The River Giveth and Taketh Away Part 2: The Jefferson River

2016-06-01 10.06.24

THANK YOU! Lisa & Alyce on The Jefferson River

An expedition of this magnitude requires many people working very hard to support the vision, usually behind the scenes. These individuals are instrumental to the expedition’s success and the overall mission of Source of Confidence. Each post we will highlight these all-star humans, as best we can! There are so many people we meet and who offer support and encouraging words though, at times, we may not be able to highlight everyone. For the Jefferson River section that group includes: Victoria Carpenter, Erin McCleary, Patrick Mars, Ellen McDonah, Norm Miller, The Missouri River Paddlers group, and all those who have supplied us with information along the way.

May 31st, 2016

Camped along the Jefferson River. What a day. A full life lived. On the water at 8am and crushing it! The river was running high at 2,600 cubic feet per second and she was a joyous living creature to behold. We got onto the Jefferson from the Beaverhead River around 10am and what a change. As we crossed the eddy line where the rivers converge, the river itself doubled in width. The water volume increased and so did the availability of land governed by the Forest Service and thus legal for camping!

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View of the river, from the bow (front) of our canoe.

The Jefferson was different. Seemingly unchanged since the days of Sacajawea until a road appears or you near a town like Silver Star, right there on the river with some resupply options. We took an hour-long lunch break on a rock bar and recharged our bodies and minds by lying on the rocks and absorbing their energy. The warm and smooth textures were like an all-star back massage. It’s incredible what Mother River provides…and takes away. Lisa’s cowgirl hat, for instance, was swept away in the morning gusts of wind. With the current moving rapidly, it was difficult for us to maneuver the canoe and back-paddle to reach the hat before it sunk into the depths. Not wanting to make sudden movements in the swift-moving current by lunging for the hat as it went under, even though in close enough range to complete the task, it was deemed too risky. There are always more hats.

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Lunch spot our first day on the Jefferson.

A quick paddle in the afternoon and we had reached our destination: Renova hot spring, near the settlement of Renova (no services). Since it was only 2:30 we elected to paddle further down the small channel where the hot springs were located; this is river right of the main channel when you come up to a large island – it’s very clearly a small channel and with high enough water you can follow it to find the hot springs. It helped to use the GPS to keep from missing the channel.  There is a primitive camping spot just a few hundred feet before the side channel. You can camp here and walk along the road to the hot springs as well.

A few small sets of rapids and we reached the main channel – much to our luck there was a rock bar along the river with ample driftwood and grass and forest to pitch our tents. Plus, on the map this land shows green for Forest Service land good for camping. In a pinch, you can always camp below the high water mark as long as there are no signs posted: no trespassing.

A quick ferry across the river, camp set up, hunger set in and we made Trailtopia ramen noodles. Broccoli and chicken for Lisa, beef stroganoff for Alyce. Along with Dunn Brothers coffee, we set to work discussing Lisa’s ideas and structure for the confidence-building curriculum, as well as had a serious conversation about the financial aspects of everything we are doing. Within each of our roles, we have different priorities and that is supremely important to the overall success of Source of Confidence. It is because we each prioritize different aspects that we have made it this far and are moving forward in the directions of our dreams.

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Alyce’s tent, first camp spot on the Jefferson River.

At times we struggle to put aside our individual priorities when another aspect of SOC needs to take precedence. Whether it be about finances, logistics, execution of the mission, documentation, structure of the curriculum, or upholding personal values alongside team values, hard conversations must be had and difficult decisions made. This involves time with the whole team. The expedition and confidence-building curriculum are the backbone of what we are doing and posting curriculum to the Wilderness Classroom website involves lots of time and access to a computer and Internet. While all of this is happening, we also need to be managing our budgets so we have the necessary funds to complete our expedition and deliver our mission. The crux is in the balance of all of it and that ebbs and flows. The river is a great teacher in the striving for this balance. Are you struggling with equilibrium in your life? We recommend spending time near or on rivers, no matter the size of the water. After our challenging and fruitful conversation, we each spent time with ourselves. Lisa read and wrote, while Alyce made rock statue art.

