September 1, 2016
Lake Sharpe, 12 miles south of Pierre, South Dakota
Alyce almost stepped on a snake this morning. Scared the crap out of me while I was still in my tent because I could see what was going on. The snake stayed put for a while. Didn’t see what kind it was. I respect snakes, it’s got to be a hard life crawling around and being hated on all the time… but they are spooky.
Wind. More wind.
September 1st, 2016
I almost stepped on a snake this morning. My foot hovered directly over her head, as the small and dim light of my headlamp shown its meager illumination forward, revealing at first the tail, followed by the body. How I ran screaming “SNAKE”, back into the area where our tents were. I was incredibly startled and unsure what kind of snake it was. And why it had not struck out for my foot.
I should back up here and explain that I haven’t run into many snakes in my wilderness experiences, well up to this point now. Knowing since the beginning of the expedition that we would be in rattler (aka rattlesnake) country, I have tried to be cautious and watch my step. Though this morning, with my mind still groggy and the sky still dark, I was not using constant vigilance. I walked back to the shoreline and the snake was still sitting there, following me with her eyes. I made another trip back to the tent area, bringing more gear to the shore. The snake was still there, watching me. I was a little freaked out, though began to reflect on what it could mean that on the first day of the month of my birthday, this year turning 30 and moving into a new decade, I have my first real encounter with a snake. I am not sure what the message or meaning is, though I am excited to reflect on this significance.
Rough morning. Paddled. Wind. Lake Sharpe is muddy, like swallow you up mud. Wind increased as the afternoon went on. Took an hour to paddle 1 mile from lunch island spot to DeGray boat ramp. Hard paddling. Arrived there around 2:30. Wind bound, yet again. I was glad we had made it to a boat ramp, as my friends Linnea and Dave were somewhere in South Dakota, looking for us. They drove out from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Part of the Minnesota paddlers community. The original plan was that we would all paddle together this weekend- well Mother Nature and the wind had different ideas for us. Adventures people, who in 2013 paddled the Mississippi River. It was awesome to see their faces and hear Linnea in the front seat: “somebody order a pizza!” It was a great evening, sitting in the boat ramp parking lot, eating pizza, drinking beer and having great conversation as the fading hues of dusk hovered in the air. The Stars came out and we reveled in their glow. We all retired early to our tents and allowed a leisurely wake up time, as the forecast was not good, with strong winds coming out of the south east, the direction we would be paddling.
September 2nd, 2016
The wind blew strong and fierce all night, the rattling of the tent waking me at various points, even into the early minutes of the morning, when it seemed to increase in strength. And as it would do all day, morning, afternoon, sunset and night time. So the day was spent in typical river fashion: playing cribbage, in the decently protected cove of the very few trees at the boat ramp. Multiple games, a break for lunch and back at it. Somehow the common house fly managed to fight the wind and bother us all day. They are veracious creatures, relentless in their pursuit of human skin. Since Linnea and Dave had a car here, we decided to go into Pierre for dinner. In 2 days we paddled 30 river miles from Pierre, though only 30 minutes by car. Fascinating how that works.
Somehow it became late afternoon! Linnea and Dave went for a walk and I took a little nap. Playing cribbage all day can really tire one out! When they were back, I got a good look at the sky, which now contained ominous looking rain clouds. Along with the wind blowing at us, we repositioned our tents and got camp secured for anything. Heading into town, it’s always a strange sensation to be in a car, traveling at 55 miles per hour, when I’m use to only going 2-6 miles an hour. Dinner and Walmart. Fire right by the water in the handmade rock fire ring. Music. Yuke, so much fun. S’mores with Milky Way candy bars.
The stars, the fire, the water crashing on the rocks. The prairie grass dancing violently in the wind. Singing together, Lisa on guitar, Linnea on Yuke and Dave with the nails!!! Another amazing river life night! The wind was still not predicted to change for tomorrow. So we stayed up late and did not establish a wake up time for the morning. Sometimes you just know you are wind bound. There is something about the prairie wind that she just blows and blows. It reminds me of being in the tundra of Canada, where the wind just keeps on coming. The similarities are fascinating.
September 3, 2016
DeGrey Boat Access, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota
Perhaps the lack of overwhelming joy I experienced at the end of Lake Oahe was foreshadowing for the experience ahead on Lake Sharpe. We’ve been windbound at a deserted boat ramp for 2.5 days now.
Fortunately, two of Alyce’s friends, Dave and Linnea, drove in from Minneapolis on the night of the 1st to join our party for Labor Day weekend. Linnea and Dave paddled the Mississippi together a couple of years ago and connected with Alyce through that paddling community.
