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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
September 19th, 2016
Ponca State Park, Ponca, Nebraska
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
In case you missed them, here are our strategies for defeating mid-expedition despair!