Later on, we decided it was time to check out the hot springs. We ferried back across the river, paddled upstream a short distance until the small rapids were too strong for our paddling, got out and walked our canoe up a few feet to a nice grassy spot. With the boat securely tied to trees along the shore, we followed a small animal path and arrived at the hot springs. We joined the company of three men, all going to school in Butte, MT, who were also enjoying the hot water. A friendly and lively conversation about our journey, kayaking, and fishing was a nice way to usher in the evening sky as the sun started her dance towards the next day. All of a sudden an hour had gone by, hunger and dehydration were setting in along with a desire to light a fire and cook dinner before dark. We said farewell to our new friends and ran the rapids back to our camp.

We had a late dinner of Trailtopia, as it is tasty food that only requires hot water and then a little time to let it hydrate in its pouch – which you can eat right out of! It had been a clear day, with very few clouds, and now the open sky started dazzling with the stars, the moon showed half of her face, and the sun sank down below the horizon. Sunsets last a long time in Big Sky country and well after 10 pm the soft orange glow still permeated the sky. Lisa got out Minne, her travel guitar, and we sang songs and continued to mention the awesomeness that was the day! Nearing 11pm we knew we had to venture to our tents for our night’s rest, even though we would have stayed up singing and laughing under that diamond-encrusted sky, there were miles to paddle the next day.

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Vistas on the Jefferson River.

June 1st, 2016

We had left the month of May behind us now, ringing cheers of happy June to each other in the morning. We were on the water in under two hours, a little before 9 am. The river was moving fast! We were moving fast! At one point during the day we clocked ourselves going 8 miles an hour. The large volume of water meant many different water features, requiring an awareness of how the current is moving and wants to move the boat. There is a rush to paddling on water that moves as fast as the Jefferson in peak flow (the end of May, beginning of June). Originally we had scheduled 5 days to paddle this river, though that was evidently more time than we needed at this pace. We hadn’t made a set plan of where we would get today, we just paddled.

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Lisa paddling.

Around lunchtime we were very close to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. The land around us changed dramatically in an instant. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by sheer river embankments, as the land stretched closer to the clouds and sky. It was incredibly beautiful and words are not adequately describing the immensity of going from low-lying land and rolling hills, to being completely surrounded by vertical fragments of earth. The intense green of the trees and grass surrounded us.

We had a floating lunch, in silence as we each soaked up the vast energy coming from the land. Just floating we were cruising at about 4 miles an hour. It is always so interesting when you tell people you meet along the way that you are canoeing. A usual response is: “are you just floating, or you paddling”. We have never been ones to just sit in the canoe, the urge to dip the blade into the water and feel the river’s all-mighty power is intoxicating; thus over the last few years, we have done progressively longer canoeing expeditions. Though in this moment that urge paddle had disappeared and we surrendered to the awe-inspiring beauty around us as we floated along. One of the best lunches in this big adventure.

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We stopped at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park visitor center; not directly on the river, though just a quick walk and a skip over Interstate 90. An informative place where we read up about rattlesnakes. As native Minnesotans, we are not used to poisonous snakes and had not yet done our due diligence of research on this subject matter. So we learned about their habitat and the hours of the day they like to be out: early morning, evening and night. We will be sure to use constant vigilance during these times of the day.

We continued paddling, still with no real stopping point in mind. As the hours went by, we were getting closer and closer to Three Forks, MT, where the Jefferson meets with the Madison and Gallatin Rivers to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. We had been communicating with Norm Miller about meeting up with him in Three Forks. Norm is an incredible guy. He has paddled long expeditions himself, including retracing the Lewis and Clark trail by paddling UP the Missouri River (when you are cruising down the a river at 8mph, it’s hard to imagine trying to fight your way back up. Every single day. Kudos to you, Norm.)

Several years ago Norm started the Missouri Paddlers Facebook Group, where there is a wealth of information about paddling the rivers, along with a strong and supportive community of paddlers and paddle enthusiasts.  We contacted Norm way back in April 2015 when we first decided we were going to paddle the 4th longest river system in the world. He gave us tons of information and other resources. Over the last year and a half of planning Norm continued to provide information and resources and we were both looking forward to meeting with him. He informed us that he would be able to come to Three Forks on June 2nd with pizza and beer! The anticipation was high so we contemplated pushing on to Three Forks.