They brought their boat, Frank the Tank, and we were all going to paddle together until the wind foiled those plans. Instead, we got to hang out together in a gravel parking lot, playing cribbage and talking politics, canoeing, and life.
We had dinner in town and I discovered a previously unknown talent at pinball. I scored like 40,000,000 points and got to play for like 20 minutes on a dollar.
It turns out pinball is really fun AND a team sport. If you’ve ever been fortunate (or skilled) enough to play for more than a minute and half, you get to discover all these cool missions and obstacles and all kinds new flashing lights and sounds.
It takes a team of at least four complete novices to begin to decipher the codes on that come at you as rapid-fire as the little silver balls you’re trying to keep in play. I had one person reading the screen to me, one person locating the targets on the machine for me, and one person hollering when more balls were being released and coming my way. I just stayed focused on those little flippers and kept scoring points. It was Batman pinball too, so it was extra creepy. We defeated the Scarecrow and the Joker. Did not get the Batmobile. Next time.
We went on to have an excellent night around the fire playing music and laughing a lot. L and D are both musicians and they brought along a new Ukele to christen. Their old one had succumbed to their trip down the Mississipp and Linnea’s other one was a gift from Tony Danza, so she didn’t travel with it.
Linnea is an excellent story teller with a quick wit and somewhat dry sense of humor. She recounted the time she reluctantly followed her friend to the taping of Tony Danza’s show. She was shocked to find herself going bananas with the rest of the crowd when Tony Danza wheeled out a cart full of Ukeles. He wanted everyone in the audience to experience the same joy of Uke-ing that he had.
What a trip.
We christened Linnea’s new Uke, named “Sharpe”, on the beach that night with the wind howling and fire swirling and threatening to destroy anything that ventured too close. Like Dave’s last pair of pants. He had lost one pair to old age and another to a rotting meat juice situation. He really was playing with fire in his PJ pants dodging sparks. Dave’s voice reminded me a lot of Jon Lovitz, who I love, especially in A League of Their Own, so I got a big kick out of him, in general.
If you are going to spend Labor Day weekend stuck at a boat ramp, might as well call in some good company. Thanks for playing, friends, hope to see you back in Minneap!
“Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it.”
September 3rd, 2016
She was at it again the wind, all night and morning and day. Slightly less fierce than the day before, yet not a real noticeable difference. A leisurely morning. Cribbage played. Linnea and Dave went canoeing, across the Missouri River. Upon returning they packed their gear and canoe and the 3 of us headed into town to eat dinner. We found a Mexican place and had a lovely time. As my birthday is on the 5th, Linnea and Dave bought my dinner as a birthday treat! It is so much fun having friends come and visit on the river. It was a great way to ring in the beginning of my birthday month.
Cowpoop landing, 1 mile E of Joe Creek Rec Area, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota
We got up at 5:30am to assess the conditions. We were both hoping to get on the water before more southeast winds were scheduled to pick up. There was enough of a lull that we decided it was a good idea to get moving.
What luck! Another headwind! The wind picked up as we made our way across the lake, giving us yet another opportunity to build some grit and muscle mass. Exactly what we were hoping for.
Fortunately, we were able to keep a 2-2.5mph pace and enjoy some moments of calm. At about 4pm the wind really started giving us the business so we pulled over to see if we could wait it out.
Storm clouds were building in the distance so we called it at about 5 and decided to make camp where we were: a field full of cow dung. Another win for team A and L.
Here is what I have learned about storms in the Great Plains: you are better off keeping your belongings in their bags and waiting out the wind, rain, and hail in your raingear. My tent got sufficiently demolished. That was partly my bad – I failed to stake out the guy lines prior to the invasion.
The wind came in at about 60mph with lightning and torrent of rain to round out the experience. I was outside of my tent anyway- I don’t like to be near the aluminum with lighting right overhead. When I looked over at my old tent, I could sort of see that something wasn’t right, but I waited for the worst of it to pass.
The big stuff blew by pretty quickly, as it usually does, leaving some angry looking clouds- all kinds of blue and grey with a flash of hot white every now and then. The drizzle stayed to keep me company as I assessed the scene. One tent pole snapped and several holes in my rain fly thanks to said snapped pole. Half of the tent was collapsed under the weight of about a gallon of water.
Inside, the books I had foolishly left out were all half-soggy but my sleeping bag was dry. I learned my lesson on that one in the last big storm and left it all bundled up in its dry bag. I had pitched the tent on a bit of a slope to begin with so all the water that had pooled in it had collected down in the bottom third.
