I’m not a daily journaler in my regular life so there are many days on this expedition that I feel totally apathetic towards writing an account of what just happened. The entire first half of August was like that for me but I still want to describe the experience. Hence, a brief description and a series of Haikus.
August 5-19, 2016
Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota to Mobridge, South Dakota.
August has been a total time and mind warp. It started very strong with a celebratory attitude for reaching the end of Lake Sakakawea. The weather held up and we crushed it. 178 miles over 21 days, 14 of which were spent paddling. Two big reservoirs down, one to go.
Alyce and Lisa happy at having just completed the 178 (ish) paddle on Lake Sakakawea. Now for the mile and a half portage around the Garrison Dam!
We came into the Garrison Dam feeling tired but proud, and camped at Sakakawea State Park where we met the fine folks at the Dam Bar Steakhouse in Pick City, ND. We got portage help as well as a place to stay and excellent company from Nate McCleery, owner of Sakakawea Sunset Lodge and the Iron Oar Pub and Grill in Riverdale, ND.
The cook, Eric, and the bartender, Megan, were both musicians. I joined them with my guitar when they got done working and we played music for more than six hours. It was one of the most fun nights I’ve had playing guitar and singing. Megan and I hit it off really well and knew a few of the same songs. We even got some harmonizing going. Didn’t get any of it on camera, I was far too present to even think about documenting and that was a really good thing. I ended up playing and singing stuff I’ve never played for anyone with that supportive crowd. That filled me up.
We spent a day at the Lodge hoping to meet up with Viki but she got delayed. We enjoyed resting in the AC and beds to the maximum. It is so much easier to solve problems in comfortable places. Seriously. It eliminates like 50% of the battle. Remember that note I’d written Alyce before? The one that I found hard to deliver? Well, it didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped initially but that’s part of the risk, I suppose. What did go really, really well was the several conversations we had following.
Here’s what I have to say about teamwork and friendship: there are many, many levels and each one is more challenging and worth getting to than the last. Alyce and I have been friends for four years and in the last few weeks have reached a new level of friendship. It’s similar to the level we had before starting an expedition and a business (at the same time!) in the amount of laughter and fun we have together. Now, however, we have a much deeper understanding of one another. By making mistakes, talking through issues, celebrating moments when things are going well, and constantly being humbled by the expedition and each other, we have developed a more deeply respectful and honest friendship. I believe this is also known as sisterhood.
It feels great to have all the effort we’ve put into the foundation of our relationship and communication pay off. As similarly independent, tenacious, and self-assured women tackling a very large dream, our atmosphere is charged for conflict. It has taken a lot of intention and humility to practice compromising. Through this ability to compromise and find ways to complement one another’s boldness, we channel that charge into confident, forward-moving energy.
This energy elevates our moods and helps us move through disagreements more fluidly, seeing them as opportunities to look at another perspective, rather than defend your own. This energy is what allows for the true collaboration that brings out the most creative in each of us and keeps us getting back in that boat every day until we get to the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead of competing with each other, we’ve now banded together to oppose the forces of Lake Oahe and the dead center of a 200-day expedition. We’ve taken to playing cribbage to wait out wind and bantering in Irish accents to defeat boredom in the boat. We make dumb videos for fun and high five pretty much every day. It’s great.
And now…I present…
Two weeks in Haiku
Wake before the sun
Pack up, load boat, breakfast, go
All day, if able
Paddle paddle paddle swim paddle
Water bottle cap
Toothbrush, tent, hair, bowl;
Sand in Every Thing
Alyce eating an SOC staple- Ramen noodles. This is part of the classic “get to camp, don’t want to cook, just heat some water in the JetBoil and dinner is done” routine.
We finished Big Lake
Sakakawea. Cheers! Cheers!
Proud, happy, good feelings.
Nate McCleery built
Lodge with his own hands
Nate: what a kind host
Heart for adventure and big
dreams. Thanks so much, man!
Here we are with Nate in front of Sakakawea Sunset Lodge. Build with his own hands and those of his community out of repurposed materials, this place is one of the coolest and friendliest on the Lake!