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View from Alyce’s tent, sunset, June 1st.

When 5 pm came around and we were about 11 miles from Three Forks, we decided to camp on a terrific rock/gravel bar, that materialized as we came around a bend in the river. Another beautiful day on the Jefferson and a tasty dinner of mac and cheese, with boiled onions and sweet potatoes. An attempt at making whole biscuits, quickly turned into a biscuit scramble that was a great change of texture for the mac and cheese dish. Enjoyed in front of the river and followed by guitar music as the sun started her march over the horizon, another superb day of river life came to a close.

June 2nd, 2016

We awoke to more sunshine and partly cloudy skies. We were not in a hurry to move, as we were 3 days ahead of schedule. We still managed to get out of camp in under 2 hours; as each day progresses, we refine our systems and get into routines of camp chores and who does what. We started communicating with Norm early in the day. The first plan was that he would meet us at the Shoshone Landing, a “primitive” campground, with a fire ring and an old pit toilet.


Alyce & Lisa, in front of the Shoshone Landing sign.

It was located right by Three Forks, and 4 miles away from the Missouri Headwaters. First plan was he would join us at 6pm for dinner and then it turned into lunchtime! We put a little more pep in our paddle stroke, as the idea of pizza for lunch was a terrific motivator. After some confusion about exactly where the campground was, due to the water being so high and a channel that is normally un-paddle-able being open, we arrived and set up camp.

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Norm Miller, River Angel, who brought this delicious meal for lunch! Thank You Norm!!

A little while later Norm came strolling in, proclaiming: “did somebody order pizza!” It was very exciting to be meeting Norm, who has been important in preparing for this expedition. We exchanged hugs and were delighted to see him in a Source of Confidence t-shirt that Alyce had mailed to him over the winter. Norm had also brought cookies, fruit, and beer. We scarfed the large pizza, with some of the best toppings: lots of vegetables and different meats! Norm began regaling us with stories of past paddlers, including one epic story about a paddler who swamped his boat at the confluence, initially losing his boat and all gear. With Norm and help from Chris, Norm’s girlfriend, much gear was recovered and he was able to carry on with his expedition.

A few hours later the pizza and cookies were gone. Norm wanted to show us around Three Forks and various spots, including the confluence of the Jefferson and Madison. Before we departed the camp spot, Norm gifted us with a medallion, from the Missouri River Paddlers Reunion in the summer of 2015. Only a hundred were commissioned. David Miller, who wrote the Complete Paddlers Guide book, the only comprehensive book for paddling the Missouri River, had distributed them at the reunion. He also gave Norm a handful to pass on to future Missouri River paddlers. We felt an incredible sense of honor to each receive a medallion and we will be sure to take pictures with it at major milestones along the expedition.

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Medallion (back side), gifted to us by Norm Miller, from David Miller.

We drove around, seeing parts of the river we will paddle in just a few days. Following our tour of the Missouri River Headwaters, we headed to the Sacajawea Hotel, to sit on the wrap-around porch, admire the architecture of the old building, and drink a beer with Norm. We lost track of time talking about past expeditions and adventures, local history (Norm is a big L&C buff) and the upcoming sections of Missouri River we would be facing.

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Sacajawea Statue, in Three Forks, MT.

We hopped over to an eatery for ice cream and onion rings, then we headed back to camp. We got a fire going, Lisa pulled out her guitar and we spent another hour enjoying the river life with Norm. Eventually he had to start his drive back to Livingston, MT. We said farewell for now to our new great friend and sat by the fire till that haze orange glow of the sun on its final crescendo cast its tune across the sky.

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Lisa playing guitar by the fire.

