We started the morning with pliable minds, as we were not sure if our initial plan would pan out. The plan: Drive (thanks, Viki!) to the boundary of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (can’t disrupt the migratory bird nesting grounds) and paddle the Red Rock River in the solo pack rafts lent to us by Alpaca Raft Company. Our plan was soon foiled by the washed out backroads of May in Montana. New plan, in some circles known as Plan B: Keep hiking until we can get a truck to navigate the back roads.
Viki dropped us off the western end of the Lima (pronounced Lime-uh) Reservoir; about 14 miles from Lima, MT. We arrived at the reservoir around 2 pm, got our gear and packs organized and started walking on yet another dirt road. Keep in mind, we are canoeists and backpacking is not our natural state. Walking on packed dirt roads really does a number on your hips, especially with packs digging in and grinding on the bone all day. Ugh. Bonus: after a rest day the body feels a little sorer. As such, our aspirations of getting to Lima by nightfall and the sweet delight of dining at Jan’s Café were thwarted by our slow pace.
We decided to camp along the side of the road and get back on the early train. This choice paid off big time as about 10 minutes after setting up our tent, a wonderful Montana May rainstorm rolled in. Happy in our tent, we used the Jetboil to make quinoa! What an efficient and easy camp cooking device, especially for the tired of feet and mind. The quinoa was made tasty by a soup-seasoning packet, turning it into a tender pot roast, minus the actual meat and vegetables. Imagination! While eating, the rain stopped so we unzipped the rain fly and watched the clouds dance across the sky as three different storm cells circled us. Our eyes did not remain open long as dusk approached, with dreams of fair weather for the days ahead.
Hear that? Finally caught the early train! Up and out of the tent like the bolts of lighting that graced the sky during the night; our feet hit that packed dirt road with vigor. Our plan for the day included having lunch in Lima at Jan’s Café! The day started out with multiple conversations with local residents, as they drove by us in their vehicles. We were offered our first ride from a woman doing utility work and we thanked her kindly but declined. The sky and weather had started to change, as we expected from reading the forecast the previous night. We took our lunch break at Jan’s Café, both ordering BLT’s on rye bread, with French fires and homemade ranch sauce.
As more ominous clouds gathered traction in the sky, we got on with the hiking, now on a paved road! 15 minutes in, the gusts of wind started. Another 15 minutes and the rain began and did not relent for an hour. A “sucker hole” then appeared. A sucker hole is what we call a break in the storm, when sun rays penetrate the gray to give you a moment of warmth and happiness before the illusion is shattered by more, usually worse, storm-age. We were offered another ride and water from a local driving by. We were good on both counts. Onward. The hail came shortly after that and continued for most of the afternoon, giving us a brief change from the near constant drizzle of actual rain falling from the sky.
The motivation of the day was making it the 8 miles from Lima to Dell, where there was another café. We were Montana café-hopping. The sight of Dell and The Yesterday Calf-A in the distance re-invigorated our steps and we made a good pace there. The special of the day: grilled cheese and tomato soup. “We’ll take two. And pie. Please.” It was the best tasting grilled cheese and tomato soup. No contest. We took our time in the sheltered and warm environment, recharging ourselves and our electronics, and taking advantage of the rare cell phone service to pass along messages to friends and family.
On our way out the door, a man named Jeff Brown walked in. He, among others, had been following our progress through our Delorme InReach and drove two hours from Idaho to Dell to meet with us! An enthusiastic adventurer and Voyageur history interpreter and canoe paddler, Jeff was excited about our expedition and wanted to meet us and help in whatever way we needed.
He had brought us some snacks from the gas station along with 9 pre-stamped envelopes! A natural storyteller and all-around great guy, he walked a couple of miles with us and helped us keep our minds off of our feet. We made camp between the road and railroad tracks with just a barbed wire fence between us and the train that would thunder by us late in the night. To our surprise Jeff met up with us again, this time with a piece of hot pizza for us to share. Another night spent watching the big sky.
Woke up and jumped back on that early train. There were no more cafes between us and the Clark Canyon Reservoir. We had 16 miles to go. 16 brutal, paved miles with more rain. It really was a miserable hike but the goal of getting to the reservoir kept us focused and the mile-markers along the road helped us set our pace. About every mile we’d take a drink of water. Every two, we’d stop to pee. Every three we’d take a slightly longer break to eat something and then we’d hike two miles straight. The consistent breaks with adequate water, food, and a great sense of humor were the key to fighting the painful steps and cold, wet weather.
When the Reservoir came into view, we breathed a sigh of relief until the “No Camping” sign came into view. We consulted the GPS and realized we had two miles more to hike the campground. We were already totally spent and having to hike another 50 feet was just about cause for our bodies to lead a revolt against us. Well, our hard work must have paid off as a truck showed up at the most serendipitous moment and Dale Stewart (for Senate!), pulled over and offered us a ride. Now, our rule for the expedition is that we will move ourselves and our canoe (once we meet up with it at Clark Canyon) the entire distance of the Jefferson, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers from source to sea. We knew we would be coming back to this spot to paddle, so we resigned that it would be ok to accept the ride. Thank goodness!
The ride turned into dinner and showers at the Clark Canyon Bible Camp where Dale serves as director. We got to meet Dale’s family and talk to his daughters about what it’s like to live in Montana and our adventure. Finally dry, warm, and well fed, we headed back to the campground and were in bed before the sun set, feeling proud of our miles.
Rest day. We did some curriculum designing and work with our technology in the morning and then Viki and her friend, Grayson, showed up with a truck, a resupply of gear, and our pack rafts. We headed back to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to camp, celebrate, and prepare for the descent of the Red Rock River the next day. What a difference a truck makes on those roads! We were in water up to the fenders, but it was no problem. We played music and enjoyed each other’s company and the wild weather. Overnight the winds came in and made it difficult to sleep with the tent slapping us in the face regularly. No choice but to get used to it and just fall back asleep.
We all got up early and left camp set up because we’d be back after the paddle. Taking a much-needed rest day the day before left us with only one and a half days to paddle the Red Rock River before meeting Lisa’s parents to get the canoe and paddle the Lima Reservoir. The timeline was tight and didn’t leave a lot of room for inclement weather, but we had another rest and catch-up-on-work day planned for after we accomplished this remote and logistically complicated section. It was likely that this would be our only opportunity to paddle this section of the route.
When we got down to the river, the wind was ripping towards us. Huge bummer. This was when we began to experience a difference in confidence. Lisa was excited to paddle no matter what but Alyce had different feelings. Feeling more physically tired and stressed about the wind, Alyce decided that after 2 hours of battling the direct, forceful headwind in a craft not designed for that and therefore very extremely difficult to steer, that it was no longer a positive risk for her. When we met up with the truck and she opt to hop out, having put in her best effort and feeling satisfied with that.
Lisa made sure it was ok with Alyce and the rest of the crew for her to continue on. For her, paddling the raft in the wind was hard, but still within her limits, and she didn’t mind trying for longer, actually this was really starting to become the type of thrill she thrived on – attempting a mission when the odds are stacked against your favor but the skill and motivation are there. After another hour of fighting the crazy wind, Lisa met up with the truck again and decided to take a ride downstream to get behind the storm and use the wind to her advantage. She really didn’t know if it would work but sometimes you have to go to know. Grayson drove Lisa to the west end of the river where it dumped into the Lima Reservoir and she began paddling upstream as hail started to fall. Now at the tail-end of the storm, the tailwind was gone and Lisa waged a new battle, this time with the current. As the river turned her farther from the road and the support crew, she realized after about and hour and half that the current was stronger than her ability to cover the rest of the distance upstream. She sent a text with the Delorme to meet at the next spot where the road touched the river. She ended up doing a lot of hiking and pack-dragging through the river to make it there.
She was greeted by the three smiling faces of her friends who had gone back to eat a Jan’s Cafe and then enjoyed driving the truck through the mud and rain – a real Montana experience. Lisa was tired but happy to have put in her best effort too. We didn’t quite get the whole river paddled but there was still time to try the next day, as long as the weather didn’t get worse. The mission to become the first all-female team to descend the 4th longest river system in the world would be incomplete without this stretch, so we hoped the weather would cooperate.
Up early, and not a even a slight breeze, Lisa and Grayson decided to finish the last stretch of river before meeting up with Lisa’s parents mid-day to get the canoe and more gear. With the great fortune of no wind and, this time paddling with the current, the travel went much more smoothly. Lisa and Grayson were able to cover the distance left between the two attempts the day before and made it on time to the rendezvous with the canoe. The plan was to then paddle the 10 mile stretch of the Lima Reservoir.
Here’s where the plans had to change again to meet the needs the expedition, the expeditioners, and Source of Confidence as a whole. For Alyce, it was a tough decision, knowing that perhaps too much had been taken on, with trying to start a non-profit, fundraise, manage finances, and paddle 4,000 miles. With our varying roles within Source of Confidence, the most pressing thing for Alyce was to be able to take care of the business and finance-related aspects of Source of Confidence, to ensure that the back bones of the expedition were in place to allow us to complete the big picture mission. For Lisa, it was finishing the remote stretch of the route while the opportunity was there and taking the two days we had set aside after paddling the Lima Reservoir to take care business.
We quickly came up with a new plan for Alyce to head back to town for internet and phone access, while Lisa would stay with her parents overnight and find someone to paddle the reservoir with the next day. Tensions were high as both us had different priorities and the exhaustion from the weeks of tough travel and constant decision-making and plan-changing began to catch up to us. We parted ways on tense terms, both of us believing we were doing what was right for ourselves and Source of Confidence as a whole, yet both of us knowing we would be able to resolve the issues after some space and time to think.
Alyce and Viki took care of Source of Confidence-related business matters, logistics for the expedition, and other details. Lisa and her mother (GO DEB) paddled the Lima Reservoir. When the team reunited in the evening in Dillon and tales of the day were exchanged, it turned out the last-minute decisions of the day before had worked out favorably for everyone, the expedition, and Source of Confidence as a whole. Lisa and Alyce were able to see eye-to-eye, stay humble, and roll with the punches. We had challenging and productive conversation to further clarify our roles and to better understand each other’s priorities within their role. This is what Source of Confidence is all about: women coming together, doing something incredibly challenging and understanding that at times things are going to get messy. We are doing something HUGE! That takes patience, perseverance and the confidence to make tough decisions to benefit Source of Confidence as a whole.
We spent the day organizing gear to switch to the canoe phase of the expedition. The 26th would be the day to paddle the Clark Canyon Reservoir and then begin the Beaverhead River. This day could not come soon enough. With paddles and guitar now in tow, we ventured into river life with optimism, enthusiasm, and much new insight into how we operate as a team to handle the multitude of challenges that come with expedition life, putting together a confidence-building curriculum and trying to run our own business. It will be 10 days until we meet with Viki again in Three Forks, Montana at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Happy trails!
Lisa & Alyce
- Have you ever received unexpected support from someone like we did from Jeff and Dale? How did it impact your experience?
- What motivates you through challenging situations? What thoughts go through your mind to ? How do you know when and with what to accept support?
- What were Alyce and Lisa each feeling leading up to paddling the Red Rock River? How do you think each person’s feelings impacted the decisions they made?
- Have you ever gotten into a disagreement with someone and you both believed you were right? What happened? How did you handle it? How did they handle it? What, if anything, would you do differently next time?
- Alyce and Lisa agreed that it’s important to try to be humble in order to solve problems. What does it mean to be humble? How have you practiced humility in your life?