Officially on the Missouri River

June 5th, 2016 continued….

 After finishing up our computer work and out of ideas for fixing the portage cart tires, we thought “why not trying filling the tubes in the tires with air and see what happens?” We headed to a gas station and it worked! Lisa used her master craftswomen skills to bend the straight valve just enough to get air into the tires! We were elated! With our tires inflated and our water jugs full, our friend Patrick drove us back to Shoshone Landing in Three Forks. We said our goodbyes and got into our tents, anticipation running through our veins about finally getting on the Missouri River.

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Our friend, Patrick, lending a hand with our tire snafu in Bozeman

June 6th, 2016

We awoke to another beautiful morning on the river. Since we had been camped at Shoshone Landing for the last three days, we were a little slower moving back into the river routine. It is always a little challenging to get back into your morning rhythms when you have taken a few days off. Getting on the water in a little under two hours and enjoying a floating breakfast are Alyce’s favorite things. Sitting in the canoe, eating cereal, and sipping coffee while occasional dipping a paddle in the water to redirect the boat; nothing better. What a wonderful way to take in the riverside scenery. For instance, the great blue heron that followed us from shore. She moved her legs stealthily through the water, across the bank, all while keeping her eyes on us and our canoe. If we had been paddling by, we may have missed this connection. A good sign for starting the day. We only had 4 miles of the Jefferson River to go and they by went fast.

Around 9am we made it to the Mighty Missouri River; something we had been dreaming about for well over a year. It was a surreal and powerful moment, as it was just about a month ago that we started this expedition. Now here we were, on the river we will become intimately connected to over the next 4 and a half months. As we expected, the size of the river doubled when the Jefferson joined the Madison and the Gallatin Rivers to become the Missouri and she was moving fast. A few hours later the current started to slow down as we approached the Toston Dam, where we would portage. We enjoyed a floating lunch (we just love being in the canoe) as a train chugged past us, on the tracks that run along the river. Marvelous embankments lined the river as we approached the boat launch and portage take out. The sun had been up for a while now and was radiating her heat everywhere. Swimming was definitely in order for today.

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Shoreline and rocks along the Missouri River.

Our first portage! A straight-forward hike, just following a dirt road from the boat launch to the campground a half mile away. We took our Frost River packs first and it did not take long to make the walk. On our way back to the boat launch, we took note that there was actually a spot we could put in on the river, that would turn the portage from .5 miles to .2 miles. It would involve moving up a down a steeper embankment, that was more appealing than having to make two more trips hauling gear in the heat. The rest of the portage was completed rather quickly and in no time we had paddled to the campground where we had first set our packs. We loaded our boat and gave ourselves a just reward: our first swim in the Missouri River. It was glorious. The water was refreshingly cold in the unforgiving heat of the mid-day sun. Revitalized and ready to paddle more, we got underway. At this point we were now getting ahead of our timeline, as we had already reached our intended camp location and opted to keep paddling. When you can get ahead on the route, do it! You never know when weather or wind or illness will hold you up and falling behind schedule adds a lot of stress.

The rest of the afternoon went by magically, as the sun moved across the sky and the heat stayed strong. We camped around 5pm on York Islands, about 6 miles from where the river flows into Canyon Ferry Lake. We celebrated being ahead of schedule by swimming! Camp set-up, dinner made and enjoyed and then we had to go swimming again! It stays hot here well into the twilight hours, since the sun is up for just so many hours. Time was spent working on curriculum and making a new route plan for the next few days, since we were now almost a full day ahead. A final swim right before getting into the tent was necessary for a peaceful night’s sleep. The sun started lowering herself and the warm hues of orange, pink and purple radiated throughout the sky. Another spectacular day of river life.

June 7th, 2016

Time starts to get distorted on the river and we both remarked on how quickly the first week of June had come to a close. Our mornings were now becoming more routine: packed up and on the water within an hour and fifteen minutes, floating breakfast (becoming more silent as we each take in the views of the river) and starting to paddle thirty minutes after finishing our Simply Native Wild Rice cereal. The current moved us along rather quickly and before we got to the mouth of the lake, we pulled over on an island to do some computer work. It is so interesting to have a computer, internet hot spot, go-pros, Delorme tracking device and our phones. The tangle of cords we have to carry is a bit overwhelming. Plus, the necessary solar panels and batteries to keep all our technology charged. Definitely a change for us, as we are used to going on expeditions with nothing more than a camera and satellite phone. The life of an adventure educator.

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Alyce, typing in the weeds on an island.