June 3rd, 2016

One of the benefits of getting ahead of our timeline is being able to have a relaxed morning. Waking up when your eyes decided it’s time to see the day is a good practice from time to time. Reading in the tent for a while, until the sun’s rays turn it into an oven and you are forced out into the world. Made coffee and Simply Native wild rice cereal over the fire and created a plan for the day. Viki would be arriving around noon with the resupply, so we decided to spend the morning, reading, writing and bathing in the river. An excellent patch of sandy riverfront called to us from across the river. So we made the quick jaunt through the knee-high grass to the dirt road and over the wooden bridge, to arrive at a prime swimming spot. It was a glorious bath and a great conversation about how tone-of-voice affects the way the listener interprets what is being said. One solution is pause before taking the tone of voice personally, and assess whether the other person is tired, hungry, stressed, or a combo of all three, aka a triple-trifecta for miscommunication. Using patience and compassion are great tools for achieving this, as it is not always easy.

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Time for a swim in the river! Not here though, too muddy.

Viki arrived with the resupply and fresh snacks, including hummus and bread! With the tarp set up for protection from the blazing afternoon sun, Lisa led the team in a conversation to recap the first phase of the expedition and clarify the priorities for Source of Confidence and the division of responsibilities. We arrived at the conclusion that the experience of the expedition takes priority – after all, you have to have a story before you can tell it. Documenting the experience comes in close second. Following that is the development of the curriculum to tie the expedition to the outside world and then to share it with our audience. As well as the over arching task of managing budgets and finances, which intersects with all three priorities. By further defining tasks and assigning a point person to aspects of each priority, we were able to reduce the daunting immensity of all that we are attempting to accomplish. Also during this time, we created a new plan, as Viki needed to go home to Minnesota for the week, while at the same time Alyce and Lisa needed to spend a day in Bozeman, running errands, as well as using our computers and having access to the internet.

A solution was quickly arrived at: Erin McCleary (who lives in Bozeman and had paddled with us over the past weekend) had all of Saturday off and was happy to lend her support. Then a bonus minor catastrophe: the inner-tubes in our portage cart with newly-outfitted tires just up and exploded. With multiple portages  coming up in the next two weeks, we needed to get new tubes pronto. We added “deal with tires”, to our already growing to-do list. After we wrapped up our meeting which included a bit more processing of the last week and airing out emotions and lingering feelings, it was time to go into Three Forks and get ice cream. It was a hot day, reaching into the 80’s!

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Behind the scenes filming with Viki!

The rest of the evening was a festive time, cooking elk chops and rice over the open fire, along with enjoying each other’s company as friends. It is critical for the overall success of Source of Confidence for us to spend intentional time as friends. An overall priority for us is our relationships with each other and ourselves. This evening was one of those incredible and powerful nights where we were able to be real, open women laughing together, around a fire that we built and eating with our hands the delicious meat we cooked. As the sun started to sway towards the horizon, we took advantage of the soft lighting and took fun pictures of ourselves around an enormous cottonwood tree. All too soon it was time for Viki to depart and we said our farewells for the night, knowing we would meet up in Bozeman the next day to get the portage cart and busted tires .


The Cottonwood tree, at the Shoshone Landing. After climbing to inspect the tree, Lisa discovered that a porcupine had made this tree a frequent hangout.

June 4th, 2016

The sun was up early this morning, drawing us out of our tents. We got organized for the day. Erin arrived around 9am and we made the thirty-minute drive into Bozeman. A fresh, hearty and delicious breakfast enjoyed at a local eatery and we got to the business of the day. Running errands took the rest of the morning, after which we deposited Lisa at the laundromat to do some washing, along with using the free internet provided! It is amazing where you can find free internet! Next Erin brought Alyce to the Bozeman Public Library; libraries are becoming a sort of business work sanctuary, in that they are quiet and have great internet. Support your local library!

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The busted tubes of the portage cart tires.

Viki arrived sometime in the afternoon, providing Alyce and Lisa their first visual of the busted tires. It became apparent that the tubes had popped, as they had been over-inflated. Two weeks previous we had purchased new, sturdier and durable tires from a tire store in Montana. When they put the old rims on the new tires, they did not take note that the tubes could only be inflated to a certain level. We were not quite sure what to do and having a limited budget, you get creative. Along with having an incredible support team, solutions can be found!

