I am not sure, but I think Tank might miss the Girl Scouts even more than Amy and I will. We had a lot of fun with them yesterday. Helping young people spend time in nature is something we should all strive to do more. Their excitement is contagious (and Tank loved all the attention)!
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” – Katherine Hepburn
When you spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and seven months of the year with someone in a canoe, it’s a good idea to lay some ground rules. Not too many, just a few to keep the chaos to a minimum. We asked each other what was most important to us personally and then for the expedition and agreed on a few simple things to keep us honest and on track with the big adventure. Having these rules gives us some boundaries to work within as we hurtle ourselves toward the Gulf of Mexico in a canoe of apparent madness.
- Friendship and respect first.
We are committed to supporting each other through the excitement and challenges of the expedition. When all else fails, listening to and respecting one another is what we rely on to keep going. By focusing on our team first, we can work toward our mission of supporting other girls and women.
- “Good morning” and “nighty-noodle”
We say “good morning!” when we wake up and “nighty-noodle” (our version of “good-night”) before we got to bed – but after we brush our teeth!
- Stick to the timeline
Before the expedition, Alyce researched the route and compiled a timeline for the 4,000 mile, seven month long expedition. This gives us and idea of how far we need to travel each day to finish at the end of November. We try to stay ahead of schedule when we can to give us more buffer days later on. This will be helpful if we run into bad weather or other unexpected surprises downriver.
- No important discussions between 2 and 5pm on travel days
Just no. This is the hardest time of day for us to have a productive conversation. We are both usually too tired, hungry, thirsty, and way too hot to be able to manage the emotional complexities of the “afternoon uncomfortables”.
- Reset the Eye of the Tiger
Roughly every three days, we have a conversation to sharpen our expedition mentality. We call this the Tiger Eye sessions. We use this time to get on the same page about expedition stuff like travel plans and resupplies as well as set small goals for the next few days. It’s also a time for us to remember to celebrate success and say kind things to each other and to get things off our chest and resolve issues.
Tiger Eye Sessions: Staying sharp on the river
We met a man along the river who told us about a special stone called “Tiger Eye”. It’s a gemstone with black and gold and some orange mixed in. Tiger eye, the man told us, is believed to bring strength and good power to whomever holds it. It must be cleansed every three days, he warned, or the it will begin to drain your strength and take your power.
From that encounter, the Tiger Eye sessions were born. Every three days or so, we have a meeting with each other to cleanse, so to speak, ourselves, our partnership, and our expedition. This helps us re-focus our energy, regain strength, and re-charge our power to continue taking on the challenges of expedition life, or “rise up to the challenge of our rival”, if you like.
Our first official Tiger Eye session happened on July 16, 2016. After spending 66 days travelling the river, we had plenty of opportunity to figure out how we operate best as a team and in what areas we fall short. We’ve created a list of a few things to do every few days to help us use our strengths while keeping an eye on our weaknesses so that they don’t get in our way.
Every three days…
- Express vulnerability
We reflect on the last few days and share with each other something we are proud of, not so proud of, or something that involves taking a positive risk (vulnerability) to express. We take ownership of feelings, actions, or thoughts, even the hard ones and say it out loud. As a result, this helps us build trust with one another and clear the air of any issues or misunderstandings.
We express gratitude for one another and the people and places around us. It can be easy to take for granted what someone does for you while you are so busy doing things yourself. Even a simple “thank you” can go a long way in making someone feel valuable. Noticing the specific accomplishments and contributions each us had made and giving the other person recognition is an important part of keeping our team mentality healthy.
- Prioritize tasks for the next few days
We think about the Expedition Mentality triangle that balances self, team, and resources on each side. With those main categories in mind, what must get done? What is realistic to do? Clarify who is doing what. At the next meeting we look at the list to see how we did. We celebrate the successful accomplishments, evaluate any failures, then reprioritize for the next three days.
- Curriculum Activity
We set aside time to do and document confidence-building activities. This helps us to build our own confidence and provide an example for others. This is what we post to the wilderness classroom.com on our SOC Expedition drop-down menu.