Iron Oar Pub
Where I played my guitar for
like five hours straight
Reunion with Vik
Always great to see you, girl
Most bomb resupply
Didn’t expect houseflies
of the Dakotas to cause
the most grief. Don’t scratch!
Set up camp; avoid
cooking. Rice again? Google search
Fire on the earth; fire in the sky. Might as well cook with it.
No service. Sorry,
not sorry. Having the time
of my life. Blame self.
And Alyce. Top notch
companion. Friendship level up.
So much laughter; fun!
August 7th was National Sister Day. We celebrated Sisterhood with a buffet and by sending love to all of our sisters near and far.
Bud and Calvin found
us in Bismarck. So good to see
your smiling faces
Fun with good friends fills
the cup for the miles ahead.
Thanks, men, we love you.
Calvin, Lisa, Bud, and Alyce. So good to see our friends from Voyageur Outward Bound School back home in Minnesota. Thanks for the fun, laughter, and for cooking us dinner!
Farthest from the start
Farthest to the finish. Meet
the halfway doldrums
all-time low. Do we have to?
Just keep paddling.
Muscles working hard.
‘Nother paddle on nature’s
treadmill. More headwind.
We could see the storm coming from a long way off. As it got closer and closer, the wind got wilder and the rain and hail turned my tent into a drum. 70mph winds pulled the stakes holding my rainfly out of the ground. My tent did virtually nothing to protect me and my stuff from the torrential downpour. With water pooling at my feet, I pushed my sleeping bag to the driest (still wet) part of the tent and focused on helping the aluminum poles withstand the force of the wind. As lightning flashed, the thunder crashed soon after, I was stunned by the force of nature. It passed relatively quickly but was powerful enough to leave an imprint: nature is boss.
Storm on Oahe
winds. Tent flattened; soaked
My third and most successful attempt at dinner after the storm passed. First attempt was a (closed) restaurant nearby. Second was dinner cooked over a fire that promptly took on a sandy texture as the storm blew in.
Sail on the tailwind
If it’s blowing just right, you
might surf some big waves
Alyce figured out a new rigging system for some hands-free sailing. Now we can both paddle and sail, maximizing speed AND stability.
Cribbage when the wind
blows; paddle when she’s calmer
Jokers in the tent
My first attempt at a driftwood cribbage board. Still in the design phase, utility expected to improve in subsequent models. Note: Frost River Camp Cook’s Kitchen pack makes an excellent card table.
New mission: Source-to-
Wherever We Are Right Now.
Alyce, Connie, Mike, Jess, and Lisa at Bridge City Resort near Mobridge, South Dakota. Thank you again for your generous hospitality, your warm and heartfelt words, helping us get groceries, and celebrating Day 100 with us!
Resort. Mike, Jess, Amanda, Connie,
Jasmine and Tyler
You all are awesome.
Much love in your Family.
Thanks for sharing, friends!
Jasmine giving Alyce a handmade book on canoe safety. The drawings were incredible; thanks for the thoughtful gift, Jasmine!
Day 100. We
still got this! Source-to-Sea! Al-
most through OH-AH-HE.
Sunset on Lake Oahe.
August 5th, 2016
Just as predicted it was a beautiful morning and I was excited to get back on the water. We were any where from 24-30 miles from the Garrison dam. On the maps it was 24 river miles, though locals stated it was closer to 30. I was unsure if we would make it there today. We bid Amber and Rome adieu and were on the water by 8am.
It is mind-boggling that we are almost done paddling this gigantic, ocean-like reservoir. Today was a reminder of that, as Sakakawea disappeared into the horizon. WOW! She is an ocean. The pristine beaches, now more numerous with groves of trees. Creating the most illusive stretches of shaded beach! Though also more abundant were houses on the bluffs, over looking the lake. Large houses, that were honestly an eye sore. Up to this point we had only seen a few houses and mainly oil rigs. Sometime in the later afternoon, only a handful of miles away from the Sakakawea State Park, we saw two people in yellow kayaks. Could that be Diane and Warren, whom we had first meet the day we arrive at Fort Union, way back in the middle of July? Then reconnected with at Tobacco Gardens, though they only stayed for a day. What are the chances we would be finishing this lake on the same day.