Back on the water and in no time we had arrived at Canyon Ferry Lake. With clear skies, no wind and higher water levels, it was easy to navigate the delta in between the river and lake. In lower water it might have been a struggle to find a passable channel and a headwind would have added a good challenge too. It seemed the weather goddesses were smiling on us and we got on the lake with no trouble. What a majestic lake! 5 miles wide and 25 miles long, it is actually one of the smaller lakes we will travel during this expedition. Having just spent the last few weeks traveling on rivers, with strong and fast moving currents, we were not totally prepared for the stillness of the lake. It was like glass, smooth and clear: perfect lake paddling weather. It was sort of demoralizing to paddle and paddle and watch as the shoreline hardly changes. The fish jumping out of the water to catch bugs kept us entertained as the morning hours passed and the heat increased.

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Watching the bank swallows dive in and out of their limestone dwellings is a fun afternoon activity.

We had lunch on a nice little rock bar, listening to music from a nearby speed boat, and partook in our afternoon swim to cool our bodies. Once back in the canoe, it was difficult to find our paddling rhythm.  On the river when one person stops paddling, it’s not that noticeable, as the current continues to move the boat. Not the case on the lake. We quickly realized how lackadaisical we had been in our paddling consistency on the river to this point, one person often pausing to get a drink, apply sunscreen, take photos, etc. As we were not making as many miles as we anticipated, we decided to up our focus and really get somewhere.

Our goal for the day was to get to the Mahogany Cove recreation site, a boater’s only camping spot. This was 20 miles into the lake and as the afternoon hours ticked by, seemed to be an overzealous goal. Though we decided to challenge ourselves to paddle for a given amount of time without stopping, to see if we could make it. We started with 20 minutes. It’s funny for us to think about that amount of time being a challenge, but in the heat, it really was. We needed to drink A LOT of water that day. We actually only made it about 12 minutes before one of us (we won’t name names) needed to have a snack or something. We laughed for a long time about this and adjusted our goal to 15 minutes of paddling without stopping.

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Cloudless over-head, the sun helped us charge our electronics but drained our own energy stores.

After several more rounds of mini-paddle goals, a storm that had been building in the distance began peaked our attention as the large, rumbling clouds expanded in our direction. We were hearing thunder, though not seeing any lightning. We have a rule to keep ourselves safe during storms – if the time between the flash of lightning and the crash of thunder is 25 seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi…) or less, we get off the water. Every five seconds equals one mile, so 25 seconds between “flash and crash” means the storm is about five miles away. Shortly after passing the White Earth Recreation site, we had just started to cross one of several large bays that line the lake when the wind picked up. The clouds got bigger and more ominous and we saw our first lightning strike. We counted 32 seconds and decided take a right angle turn to shore, as we were about a mile from shore. With the storm building, it was time to get off the water. Hustling to shore to get camp set up before the incoming rain, we were cruising in our canoe across the water (staying dry is a great motivator to paddle hard). It also really helped that the wind had brought some cooler air.

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A small “warning” cloud ahead of the bigger storm.

Tents set up and the tarp almost complete, the rain began to descend upon us. They were big, fat, cold drops of water that made the classic splash sound upon impact. Just as the rain began to come down in sheets, we were sitting under the tarp with all our gear, watching the storm. The once placid lake was now a violent, wavy being. The fish seemed emboldened by the rain and we had quite the show of lightning and fish jumping. A delightful way to spend the evening, especially dry under the tarp.

The evening went by in typical river-life fashion: Alyce looking over the route and calculating the camping spot for the next day, along with miles needed to be covered, while Lisa worked on curriculum. The storm stopped after about 2 hours and we were able to lift up a side of the tarp for an unobstructed view of the lake. Dinner was mac and cheese followed up with a Trailtopia dessert as the lake calmed and the sun slipped down on us.

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Trailtopia Triple Berry Crisp. Boil water, fill pouch, seal and let sit for a few minutes. Add the crumb topping and enjoy a delicious treat.

We made a plan to get up earlier than usual: 5am. The weather forecast called for a calm morning, with the wind starting in the afternoon and increasing throughout the day. Getting on the water early for big lake traveling is imperative. Getting in the tent before 9pm made the prospect of getting up that early more doable. Lisa stayed up to watch the sunset – a truly splendid one. The mountains were different shades of purple and clouds had an electric orange edge to them. The pink and gold that threaded the sky muted the tired feelings and some of the feelings of doubt surrounding the unknown territory that is the pursuit of dreams. The sun sank from view and another wonderful day of river life was complete.

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Sunset on Canyon Ferry Lake

June 8th, 2016

The early morning wake-up went smoothly and we were on the water in an hour and thirty minutes. Floating breakfasts are the norm now and although we were not moving like on the river, it was still enjoyable watching the shoreline and fish jumping out of the water to catch their breakfast as we eat ours. The 8-mile paddle to the Canyon Ferry Dam went by efficiently as we were now capable of paddling for hours without stopping (much more to our liking) thanks to the cool morning air.