As the sun began to set, we walked out to the point facing east down Knife Lake. The stiff wind had blown itself out, leaving a mirror smooth surface. The clear emerald water revealed the rocks and boulders leading into the depths. It was calm and quiet as we sat on the warm rock waiting for the cool evening air to bring relief at the end of a hot day. Even out here it can be easy to rush around doing chores, fiddling with odds and ends and busying ourselves to the point where we miss the daily rhythm of watching the passage of the sun.
Some days we glance up and realize the cloud-covered sky is hiding the sun’s golden glow so we busy ourselves with whatever tasks are at hand or perhaps we climb into the tent early to read or write. I don’t mind these evenings, and in some ways it’s nice to crawl into the tent early on a gloomy, wet evening. What bugs me is when I look up and see the sky on fire and realize that we have frittered away a beautiful moment, not slowing down to take in a beautiful sunset.
Last night’s sunset wasn’t anything to write home about. The cloudless sky let the sun slip away without much color and fanfare, but the silence that settled over the Wilderness as the light slowly changed held its own delicate beauty.
We have entered the third month of this expedition! It’s truly incredible how fast our days keep going. Sometimes it’s nice when we are paddling, the hours tick by, along with the miles. There are other days that we wish the clock would stop, that we could freeze time and stay in the moment forever (or at least until we are hungry and need to eat again). Yet alas, time moves forward; one of the constants of life.
We had ambitious plans to wake at 5:15am. The lightening storm in the evening kept us both awake, granting us little of the sweet nectar that is sleep. When the alarm blared and the wind on the lake was churning we each called for another hour. Sleep was not to be found in this extra hour and we finally started packing up our gear around 6:30. Floating breakfasts are not that productive when you have a 5 mile an hour wind blowing in your face. We may have to start eating on shore before jumping in the boat.
It was a tough day of paddling, for no reason in particular. Heat and being tired from not getting enough sleep. We were both sort of half paddling and around 11am when the wind picked up, ever so slightly, we decided to take a break. Trying to create shade with the rocks and our sarongs was only half successful. Eating lunch helped, along with a swim, and we got back on the water around 12:30.
At this time we observed A Forest fire on the north shore line. We deduced that it was from the lightening the night before; the area the fire was in is where we saw the lightening striking last night. It was interesting to watch the smoke waft into the air and drift around. It was noticeable when the fire reached fresh tinder: a big cloud of black bulging smoke would shoot into the sky. Towards heaven and God. Trying to fill a void. Or something poetic like that.
As we paddled on the rest of the afternoon we watched the fire, turning our heads around ever so often, as we were moving east on fort peck at this point. A sort of tail wind came through and we thought to use our sail. It did not work, as the wind needed to be more ferocious to keep the sail in the air.
As 4:30 came upon us like grease lightening, the wind picked up and we saw a beautiful shore line, tucked in a little cove, with a lovely little point to see the stretch of water we will paddle tomorrow. We have now said this for the last few campsites, though this was the best ever! With minimal thorny bushes, that almost came out of no where to attack you and lots of amazing rocks to enjoy. A delightful little point. Still very hot and directly across from the sun’s runway to the horizon, so we had another 5 hours to go of direct sunlight.
Lots of swimming, reading, writing, and exploring the shoreline for rocks and Lisa working on her guitar skills, this river life is beyond words. We ate a dinner of rice and soup packet stew and swam some more in the later evening hours. Finally feeling cooled off.
Each night there are ambitious dreams of going to bed early and with how tired we are at the end of the day, it should just happen. Though in big sky country when the sunsets on a clear sky, it’s mesmerizing. You become transfixed and your gaze can go no where else. You have to watch. Especially if you are laying in your tent, rain fly off, free from the mosquitos: you have the best view on the planet. And even though you know you’ll wake up a little groggy in the morning, the beauty is beyond worth it.
I tried to catch lightning last night. My arms got tired…of holding the camera. The storm was pretty distant; you couldn’t hear the thunder. The bolts and flashes kept me up to film like a good documentarian. When I looked back through the footage, it was all black. Guess I’m not that good.