In that moment, we had to return to our “office work” and put the tires on the back burner. The rest of the afternoon flew bye and all of a sudden the library was closing, though we still needed internet. Erin picked us, brought us back to her apartment to use her internet and finalize some of our computer work. At the same time Erin generously offered to begin the process of fixing the tires, by heading to a tire store.

Erin returned a while later, with pizza and mixed news. She had purchased new tubes, though was not able to get them in the tires fully inflated. We thanked her for the hard work and took a moment to eat the delicious salmon pizza! Already it was 7pm, the day had gone by too fast, with still many items not crossed off of our to-do list. This is the pattern we are finding when we set out on these work days: we just have too much to do and just not enough hours in the day. The brainpower to sit in front of a computer screen also comes in limited supply. It was time for Erin to drive us back to our camp spot and we decided to put the tire issue out of our minds for the rest of the evening as there wasn’t anything more we could do.

Our friend Patrick Mars, along with his friends Dustin Sedlar and Kylee Perik, had arrived at the Shoshone campsite earlier that day, to do some canoeing of their own. They would be camping with us for the night and provided the much needed distraction of catching up with an old friend and the enthused conversation that occurs when like-minded people meet for the first time. Getting to talk about all that had happened in May on our expedition and getting fresh reactions was a superb energizer for the upcoming Missouri River section.

As the mosquitoes got peskier, we gathered wood and started a fire. Lisa and Patrick got out their guitars and using buckets as seats, we were a picturesque group of river rats, truly portraying river life. Kylee heated up pop tarts over the fire grate as an evening treat and jolly conversation was had all around.

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Nightly view from our camping spot along the Jefferson River.

At some point we created a lose plan for Sunday: driving back to Bozeman by 9 am at the latest, breakfast and then we would tackle the tire issue. Patrick had generously offered to bring us into Bozeman and help us in finding a solution. As the stars and moon glimmered in the sky, the fire casting shadows around the circle, it was another charmed evening.

June 5th, 2016

The sun gets up early in Big Sky Country, starting her movement across the sky around 4:30am. You can get used to sleeping through the light and throwing a piece of clothing across your eyes helps. We met our goal of being on the road by 9 am; meeting that first time goal gives the whole day a feeling of success. A leisurely breakfast was enjoyed and then all too soon it was time to tackle the reason we were back in Bozeman and not on the river: the deflated tires. With the “office work” to-do list still long, Alyce stayed at Patrick’s house to tackle that mountain, while Lisa and Patrick took on fixing the tires.

After many hours, we had more information, though not necessarily a full solution. We needed a bent valve on the inner tube, instead of a straight one (Erin had picked us up some new straight valve tubes). We contacted Norm Miller about where to buy this type of tube and he gave us several options. As luck would have it, that since it is a Sunday, none of the stores that sell the needed tubes were open. Alas what to do about the tires?

In order to be on schedule with our timeline, we need to start paddling the Missouri River tomorrow. We have the following portages to do before June 15th: Toston Dam (.6 miles), Canyon Ferry Dam (2 miles), Hauser Dam (.2 miles), and Holter Dam (.5 miles). As of 5pm on Sunday a solution for the tires has not been found. Should we come back to Bozeman tomorrow, buy the tire tubes and start paddling in the afternoon, falling a half day behind our timeline? The ever present backup plan: just portage the canoe on our shoulders (with portage pads) and have to make possibly 3 trips to move all our gear from one end to the other. Check out the next reflection post on Friday June 10th to find out what decision we ended up making!

Reflection Questions:

1.    Alyce and Lisa are working on balancing their priorities of traveling in the canoe, starting a business, and documenting the experience to share with girls and women everywhere. What are your priorities? How do you find balance in your life

2.   Lisa and Alyce have been paying attention to how their feelings impact the tone-of-voice they use with the other person. Sometimes things don’t come out the way they intended. Does that ever happen to you? What do you do clear up misunderstandings?

3.   What did the coins that Norm Miller gave to Alyce and Lisa say? How have they and the people they have met along the river put those words into practice?



  1. wayne pauluk
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Exciting! Please add me

  2. John Narron
    Posted August 3, 2016 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Great trip. Good read

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