Earlier in the day we had encountered a man fishing, he offered us some fish, though having no way of storing them in the blistering heat, we were not able to accept this kind offer. He stated he had seen some other folks in kayaks a couple of weeks ago. We thought that might have been Diane and Warren. So when we saw the boats now, we weren’t sure. Though it wouldn’t have made an sense for them to have been here two weeks ago, as that was around the time we were all at TG. We didn’t find out who it was because they got ahead of us and rounded a bend. We took a snack break and enjoyed our final moments of Sakakawea. Back to paddling and around 5 pm, rounding the peninsula that is Sakakawea state park, we came upon the intake building for the dam and the road that runs across it.
Well holy guacamole! We did it. We paddled Lake Sakakawea. We took a moment to let it sink in. We had successfully finished one of the top challenges of this route. This was a huge success and we knew we needed to celebrate.
The end of Lake Sakakawea. The Dam intake is the structure in the background on the right.
We pulled into the bay before the intake building on river right and stopped at the first rocky beach, to take a quick swim break. We weren’t sure where to get out to camp here, so while Lisa called the Sakakawea state park office, I got out and walked up the embankment, where I could see cars from the river. I found some folks who were selecting their campsites and had a list of all the available ones. Not too many still open, though one decently close to the waters edge. Getting back to Lisa, she was on the phone with the state park and we registered the site. We are getting pretty good at creating plans in the moment and finding the information we need from local people.
The state park ranger who helped us over the phone also had knowledge of who could help us with the portage around the Garrison Dam. She suggested we call Nate, at the Sakakawea Sunset Lodge, as he has helped other paddlers with the portage. Lisa did just that and created a plan for the morning, to meet Nate at the boat ramp by the dam. With a plan for the portage created and our tents set up, we headed into Pick City, the near by town. It was a two mile walk to the Dam Bar steakhouse and restaurant and well worth it. What a great place, with awesome people.
We met the owner and our meals were on the house. We enjoyed a celebratory beer and chatted with other patrons of the restaurant about our expedition and what we are doing. Everyone was supportive and enthusiastic. Needless to say we had a lot of fun and truly celebrated completing Lake Sakakawea, one of the greatest challenges of the whole route. We were offered a ride back to the state park, though with all the excitement, and the nice weather, we elected to walk, still basking in our success. The sun was starting to set in the sky, dusk was blanketing the land and I had a tremendous feeling of pride running through me. Another amazing day on the river.
August 6th, 2016
Tense morning. Paddled the approx. 1 mile from the east end of Sakakawea state park to the take out point, right next to the road and past the intake building. We completed the paddle and short stretch of hill to get our gear near the road in silence. Dang why is this so hard at times? Yet that’s how life is: amazing sunsets and challenging portages, as a metaphor. Nate from Sakakawea Sunset lodge picked us up and informed us his restaurant the Iron Oar was serving brunch. Can’t pass up an opportunity like that. I love brunch! He also informed us that there were two other paddlers there right now. It was Diane and Warren we had seen the other day. We got to the restaurant and joined them at their table.
During brunch Warren gave us his opinion of the downstream campground, where we are going to bring our gear after brunch and pick out a camp spot (the primitive area, we had been told by locals the other night, was not that far from the river, accessible via a sandy beach). After doing that Nate would bring us back to the beginning of the portage, which we would do and then paddle the half mile to the beach. Warren advised against camping there because the walk from the campsites was too long to the beach. I like to get people’s advice, though each person has their own meter for what is too long, or too short. I did not see a need to change our plan of camping there based on this one opinion. I was also not in the mood to change the plan, paddle more miles that afternoon and we still had the portage to do. We also were meeting up with Viki tomorrow and it just seemed to me like it would all get so complicated. Plus we needed to get more lunch supplies and food before paddling further downstream.
We were in the middle of our discussion, assessing each option, though we were both really sitting in what we wanted to do in that moment, each thinking it was the right choice. At this point Nate offered us a room at the motel for two nights, free of charge. For me that sealed the deal that we should stay here, rest in the air conditioning and bug free room. Also it would make meeting up with Viki easy and we could go to the grocery store in town. So that is what we ended up doing. There was tension between Lisa and I around this decision and we spent the rest of the afternoon having conversations around our frustrations, the tension in making decisions and how to find common ground and resolution. It was a really wonderful afternoon and these conversations felt fruitful. I think being out of the sun, the heat and the bugs was tremendously helpful. We also cleaned gear and spent time writing and reading.