As the sun sank and left behind orange and pink, my mind would not quiet down. I was fixated on the power of my mood. More power than I’ve recognized how to handle in the past. Through these days of endless challenge, processing, and living 100% in nature and her elements, I am coming to understand how the mood I am in really manifests outcomes – positive or negative. People reflect back to me what I put out. Today, I chose joy and music over irritability and grumpiness. As soon as I put out joy, joy was returned. It’s been the same with any other mood. I’m recognizing that when I’m too stressed out (having to make too many decisions too quickly or not having enough time to decompress) or when I’m nervous about something, it can be really hard to snap out of a low mood.
Finally, sleep took over the dull chatter in my brain and another interesting day was well-lived.
Alas, it was a calm clear morning, with really no wind. So we had to paddle (both secretly hoping for a wind induced rest day). Although our bodies are due for a break, it’s hard to justify not paddling on a lake, When there isn’t wind. And when the conditions are perfect, clear and calm, like this morning. In these times you just have to paddle paddle paddle.
Although we were tired, getting the paddle in hand does something and energy is summoned from the depths. Our paddling was truly in-sync this morning and we moved across the water quickly. During the same time in which fort peck began to get wider, her bays larger. With tremendous beauty in the landscape, it was easy to be awe struck.
With no current, we pull over on shore for lunch and found a terrific little bay, complete with the mud-rocks we are finding every where on this reservoir. Another hot afternoon, with as swimming our air conditioner. As the afternoon came and went, a slight wind started to blow in our faces, not enough to stop us though. “How is it already 4:30?”.The wind has started to increase its force directly into our faces, we made camp at an okay spot. Lots of thorny bushes make it less than ideal, though we have the sounds of fort peck and a spectacular theater for the sunsets one woman show later on that evening. Plus we have Paddled 20 miles! And we are over half way done with Fort Peck reservoir! Wow! We had expected it to take us a lot longer to be where we are at now. We have not really encountered any winds or thunderstorms and are thanking the goddesses for that. You can get stuck on Fort Peck for days because of the weather! It also dawned on us that 8 weeks ago today we left Minnesota for this wild adventure. Surreal how fast and slow all together time is out here on the river.
The heat can overpower. Without any shade to speak of, swimming often is really the only way to regulate body temperature. Wearing clothing in the water helps a lot too. If there is any breeze at all, the combination of cool skin and a wet shirt turns into air conditioning. When it dries out, it’s time to jump in again.
The wind comes and goes too. The rise and fall can be steady or come all at once. Today, the air was dead calm and then sped up to about 20 mph gusts over the span of two to three hours and slowed back down to nothing in another hour or two more. A gentle reminder of who is boss.
I have respect for water and wind; two elements not to be dismissed. We are headed toward a stretch of water that can act as if it were the sea under the force of the wind.
Another day of practicing creating joy. I had to be very intentional to stay out of my head; too much thinking can lead to too much thinking, and that is usually not a good thing. The longer I spend lost in thought, the harder it is to come back to reality. Though it can be hard when you have just one person to talk to. Sometimes, you just run out of words to say. We resorted to howling into the wind. We yelled at the tops of our lungs. Our hair was wet from the evening’s last swim and our muscles felt strong from hours, days, weeks of paddling. The wind joined in the cry. Wild women, we are.
Each day we live fully, whether we want to or not. Each day we make miles on the river and miles forward on our paths to recognizing who we really are and what we are capable of.
Another morning sort of secretly hoping for a wind induced rest day, the water it was calm as a sleeping cat. In need of more sleep, we pressed snooze and were on the water by 10. It was a nice morning of paddling with a lovely tail wind. This time the wind was fierce enough to hold the sail in the air and give us forward momentum! What fun! We had never successfully used the sail until today and we were giddy with excitement and in celebrating our success of trying something new! Feeling more confident from this new skill, we moved into lunch time and the wind lowered her voice, making the sail obsolete. It was great while it lasted.
