that will keep any footwear. Then there’s hard, crusty mud that hurts to walk on without footwear. There’s spongy mud, squishy mud, slippery mud, and super sticky mud. There are also places where the mud makes millions of tiny baby mudstones that are super smooth and easy to break. Those are fun to walk on. There’s mud that’s actually cow poop and sometimes there’s mud that’s really sand. Sometimes there’s sand on top of the mud. That stuff is fun to walk on too- if you pick the right path and go fast, you can make it without getting more mud on your feet. That way the mud that’s already on your feet can dry so you can scrape some of it off before getting in your sleeping bag. Our feet are never not muddy, and we are 100% okay with that.

– Lisa

In case you missed them, here are our strategies for defeating mid-expedition despair!

No. More. Reservoirs, please. September 8 – 16, 2016

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Alyce paddling into the sunrise on Lake Francis Case, a 107 mile long reservoir on the Missouri River in South Dakota.

September 8th, 2016

I had a great night’s rest in the motel bed, with two pillows! The motel breakfast was plentiful and amazing. We lounged until it was time for the chiropractor and found our way there on the Main Street of Chamberline. It was incredibly to sit in that massage chair and I was almost asleep! It felt great to get an adjustment and Tyler gave me some great stretching recommendations. Haven’t been doing enough of that, will need to incorporate this practice into my daily routine. After this it was time for errands and the grocery store, where we picked up some healthy lunch food, including salad parts and hummus.

The rest of the afternoon was spent working on source of confidence, getting more content posted to the website and talking about our next meet up with Viki. All of a sudden it was nearing 5 pm and dinner was on my mind. Thankfully there was a pizza place just across the street, so a large veggie pizza was ordered and consumed by three women. We watched a Jurassic park movie that was playing on the TV and it felt reminiscent of sleep over parties from my younger years. I was very thankful for this day, resting my body and getting several business related tasks accomplished.

Tomorrow we would get back on the water and I was excited to paddle. It’s been hard to keep this perspective and to stay excited about paddling, when I’ve been doing it for over 120 days now. Though this is what I love to do and I must not take it for granted. Since we are over half way down, time wise, with the expedition. That is truly wild to me, as it still feels like we just started hiking up the mountain in May. How time flies when you are having fun.

-Alyce

September 8th, 2016

Super 8 motel, Chamberlain, South Dakota

My brain doesn’t want to participate in today. Even with the incredible gifts of comfort from river angels, Lena and Tyler Hammel, I need a real break. I have nothing to complain about; I don’t want to complain at all. I’m processed out this minute. I’m tired of talking which puts me in a good position to listen.

It’s nice to have Viki with us again. She brings all the right things to resupplies- and I don’t just mean gear and food. With Viki always comes a lot of love, encouragement, a different perspective, and a safe space to discuss…anything. Plus, sometimes bear costumes, egg pie, and Owa.

We are a team of three doing the work of many more around the clock all the time. We have to remember to acknowledge that so that we don’t get (more) overwhelmed by it and so that we make sure we are taking care of each other. When you are over-worked, over-tired, stressed, whatever, it can be easy to forget to thank the people who are right there with you. We do a good job of expressing gratitude to our supporters and not as good a job expressing it to each other.

Viki brought up not always feeling equitably acknowledged for the work she does and my immediate inner reaction was surprise and momentarily indignant. In the moment, I didn’t know what to say. This was ok because Viki gave us permission to just listen by telling us, “don’t say anything, just hear me out and think about it.”

Later in the day, I did think about it. I was really happy Viki brought this up. That’s what we’ve been encouraging each other to do with the things we find tough to say. Viki’s role in our mission is so vital and more easily overlooked and she’s doing most of her work alone. Now that I know she feels this way, I can do something about it.

I was too tired to come up with anything good tonight but it’s in my brain space and something will come out after a little time.

 

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Foggy morning. The river’s mood matches mine.

– Lisa

September 9th, 2016

We got out of the motel and down to the water by 8:30. The Hammels met us there to send us off, along with a reporter from the local paper. Lena had set this up and we were super appreciative. We love local press, though don’t always have the energy or time to set these things up. It was a fun interview and I noticed we are getting better and better at telling our story.

Only paddled an hour and 4 miles before the wind got us. Could still see the bridge. We got up two times to try and paddle, each time the wind picking up steam. The third time we actually got in the boat, even though the wind was still as strong as when we landed. We got about a few feet and then we were just paddling in place, the wind too strong. So we turned around and went back to the same spot we had just come from. This time we unloaded the boat and called it for the wind. A nice fire for cooking dinner and enjoying the fading lite of the sun moving across the sky.

-Alyce

September 9th, 2016

Lake Francis Case, Missouri River, South Dakota

Played flashlight tag with a raccoon and porcupine in the wee hours of the morning. Have you ever heard a porcupine? She sounded like a really tired kazoo player; just kind of sighing into the kazoo. Toot. Toot. Toot. Tooooooot. I’d never heard that sound before and followed the second sound of crunching leaves with my headlamp to spot her.

As she busied herself with stripping the tiny green leaves from a tree branch next to my tent, I tried not to blind her with my light. I was curious to watch her though, at the very least to see that she wasn’t interested in me or my stuff. She wasn’t. She was focused on one thing only. Her tiny hands and face working on that midnight salad to fuel her big, shaggy, quilled body while continuing to coo into her imaginary kazoo was unexpectedly adorable. Adorable as long as she stayed a respectable distance from my tent!

Raccoons are not as endearing to me. This one was surprisingly nimble for her rolli-poli stature. I watched her lumber up a tree and chatter with the porcupine. That was the last I saw of her. Me and porcupine continued to hang out because I couldn’t fall back asleep with all the nightlife and a sky full of stars.

A few hours later, Alyce discovered a mouse in our equipment pack. It chewed a hole through our tarp. That’s my backup shelter for the nights when my mostly-broken tent won’t stand up to the weather. Good one, mouse.

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Temporary broken tent solution: duct tape and stick method.

As the temperature begins to drop, I suspect we might be dealing with more critters in our supplies. Good thing there are only 87 days left on the river. Who’s counting?

I’m definitely playing defense in the mental and emotional game right now. While there are still plenty of great times and incredible things happening all the time, my focus and positivity is up and down daily. I’m grateful for Alyce and Viki. I’m also grateful for my friends, family, and the river angels that send a nearly constant and much-needed stream of love and support.

– Lisa

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Birds, fog, and the rising sun on a stretch of river with some current just below the Ft. Randall dam in Pickstown. Big thanks to Bob Foley for helping us out around Ft. Randall, taking us into town to get groceries, and giving us good info on the section of river to come!

September 10th, 2016

Up when the stars are still shining. I have become a morning person, well a person who loves and appreciates the beauty and is thus willing to wake up to partake of it. That is my definition of a morning person. On the water at 6:50, just as the sun is breaking though the night times dark hold. Her energy sends electricity into the land. The shore line and bluffs shine electric gold. The oranges and pinks sweep across the sky. All feels right in the world. South Dakota is a rugged and all-encompassing landscape. She is hard. Truly hard. Almost 30 miles paddled. Long day. Good winds. Sailed. South Dakota is beautiful. The harsh and can’t look away landscape. How things survive out there is astounding. Yet that is resilience. Tenacity. Grit. Perseverance. Found a nice beach to camp on, fire, dinner, swimming, cribbage.

-Alyce

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Cricket in bowl – still meets our standard of cleanliness. Better than wood roaches, which continue to menace us, by the way.

September 11th, 2016

Another early morning, with the Stars dazzling in the sky as I pack my tent and sleeping bag. There is a calm in these wee hours of the morning, even when the wind is blowing (which she was today). On the water by 6:40, paddling hard because the wind picked up just as we were shoving off from shore. We crossed to the left shoreline and found some protection.

The wind calmed down and we paddled, paddled, paddled. We were able to make another crossing of the lake, cutting off some miles. It is nice Francis Case is not that wide, only a mile in most spots, though up to two miles in her wider sections. A mile is not that bad for making a crossing, because even in the middle we aren’t that far from shore. Making good miles and then all of a sudden it was after 11am and time for lunch. By this point we could see the highway 44 bridge! Exciting!

The wind picked up while we were crossing back over to the left shore and I had to dig deep. I was tired, hot and not really wanting to paddle in the wind. Though we made it across and several more miles, past the bridge. By now the wind was picking up, had been for some time and it was after 3pm. And that is what we did. I hadn’t really slept well the last two nights and was drained from the early mornings and the long paddling day yesterday. Finding shore line with lots of trees at the same time the wind picked up, it was a sign to make camp and rest.

I ended up napping and woke up around 6, hungry and with all the motivation to make a fire and cook gone. Ramen and lentils it is! Hot water via the jetboil, to make it as simple as possible. Post dinner bath, brush teeth, write down the happenings of the day, read my book for a little and go to sleep. The river life can be incredibly simple and I relish in these quiet moments.

– Alyce

September 14, 2016

4 miles E of Niobrara on the South Dakota/Nebraska border, Missouri River

Please don’t blow today, wind. Just one day. Just one stinking day, don’t blow.

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Getting close to the South Dakota/ Nebraska border – our 5th state and reason enough to celebrate!

Thousands and thousands of birds are moving around us. I’ll read this as time to look from a higher perspective. Zoom out a little bit. This is easier to do when you are at the top of the mountain instead of the bottom, still try. If I can’t see, maybe I can look through the eyes of the birds. What does that pair of eagles see way up there? They remind of the spirit it takes to endure challenges. What does that pair of herons see? They remind me that wading through the murky waters is part of life sometimes.

Here we are, murky spirits, still paddling to the Gulf of Mexico.

-Lisa

September 15, 2016

Springfield, South Dakota.

Lightning and thunder just before ‪2 am pulled me out of much needed sleep. I have to re-inflate my sleeping mat. My boat repair glue and duct tape patch-job was a failure. It’s ‪4:30 now and my mind can’t stop racing.

It feels like the outside environment and my inside environment are in conspiring to crack me. I’m ok. Just keep moving through time and letting things unfold. In the cloud of the middle of a long and exhausting expedition, I’m figuring out when, where, and how to stand my ground. The number one lesson here is to stay adaptable on all other matters within your boundaries. Drawing just a few lines and being flexible with what’s created in between them is an important part of working with others while respecting your own needs and wants.

Easier said than done.

Viki led by example telling us how she felt about sharing in the recognition of all that we are doing with Source of Confidence.  She asked us to think about it, which I think is a great request. With that line drawn, I’ve been thinking about how I can color in the in-between and show Viki that I’m listening and trying. What can I do to show her the value she brings to our lives and the whole project?

IDEA! Make a thank you video, just like we’ve done for many of our supporters, for Viki. Perfect. Go with that. Now I can fall back asleep.

Alyce got on board with the idea right away. Over the next few days we planned to make a list of all of the things Viki brings to SOC and us. After that we’d come up with a video.

With another stroke of river magic, we got in touch with some folks in Springfield, SD. Through the Missouri River Paddlers group on Facebook, we had found someone to help us out with our final portage (Viki headed back to Minnesota in early August and will join us by car again in October). A man named Jarett Bies offered to help us out in when we got to Yankton and in the meantime, put us in touch with Mac, his friend with a cabin right on river.

Mac and his mom, Pat, met us on the river and welcomed us with warmth. We were so thankful to get to shower (it’s been a week without one) and sleep in a bed and avoid another round of thunderstorms on the horizon. Pat, a very kind and gregarious woman, got a kick out of talking with us about the guts it takes for women to do something like this. She recounted a couple tales from her younger days wanting to do things that very few women were doing and how frustrating that was.

Mac, a military veteran with a big heart and a service-oriented mindset, went out and got us a pizza. When we offered money for it, his only words were,  “pay it forward. Please just pay it forward.” Mac and Pat went on their way, leaving us to gorge ourselves, do laundry, charge electronics, and, the real treat, watch a movie.

Getting into bed felt really, really good. Thank you again, River Angels, we certainly will pay this forward.

– Lisa

September 16, 2016

Chief White Crane Recreation Area, Yankton, South Dakota.

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One of our Frost River bags set with coffee, fireworks, and my duct tapped tent pole. Ready to celebrate the end of an era: paddling through reservoir country.

FINAL RESERVIOR. Last one. After we make it across the 26-mile Lewis and Clark Lake and portage around Gavin’s Point Dam, we have free-flowing river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico! Rejoice! Just a 26-mile paddle to get through.

We took off from Mac’s place early and had a nice tailwind right away. The tailwind helped us all the way to the end of Lewis and Clark Lake in 5 and a half hours. We hardly had to paddle! What send-off from the Upper Missouri!

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We did it! Made it to Yankton, South Dakota: Land of the free-flowing Lower Missouri River. Photo Credit: Jarett Bies.

We unloaded the boat at the marina and Jarett showed up to support us with the portage. What an awesome guy.  From our first contact with Jarett to getting to know him in the brief time around the dam, it is apparent that he loves this river and takes great joy in helping people experience all the good that she has to offer. From organizing events, to fundraising for local search and rescue, to taking folks out and teaching them how to paddle, he’s doing a lot for the paddling community in the Yankton and Vermillion area. And that kind of passion is infectious. That gives us an automatic boost to keep going, keep loving the river, keep sharing our experiences with others.

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Jarett celebrating our big finish of the Upper Missouri River with us!

Jarett went above and beyond to make sure we were supported through the portage. He went into town ahead of time to pick up some packages we were expecting in case we didn’t arrive before the post office closed. He even went so far as to print off several different satellite images of the routes we could take around the dam and then briefed us on each one. Jarett also came loaded up with swag for us from the Fort to Field 50 Battle Paddle, a local paddle race that he organizes. We crammed our gear in his car and drove it around to the other side of the dam where we would camp for the night. He showed us a shorter route that would require paddling the mile or two of Yankton Lake, that would take us right to our campsite. Or we could walk around.

We went back to get the boat and opted for the paddle after carrying her over the dam – a quick walk up and over a big, grassy mound. The paddle took forever because we kept stopping to complain or splash each other with water. We were paddling the canoe unloaded, which we never get to do, so we had a lot of fun seeing how much we could get away with without flipping over.

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Alyce taking advantage of the empty canoe to take an “I thought we’d paddled our last reservoir already” protest break. We really would have gotten to our campsite faster if we’d opted to portage the whole way. No matter. With nothing on our hands but time after flying across our last (psych!) reservoir, we’re back on RIVER TIME.

Word had traveled to the campground that we were on our way and the good people of the Chief White Crane covered the cost of our site! Thank you! Our first order of business was to open the packages we’d been waiting for. My new sleeping mat had arrived – hopefully no more having to wake up a couple times night to re-inflate! We also got a box full of goodies from our friend, Erin, in Montana. Among other things we got such exotic treats as kiwis, cookie butter, jerky, and jam. Thanks, Erin!

As we spread out our still-wet gear from the other night’s rainstorm, we got an offer from one of the park managers to go apple picking and get dinner with his wife, Kay and their sons. Fall activities! Yes, please!

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Having fun picking apples, jumping on hay bales, and feeding the horse with Alex and Kaleb.

When we got back to our campsite, a local boy scout leader approached us to see if we’d come talk to his group of boys about our expedition. Of course! What an awesomely receptive audience. Most of the scouts had paddled before, some had even been to the Boundary Waters (our home turf) and were eager to hear about where we’d been and what we’d seen. Even though our mission is aimed at supporting girls and women in building confidence, positive risk-taking and self-confidence is for everyone. We left the guys with the message that if they keep pursuing their big ideas and adventures, good things will happen.

A long and incredible day. Although we didn’t get the chance to launch our fireworks, what an excellent way to end our time on the Upper Missouri River.

 

Defeating Mid-Expedition Despair

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Expedition life is tough. The days are long and often monotonous or filled with danger and intrigue. All of which becomes exhausting at a certain point. On our 200-day expedition to become the first female canoe descent of the Missouri-Mississippi River system, we’ve come up with a few strategies to get through that mid-expedition* slump.

Strategies for Defeating Mid-expedition Despair:

Willful resignation.

Accept what some would call misery as the baseline for the choice you made to live outside for 200 days. The more discomfort you can be comfortable with…the more “comfortable” you will be.

Know thyself.

Acknowledge when moving through what we have identified as the 5 States of Being.

The 5 States of Being:

  1. Hot and tired
  2. Cold and wet
  3. Under attack by flies
  4. Happy and proud
  5. Hungry and full (I cannot explain this contradiction but it happens all the time)

We can cycle through these states of being, in no particular order, as seldom as daily or in erratically-timed, often momentary intervals. Always be able to identify what state you are in and make decisions wisely. Hint: Should you find yourself needing to communicate or solve problems in states 1,2,3, & 5: approach with caution.