At dinner time we went to The Iron Oar for dinner, for more celebrating of our biggest accomplishment yet: paddling all of Lake Sakakawea. It was a terrific night! Lisa, Megan (who works at the Iron Oar), and Eric (who along with Nate, hand built the restaurant, all from watching YouTube videos) entertained us all night long with their singing and guitar playing! Another perfect river night, with new friends.
August 7th, 2016
Rest day. Grocery store (Thanks again Megan for letting us use your car!). Watching Olympics.
August 8th, 2016
What a day. It was time to leave our little oasis, of beds and three pillows, air conditioning and a mini fridge. Back to the river we are headed. We loaded up the truck and trailer with gear and canoe. Around 9am Nate drove us to the end of the portage, a boat ramp with nice bathrooms. We dropped our gear off to the side by the water and then drove the short 1.7 miles to the beginning of the portage; where Nate had picked us up on the 5th.
What a terrific guy. His generosity over these last few days was extremely helpful and amazing. As it has been a challenging few days, interpersonally between Lisa and I, having the Sakakawea sunset lodge and amazing enthusiastic and supportive people, was beyond words. Thank you to everyone I meet! The last two days were great!
The portage was done quickly, approx. 50 minutes. Nothing compared to Great Falls, and a good chunk down hill. We loaded the boat; took a quick swim in the refreshing water! Ice, crispy cold. Almost cold enough to give you a brain freeze. Though great for cooling the body temperature down, as I was already sweating and the heat index was rising.
I was looking forward to the current of the river and really being able to make some miles, ideally making it to Washburn (doing this would make getting to Bismarck on the evening of the 9th doable) or very near that town this evening. Accounts of other paddlers were that on this stretch of river a paddler could make between 5 and 7 miles an hour. Yet that’s when you don’t have a decent sized head wind coming right at you. Well at least we are averaging 3.5 miles an hour. We paddled for a while, made camp and settled back into our camp life. Ramen noodles for dinner and early to bed.
August 9th- 11th, 2016
We paddled into Washburn ND on the 9th, to stop at the post office for a letter Norm Miller sent us. Alas, the letter was not there and we couldn’t get a hold of Norm for the tracking number, so we went to a local diner for a second breakfast. At this point it was getting later in the day, around 10am, and our aspirations of getting to Bismarck by the end of day seemed to be slipping away. Viki was already there waiting for us to do a resupply. I
had discovered in the morning that I had forgot the marine radio and my solar charger at the Sakakawea sunset lodge and was trying to get a hold of Nate and figure out how to get those items. From Washburn it was about a 30 minute drive to the lodge and didn’t want to get further away from it before retrieving those items. Good thing we have been doing this expedition for so long and we know how to adapt plans and create entirely new ones. The new plan had Viki coming to us in Washburn and staying at the park for the evening. Around this same time Nate contacted us and stated he would be to Washburn in a few hours with our forgotten items! What an awesome guy.
Before Viki arrived we got our grocery shopping done and had a joyous reunion with her and Owa. We spent the afternoon having a really good conversation about the direction of Source of Confidence and what action steps we need to take moving forward. We also had a challenging conversation around finances and how to pay for things moving forward. We are getting really good at these conversations and I felt a sense of pride at how far we have come as a group. The rest of the day went by quickly, finishing resupply, enjoying each others company and listening to music. A large storm front began moving in as dusk defended and my hopes of a good nights sleep were dashed, like the river water against the rocks. The storm circulated over us all night long, with large flashes of lightening and booming thunder. I didn’t really get any sleep.
I was not a happy camper the morning the 10th and we bid Viki adieu and got on the water. It was a rough day, with a really hard headwind to paddle in, even with the current. We paddled for a while and eventually camped at some point (writing this after the fact, I can’t recall all the details).
We paddled into Bismarck on the morning of the 11th, meeting our friends Bud and Calvin at a restaurant on the water. It was so fun to see our friends! After a lunch of pizza we paddled a few miles to the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, where Bud and Calvin had gone to by car and secured a site right by the confluence of the Missouri River and Heart River.