The afternoon started to drag on, until we met a family out on their boat and camping near by for the holiday weekend. They asked us across the water where we were going and upon our response, motored over to us! Wonderful people, whose names escape our memory now. We have been meeting so many people that, to be honest, we sometimes forgot these individuals names. We try to remember and write down in our notebooks or on our phones these details, yet at times exhaustion or distraction about where we will camp for the night, pull at our minds instead. So although we can’t recall the names of the daughters and parents, we do remember their kindness and supportive words. It was fun to talk with them, give the girls SOC stickers and business cards, along with taking pictures! It gave us an extra boost of energy and we paddled for a bit longer until we came upon the best camp spot ever: a peninsula with mud-rock beach, the ultimate feature: a hill. No ordinary hill, it was positioned perfectly to start blocking out the sun around 6pm only providing more shade as evening progressed. Finding shade on Fort Peck has been a struggle. Most days we have been in the sun from 6am when we are out of our tents, until 4/5 pm, when we camp and create shade with our tents! Needless to say, the hill was a welcome reprieve! It also felt as though we were camped along the ocean. The sounds of the water crashing onto the shore and the sun glimmering off the blue-green water. We highly recommended paddling Fort peck. More folks in a motor boat stopped at our paradise camp spot, out of curiosity of what we were doing. They were from Fort Peck and wonderful people. Dara, Daryl, Carrie and Mary! We chatted with them for a while and They gave us ice cold Gatorade! A welcome treat on this hot July day. Another boost of energy from their kindness and excitement for our expedition. Meeting folks and sharing our adventure is something that gives us a great amount of energy! We are so fortunate to meet so many fantastic people!
We lounged for a while, enjoying the shade and swimming frequently to stay cool. For dinner Lisa whipped up a delicacy: rice, canned chicken, tomato paste, cabbage and onion stew. It was amazing. We enjoyed listening to the sounds of water rushing towards infinity on the shore. We love to camp as close to the water as possible, to really enjoy the music she makes. Having kept our rain flies off again, we watched the sun set from within our tents. Free of bugs, in the shade and body cooling off. Another day of river life!
A slight west wind made a great start to the morning. Saying farewell to the best campsite ever, we enjoyed a floating breakfast with the wind averaging a half mile an hour! Woot woot!
The morning hours flew by, as they seem to always do. We got into the bigger section of fort peck, with lots of boats as it’s a holiday! The bays have also become much larger and we have to have constant vigilance in terms of the weather and water conditions before deciding to make a crossing. Luckily today the wind and weather are in our favor! Bonus of the the day: floating lunch while making progress because of the west wind pushing us forward. Always moving forward, towards the Gulf of Mexico!
Around 3pm the wind changed so that is was right in our faces and gathering in strength. We found a fantastic camp spot and called it a day. Got our tents set up was a little challenging as the wind was increasing. We used the canoe as a wind block to heat up water for a holiday dinner of Trailtopia Cajun stew (this isn’t the exact name, I just can’t remember what it is called exactly!). Plus a dessert in honor of our country’s Independence Day. We remarked how we have spent the last several years of this holiday in the wilderness and we are thankful to add this year to that growing list.
Independence. What a great topic to think about while floating in a canoe on the world’s fourth longest river system. This expedition is all about freedom. The wilderness invites wild-ness; it’s a place where the spirit is free to be wild. You can be exactly who you are, and really, you have no choice. An expedition through a wild place with only you and your travel-mate to rely on to face all sorts of crazy challenges doesn’t allow you much time to pretend to be anyone other than your true self. That, friends, is freedom.
It’s also hard. Sometimes independence can cause rifts. Sometimes it means you are far from home for a long time. Sometimes it means you miss out on important things (like my cousin’s wedding, CONGRATULATIONS SCOTTY AND ALYSON!). Sometimes it means that the person you rely on most, your main companion, can feel like a tether. This is when you have to consider the price of certain freedoms. This is also when you must consider what you are personally willing to sacrifice in order to afford that freedom.
For me, I’m willing to sacrifice time making money but only living half of my dream for an adventure to find out what I can do. I’m willing to sacrifice the self-serving parts of my ego so that I can get along with Alyce and Viki, the two most important people involved in realizing this dream. I’m also willing to sacrifice old patterns of perfectionism and over-caution when it comes to putting my ideas into writing and sharing them with whoever cares to read them. There just isn’t time care too much about appearances.