Engage in good-natured complaining.

“It’s cold but at least it’s windy.” “It’s hot but at least the flies are bad.” Or, our favorite, “I’m tired but at least this is awful.” Learned this from a teenager. It’s really, really effective.

Play.

Get silly. Get weird. Celebrate anything that appears even remotely pleasant. Find any excuse to laugh. Anything works. Burp loudly; have outbursts; try to gross each other out (for us, a hero’s task with worthwhile results); create totally unrealistic and off-the-wall dreamworlds in your head or out load as a team; watch the clouds come to life – I just saw a rodeo clown doing a cartwheel and Donald Trump’s hair!; wear bear costumes; plan what you will say when you get on The Ellen Show, etc.

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Mid-expedition fun brought to us by Victoria Carpenter.

Build large fires.

Nightly. Burn things you don’t need, like used dental floss or negativity, occasionally.

Find an inanimate scapegoat.

And still don’t go too hard on it – negativity, even directed appropriately is still negativity and can bring the team down if there is too much of it. We unfairly blame our canoe, Drifty, at times for our self-inflicted misery. This helps keep it from leaking out indiscriminately and tainting or limiting potential experiences in State 4 (see “Know thyself” above.).

Music.

Any. Live is best. Sing, play guitar, switch up the music on the device regularly to keep the airwaves fresh.

Variety is the spice of life.

Mixing things up at the right time can work miracles. Sleep in sometimes. Play cribbage instead of writing. Buy a new flavor of Triscuits. The sky is the limit…as long as you paddle that canoe every day.

Take a break.

From everything as often as you need to, really. Rest is crucial. It can be really hard to remember that rest generates strength and not the other way around.

Pretend you have already reached the Gulf of Mexico.

No matter where you are, ask yourself and your partner, “want to paddle to the Gulf of Mexico today?” In order for this to work, the answer always has to be yes and at some point in the day you have to remark that the Gulf is more beautiful than you expected.

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Isn’t the Gulf of Mexico beautiful? This isn’t the Gulf? Oh. Keep paddling.

*Note: Most of these strategies can be applied to life in the civilized world which can also be monotonous, exhausting, dangerous, and intriguing.

The Great Plains…continue – September 1st – 7th, 2016

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Goldenrod in full bloom along the river. A favorite prairie plant that reminds us of home.

September 1, 2016

Lake Sharpe, 12 miles south of Pierre, South Dakota

Alyce almost stepped on a snake this morning. Scared the crap out of me while I was still in my tent because I could see what was going on. The snake stayed put for a while. Didn’t see what kind it was. I respect snakes, it’s got to be a hard life crawling around and being hated on all the time… but they are spooky.

Wind. More wind.

-Lisa

September 1st, 2016

I almost stepped on a snake this morning. My foot hovered directly over her head, as the small and dim light of my headlamp shown its meager illumination forward, revealing at first the tail, followed by the body. How I ran screaming “SNAKE”, back into the area where our tents were. I was incredibly startled and unsure what kind of snake it was. And why it had not struck out for my foot.

I should back up here and explain that I haven’t run into many snakes in my wilderness experiences, well up to this point now. Knowing since the beginning of the expedition that we would be in rattler (aka rattlesnake) country, I have tried to be cautious and watch my step. Though this morning, with my mind still groggy and the sky still dark, I was not using constant vigilance. I walked back to the shoreline and the snake was still sitting there, following me with her eyes. I made another trip back to the tent area, bringing more gear to the shore. The snake was still there, watching me. I was a little freaked out, though began to reflect on what it could mean that on the first day of the month of my birthday, this year turning 30 and moving into a new decade, I have my first real encounter with a snake. I am not sure what the message or meaning is, though I am excited to reflect on this significance.

Rough morning. Paddled. Wind. Lake Sharpe is muddy, like swallow you up mud. Wind increased as the  afternoon went on. Took an hour to paddle 1 mile from lunch island spot to DeGray boat ramp. Hard paddling. Arrived there around 2:30. Wind bound, yet again. I was glad we had made it to a boat ramp, as my friends Linnea and Dave were somewhere in South Dakota, looking for us. They drove out from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Part of the Minnesota paddlers community. The original plan was that we would all paddle together this weekend- well Mother Nature and the wind had different ideas for us. Adventures people, who in 2013 paddled the Mississippi River. It was awesome to see their faces and hear Linnea in the front seat: “somebody order a pizza!” It was a great evening, sitting in the boat ramp parking lot, eating pizza, drinking beer and having great conversation as the fading hues of dusk hovered in the air. The Stars came out and we reveled in their glow. We all retired early to our tents and allowed a leisurely wake up time, as the forecast was not good, with strong winds coming out of the south east, the direction we would be paddling.

-Alyce

September 2nd, 2016

The wind blew strong and fierce all night, the rattling of the tent waking me at various points, even into the early minutes of the morning, when it seemed to increase in strength. And as it would do all day, morning, afternoon, sunset and night time. So the day was spent in typical river fashion: playing cribbage, in the decently protected cove of the very few trees at the boat ramp. Multiple games, a break for lunch and back at it. Somehow the common house fly managed to fight the wind and bother us all day. They are veracious creatures, relentless in their pursuit of human skin. Since Linnea and Dave had a car here, we decided to go into Pierre for dinner. In 2 days we paddled 30 river miles from Pierre, though only 30 minutes by car. Fascinating how that works.

Somehow it became late afternoon! Linnea and Dave went for a walk and I took a little nap. Playing cribbage all day can really tire one out! When they were back, I got a good look at the sky, which now contained ominous looking rain clouds. Along with the wind blowing at us, we repositioned our tents and got camp secured for anything. Heading into town, it’s always a strange sensation to be in a car, traveling at 55 miles per hour, when I’m use to only going 2-6 miles an hour. Dinner and Walmart. Fire right by the water in the handmade rock fire ring. Music. Yuke, so much fun. S’mores with Milky Way candy bars.

The stars, the fire, the water crashing on the rocks. The prairie grass dancing violently in the wind. Singing together, Lisa on guitar, Linnea on Yuke and Dave with the nails!!! Another amazing river life night! The wind was still not predicted to change for tomorrow. So we stayed up late and did not establish a wake up time for the morning. Sometimes you just know you are wind bound. There is something about the prairie wind that she just blows and blows. It reminds me of being in the tundra of Canada, where the wind just keeps on coming. The similarities are fascinating.

-Alyce

September 3, 2016

DeGrey Boat Access, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

Perhaps the lack of overwhelming joy I experienced at the end of Lake Oahe was foreshadowing for the experience ahead on Lake Sharpe. We’ve been windbound at a deserted boat ramp for 2.5 days now.

Fortunately, two of Alyce’s friends, Dave and Linnea, drove in from Minneapolis on the night of the 1st to join our party for Labor Day weekend. Linnea and Dave paddled the Mississippi together a couple of years ago and connected with Alyce through that paddling community.

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An afternoon at a boat ramp in South Dakota. Dave, Linnea, Alyce, and Lisa using rocks, feet, water bottles, and the cribbage board to keep cards from blowing away.

They brought their boat, Frank the Tank, and we were all going to paddle together until the wind foiled those plans. Instead, we got to hang out together in a gravel parking lot, playing cribbage and talking politics, canoeing, and life.

We had dinner in town and I discovered a previously unknown talent at pinball. I scored like 40,000,000 points and got to play for like 20 minutes on a dollar.

It turns out pinball is really fun AND a team sport. If you’ve ever been fortunate (or skilled) enough to play for more than a minute and half, you get to discover all these cool missions and obstacles and all kinds new flashing lights and sounds.

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Batman pinball, a team activity.

It takes a team of at least four complete novices to begin to decipher the codes on that come at you as rapid-fire as the little silver balls you’re trying to keep in play. I had one person reading the screen to me, one person locating the targets on the machine for me, and one person hollering when more balls were being released and coming my way. I just stayed focused on those little flippers and kept scoring points. It was Batman pinball too, so it was extra creepy. We defeated the Scarecrow and the Joker. Did not get the Batmobile. Next time.

We went on to have an excellent night around the fire playing music and laughing a lot. L and D are both musicians and they brought along a new Ukele to christen. Their old one had succumbed to their trip down the Mississipp and Linnea’s other one was a gift from Tony Danza, so she didn’t travel with it.

Linnea is an excellent story teller with a quick wit and somewhat dry sense of humor. She recounted the time she reluctantly followed her friend to the taping of Tony Danza’s show. She was shocked to find herself going bananas with the rest of the crowd when Tony Danza wheeled out a cart full of Ukeles. He wanted everyone in the audience to experience the same joy of Uke-ing that he had.

What a trip.

We christened Linnea’s new Uke, named “Sharpe”, on the beach that night with the wind howling and fire swirling and threatening to destroy anything that ventured too close. Like Dave’s last pair of pants. He had lost one pair to old age and another to a rotting meat juice situation. He really was playing with fire in his PJ pants dodging sparks. Dave’s voice reminded me a lot of Jon Lovitz, who I love, especially in A League of Their Own, so I got a big kick out of him, in general.

If you are going to spend Labor Day weekend stuck at a boat ramp, might as well call in some good company. Thanks for playing, friends, hope to see you back in Minneap!

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Linnea and Sharpe, Lisa and Minne, Dave and the nails.

“Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it.”

-Lisa

September 3rd, 2016

She was at it again the wind, all night and morning and day. Slightly less fierce than the day before, yet not a real noticeable difference. A leisurely morning. Cribbage played. Linnea and Dave went canoeing, across the Missouri River. Upon returning they packed their gear and canoe and the 3 of us headed into town to eat dinner. We found a Mexican place and had a lovely time. As my birthday is on the 5th, Linnea and Dave bought my dinner as a birthday treat! It is so much fun having friends come and visit on the river. It was a great way to ring in the beginning of my birthday month.

-Alyce

September 4

Cowpoop landing, 1 mile E of Joe Creek Rec Area, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

We got up at 5:30am to assess the conditions. We were both hoping to get on the water before more southeast winds were scheduled to pick up. There was enough of a lull that we decided it was a good idea to get moving.

What luck! Another headwind! The wind picked up as we made our way across the lake, giving us yet another opportunity to build some grit and muscle mass. Exactly what we were hoping for.

Fortunately, we were able to keep a 2-2.5mph pace and enjoy some moments of calm. At about 4pm the wind really started giving us the business so we pulled over to see if we could wait it out.

Storm clouds were building in the distance so we called it at about 5 and decided to make camp where we were: a field full of cow dung. Another win for team A and L.

Here is what I have learned about storms in the Great Plains: you are better off keeping your belongings in their bags and waiting out the wind, rain, and hail in your raingear. My tent got sufficiently demolished. That was partly my bad – I failed to stake out the guy lines prior to the invasion.

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Pole snapped, caused 2 holes in the rainfly. The rainfly that was rendered useless under the weight of several gallons of water. A lot things got wet.

The wind came in at about 60mph with lightning and torrent of rain to round out the experience. I was outside of my tent anyway- I don’t like to be near the aluminum with lighting right overhead. When I looked over at my old tent, I could sort of see that something wasn’t right, but I waited for the worst of it to pass.

The big stuff blew by pretty quickly, as it usually does, leaving some angry looking clouds- all kinds of blue and grey with a flash of hot white every now and then. The drizzle stayed to keep me company as I assessed the scene. One tent pole snapped and several holes in my rain fly thanks to said snapped pole. Half of the tent was collapsed under the weight of about a gallon of water.

Inside, the books I had foolishly left out were all half-soggy but my sleeping bag was dry. I learned my lesson on that one in the last big storm and left it all bundled up in its dry bag. I had pitched the tent on a bit of a slope to begin with so all the water that had pooled in it had collected down in the bottom third.

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Hey, remember this: even in the darkest storm, you are never alone. This spider cleaned it’s mouthparts for like 20 minutes while the thunder and lightning moved on.

I looked around and saw Alyce wading through a new river flowing next to her tent. I looked down at the rivers passing by my tent and realized that they were about 50% water and 50% manure. Why? Whywhywhy? Gross.

We both emptied out our tents and moved to higher, less poopy ground. We also checked the weather and saw that we were still in the midst of an active thunderstorm advisory. “Move to the interior of a building away from windows,” the advisory advised. “Good thing my tent doesn’t have windows,” Alyce remarked.

Another few rounds of wind, torrential rain, and lightning came through but that first round ended up being the worst of it. I don’t like being out in big storms like that. I do feel some fear when the lightning comes really close. I know people who have been struck. I think that really is the most dangerous thing we deal with out here. We try to be close to places where we can find better shelter when hear about big storms coming in, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes they pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes they escalate beyond predictions. You just have to be ready to weather them and I’d say, in this case, I didn’t do the best job.

I’ll be able to make do with my tent until we see Viki again in a few days and I can get my spare. And my stuff will dry out eventually.

-Lisa

September 4th, 2016

Okay Lake Sharpe, let’s calm the wind down so we can paddle. Up early to try and get miles. Calm morning. Wind picked up. Good to be back on the water after 2 wind bound days. Made 17 miles, the landscape changing. Rockier and gravel shore, instead of the swallow you up mud and slippery slimy rocks. There are also more frequent spots to pull out and camp if needed. Wind picked up in the late morning and really calmed down after lunch.

After 8 hours of paddling we made it to Joe creek recreation area and took a break. The wind stared to increase, yet we paddled on, only making another half mile in 45 minutes before the wind got even more fierce. Luckily we were at a decent camping spot and pulled over. We didn’t unload the boat right away, thinking if the wind dies down we will paddle again. After only 30 minutes, we called it, as a large storm cell was moving towards us. Really intense storm- everything wet. Flooding under my tent, as the down pour of rain created new mini rivers all around me. Luckily I hadn’t unpacked all my gear and so most of my stuff didn’t get soaked.

When the worst was over and it was just a drizzle I emerged from the wet tent and assessed my location. I realized I would be sleeping in a puddle all night if I didn’t move. Up to higher ground and that made a huge difference. My sleeping pad and tent began to dry out and thankfully it was still warm out. Wet and cold are the Bain of my existence. That and the common house flies. Going to try and get up early tomorrow and make more miles. Only 37 left of Lake Sharpe and 106 on Francis Cale Hass reservoir and 25 on Lewis and Clark reservoir. Once we hit Yankton it’s all river miles from there. I can’t wait!

-Alyce

September 5, 2016

5 miles NW of Ft. Thompson, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALYCE!!!!!!

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Drifty, buried in the sand after an impressive storm.

What an awesome day. The weather was nice – classic calm after the storm. I had three surprises for Alyce on the docket. She chose to open one at each meal. Breakfast was a T-shirt that says “Rise of the woman = rise of the nation” that I ordered from this awesome organization called The Female Collective. Lunch was a tote bag that says “Mind your own uterus”. She really got a kick out of that one.

In case you hadn’t picked up on this yet, Alyce, Viki, and I believe wholeheartedly in the feminist movement. That is to say, we believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. That is the root of Source of Confidence. Empowering women, especially, to take positive risks in their own lives that help close the equity gap between the sexes.

I knew Alyce would freak out with these gifts, and she did. It was awesome. I ordered shirts for Viki and I as well.

We paddled for 12 hours, all the way to dark. What better way to ring in a 30th birthday than sit in a canoe for hours and hours on end? I couldn’t have envisioned a more excellent way to celebrate with my friend.

Alyce opted to open the last gift the next day when Viki would be arriving so that she could be a part of the celebration too.

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“How do you want to celebrate your birthday, Alyce?” “Paddling”

 

September 5, 2016

The storm ragged on most of the night, giving me a good welcome into a new decade, for today is my 30th birthday. We slept in and Lisa gave me the first of 3 presents! A really cool shirt from the Female Collective. I love it. It was slow moving this morning, with everything being wet and below the normal hot temperature. I didn’t mind, it’s my birthday after all and I’ll do what I want. Once on the water we were paddling machines. The wind wasn’t really blowing and there were moments of calm; which after the last several days of intense wind this was a welcome reprieve.

At lunch I turned my phone on and discovered several messages from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday. I got my second present from Lisa, the coolest tote bag ever! Gary, Viki’s dad and Jenny, one of my best friends, sang the same birthday song, calling during our lunch break. It was awesome. We kept paddling. Got to use the sail, considered a birthday present from lake Sharpe. For dinner we had an amazing meal of canned beans and chicken (not good cold), I was going to open my third present from Lisa then, yet since it was on the computer I decided to wait till we were on land. Plus the anticipation would keep me going. Lisa put a lot of effort and energy into making my birthday special.

So we just kept paddling, a total of 12 hours in the boat. We were under 10 miles from the dam when we finally camped. This was at sundown, dusk had blanketed the land. The colors in the sky were electric and were a perfect way to end my birthday!

-Alyce

September 6th, 2016

Up and back to paddling. Only 12 hours out of the boat, on land and most of that was sleeping. Though we only had a handful of miles to paddle to the Dam and then it was a short half mile portage. We would be meeting Viki today and having her camp with us for the next few days. I was really looking forward to seeing her, it had been since the beginning of August when we last meet up in Washburn, ND. A whole other state away.

The morning went by easily, a slight wind and cloudy skies, perfect paddling conditions. Wow, another reservoir paddled and only two more to go! It feels like we haven’t been on the river in months. Just going to battle with large bodies of water and wind. Always wind. Getting to the dams at the end of these reservoirs always feels so sweet. While we waited at the boat ramp for the person we had arranged to help us move our gear to the campground, we cleaned out all our bags and gear. Threw all trash in the dumpster and ate lunch. Bob, an ACE ranger showed up and said he had heard we were coming through. He asked if we needed help with the portage, as Ron the camp ground host could help us. It seemed like the person who we had made prior arrangements with wasn’t going to show, so we said yes. It worked out great. Ron brought us and our gear to the campground, got is situated at a nice spot near the water. He also showed us how we could do a shorter portage and then paddle across the bay to the campground. Still half a mile, though better than almost two had we walked along the road. In no time we had completed the portage and were hanging out at the camp ground, relaxing. Joyous river life. Viki arrived and we had a wonderful evening. Birthday candles on doughnuts

Lisa’s third present: a video montage of pictures, letters from friends and family, along with mini videos. All wishing me a happy birthday and saying a lot of nice things. It made me cry the whole time. It is really powerful to receive so much love and kindness in one sitting. It is also empowering, as one after the other my friends and family said how inspiring what we are doing with source of confidence is. I can get caught up in the hard moments and forget that there is a whole community of people following along, cheering us on and sending love to us and the expedition. This was a beautiful reminder. Also one of the greatest birthday presents ever. Lisa really worked hard to make my birthday special and I am still in awe that she carried my presents around in her bag for a whole month! Without them getting wet or me finding out!!! I can’t believe how lucky I am to have Lisa and Viki as friends and partners in this glorious and challenging adventure! We stayed up late talking, laughing and eating birthday doughnuts! Today was another great day on the river!

-Alyce

September 6th, 2016

Lake Francis Case, Ft. Thompson, South Dakota

Viki! VikiVikiViki! It was especially awesome to see Viki this go-around. She has a presence that can light up the whole sky. We were working on drying everything out at our campsite. Had the wind to assist us with that.

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When searching for intruders, leave no stone unturned. Then take advantage of the explosion to dry everything out.

The portage over the dam was easy. We took care of a little wood roach situation that had popped up in the days since we’d left Pierre. After seeing some suspiciously roach-like creatures in our bags for a few days, we decided to take the matter seriously. Roaches are foul creatures.

After thoroughly annihilating all existing roach-like stowaways and repacking our gear, we threw it in the back of a friendly stranger’s pick-up. He drove the gear and we hauled the canoe. Thank you again, Bob and Ron!

Viki showed up prepared for Roachpocalypse. We weren’t sure what we were dealing with so she went out and grabbed so cheap doubles of our clothes. This way, we’d have something to wear in case we needed to torch everything.

Fortunately, we were able to identify these pests as wood roaches. Alyce’s mom, Ann did a thorough search of the internet and discovered these things:

  1. The wood roach is more like a cricket than a roach
  2. They are not a health hazard
  3. You can set traps for them at night
  4. They don’t survive indoors

Look at that. That’s experiential education right there. We bagged up a bunch of our stuff in trash bags anyway just to make sure we’d gotten rid every last one.

We had a great women’s night together. I’d been feeling strange lately. Having a harder time dealing with the stress of the expedition and the constant “character development” that goes along with it. I asked Viki and Alyce to help me sort out some feelings and they really did. That was a really important moment for me. I don’t usually let people in so much. I felt a great sense of relief and release to be able to trust my friends to catch me. And to feel their love for me. It was a good moment for all of us.

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Best friends are the best friends!

We watched the slideshow of videos, photos, and notes that I’d asked people to send me for Alyce’s birthday. People sent all kinds of great, creative, and thoughtful messages telling Alyce how wonderful and inspiring of a person she is.

Later, we played music, sang, and laughed for hours in our new bear suits. Our spirits soared. Another great night around a fire with women I love.

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One of the fantastic creations made for Alyce by good friend.

September 7th, 2016

 We slept later than usual this morning, accounting for the late night. The plan was to paddle the 18 miles on Lake Francis Case, arriving in Chamberline, SD. Viki would drive there and stay the night with us. Lena and Tyler Hammel, river Angels who live in Chamberline, had offered to pay for a motel in town for us. They also wanted to take us out to dinner. Norm Miller meet them when he retraced the Lewis and Clark route and had connected us with the Hammels. I was really looking forward to a night in a motel, with the pillows and other amenities.

On the water by 9:30, the wind was already blowing right in our faces. Also there was no short stretch of river connecting the lake to the dam, as there have been at all the other points after the dam. It felt like slow going, since there really wasn’t any current. I was unsure if we would actually make it to Chamberline today and was trying to calm the doubt in my mind. So I just paddled hard and after 8 hours we made it to the American Creek camp ground, where we would store our boat and gear. It was a long hard day of paddling and I felt wiped out. Viki meet us and we transported to the motel. A little oasis in South Dakota. A cold shower rejuvenated me and I felt ready for dinner. It was a short walk to the restaurant, where we meet the wonderful Hammels. Amazing South Dakotans, they have owned their own chiropractor practice for 24 years. It’s just the two of them, Tyler is the chiropractor and Lena runs the business. We had a marvelous dinner and chatted about our trip, their lives and children and the beauty of the plains states. Tired and full after dinner, they gave us a ride back to the motel. We made plans to see them tomorrow at 11am for an adjustment and sometime in the massage chair at their practice. I was really looking forward to that.

Our original plan was to get on the water tomorrow, paddle and meet Viki somewhere down the lake. Well the next access point, via car to the river was well over 30 miles away and so we decided to spend the day in Chamberline. And get another night in the motel, a birthday present for myself and the team as a whole. This was also made easy by the weather forecast calling for strong wind, that ultimately would have wind bound us had we tried to paddle. We could also sleep-in and have a relaxing morning, eating the hot breakfast provided by the motel! What a day, with so many lives in lived.

-Alyce

September 7, 2016

Chamberlain, South Dakota

We started the 18-mile paddle to Chamberlain in our bear suits. With the strong headwind we were working hard and, though adorable, the suits soon became too warm. It took all day to get to Chamberlain so we were beat when we finally did show up.

Lena and Tyler Hammel took us out to dinner and treated us so kindly and with such generosity. They are an incredible team. They’ve been working together both through jobs and a relationship since they were in their early teens. They are so compatible and their stories were a lot of fun to hear. Thanks again, Hammels!

We weathered another big storm, this time from the safety of a motel room. That really is a luxury. As the storm came in over the horizon, I stayed outside to watch for a while. It was huge. Big, purple and deep blue and black clouds took up most of the southern sky. The lighting shot very defined white-yellow bolts between the clouds. Some of them touched down to earth making rumbles in the distance.

Thunder can sound so different depending on how close it is to you. It rumbles and grumbles real low when it’s far away. It seems to last longer too. As it gets closer, you hear the crack. Like when the head of an ax comes down on a dry piece of wood. Crack! Then a longer echo follows.

The ax creates a space in the wood, the energy pushes it apart. Seems to me like lightning does the same thing to atmosphere around it. Pushes a crack in it, makes a big sound, splits it apart in instant. In this case, it goes right back together again but it still sends out that long echo.

It is interesting to sit through a storm. It’s something you will never know the experience of until you go through it. All storms are a little different. You can be different in storms too. When I get caught in a storm in the wilderness, far from any sort of building or help, I feel confident. I’m confident in my ability to put myself in the safest available position and wait it out without doubt. There may still be fear at times, storms can be really scary. But I remain calm, because I know I’ve done the best I can.

On an expedition like this where we make our way between towns and places where we can be indoors, that’s the safest option. Sometimes when I know we are within range of safer options, I start to doubt myself when we do get caught in storms. Mostly, it’s unavoidable. In certain cases, where it is possible, it is a great relief to have safe shelter.

The breeze increased, pushing my hair in my face, and pulling me out of thoughts. A warning of the storm coming closer. The volume of thunder increased, telling me to take my own advice and move inside. Storms are beautiful to watch from a distance and they’re eye-opening to experience. I’m not advocating walking into a storm, but I will say, when you eventually find yourself in one, It’s good to know how you will react. It’s good to know how to keep yourself safe. It’s also good to remember not to take that shelter, that safety for granted.

-Lisa

Life on the Plains – End of August 2016

August 20, 2016

Whitlock State Park, Lake Oahe, South Dakota

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The sail only works under a very certain set of conditions: tail- or slight cross-tailwind. Wind must be between about 5-10mph, sustained. Less is not enough to pull the sail, more and you may end up dealing with too much fetch (waves caused by wind) for it to be safe. Lake Oahe is oriented North-South without too much meandering to the east or west (until the very end) so we need the wind to be coming from the north to help us out.

Yesterday it was too much. We were only able to travel about 5 miles before the wind was pulling too hard at the sail and the waves made it too difficult to control the boat. The boat was moving about 6 mph which was awesome but also too close to the edge for comfort. Decided to pull over and make camp at about 2pm just as a light rain came in. I put my tent next to Alyce’s  so we could spend the afternoon hanging out.

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Alyce taking in the sunset after the rain.

We ate lunch and played cribbage as the temperature dropped. I refuse to wear pants or too many layers while it’s still summer. I’m trying to keep myself acclimated without relying too much on clothing until I have to. If I start wearing too much insulation when it’s 60, I’ll have to rely on more than just layers (exercise, butter, and complaining) to keep me warm when it’s in the 40’s in November. I don’t know if this has any scientific or real logical basis but it gives me a sense of security. 60 degrees after you are used to 90’s feels dramatic. Rather than submit and wear pants…I got in my sleeping bag.

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A visually stimulating section of shoreline. From this distance, pick out the ideal place to camp. In that clump of trees, you think? Well, so do the cows. Turns out shade is a commodity and the price is sleeping in, basically sewage. #ilovecamping

The middle part of Oahe is more visually stimulating than the areas closer to Bismarck. Green rolling hills, large bluffs made of dark and light soil. The river bottom fluctuates between sand, rock, and mud. This morning, the mud on the shoreline was a pain in the butt. Every step had me in to mid-calf and didn’t want to let me out. Shoes were not an option because I wasn’t willing to risk losing them. Add rocks to the barefoot-muddy mix and it was uncomfortable and hilarious loading the boat. One step at a time, stagger, sink, sway, try not to fall over while carrying gear to the boat.

We had to take turns holding Drifty (our canoe) in the big waves that were coming at us. We assessed the borderline-too-big waves as a positive risk; they were going the direction we wanted. Took us twice as long to load the boat but once we got in, we only got out for a 45-minute lunch break over the next 11 hours. We covered around 35 miles with the help of a consistent NW wind. The fetch got big on occasion – close to 1.5 foot swells at one point – but nothing too outrageous.

We made each other laugh all day. We are really getting into these (not accurately imitated) Irish personas we’ve created. The accents are poor but the banter is a ton of fun. Alyce is really funny. We have figured out how to turn the “afternoon uncomfortables” into delirium-induced comedy sketches which we perform with and for one another.

Today, I pointed out shapes in the clouds while Alyce cursed the boat and the wind. “I’m having the time of my life and I only have myself to blame.” I love it when she gets in those moods. It’s the good-natured type of misery that builds camaraderie. All of a sudden, the expedition, or anything that could mostly be categorized as “retroactive fun”, becomes actual in-the-moment fun. It’s the camaraderie that is born when you are in a united front against the suck with your expedition-mates.

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Embracing the rain and cooler temps on Lake Oahe.

We made it all the way to West Whitlock State Park where we found a campsite with some nice neighbors. They let us tool around on their orange and pink beach cruisers for a while. I love riding bikes. I’ve been missing that aspect of summer here on the river.

– Lisa

August 20th, 2016

What a day. Tailwind and an intense 33 miles paddled to the state park, with a whopping 10 hours in the canoe!
We meet Tom and Heather, at the state park and they let us ride their bikes to see if the restaurant was open. It was not. More prairie and fewer trees. So much prairie. It is truly beautiful watching the amber waves of grass rippling in the wind. Like an invisible hand stirring the blades and making them whisper amongst themselves.

August 21st, 2016

Wow, another fully lived day on lake Oahe. I woke up tired and annoyed that is it was already time to pack up. After a long day like yesterday and only having arrived at the state park around 6:30pm, I really didn’t want to get up at 6am. Alas, the wind is predicted at 5-10 mph out of the south east. Our immediate first 5 miles have us heading west, northwest, as the lake is becoming a snake.

Getting on the water early is always a good idea, as the wind picks up in the afternoon. Though it’s hard only being on land for not even 12 hours and 8 of them in my tent. So that’s what I did. Got up, packed, ate breakfast; went into auto pilot mode. I was falling asleep in the bow by 8:30am; not a good sign when you just got on the water at 7:45. Alas the day went by really fast. Around Lunch time the wind picked up and as we came around a corner we found an amazing huge tree, log stuck off the shores of lake Oahe. Beautiful, smoothed from years of water and bleached from sunshine and bird poop.  As we ate our traditional fare of tort, meat stick, cheese and mustard (yet again the garlic has not made it into the lunch bucket).

The wind increased. A leasuirly lunch because well the winds already blowing and will for some time, replenish now. Swimming and jumping off the tree into the water. So much fun! Critical on days when the wind howls in my face, I can’t really hear and the sun beats down. It’s not really that dramatic, though sometimes it really does feel that way.
Yet the prairie and surroundings are beautiful. I had never been to South Dakota before this adventure. A harsh existence for sure and magnificent all at the same time.

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Our lunch spot for the day! Fun times jumping into the water from the log!

The trees are becoming father and farther apart, until only a few lone trees remain. What is must take to survive, plant, animal and still human. Before it was living off the land, homesteading and farming. Now it’s economic opportunity; really one in the same, today it’s just trees turned to paper with ink stamped on them. A few of the rambling thoughts that run through my head while paddling for 8 hours a day.

The landscape truly is something to behold and I found myself getting lost looking into the hills and grasses. Also cows. Lots of cows; it seems like they are everywhere. We are also starting to see haybales. Something new. The rest of the afternoon went by quickly, the wind increased.

By 4pm I was spent and we had found a nice little spot, with a rocky beach and decent protection from the wind. Boat unloaded, tent setup and gear explosion. The absence of the ever-present sand enables us to air our gear and food buckets out. Our dinner bucket lid appears to be leaking and had made the bucket a little nasty, not to mention everything being covered in sand. Nothing a little sun and shake won’t fix. Along with cleaning the bucket in the lake and letting the wind/sun dry her out. Thankfully we have an extra large plastic bag to line the bucket with (we figured this trick out when our lunch bucket lid began to leak several weeks ago). Our gear bag was full of sand and days old moisture, not wanting that mildewy smell everything came out and the frost river pack got a good shacking and time in the sun. It looked like a great yard sale. Though we are really good at making ourselves at home. A delightful later afternoon, playing cards and calling a few of our Kickstarter supports as part of their rewards. Dinner and the sunsetting, another well lived day on the river.

-Alyce

August 22, 2016

Just south of Sutton Bay, Lake Oahe, South Dakota

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Over 100 days of rigorous expedition and it’s not surprising that gear starts to break down. Alyce moving on to Plan B: sunscreen when her shirt failed.

Oahe pulsates. She is her own living, breathing being. The wind seemed to come from a few directions today, giving Oahe a confused sort of sea. Beautiful to watch from shore but too restless to paddle.

We swam more than 15 times. Every 20 or 30 minutes we had to get back in the water to keep systems from shutting down. 100 degrees. Heat index hotter. Holy oppressive heat. Wind was hot too.

We inflated our sleeping mats and rode the waves. So much fun. If the water had been salty, we might as well have been in the Gulf of Mexico.

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A few of my favorite things.

A band of horses came down and played in water too. I grew up spending a fair amount of time around horses but haven’t really ever seen them play like these characters. They were rolling in the rocks, running, jumping, and trying to get each other to play. Everyone was having fun in the waves.

We had a great day despite the heat. Played a lot of cribbage, I got a bunch of writing done, and we did a lot of laughing. The soft pink, purple, and blue sunset was the ideal backdrop to round out the day.

– Lisa

August 24, 2016

Sunset Haven, Lake Oahe, South Dakota

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The vibrant layers of South Dakota.

So proud of the day!! Really enjoyed the challenge of the cross-wind. Kept me alert all day but not in an exhausting way. Just enough to avoid boredom which is good because the music isn’t working on phone right now.

We paddled 10 miles in about 8 hours. It was grueling only traveling about 1.5-2mph all day. Like being on a really big water treadmill. The scenery did change a little. Sometime there would be cows, sometimes only grass. Then other times there would be more grass and cows.

When we hit the boat ramp, Alyce flagged down some people in super ATV and asked them if they could drive us to get drinking water. Next thing we knew, we were eating fried walleye and corn fritters and sleeping in beds in an air-conditioned building. Perfect ending to a great day.

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Big thanks to Wade, Joel, and David for helping us get water! A short adventure turned into new friends, fried walleye, and a great place to get out of the sun and wind for a couple of days.

– Lisa

August 25-28, 2016

Bush’s Landing to 5 miles S of Pike Haven, Lake Oahe, South Dakota

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We solemnly swear to never again take climate-controlled environments for granted again. It is so much easier to think and work when sweat isn’t dripping in your eyes and brain. Thanks, Kelly and Carol for the incredible office space above Lake Oahe and all of your hospitality. It’s incredible what seeing things from a different perspective can do.

Had an excellent time hanging out with Kelly, Carol, Bob, Phil, David, Wade, and Joel at Sunset Haven resort. Kelly is a fishing guide and excellent cook and he and his wife, Carol were hosting the guys for a few days and added us to the guest list as soon as we showed up. Again, such incredible hospitality and enthusiastic company.

The wind was too much the next day so we stayed an extra night in paradise. Thanks again, Kelly and Carol!

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Sunflowers above Lake Oahe.

We paddled on the next day making it Little Bend Recreation Area where we met our good friend Jack Hilbrich and his brother Tom. The four of us camped out there and I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard for so long. Those two picked up on our outrageous senses of humor and personalities instantly and the banter was non-stop.

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Excellent company on the only day it rained a little on the Plains. Thanks for bringing the joy to us, Tom and Jack!

We were also in a celebratory mood after having completed the voyage around Little Bend. There is nothing “little” about Little Bend, by the way. Here is how Dave Miller describes it in “The Complete Paddler”:

“Here some cautions are in order…The Cheyenne River flows into the lake on the downstream right side, and a southeast wind will generate large waves and confused seas near the confluence. There are few places along the shore where there is any shelter if a storm blows up and you have to pitch a tent. Further compounding the difficulty is the fact that you cannot see the horizon to the south and west as you work your way along the upstream side of the point…Also, because of Little Bend’s NW to SE aspect and because prevailing winds are from either of those directions, you probably will have to work against headwinds for half the distance around the bend.”

He goes on to describe the option of a manual portage across Little Bend as “very difficult but not impossible.” The “healthy population of rattlesnakes”, mud, and steep hills made this sound like a real winner of an option. Kind of a last resort option, if you ask me.

Well, we crushed it with some perfect paddling conditions to start, moving into rain and cold, and rounding out with a strong headwind as we made the bend back east. It was all worth it, though, to get one of the most notorious parts of the most notorious reservoir done.

The next day was brutal. It was in the high nineties and there was pretty much no wind. That’s what we wanted, right? It’s a tradeoff. Sometimes that heat makes it just as hard to paddle as the wind. It was about a four-mile paddle to Pike Haven Resort where we had plans to meet another friend of ours, Iggy.

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Good to see our great friend and deep conversation master, Iggy!

Iggy could only stay for a couple of hours, so she got right to the point. After bestowing several gifts – a necklace I had forgotten at Outward Bound, a new seat cushion, and several bags of chai tea – she asked us, point blank, what we’ve learned about ourselves.

For me, I said I’m learning how to better discern my intuitive voice from my ego-driven voice. One sounds a lot nicer but also makes me do things that are hard (but good). For Alyce, she’s gained the knowledge that this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. Good question, Iggy.

After Iggy left, we paddled on until dark and I didn’t bother setting up my tent. I just rolled out my sleeping bag 10 feet from the water. The stars were unreal.

– Lisa

August 29-31, 2016

The Ferris House, Pierre, South Dakota

Back in a headwind.

Feel strong; gettin’ after it.

Finish Oahe.

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Kissing the shore after completing the 231-mile long Lake Oahe.

I didn’t feel as pumped as I thought I would to finish Lake Oahe. We struggled against an east wind that pushed us sideways as we made our way to the end of the lake. It felt good to get to the boat ramp and pull all of our stuff out of the lake for the last time, but I thought I’d feel like dancing or something.

Instead, we followed the treasure hunt a fellow thru paddler, Kris Laurie, had left for us and came upon a cache of candy and some classy South Dakota wine. Kris also left a note telling us how B-A he thinks we are and how he’s sorry he’s so much faster than us because he really wants to meet us. I’m just kidding about that last part, but he did express that it’s a shame we will have paddled all this way at the same time and not run into each other even once. We thought the same thing.

We left a note, some Source of Confidence buttons and some other treats wrapped up in the 14 plastic bag system that Kris had used, buried it under the same rock, and sent the same treasure map to Lance and Gary, the guys next behind us paddling the entire river. Hopefully they will leave something for Mike and Cookie, our friends from July on Ft. Peck who are headed to St. Louis. This is a fun tradition. The community of paddlers is incredible. So supportive and adventuresome.

In fact, we stayed with the most rad family of river rats for two nights in Pierre, SD. Guy Ferris and Mitch Kleinsasser took the Missouri River from Three Forks, MT back home to Pierre in a pontoon a couple of years ago. They made a movie too. Can’t wait to see it.

Guy and Mitch helped us out with the portage around the dam- actually Mitch just straight up gave us his van. Since we accidentally left one of the wheels for our portage cart in Bismarck, never to be seen again, we had to get back to our Boundary Waters roots and carry the canoe on our shoulders.

If you have never portaged an 80-pound canoe on your shoulders, let me tell you, you are missing out. The first time I ever portaged a canoe was in 2011 when I started as an intern for Voyageur Outward Bound. We were in the Boundary Waters and portaging was terrible.

Let me reiterate: terrible. The pressure caused by the portage pads resting between my shoulders and neck was like a massage from a super pissed off gorilla. I thought I would for sure lose an inch in height from being so compressed under that boat after 10 days. Every time I’d take a step forward, one end or the other would start to take a dive and I’d have to correct it before it smacked the ground or my portage partners head. It was nerve-wracking and exhausting. Plus, the terrain was full of rocks, exposed roots, fallen trees, and biting insects.

“How am I going to do this as a job?” I remember thinking about halfway through the expedition. “I can’t force, er I mean, teach other people how to do this if I don’t even want to do it myself.”

To be fair, I was being dramatic. It was also a 10-day expedition intended to push us interns way outside of our comfort zones. It had to be one of the hardest things we’d ever done because that is what expeditions feel like to most of our students. Check and mate. Building grit and empathy.

It took the rest of the summer for me to start getting comfortable with portaging. It’s all in the balance. If the boat is balanced from bow to stern, you can move pretty fluidly over most terrain. If you do it long enough, your shoulder muscles eventually become totally desensitized to the pressure and you can go for much longer periods of time before it becomes uncomfortable.

I actually love it now. It’s a game for me to see how long I can go without a break. I think the longest I’ve done so far is probably around a mile.

Now, we had a two-mile fun-fest ahead of us. I turned on some music (Brandi Carlisle, obviously) and we went for it.

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Running makes the portage go by faster.

IT IS ALWAYS WINDY ON THE PLAINS. For those of you who are familiar with portaging a canoe in the Boundary Waters, even on windy days, you get a break in the woods. Not here. The wind was like, “give me that canoe” and we were like, “NO”. It’s tiring having to battle that force.

Mid-way through the portage, I got a phone call from Lee Zion with the Capital Journal – South Dakota’s premier newspaper. Sidenote: Did you know that Pierre is pronounced PEER? Well, it is. No one can say why. Anyway, Lee wanted to swing by and get some pictures and do an interview. We casually waited on the side of the road with our canoe for Lee to show up; this has become our M.O. when it comes to getting media coverage.

He asked us about the expedition as we finished the portage. I couldn’t participate in fully in the conversation with a canoe on my head, so we continued the interview over BLTs at the Oahe Marina. He asked us what it was like to paddle the Missouri River. Pretty basic question, but I didn’t have an answer right away.

What’s it like to paddle the Missouri River? Depends on the day. It can be hard. It can be awesome. It’s the best time and the worst – sometimes within the span of a half an hour. It’s beautiful – mountains, alpine wetlands, and grasslands; scenic canyons, cottonwood groves, and farmland; sandstone-limestone-claystone-coal bluffs of white, black, and vermillion; sand dunes, cattail marshes, and prairie. We’ve only touched four of our fourteen state total and have already seen a remarkably diverse and inspiring, albeit harsh, landscape.

We interact with the elements of the landscape on a daily basis- wind, water, sun, plant and animal life, and wind. I know I said wind twice. These factors add beauty and adversity in almost equal measure. It’s the people who live along the Missouri River that tip the scales to the side of awesome.

This brings me back to our newest friends. Mitch is a kind man with a permanent smile whose chief aim in life is to emulate the Animal House lifestyle. Rock on, Mitch, it seems like you’ve got it down. Guy is an organic farmer/casino owner with a wisecracking sense of humor and a vault of impressively outlandish and even more impressively true stories. When I walked into his garage, the first thing I noticed was a sign advocating against spraying pesticides right next to an even bigger NWA poster. “Welcome to Pierre”, the garage seemed to say.

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Mitch and Guy’s movie poster.

We met Guy’s wife, Beata (Bee-Ah-Tuh), and kids Abby and Jack and had dinner and stayed two nights at their place. Beata is an incredible woman too. She’s a science teacher and just started a new job doing distance learning via her home office with students all over South Dakota. She’s a hard-working, fun-loving, caring and generous woman. It was really a pleasure to spend time in her company.

After dinner, Guy and Beata took us out for a good time at the Legion. Here is where I ran into a real live Irishman. Perfect time to test out the accent! (This is sarcasm. Don’t do this.) Hearing the accent switched me right into my Irish-banter-with-Alyce mode. I caught myself quickly but not before he asked me where I was from. “Minnesota…” I said sheepishly. We became fast friends despite the faux pas. He was playing guitar and the next thing I knew, I had a guitar too.

At Alyce’s request, Spencer, another friend of our hosts, had run out to his truck to grab his guitar for me. I really appreciated that. She does a good job of looking out for opportunities for me to play. We played for the next few hours and took a break for talk radio interview with Guy, Mitch, and their friends at the Absolute Outdoors Show.

That was hands-down the most entertaining interview I have ever been a part of. I hope we can get our hands on that recording. The highlight of the conversation was Mitch confessing to us that after he and Guy had first met us, they talked about how we could probably kill them. We agreed and had a good, maniacal laugh about it.

I do have to say that it feels pretty good to be seated at a table surrounded by men who are interested and invested in what you have to say. For real, that’s not a common experience. Thanks, guys, we had a blast!

 

– Lisa

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Guy grabbed a couple copies of the Journal with Lee’s article for us. You can read the article here.

Some of Our Favorite Pictures

Amy and I left the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Friday after 365 days.  There is so much we want to share with you about what we learned and how we feel about accomplishing something so important to us.

Right now we are getting caught up on some really important things, so we thought we would take this chance to share some of our favorite pictures from the year and give you the chance to write about them.

We will be telling you more about the end of our expedition in the next couple of weeks, but we want you to know right now how much we have appreciated the opportunity to share our adventure with you.

How would you describe this picture to someone who couldn’t see it? 

Share your answer!


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If you could be in this picture right now, would you want to be?  Why or why not? 

Share your answer!

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Tank was our companion for over half of our trip. He was valuable to our success as well as being a great companion.  Tell us about an animal that has been important in your life. 

Share your answer!

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We were fortunate enough to see a bunch of wildlife.  In your opinion, what was the coolest animal we saw, and why? 

Share your answer!

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Student Response Worksheets

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Day 363: Reflection Lake

We visited our 500th body of water on the 363rd day of our Year in the Wilderness. Crashing through wet branches and soggy moss, over rotting white pine trunks and through balsam thickets, we slowly bushwhacked towards Reflection Lake. The final 100 yards was a soupy, boot-sucking bog. Before we paddled into the Wilderness nearly a year ago we set a goal of visiting 500 lakes, rivers, and streams. At times it seemed like that would be an easy task, only to seem out of reach a day or two later. It seems fitting that our 500th water source was difficult to reach and thus rarely visited. Daily Data:

Days in the Wilderness: 363
Miles traveled: 9
Bodies of water visited: 6

Animals seen:

2 Canada geese
4 mergansers
6 ring-billed gulls
2 red squirrels
4 black-capped chickadees
1 white-throated sparrow
2 bald eagles
1 beaver

Seasonal Changes and the Fall Equinox

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Dave and I are almost done with our journey. After spending an entire year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we plan to exit on Friday! Did you know that we began our year on a special day last year? It was the Fall Equinox. An equinox is one of two days each year when the length of day and night are the same. This year’s Fall Equinox is about to happen, on September 22 to be exact. In this Notes from the Trail we’ll learn about equinoxes and why the seasons change.

What is an equinox?

An equinox happens twice a year. Another name for the Fall Equinox is the Autumnal Equinox. It is the first day of fall. The length of the day and night are the same on this day, because the sun is shining directly on the Equator. The Spring Equinox happens in March. It is called the Vernal Equinox. These two pictures help to understand how this happens.

 

During an equinox, the Earth’s North and South poles are not facing toward or away from the Sun and the length of the day is the same at all points on Earth’s surface. Image by Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth-lighting-equinox_EN.png)

During an equinox, the Earth’s North and South poles are not facing toward or away from the Sun and the length of the day is the same at all points on Earth’s surface. Image by Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth-lighting-equinox_EN.png

Here you can see how the sunlight hits the Earth at different points in its orbit around the Sun. Image by Colivine. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orbital_relations_of_the_Solstice,_Equinox_%26_Intervening_Seasons.svg

Here you can see how the sunlight hits the Earth at different points in its orbit around the Sun. Image by Colivine. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orbital_relations_of_the_Solstice,_Equinox_%26_Intervening_Seasons.svg

 

Right now in the Northern Hemisphere the length of daylight is decreasing every day. What time does the sun rise where you are? When does it set? 

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The Earth orbits the Sun
Imagine the Earth orbiting (or spinning around) the Sun. It takes one year for the Earth to make a full circle around the Sun. The North Pole is the top of the Earth and the South Pole is the bottom of the Earth. Imagine a straight line running through the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole. This is called the Earth’s axis. The Earth rotates on its axis.
This is what causes night and day. When it is nighttime where you are, you are on the side of the Earth facing away from the sun and it is dark outside. The Earth keeps spinning, eventually the Sun rises and it is daytime.
What causes the seasons?
Now that we can imagine the Earth rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, tilt the axis a bit. The Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees. The Earth never stands upright, it always leans to the side.
It is this tilt that causes seasonal changes. As the Earth orbits the Sun the northern half (or Northern Hemisphere) receives more sunlight for half of the year. This when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Which Hemisphere do you live in? 

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Eventually the Earth reaches a point in its orbit where the top and bottom receive equal sunlight– the equinox! This would be the Fall Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. On the same day, the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox happens in the Southern Hemisphere.
What is summer like where you live? What is winter like? 

Share your answer!

Then the Earth continues its orbit and the Southern Hemisphere gets more sunlight than the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, summer happens in the Southern Hemisphere and winter happens in the Northern Hemisphere.
I can tell that fall is coming to Minnesota and the Boundary Waters. Loons’ feathers are changing and they are getting ready to migrate. Large flocks of Canada geese are already flying in V formation, heading south. Leaves on maple trees, birch trees and aspen trees are starting to change color. Squirrels are busy caching food for the winter.
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What changes are taking place around you as fall happens in the Northern Hemisphere and spring happens in the Southern Hemisphere? 

Share your answer!

Further Exploration:

The Reason for the Seasons Lesson Plans: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/activity/the-reason-for-the-seasons/?ar_a=1

Sun and Earth Lesson Plans: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/archive/xpeditions/lessons/07/g35/seasons.html?ar_a=1

How Equinox’s Work: Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjbgzL2Axok

Student Response Worksheets

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