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Our new Nessmuk bent shaft paddles from Sanborn Canoe Company are incredibly lightweight and help us cover larger distances more easily and efficiently than bulkier paddles.

We arrived at the boat launch around 11 am. River Angels Felomina and Will Garvin were waiting for us; they live in Helena, MT and offer portage support to paddlers. A little backstory: the day before we had communicated with our new friend and fellow paddler, Norm Miller, about our tires woes (we were cautious about how well our current, not-quite-right tubes would hold up). Norm contacted Will and another river angel, Ron Lukenbill, who purchased some tubes and passed them off to Will. Once seeing the tubes, we discovered they were also not the right ones! Alas, the tire tube saga continued. A new plan was made to take the tires into to a tire store in Helena and see if the correct tubes could be ordered. With that matter finalized, we moved on to the portage.
The original portage plan was that we would make two trips, one with the canoe and then a second with our packs. This was before we knew the Garvin’s would be there to help us, so we loaded some of our gear in their truck and put our canoe on its portage cart.

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Three women portaging a canoe. Lisa, Alyce, and Felomina.

We started walking on the road, with Felomina joining us and helping us move the canoe. We were really impressed with her as she boldly exclaimed that she was “25 years from being 95” and was thrilled to join in the adventure. It was a wonderful time! We love when other women join us in these endeavors. One of the first things she said to us landed somewhere between a question and a proclamation, “you are doing this to show that girls can do what boys do.” We answered with “sort of” and explained that we are doing this to role model, for girls and women, how to build confidence. It really doesn’t have anything to do with boys. As we walked, Felomina told us about her upbringing in Hawaii and how her Filipino heritage and culture has influenced her path in life. She shared that she had always been encouraged to follow her heart but that it’s not the same for many women in her culture. She mentioned how her nieces would not like this kind of thing as “it’s what the boys do”. Well, there we were, three women, hauling a canoe around a dam. It seems that makes it an activity that women do. We enjoyed a lot of laughter together as we continued to swap stories and ideas.

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Lisa guiding the canoe on the portage.

The portage went smoothly on the paved road and the tires held up! We arrived at the Riverside Campground in no time and were able to leave our canoe there. The Garvin’s treated us to hamburgers at The Dam Bar. Our lunch lasted almost two hours, as we ate and had spirited conversation, hearing tales of Will’s travels down the Missouri and Mississippi. Since we were now a full day ahead of our timeline, we were able to relax and revel in the company of such adventuresome people!

Back to the campground after lunch, we contemplated staying, though decided to paddle some since it was still early in the day. We were able to interview Felomina about self-esteem and building confidence and her thoughtful words made an impact on us. The documentary we are creating is about so much more than our expedition, as we are trying to paint a picture of what confidence means to girls and women. We have only conducted a few interviews; most of them over the winter in Minnesota. One of our goals on the expedition is to interview girls and women we meet along the way. This was our second interview, having been able to get Erin McCleary’s thoughts, opinions and experiences with confidence while she joined us on the Beaverhead River, two weeks previous.

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Felomina, smiling for the camera during our interview about confidence.

Felomina had many insightful and powerful things to say about confidence and her life. She has lived a very interesting life and has had many different experiences (you’ll have to wait for the documentary to learn all about her). It was incredibly fruitful and she ended with saying what we are doing gives her hope for the future. Sometimes it still hasn’t fully set in that we are here, in Montana, making Source of Confidence happen. Interviewing a woman about confidence, with the river and birds singing in the background was something Alyce had been dreaming about since Minnesota. It is beyond powerful to be living your dreams, to be doing something that holds a lot of weight within yourself. We didn’t want the conversation to end, though it was time for us to paddle and the Garvins to get back to their day. Will kept the wheels for another attempt at finding the right inner-tubes.

We planned paddle to The Lakeside Marina, on Hauser Laker where Will would meet us later with the wheels. Back on the water through a narrow stretch of river before it opened up onto Hauser Lake. The now usual afternoon thunderstorms of Montana were moving in as we started paddling and our vision became hawk-like watching the clouds, noting how fast they were moving and what the wind was doing. Thunder started, though we didn’t see lighting right away. Staying close to the shore, in case we needed to get on land for safety, we were paddling hard! Not sure if we would be able to make it to Lakeside, we pulled over at the Spokane Recreation Site, another boater-only camping spot, with pit toilets, tables and fire rings. Unsure what the weather was up to and not sure how far away Lakeside was still to paddle, we contemplated camping there for the evening and meeting with Will later.