I looked around and saw Alyce wading through a new river flowing next to her tent. I looked down at the rivers passing by my tent and realized that they were about 50% water and 50% manure. Why? Whywhywhy? Gross.
We both emptied out our tents and moved to higher, less poopy ground. We also checked the weather and saw that we were still in the midst of an active thunderstorm advisory. “Move to the interior of a building away from windows,” the advisory advised. “Good thing my tent doesn’t have windows,” Alyce remarked.
Another few rounds of wind, torrential rain, and lightning came through but that first round ended up being the worst of it. I don’t like being out in big storms like that. I do feel some fear when the lightning comes really close. I know people who have been struck. I think that really is the most dangerous thing we deal with out here. We try to be close to places where we can find better shelter when hear about big storms coming in, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes they pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes they escalate beyond predictions. You just have to be ready to weather them and I’d say, in this case, I didn’t do the best job.
I’ll be able to make do with my tent until we see Viki again in a few days and I can get my spare. And my stuff will dry out eventually.
September 4th, 2016
Okay Lake Sharpe, let’s calm the wind down so we can paddle. Up early to try and get miles. Calm morning. Wind picked up. Good to be back on the water after 2 wind bound days. Made 17 miles, the landscape changing. Rockier and gravel shore, instead of the swallow you up mud and slippery slimy rocks. There are also more frequent spots to pull out and camp if needed. Wind picked up in the late morning and really calmed down after lunch.
After 8 hours of paddling we made it to Joe creek recreation area and took a break. The wind stared to increase, yet we paddled on, only making another half mile in 45 minutes before the wind got even more fierce. Luckily we were at a decent camping spot and pulled over. We didn’t unload the boat right away, thinking if the wind dies down we will paddle again. After only 30 minutes, we called it, as a large storm cell was moving towards us. Really intense storm- everything wet. Flooding under my tent, as the down pour of rain created new mini rivers all around me. Luckily I hadn’t unpacked all my gear and so most of my stuff didn’t get soaked.
When the worst was over and it was just a drizzle I emerged from the wet tent and assessed my location. I realized I would be sleeping in a puddle all night if I didn’t move. Up to higher ground and that made a huge difference. My sleeping pad and tent began to dry out and thankfully it was still warm out. Wet and cold are the Bain of my existence. That and the common house flies. Going to try and get up early tomorrow and make more miles. Only 37 left of Lake Sharpe and 106 on Francis Cale Hass reservoir and 25 on Lewis and Clark reservoir. Once we hit Yankton it’s all river miles from there. I can’t wait!
September 5, 2016
5 miles NW of Ft. Thompson, Lake Sharpe, South Dakota
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALYCE!!!!!!
What an awesome day. The weather was nice – classic calm after the storm. I had three surprises for Alyce on the docket. She chose to open one at each meal. Breakfast was a T-shirt that says “Rise of the woman = rise of the nation” that I ordered from this awesome organization called The Female Collective. Lunch was a tote bag that says “Mind your own uterus”. She really got a kick out of that one.
In case you hadn’t picked up on this yet, Alyce, Viki, and I believe wholeheartedly in the feminist movement. That is to say, we believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. That is the root of Source of Confidence. Empowering women, especially, to take positive risks in their own lives that help close the equity gap between the sexes.
I knew Alyce would freak out with these gifts, and she did. It was awesome. I ordered shirts for Viki and I as well.
We paddled for 12 hours, all the way to dark. What better way to ring in a 30th birthday than sit in a canoe for hours and hours on end? I couldn’t have envisioned a more excellent way to celebrate with my friend.
Alyce opted to open the last gift the next day when Viki would be arriving so that she could be a part of the celebration too.
September 5, 2016
The storm ragged on most of the night, giving me a good welcome into a new decade, for today is my 30th birthday. We slept in and Lisa gave me the first of 3 presents! A really cool shirt from the Female Collective. I love it. It was slow moving this morning, with everything being wet and below the normal hot temperature. I didn’t mind, it’s my birthday after all and I’ll do what I want. Once on the water we were paddling machines. The wind wasn’t really blowing and there were moments of calm; which after the last several days of intense wind this was a welcome reprieve.
At lunch I turned my phone on and discovered several messages from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday. I got my second present from Lisa, the coolest tote bag ever! Gary, Viki’s dad and Jenny, one of my best friends, sang the same birthday song, calling during our lunch break. It was awesome. We kept paddling. Got to use the sail, considered a birthday present from lake Sharpe. For dinner we had an amazing meal of canned beans and chicken (not good cold), I was going to open my third present from Lisa then, yet since it was on the computer I decided to wait till we were on land. Plus the anticipation would keep me going. Lisa put a lot of effort and energy into making my birthday special.
So we just kept paddling, a total of 12 hours in the boat. We were under 10 miles from the dam when we finally camped. This was at sundown, dusk had blanketed the land. The colors in the sky were electric and were a perfect way to end my birthday!
September 6th, 2016
Up and back to paddling. Only 12 hours out of the boat, on land and most of that was sleeping. Though we only had a handful of miles to paddle to the Dam and then it was a short half mile portage. We would be meeting Viki today and having her camp with us for the next few days. I was really looking forward to seeing her, it had been since the beginning of August when we last meet up in Washburn, ND. A whole other state away.
The morning went by easily, a slight wind and cloudy skies, perfect paddling conditions. Wow, another reservoir paddled and only two more to go! It feels like we haven’t been on the river in months. Just going to battle with large bodies of water and wind. Always wind. Getting to the dams at the end of these reservoirs always feels so sweet. While we waited at the boat ramp for the person we had arranged to help us move our gear to the campground, we cleaned out all our bags and gear. Threw all trash in the dumpster and ate lunch. Bob, an ACE ranger showed up and said he had heard we were coming through. He asked if we needed help with the portage, as Ron the camp ground host could help us. It seemed like the person who we had made prior arrangements with wasn’t going to show, so we said yes. It worked out great. Ron brought us and our gear to the campground, got is situated at a nice spot near the water. He also showed us how we could do a shorter portage and then paddle across the bay to the campground. Still half a mile, though better than almost two had we walked along the road. In no time we had completed the portage and were hanging out at the camp ground, relaxing. Joyous river life. Viki arrived and we had a wonderful evening. Birthday candles on doughnuts
Lisa’s third present: a video montage of pictures, letters from friends and family, along with mini videos. All wishing me a happy birthday and saying a lot of nice things. It made me cry the whole time. It is really powerful to receive so much love and kindness in one sitting. It is also empowering, as one after the other my friends and family said how inspiring what we are doing with source of confidence is. I can get caught up in the hard moments and forget that there is a whole community of people following along, cheering us on and sending love to us and the expedition. This was a beautiful reminder. Also one of the greatest birthday presents ever. Lisa really worked hard to make my birthday special and I am still in awe that she carried my presents around in her bag for a whole month! Without them getting wet or me finding out!!! I can’t believe how lucky I am to have Lisa and Viki as friends and partners in this glorious and challenging adventure! We stayed up late talking, laughing and eating birthday doughnuts! Today was another great day on the river!
September 6th, 2016
Lake Francis Case, Ft. Thompson, South Dakota
Viki! VikiVikiViki! It was especially awesome to see Viki this go-around. She has a presence that can light up the whole sky. We were working on drying everything out at our campsite. Had the wind to assist us with that.
The portage over the dam was easy. We took care of a little wood roach situation that had popped up in the days since we’d left Pierre. After seeing some suspiciously roach-like creatures in our bags for a few days, we decided to take the matter seriously. Roaches are foul creatures.
After thoroughly annihilating all existing roach-like stowaways and repacking our gear, we threw it in the back of a friendly stranger’s pick-up. He drove the gear and we hauled the canoe. Thank you again, Bob and Ron!
Viki showed up prepared for Roachpocalypse. We weren’t sure what we were dealing with so she went out and grabbed so cheap doubles of our clothes. This way, we’d have something to wear in case we needed to torch everything.
Fortunately, we were able to identify these pests as wood roaches. Alyce’s mom, Ann did a thorough search of the internet and discovered these things:
- The wood roach is more like a cricket than a roach
- They are not a health hazard
- You can set traps for them at night
- They don’t survive indoors
Look at that. That’s experiential education right there. We bagged up a bunch of our stuff in trash bags anyway just to make sure we’d gotten rid every last one.
We had a great women’s night together. I’d been feeling strange lately. Having a harder time dealing with the stress of the expedition and the constant “character development” that goes along with it. I asked Viki and Alyce to help me sort out some feelings and they really did. That was a really important moment for me. I don’t usually let people in so much. I felt a great sense of relief and release to be able to trust my friends to catch me. And to feel their love for me. It was a good moment for all of us.
We watched the slideshow of videos, photos, and notes that I’d asked people to send me for Alyce’s birthday. People sent all kinds of great, creative, and thoughtful messages telling Alyce how wonderful and inspiring of a person she is.
Later, we played music, sang, and laughed for hours in our new bear suits. Our spirits soared. Another great night around a fire with women I love.
September 7th, 2016
We slept later than usual this morning, accounting for the late night. The plan was to paddle the 18 miles on Lake Francis Case, arriving in Chamberline, SD. Viki would drive there and stay the night with us. Lena and Tyler Hammel, river Angels who live in Chamberline, had offered to pay for a motel in town for us. They also wanted to take us out to dinner. Norm Miller meet them when he retraced the Lewis and Clark route and had connected us with the Hammels. I was really looking forward to a night in a motel, with the pillows and other amenities.
On the water by 9:30, the wind was already blowing right in our faces. Also there was no short stretch of river connecting the lake to the dam, as there have been at all the other points after the dam. It felt like slow going, since there really wasn’t any current. I was unsure if we would actually make it to Chamberline today and was trying to calm the doubt in my mind. So I just paddled hard and after 8 hours we made it to the American Creek camp ground, where we would store our boat and gear. It was a long hard day of paddling and I felt wiped out. Viki meet us and we transported to the motel. A little oasis in South Dakota. A cold shower rejuvenated me and I felt ready for dinner. It was a short walk to the restaurant, where we meet the wonderful Hammels. Amazing South Dakotans, they have owned their own chiropractor practice for 24 years. It’s just the two of them, Tyler is the chiropractor and Lena runs the business. We had a marvelous dinner and chatted about our trip, their lives and children and the beauty of the plains states. Tired and full after dinner, they gave us a ride back to the motel. We made plans to see them tomorrow at 11am for an adjustment and sometime in the massage chair at their practice. I was really looking forward to that.
Our original plan was to get on the water tomorrow, paddle and meet Viki somewhere down the lake. Well the next access point, via car to the river was well over 30 miles away and so we decided to spend the day in Chamberline. And get another night in the motel, a birthday present for myself and the team as a whole. This was also made easy by the weather forecast calling for strong wind, that ultimately would have wind bound us had we tried to paddle. We could also sleep-in and have a relaxing morning, eating the hot breakfast provided by the motel! What a day, with so many lives in lived.
September 7, 2016
Chamberlain, South Dakota
We started the 18-mile paddle to Chamberlain in our bear suits. With the strong headwind we were working hard and, though adorable, the suits soon became too warm. It took all day to get to Chamberlain so we were beat when we finally did show up.
Lena and Tyler Hammel took us out to dinner and treated us so kindly and with such generosity. They are an incredible team. They’ve been working together both through jobs and a relationship since they were in their early teens. They are so compatible and their stories were a lot of fun to hear. Thanks again, Hammels!
We weathered another big storm, this time from the safety of a motel room. That really is a luxury. As the storm came in over the horizon, I stayed outside to watch for a while. It was huge. Big, purple and deep blue and black clouds took up most of the southern sky. The lighting shot very defined white-yellow bolts between the clouds. Some of them touched down to earth making rumbles in the distance.
Thunder can sound so different depending on how close it is to you. It rumbles and grumbles real low when it’s far away. It seems to last longer too. As it gets closer, you hear the crack. Like when the head of an ax comes down on a dry piece of wood. Crack! Then a longer echo follows.
The ax creates a space in the wood, the energy pushes it apart. Seems to me like lightning does the same thing to atmosphere around it. Pushes a crack in it, makes a big sound, splits it apart in instant. In this case, it goes right back together again but it still sends out that long echo.
It is interesting to sit through a storm. It’s something you will never know the experience of until you go through it. All storms are a little different. You can be different in storms too. When I get caught in a storm in the wilderness, far from any sort of building or help, I feel confident. I’m confident in my ability to put myself in the safest available position and wait it out without doubt. There may still be fear at times, storms can be really scary. But I remain calm, because I know I’ve done the best I can.
On an expedition like this where we make our way between towns and places where we can be indoors, that’s the safest option. Sometimes when I know we are within range of safer options, I start to doubt myself when we do get caught in storms. Mostly, it’s unavoidable. In certain cases, where it is possible, it is a great relief to have safe shelter.
The breeze increased, pushing my hair in my face, and pulling me out of thoughts. A warning of the storm coming closer. The volume of thunder increased, telling me to take my own advice and move inside. Storms are beautiful to watch from a distance and they’re eye-opening to experience. I’m not advocating walking into a storm, but I will say, when you eventually find yourself in one, It’s good to know how you will react. It’s good to know how to keep yourself safe. It’s also good to remember not to take that shelter, that safety for granted.