We had a really fun afternoon and evening with these guys. We made a quick trip into Walmart for some supplies and the guys cooked us a dinner of bratwursts, while Lisa and I had our first podcast interview, with Paul of the Pursuit Zone! We are getting more and more media attention and it was really fun to talk about our experiences. I was feeling a great sense of accomplishment for the rest of the night. We took a little canoe ride to a small island near by, played around and swam. We then made a decent sized fire and spent the evening laughing and playing music. River life is the best.
August 12th, 2016
Left Bismarck. Said farewell to Calvin and Bud
Later start. Good current leaving. Made some miles
Camped in sand. Always sand.
Camped about 18 rms from Bismarck. The real Lake Oahe starts tomorrow.
August 13th, 2016
Trying to get back in that routine though it is tough. We are approaching day 100 and the middle of the expedition, so perhaps it is catching up to me. Not much motivation to write or do anything else except the necessities: paddle, set up and take down my tent, eat food and drink water. I guess thats just how it goes. We paddled 37 miles today, made possible by a terrific tailwind. Harnessing the power of the wind is incredible. It was a long day, 10 hours in the boat and I was exhausted when we arrived at a campground (the name escapes me right now and I don’t have the energy to look it up). Sterning the boat all day, especially in the wind is really hard.
We had nice neighbors at the campground who gave us fire wood and the campground host brought us some kindling. He was a really nice guy and for the life of me can’t remember his name right now. I am trying to keep good records of all the people who we meet and offer us kindness, though there are so many that some of them get lost in the passing of time. Today we also discovered that one of our portage wheels had been left at the campground in Bismarck (funny it took us over 24 hours to realize this). We tried to get a hold of the park, yet to no avail. Oh well, we only have 4 portages left. With dinner finished, card games played and the sun setting, it was time to retire to the tent. Good night.
August 14th-16th, 2016
August has been a tough month, in terms of motivation to write down all that I am seeing, doing, experiencing and feeling. As I look back on these days now, trying to write about them I don’t really fully remember what all we did. We paddled a lot. Lake Oahe is beautiful, yet big and challenging. We had a good tailwind and traveled 27 miles, another 11 hour day on the water. Saw some spectacular sunsets and survived some of the notorious Oahe storms, complete with hail one night. These were some long and hot days. Classic River life.
Sunset and storm clouds on Lake Oahe.
August 17, 2016
I thought we would have been to the Bridge City Marina well before 3. I wanted just a half day of paddling. After yesterday’s 11 hour paddle, I was exhausted. As we are on Day 98 of this 200 day expedition, I now find myself not being able to sustain long paddling for days in a row. My body is saying take a break and we have the time to do just that, since we are now half way done with the largest reservoir of them all, Lake Oahe.
The morning was a bit rough, getting back into the canoe, only having been out of it for a short while. The water was glassy calm and paddling was nice. We were making good time for most of the morning. As we rounded the bend and started passing MoBridge the wind began to pick up. Not too bad at first, yet around lunch time, a true headwind arrived, making progress slow going.
It’s also hard to accurately gage how many miles we had to go. All the maps we use have different scales and it’s sort of a guessing game on miles at times, though its part of the adventure and makes me feel like an explorer. I figured we had about 5 miles to paddle to the Bridge City Marina, a paddler friendly stop just south of Mobridge, South Dakota.
When we finally made it to the marina I was pretty well spent and excited for a cold beer. It was another hot day in paradise and upon entering the marina, we immediately found the office. Connie was working and answered all of our questions. We could camp at the marina if we wanted and she would be able to bring us into town to go to the grocery store, once she was done working. I enjoyed the afternoon in the shade and air-conditioning. We got our town errands done and were back at the marina, when Mike (he and his wife Jessie own the marina) arrived and offered us a cabin for two nights! We couldn’t pass that up. What an amazing cabin! We got settled in and then were invited to dinner!