Luckily, there was a map up that showed we were about a mile away from Lakeside and the storm clouds were moving away from us, we got back in the boat and paddled on. The wind was in our favor, pushing us along and we soon arrived at Lakeside. We were happy we had decided to keep going. The Lakeside Marina bar and restaurant, owned by Cheryl and Conrad, is a most welcome place for paddlers. Tasty food, including award-winning chili and a great selection of beverages, plus Cheryl and Conrad’s grandchildren help run the place. Incredibly friendly and hospitable people, they let us camp on their grass lawn and offered us complimentary wine and their Calamari dish! There is also Luke, the bar cat, who has free run of the place. He is very sweet and cuddly; it was a true joy to spend time with him! They had hosted another through-paddler, Janet Moreland, the first women to kayak this river system, a few years back. There was excitement about having a couple of other paddlers camp out and we were very thankful for their hospitality. The river and her people provide so much!

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Alyce enjoying the Calamari dish at Lakeside Marina. It was delicious!

Yet again we had camp set up and were inside the restaurant, dry, before the rain poured down in her usual style. With access to internet we got some computer work done and made a route plan for the next few days, as we were now almost two full days ahead of schedule! Will called to inform us that the tubes had to be ordered and they would arrive sometime next day. He offered to meet us somewhere along the route, by following our tracking device. We decided to make June 9th a rest day and computer work day. This would make it easy for Will to return our wheels and the new tubes. Today was also a cause for celebration, as it marked our one-month anniversary of arriving in Montana! The evening was spent socializing with the locals and doing a lot of laughing. When we tell people what we are doing the reaction is pretty universal: “WOW! WHAT! You are really doing that? Good for you!”. It as a joyous night and we were very happy with our decision to stay at Lakeside Marina. If you are ever in the area, outside of Helena, Montana, be sure to make a stop here. There is a wonderful sandy beach, grass lawn and volleyball court!

 June 9th, 2016

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Will Garvin showing us the route he took around the 5 dams at Great Falls. This route will shave 10 miles off of our portage.

Even though we stayed up later than we usual the night before, the Montana sun comes up early and the heat descends, making it hard to sleep in. Conrad greeted us and offered coffee! He also told us to make ourselves at home and since restaurant doesn’t open until 3pm, the place was very quiet all morning and afternoon. After eating breakfast, we made a plan for all we needed to get done with the day and Will arrived shortly after. There had been a computer glitch in the ordering of the tubes. So, once again, we are without tube. What can you do! We are hopeful the tires will hold out for the next two portages. We will try to find back-up tubes in that Great Falls before we start the massive portage around the five dams there. Will himself is a paddler, having canoed from Helena, MT to Helena, AR, just a couple years ago. He had taken a shorter portage around the dams. We pulled out the maps Ellen McDonah loaned us and Will showed us his route and we took notes. His route cuts 10 miles off the portage. A 16-mile portage sounded less daunting than 26 miles and we were both thrilled. We chatted with Will for a while and then it was time for him to depart to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary with Felomina. Amazing people, cheers to them!

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Lisa, Will, and Alyce at Lakeside Bar and Restaurant on Hauser Lake near Helena. A great place to stop for great food and company.

It was now time for an afternoon nap. Lisa had thought ahead and set her tent up in a way that she got shade from the tree all afternoon. Alyce had not thought ahead and so took her sleeping mat and just napped right next to the trees, waking up every so often to slide back into the always-moving shade. The breeze steadily increased and made the afternoon the perfect outside sleeping temperature. After a restful afternoon we got back to work and had a productive afternoon. We ate dinner at Lakeside: a salad for Lisa and the award winning chili for Alyce as a snack. A little while later Victoria, one of Cheryl’s granddaughters who works at Lakeside, let us know there was only one of the day’s dinner special left: 3 Pork Tacos, with a side of rice. Alyce had mentioned earlier that she wanted to get that and it was incredibly kind of Victoria to remember and mention it! Both women said YES in unison! When the food came out, there were 4 tacos, since there were just enough ingredients for each of us to have two! The Lakeside Marina really knows how to make river rats feel special! With food devoured, the to-do list mostly crossed off (there are always items we can’t get to), we settled in to watch the suns last rays swim across the lake.

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Dinner at the Lakeside Marina, along with Alyce’s yellow office case.

2 Comments

  1. Jim Meade
    Posted June 10, 2016 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Great story. I admire your tenacity. Don’t know about the route the Will Garvin shared wth you but be aware that there is NO boating allowed between the 2nd and the 5th dam. (Rainbow to Morony) and you DO NOT want to put in below Morony. It’s white water rafting water – has a ledge 5′ high on one side of the river and the “big eddy” whirlpool has eaten several boats up to a $35,000.00 jet boat. If I’m available when you get to Gt. Falls I may be able to help. 727-2762

  2. Tom Holmberg
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Alyce and Lisa–

    Great to meet you both and share some tunes on the banks of the rolling Missouri. I look forward to following your progress on your epic journey.

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