That’s not what an expedition is about. It’s about casting off fears, judgments, made-up limitations and expectations. It’s about exploration, adventure, mishap, mistake, and discovery. The ups and the downs will be reflected and celebrated as equals in the journey. And how amazing it really is that we have the freedom and independence to try. We are taking full advantage
As an old traveler’s adage advises: If you want want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together. If you want to learn more about each of us, check it out here [hyperlink to em questions answered].
A west, slightly north wind was blowing this morning, so we eat breakfast on shore. Some Mornings it’s more work to have a floating breakfast because of the direction the wind is yelling from (I say yelling because it really does at times feel like being yelled at. The force and constant of the wind, especially at 25-30 miles an hour and off the water!).
A tough day of paddling, battling the winds coming out of the North west, blowing straight out of the bay’s. There were several of these to cross and we made slow progress. Tested for a little in the afternoon and continued on for only a few hours. By then it was 4pm and the wind had gotten the better of us
We could see the beginning of the town of Fort Peck and were less than half a days paddle to the Fort Peck marina, where hamburgers awaited us. Since we now had cell phone service, for the first time in almost 3 weeks, week each spent time using our phones to communicate with the outside world. Although we love each other’s company and having conversation, it is nice to also talk with other people! A simple dinner and the sun started her evening chore, of working her way around our planet. The sky filled with her glorious colors, the wind played tricks across the waters surface; another day in this river paradise.
Some days are better, some days are worse. Today, sigh, I am exhausted. I am so tired. We had lightning in lieu of a fireworks display last night. Let freedom ring while sleep evades us. You have to pay attention when there is lightning. It’s not safe to sleep through it. You should not be laying down. If lightning were to strike near you, not necessarily a direct hit, you could be injured by the electric current running through the ground or splashing from another object nearby. If you are laying down, you are giving the electricity an opportunity to pass through more of your body. It’s best to be squatting on your feet, heals together, ideally on your lifejacket. This way the current will hopefully enter and exit just through the feet, avoiding vital organs. Still dangerous, but much less life-threatening.
Anyway, interrupted sleep and a strong crosswind all day made it hard to stay upbeat. I tried though. Alyce and I didn’t talk much, just paddled. No trouble, just quiet.
We both awoke around 5am to the sun beginning her transcendence over the land. Laying in our tents for a while, we each watched the landscape come alive with the light of the sun. Breakfast on shore and a quick paddle to the marina, we arrived around 10:30am. A fellow paddler, Mike and his dog cookie, greeted us and gave us the lay of the land. $5 a night per tent to camp and set up any where. The restaurant opens at noon; only a little longer to wait for that hamburger.
We unloaded our boat, got our tents set up and gear organized by the time noon rolled around. The burger and cold beer was incredible. After almost 3 weeks of trail food, a juicy delicious hamburger is the best thing in the world. We ate lunch with fellow paddlers Mike and Dylan, discussing the river and Fort Peck lake, along with the weather conditions and the joys of river life.
The day rambled on, watching the boats come into the marina, and tossed back on to their trailers and trucks. Lisa got some work done on the computer and I read in the grass by the water. We talked with folks around the marina about our expedition and what we are doing. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging. It is a huge motivator for us when other people get excited about what we are doing!! We store this away in ourselves, to be pulled forward on the really tough, wanna quit days. As much as it seems we are experiencing a lot of success (and we are) there are also incredibly challenging days. When it feels like the weather is conspiring against you and the wind just won’t stop blowing. On days when we aren’t getting along and have frequent disagreements when trying to make decisions. To days when the magnitude of the length of the expedition and the still thousands of miles we have to paddle seem so daunting. Knowing that we have so many supporters and folks cheering us along the way, just really helps. A big thanks to all those people!!
As it always does, the day turned into evening, we ate dinner at the marina restaurant, sitting on the picnic tables, enjoying conversation. Another day of this grand river life.
Oh and tonight was also when we were featured on the news again! The full length feature Melinda created was excellent! It was so fun to see ourselves and know that our message is spreading! Thank you again to Melinda for sharing our story!!
Contact with the outside world was made. We got to Ft. Peck marina on the east end of Ft. Peck Lake after 11 days of straight paddling, 8 of which were without the current to help us out. The heat and monotony of pack up, paddle, camp, repeat, were the biggest robbers of energy on Ft. Peck Lake. We didn’t see the ocean-like swells that accompany strong winds on a large body of water. We didn’t have to contend with much wind at all; just a couple tough days. We also didn’t have to navigate the dreaded miles-long muddy shores that become exposed as the water levels in the reservoir dip.
We were pretty fortunate with vacation-like weather, which meant that for us, there was no vacation. We decided that if the wind wasn’t too bad, we would paddle, especially if it was a tailwind. Well, that’s what we got and we took advantage because we knew if we didn’t, some big storm would come in and force us to stay put out of spite.
Taking advantage of the good travel-weather did take its toll on us, however. It was a little overwhelming getting to the Marina and all of a sudden being able to really relax. All of the hard days caught up to us. We were drained. We ate burgers at the Marina bar and met two other river travelers, Mike, Dillon, and Mike’s dog, Cookie. They had been paddling two solo canoes since Three Forks, Montana. This was the end of the trip for Dillon, but Mike and Cookie were headed on to St. Louis after some more rest and tater tots.
Around 3 AM last night a wall of wind and rain pummeled our tent. I ran out to check the canoe and found it flipped upright with a large cedar laying over it, the trunk suspended a couple feet off the ground by its branches. (We placed the canoe back under the tree to show you how I found it.) I hauled the canoe back into the forest and ran to tell Amy to get out of the tent. Amy, Tank and I huddled in drenching rain near the edge of the lake, watching the trees rock and sway around us, ready to dart out of the way if their trunks or branches crashed down. All the while lightening flashed continuously overhead, illuminating the churning, frothing lake. Slowly the wind and rain moderated and the lightening passed. We crawled back in our tent, toweled off and went back to sleep. Our 302nd night in the Wilderness turned out to be our scariest night so far. We hope we don’t experience any more storms like that. This morning we picked up gear that the estimated 70 mile per hour winds had strewn about our campsite as another beautiful day began.
Tank watches Amy pull our canoe over a beaver dam while exploring a series of small, seldom-visited lakes east of Hanson Lake.
We enjoyed several wonderful days with our friends, Eric and Jessa Frost, and were sad to say goodbye. One of the highlights was camping on Rose Lake. Our campsite was lined with majestic white pines and had a commanding view of the undulating hills and cliffs to the east. We spent several hours exploring the moss-covered rocks and misty recesses of the creek that plummets from Duncan Lake down to Rose along the Stairway Portage. After marveling at the falls and rushing water, we followed the Border Route Trail to an overlook high above Rose Lake and sat silently, feeling the breeze on our faces.
A crimson sky greeted me as I crawled out of the tent and walked to the lake to gather water for breakfast. This is a ritual I have grown to appreciate during our #WildernessYear . For the past 298 mornings I have gathered water from the lake to boil water, make breakfast and start our day. Many mornings in the Wilderness are beautiful, calm moments that offer a chance for me to write, photograph, and collect my thoughts alone in a world devoid of human sounds as the light changes and the day begins.
It was hard to leave the Granite River’s bubbling rapids, rugged, narrow, bedrock-lined passages, and idyllic sun-soaked banks dotted with blueberry bushes covered in plump, juicy wild berries. A series of intense rains have caused the river to swell to a level we have never seen before. Often in the summer the rapids are only a trickle, but not now.
Our friends Eric and Jessa Frost from Tofte paddled in to visit us as part of their annual Boundary Waters canoe trip. We met them near the Wilderness boundary to help carry the supplies that they were bringing us across the last portage. The portage was covered in some of the largest wild blueberries any of us had ever seen. Our primal gathering instincts rose from within and we happily picked a liter of berries as we visited and stuffed ourselves on berries. We filled our container and bellies, leaving thousands of plump, ripe berries for the next fortunate canoeist or black bear.
Time was of no consequence. It was a joy to watch their stresses, schedules, and deadlines sluff off and fade. Like mayflies hatching, we were all transformed by the simple act of gathering food surrounded by the sounds of rushing water, leaves dancing in the breeze, and people we care about smiling and laughing