We met Jessie and their daughter Amanda, her kids Jasmine, Tyler and Oliver, along with her friends who were there on their honeymoon. It was lovely community dinner and was so much fun. This is a major reason I canoe these types of rivers: all the truly amazing people that live along the river and are happy to give. There really is goodness in the world. If you lost your faith in humanity or never really had any to begin with, I say go paddle a river like the Mississippi or Missouri. You will feel restored and have a new perspective on the human condition. I plan on doing these types of expeditions the rest of my life. What a day. In this life you wake up in the morning and never know where you are going to end up.
August 18, 2016
What an amazing day! I slept until I wanted to and lounged in bed for a little while. Then motivation struck and I cleaned the lunch food bucket, which was a little worse for the wear because of some stinky cheese smell that just wouldn’t go away. Though the power of hot water and soap and multiple rinses did it! The funky cheese smell was gone. I also washed my tent! Wow, where did all this motivation come from? Especially after the last few days of feeling drained. I also talked to my grandma and my grandpa! So much accomplished in such a short time.
Tyler, Jasmine and Alyce. New friends, making goofy faces.
I then went up to the office and was fed a delicious breakfast! Mike, Jessie and their kids and grandkids are such wonderful and generous people! I ended up spending most of the day with Jasmine and Tyler, two of Jessie and Mike’s grandkids. We had so much fun. We spent time at the beach, skipping rocks and admiring their beauty. Jasmine found two rocks that had perfect holes in them and I suggested we make rock necklaces! I got some string and we created some fantastic necklaces. They were also fascinated with what color my home was, so I showed them my tent. They spent some time just sitting in the tent! My afternoon with these kiddos went by way too quickly and all of a sudden it was getting to be dinner time. Their mom Amanda arrived, along with a handful of other folks and we had a beautiful community dinner of corn and steak! What a feast and what a night! Lisa pulled out her guitar and along with Jasmine provided an excellent concert to close the night with. What another day of this beyond words river life.
Lisa teaching Jasmine some cords on the guitar, while Tyler looks on in curiosity.
August 19, 2016
We said good bye to Mike, Jessie, Jasmine and Tyler. It was a tough one. I would have loved to stay another day and goof around and go on mini adventures with Jasmine and Tyler. They were so much fun! Yet, back to the water we must go. Mike fed us breakfast, delicious eggs, sausage and potatoes, a hearty paddling breakfast.
As is usually the case when leaving places like this it took us a long time to get our gear together, water jugs filled and last minute internetting completed. Jasmine and Tyler helped me get our last remaining items out of the cabin and down by the water. I put the canoe in, so they could sit in it. They took the paddles and dipped them in the water. Paddlers in the making. They also helped me fill up the water jugs and get everything down to the water.
Jasmine, a paddler in the making and sporting her awesome rock necklace.
Tyler, another paddler in the making, trying to use the canoe paddle that is a little to big for his size!
Day 100. What a way to start and it felt celebratory because of the people and food. Before we left we checked the weather forecast and it was not good. Big storm and wind coming. I debated in my head to say something about us just staying, since it was already 10:30am, though I didn’t give my self the space to listen. Also it seemed Lisa really wanted to get back on the water and I didn’t feel like spoiling the moment with a potential argument. So as I have learned from this relationship, you just sometimes say okay and go with it. Sometimes you just have to go to know they say.
My mood was really lifted up by Jasmine, because as we were walking down to the beach to leave, she presented me with a handmade book on boating safety. In it she listed all the necessary items for camping, along with drawings of each item. There was a masterpiece drawing of Lisa and I in the canoe. I started to tear up a bit, as I was really moved by how much care and time she had to have put into the book. Also, the gear she listed was all items I had shown her and talked about with her. This is the real reason I paddle.
So we got in the boat and were only able to paddle not even two hours before the wind kicked up and we were forced to shore. 5 miles paddled I guess is better than nothing. Tents set up, cribbage played and the temperature dropping, it was a fine evening. It drizzled for a while and by dusk stopped, creating the most stunning displays in the sky. I also put on wool socks for the first time in months because it felt that cold. It had only dropped down to 50 degrees, though when you are use to the 80 and 90 degree temperatures, that’s a huge difference. Yet it was also nice to be in the cooler weather. Snuggling up in my sleeping bag, after watching the sun make her grand disappearance behind the horizon, I felt truly content with life.
The best entertainment: sunsetting on Lake Oahe. These have been some of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen.