June 10th, 2016
The river days are flying by! We are settling into our river routine yet every day brings something new and unexpected our way. Up early, it was time for us to depart Lakeside on Hauser, one of our new favorite spots. Packing and getting on the water tends to take a little longer after a layover day. You have to get your mind and body tuned back into the routine. We weren’t the only ones up early. Our generous and fabulous hosts, the owners of Lakeside Restaurant, Cheryl and Conrad Hale were already up. Along with their daughters and some visiting friends, they were making jokes and drinking coffee on the porch. We snapped a few photos and bid farewell to our new friends, including Victoria and Luke the Bar Cat, and we got back on the water.
The sun shone bright on the lake that sat smooth as polished stone as we paddled across it- a big change from the waves that tossed us into shore the other day. As the lake began to narrow back into the Missouri River, we approached the Hauser Lake Dam and prepared to portage on river left (the terms “river left” and “river right” refer to the side of the river when facing downstream. If looking upstream, “river left” would be on your right). The steep shoreline appeared somewhat daunting as we approached. It seemed very difficult to haul packs up, let alone a canoe. We approached a sign warning us of the danger downstream. We pulled over and started to unload the canoe. Lisa took a pack and handful of gear up the steep bank and after struggling with the small load, went to scout other options. She found an easier spot to unload and haul the gear but it was much closer to the dam – we’d have to duck under the wire and slip past the danger sign. After confirming with the guide book that this is where other paddlers had taken out, and assessing our ability to safely approach the dam, we reloaded the boat and paddled on. There was virtually no current and the section of the dam ahead of us was a solid concrete wall, not the slots where water spills over – that was over on river right. As soon as the shore dipped down to a hospitable landing, we easily slid ourselves and all of our stuff out of the water. We agreed that we had made the right call as, for us, trying to haul our boat and gear up that steep shoreline would likely have been more dangerous than paddling a little closer to the dam. We are not advocating that anyone else ignore danger signs and paddle near dams, this was just the choice we made based on our assessment of the terrain, our abilities, and information from other paddlers.
Once on the top of the dam, the view of the canyon took our breath away. Sheer, beautiful rock faces greeted us. The history of the earth recorded in these rocks is awe-inspiring. Thinking about all the geological forces, the weather, and time, that has shaped this landscape gave us much food for thought along the journey.
Back in the boat, after the quick portage on the dirt road around the dam and we found ourselves in some swift current. Around 4pm, the storm cells that had been circulating began to descend upon us and we got out of the boat on the relative safety of shore to wait for the lightning to pass. Being surrounded by a storm with no shelter but your rain jacket opens your senses to the environment in new and unexpected ways. We watched the rain come down like someone dumping buckets of water from the sky. The heavy drops danced on the river, the grandest ballroom of all. The sweet, almost intoxicating smell of the willow released by the rain filled our nostrils and lungs. The sound of thunder echoing off the canyon walls made us feel small yet fully awake and alive – better than caffeine. The cool rain falling through the warm air created an enjoyable sensation on our cheeks and hands. If only our snacks weren’t tied up with our boat on the water. Lisa ate a flower from an evening primrose to round out the sensory experience. It was kind of bitter. When the beauty and grandeur of the rain and lightning had subsided, we appreciated the sight of a newly cleansed earth.
After contemplating camping where we had pulled over, we decided to continue on and nearer to the Gates of the Mountains. The canyons and rock walls opened up into Upper Holter Lake. The storms continued on, with occasional rain as we paddled the lake. We saw many pairs of fish in the shallows chasing each other, wrestling around with fins flapping on the water’s surface. We decided they must be spawning. The storm cells continued to threaten us from all sides but without any lightning near-by (within 6 miles), we felt safe continuing.
Upon seeing the canyon walls we were happy with our decision to continue on. Once we got into the canyon, however, the wind increased dramatically as it was funneled by the steep and narrow rock walls. After battling a fierce headwind for about an hour, the land on our left flattened out and we discovered a delightful, primitive campsite. A primitive campsite is a spot to put a tent and place to build a fire – no toilet or drinking water. This one also had a homemade bench and the fire pit was made out of rocks unearthed from the surrounding land. We had a Trailtopia dinner and dessert which was perfect for the level of exhaustion we were both feeling. Just add hot water!
After a long day of paddling, portaging, assessing storms, and setting up camp, the post-dinner urge to crawl to the sleeping bag set in. But we were so enamored with our location that we decided to stay up a little longer. Alyce built a fire while Lisa played her guitar and sang. The sunlight radiated on the rock walls, as she began her nightly prayers to the earth. The golden light looked like it was coming out of the rocks at one point and the optical illusion was only intensified by the reflections of light on the water, bathing everything in white-gold. Beauty beyond compare and difficult to capture through a camera lens; some sights can only be experienced.
All too soon it was time to go to bed. Though the fire, music, and fading light continued to tempt us, the need for rest won out and we said good-night. River life.
June 11th, 2016
A typical morning, waking up and getting on the water in under an hour and a half. Breakfast as we floated along, mostly in silence, contemplating the rocks and the bald eagle hunting for breakfast overhead. The silence gave us a space to think our own thoughts and to honor the history and wisdom of the landscape. Plus, we had plenty of excitement coming our way as we would be meeting up with our friends, Torrye, Rachel, Mary, and Jeff today.
With calm water and virtually no current, we set back in to our “lake travel” cadence of non-stop paddling. After a couple of hours, we slipped through the “Gates of the Mountains” which is a large rock formation that, from the right vantage point looks like, you guessed it, gates. A stunning geologic feature that attracts many visitors, most of whom arrive in motor boat. As we deflected the wakes of other boaters with our hull, we paddled up to a sign telling the story of the Mann Gulch wildfire of 1949. Started by lightning, the fire took the lives of 13 smokejumpers and the lessons learned from this tragedy have been used to improve the training and safety of wildland firefighters today.
Paddling on through some of the most beautiful stretch of river we had encountered yet, we noticed how much Montanans love their outdoor recreating. Being a Saturday in June, there were hundreds of people out boating, floating, jet-skiing, and inner-tubing in the nice weather. We felt a little out of place in our canoe – the only person-powered craft out there aside from a lone kayaker. It’s funny to pass people sunning themselves on their weekend outside, while we are covered head-to-toe, trying to avoid sunburn. For us, there is no house or indoor space to go back to when our fun on the river is done. This is our home and our clothes are our shelter. We definitely looked the part of river rats as we passed by all these vacationers! We love it!
We could feel the afternoon wind pick up and as we rounded the last river bend onto Holter Lake. Our original plan was to paddle the 4 miles across the lake, portage the dam, and meet our friends at a campsite downstream of the Holter Dam. We decided to cross over to the east shore and see if we could camp at Log Gulch Recreation Area on the south end of the lake, saving ourselves the trouble of fighting a headwind for several hours.
We had fun sloshing through the big waves generated by the wind and motorboats. Once arriving at the Log Gulch, we pulled up on the beach and found a campsite a short walk away..
The place was totally packed with RVs and people. We had arrived at the right moment though, as a family was packing up their stuff and vacating a campsite with a huge section of green space and a gentle sloping hill. We quickly claimed that spot. No sooner had we moved in with all our gear and organized our life, and our friends Torrye Hart and Rachel Garwin arrived! We had not seen them in over a year (we all worked together at Voyageur Outward Bound School, VOBS, in Ely, Minnesota) and it was a fun reunion. We sat around the picnic table, talking, swapping stories and enjoying the locally brewed beer they had brought us. Rachel pulled out her “naturalist bag” full of guide books on local flora and fauna, and she and Lisa “geeked out” over some of the species of birds, mammals, and trees native to Montana. The juniper, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, Osprey, and pelican were a few of the species we could identify from our campsite.
We lit a fire and cooked up the bratwursts and veggies from T and R. We topped it with delicious sauerkraut and stuffed our faces as Mary Milodragovich and Jeff Weaver (also former VOBS instructors) rolled up. Exuberant hugs at another wonderful reunion! Mary and Jeff bestowed the gifts of dessert, an HDMI cord (for transferring photos from camera to computer), and a spaghetti squash that Jeff had rescued from the Dearborn River earlier in the day. Let’s talk about that dessert. S’mores, two options: traditional Hershey’s chocolate OR Reese’s peanut butter cup! If you have never tried a Reece’s peanut butter cup, squished between an oozing marshmallow and graham crackers, you have not lived. Try it today.
The evening passed all too quickly, as friends enjoyed good conversation, laughter, and the glow of the fire and the sunset painting the landscape in pinks, purples and oranges. We attempted to roast Jeff’s “river squash” over the fire. It only turned out okay. Midnight crept up on us and it was time to sleep, as we had miles to paddle tomorrow (technically today at this point in the story). Good-nights were exchanged and the dull thumping of the motorboats against the docks lulled us all to sleep.
June 12th, 2016
The six of us slowly trickled out of our various sleeping shelters around 7:45am and Torrye had already started the coffee. Go girl. This is a group of coffee drinkers and we’ve got our priorities straight. Mary had brought a special treat: half and half to add to the elixir of life. For Alyce this was much cause for celebration, as that is one of the things she misses the most when on trail.
Our long and joyous breakfast included bacon cooked by Rachel and another treat for Alyce and Lisa: yogurt. Thanks Torrye and Rachel! So many treats in such a short time! It was nice to have a slow breakfast since we were a day and a half ahead of our timeline. Mary, Torrye, and Rachel had agreed to participate in a group interview for our documentary. We are having a lot of fun being documentarians in these moments; setting up the I-phone to record and getting the microphones in place. One mic on the camera filming and another connected to Alyce’s I-phone for recording just audio. We have learned to use multiple devices for recording and to back up our audio using two devices. Using buckets for seats, with the pine trees as the backdrop, an hour quickly passed discussing confidence and self-esteem. These conversations we are having with women along the river are tremendously powerful and provide us with fresh and new approaches to thinking about our own confidence and self-esteem. Each woman has her own ideas, experiences, and opinions. We have the privilege of listening and, in a sense bearing witness through the creation of our documentary, to each voice. Thank you, Mary, Torrye and Rachel for being courageous and vulnerable enough to let us in.
River time is beholden to no one and all of a sudden it was 11am. We finished packing up, brought our boat and gear to the beach and loaded her up. Rachel and Torrye would be joining us for the 4.5 mile paddle to the Holter Dam where their car would be waiting for them. Jeff and Mary shuttled the car and drove into Helena to find us a much-needed piece of technology: a cord or converter for us to load footage off the Go-Pro and onto the computer. With limited storage space, we need to be able to transfer images regularly to free up room for all the new stuff we are experiencing. Unfortunately, the HDMI cord that Mary brought didn’t fit right, and again we had to send someone (this time Mary) out into the world again to find the correctly sized something-or-other.
It was amazing to have women join us on the water again and the hour and a half paddle went by all too fast. You could see the gray concrete of the dam from a good distance and our notes stated that the portage would be on the left. As we approached, it was not clear exactly where the portage was and we could see another “Danger” sign. We spotted a brown sign slightly to the right of the “danger” sign, yet couldn’t make out the words. Rachel, ever- prepared naturalist and bird-watcher, pulled out her binoculars and identified that the sign said: PORTAGE HERE. Go girl.
Any easy portage down a dirt road brought us to a campground and boat launch for easy put-in to the river. We said good-bye to Rachel and Torrye, thanking them again for all the treats, making the drive to spend time with us, and paddling. These are two top-notch women that we are thankful to call friends!
Back on the Missouri River and in current! There were a lot of people out: inner-tube-ers floating the river; kayakers enjoying the bird-watching; rafters fishing for trout; and us in our green canoe. The 8-mile paddle from Holter Dam to the Craig Fishing and Access site went by fast. 6 to 8 miles-per-hour fast! Thank you, Big Muddy! We also couldn’t stop talking about how awesome our friends are.
Mary and Jeff met us at the boat landing in Craig and gifted us with mangos, salad greens, and candy gummi worms. Where did we find such an amazing support crew! They also brought us a memory card reader to facilitate picture transfers. While we were testing our new piece of equipment (thanks, again, Mary!) near the river, a group that had just pulled up started asking questions about all of our gear. We told them, a family with two young daughters, about our mission to become the first all-female expedition to to canoe the 4th longest river system in the world. The older of the two girls became very enthusiastic, an adventurer herself, expressed her desire to do something like this someday. We took some photos and gave her and her sister an official SOC button (handmade). It was a great moment to get to share in her excitement.
Riding the wave of inspiration, we set up camp at a nearby campground and swam in the river to cool off. Jeff treated us to burgers and ice cream and we talked about life on the river, fishing, and gender equity –standard topics these days. Jeff headed home and the wave of inspiration kept flowing. Alyce set in to furiously type up some reflections and Lisa dug in to the guitar. A group of four musicians strolled up to the riverfront and caught our attention. Waiting for the right moment (and confidence) to approach them, Lisa got sidetracked by the neighboring group of campers who asked to hear some tunes. They were a group of fishermen who had been coming to this spot for more than 20 years together. Lisa played a couple of Allman Brothers and Eagles songs and talked about the expedition for a bit. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the musicians sneaking away and she quickly excused herself from the group of fisherman and darted down the street after the mysterious band.
Catching up to them and catching her breath, she asked what they were up to – they had instruments and costume implements and appeared to have been making a music video. One explained that they were indulging him in his alter-ego, “Hans”, an eccentric German drummer. This immediately activated one of Lisa’s alter-egos, “Liesel” an eccentric German guitar player, and with her guitar slung over her shoulder, the group invited her to jam. It turned out these guys – Tom, Robb, Matt, and Matt – were also here for a reunion – they hadn’t all been together in 20 years! After an hour or so of music, Alyce joined the group and we played and sang and laughed in German accents until midnight snuck up on us again.
As we were leaving, Robb handed Lisa the shaker he had been using all night. It was a band of small mountain goat hooves from Bolivia and he wanted us to take it on the expedition. Cool. All the guys were very excited about what we were doing and sent us off with a lot of well-wishes for the journey. After a big positive risk and new-found confidence, one of the best river days came to a close.
June 13th, 2016
Got a case of the Mondays? After a wonderful weekend of fun with friends, it was a slow-moving morning. On the water by 9:45, the river had a good current. We ate breakfast while floating and had a fruitful conversation about our roles and what responsibilities we will each take on. We practiced vulnerability, a challenge for both of us. Expressing feelings and opinions when they may be different and maybe even disagreeable to another person is a hard thing to do. Spending so much time together, we must to have a lot of these daring conversations to understand each other and find compromises. We are also learning more about who the other person is, what is important to them, and how to support them in being their best self. This is hard work! It takes a lot of energy and is really messy a lot of the time but is crucial to building trust which is exactly what you need to have with your expedition partner.The intense and positive conversation of the morning invited the intense afternoon sun and we had to swim to regulate our body temperatures. Over-heating can cause real problems on an expedition. It is also a full-time job protecting yourself from the sun, staying hydrated, and then having to pee every hour. These are our daily-concerns.
Our destination for the day near Cascade, MT and we reached it earlier in the day, around 3:30. Not finding any desirable camping spots, we continued on past the boat ramp after the bridge on river left. Remember that hot sun? It kept blaring and without realizing it, we both became a bit dehydrated and didn’t notice how hungry we were. Hunger, dehydration, and the hot afternoon sun are the breeding grounds for irritation. Even though we had JUST had a great conversation about personal goals and how to work better as a team, these factors caught us off-guard and we found ourselves annoyed with each other, yet again. We decided to implement one of the conflict resolution strategies we had talked about before and took a break before talking. We set up camp on a small island with a rock gravel bar and swam again to cool off. The sun was directly overhead and the heat was not relenting. The small island life comes with many benefits though does have one significant drawback: a severe deficit of shade.
We each spent the rest of the afternoon writing, reading and of course, swimming. Alyce cooked up a dinner of lentil and quinoa stew which was followed by a logistics planning phone call with Viki. After the call, we attempted to re-address the attitudes from earlier in the day, but now exhaustion hindered our ability to be patient or productive so we decided to try sleep and went to bed a little on edge, but agreeable. The temperature changed dramatically as the sun slipped away. It felt amazing to have a finally cooled-off body. Falling asleep was easy and we were both in our tents before 9pm.
June 14th, 2016
The current was moving faster in the morning, making our floating breakfast feel very productive. A quiet morning, each of us using the river’s space and time to reflect and decide whether it was worth bringing up the petty irritations from the day before – it wasn’t, so we dropped it. We decided to laugh and tell stories instead.
After lunch a storm closed in on us. Because of the way the river snakes and winds around big bends, we got to see the storm from many angles. This made it a lot of fun to play around with our documenting equipment. Each time it would start to rain we would put our rain coats on, it would sprinkle on us and then we would move out from underneath the storm. The rain would stop falling on us and because the sun was sharing the sky with the storm, the heat would force us out of our coats only to put them back on minutes later as the river rounded back under the rain. We put our raincoats on no fewer than 6 times, singing and in good spirits the whole time. It was an entertaining way to spend the afternoon.
As we started to look for a desirable island to camp on near Ulm, MT, we noted that the landscape had changed into a marshy river land. Up until now it had been fairly easy to find an island with a gravel bar (Alyce’s favorite type of camping location), though this was proving more difficult given the new terrain. Eventually we came around a bend, now a couple of miles north of Ulm, and discovered a grassy, flat shoreline below the “high water” mark. The main allure: it was not just mud; as most other spots we had passed. This camp spot provided beautiful vistas of the hills and rock outcroppings across the mighty Missouri River.
Camp set-up and organized, dinner made and consumed, and another day of river life well-lived. We each retired to our tents to write and read. Lisa played her guitar, Minne, and along with the wind, created a lullaby that put the trees, sun and people to sleep.
June 15th, 2016
A usual quiet morning, we got on the water in an hour and fifteen minutes. We enjoyed the cloudy sky, as we breakfast floating down the river. We communicated with Viki early on to say we would be arriving in Great Falls today. Viki would be meeting us there with her awesome presence, a re-supply of food, and fresh memory cards for the Go-Pro. We would need all of these things and her support as we reached another expedition milestone: the 16 mile portage around the 5 dams of Great Falls. The morning went by quickly and in no time we found ourselves approaching Great Falls. As we came into the city on the river, the far shore was lined with the rusting bodies of old cars, creating the most unique retaining wall either of us had ever seen. It was a strange and beautiful sight. We paddled close to the bank, taking in the details: metal coils, rusted springs, steering wheels, the unique contours of a different era of vehicles. The line of cars extended out of view and we enjoyed the procession all the way to where the Sun River flows into the Missouri, on river left immediately after the first bridge.
Norm Miller, our friend and resident MO river expert, had informed us that there was an RV park about a mile up the Sun River that we could access from the water. We pulled up to the make-shift take-out which was a dusty patch of land under a bridge. Since we had arrived here around 3pm, we took some time to hang in the canoe under the shade of the bridge in our canoe. We have come to enjoy time under bridges more than either of us could have anticipated. We pulled out the instruments – our guitar and mountain goat toenail shaker, which we now refer to as “the nails” and created some music videos.
Finally deciding it was time to make our way to the camping spot, we reluctantly got out of the canoe. Our portage cart has been doing a spectacular job of helping us move across land, holding a lot of our gear, as we carry our packs. The RV park was huge and full of goliath-sized vehicles that people use to see the country and live out of. Very similar to what we are doing, in a sense: carrying most of what you own with you as you travel from place to place and stay longer in some places than others. We checked in at the office, found the tenting area and got our camp set up. The spots were a bit smaller than we are used to and it took a little getting used to the car traffic and having neighbors so close. We were hoping Viki would meet us that night so we could get an early start on the day. On river time, plans morph and change all the time and Viki couldn’t make it. We decided to get up early and finish our paddle to the 15th street bridge where we would meet Viki to start the portage.
There is a well maintained portage take-out on river right, across from where the Sun River enters the Missouri. A large sign directs you to this spot and there is a list of numbers you can call for assistance portaging the 26 miles around the 5 dams. Since we are using the strength of our bodies to move our canoe the whole distance, we opted for a different route. We had heard about another route from our friend and fellow through-paddler, Will Garvin, the week before and his route cut 10 miles off of the total distance. Easy choice. Another dinner of lentil and quinoa stew, we made a plan to get moving at 5:30am. The weather forecast was calling for 25 mile-per-hour winds starting around 9am, so we wanted to get on the water early and complete the paddle to the bridge. In our tents early, we were hoping for a goodnights rest.
June 16th, 2016
Each day, we wake up knowing that certain things will happen. We know that we will use our bodies to move our canoe and that we will eat food and drink water. We know we will laugh, have challenging conversations, and probably be too hot or cold and that we will document it as much as possible, using our cameras and journals. What we don’t know is who we will meet and all the support we will receive from folks that were strangers initially and become friends instantly.
June 16th was one of those mysterious days which, for Alyce, began at was 3:30am. Our camping neighbors had had much too much to drink and were getting rowdy. Not the good, fun kind of rowdy, but the semi-dangerous kind. Alyce debated calling the police when the yelling finally subsided. Lisa, wearing ear plugs, missed out on most of the commotion. Falling back asleep did not happen for Alyce and when the alarm went off at 5:30, both women continued to try and find sleep for another half an hour. It did not come. Alyce requested more time, in a futile attempt at more rest. Eventually, it was time to move and it was not a good morning. Trying to get out of there quickly and on the water, we skipped coffee and ate a small breakfast. Thank goodness for the K’ul chocolate endurance bar, with enough calories and 8 grams of protein to get the muscle moving in the morning
As we got on to the Sun River which would take us back to the Missouri, the wind began to pick up from behind us. This is known as a tailwind and can be helpful up to a certain point, though when it starts to pick up in intensity, it can bring waves of water into the boat and make it difficult to steer. After about an hour, we reached the 15th St. bridge and it was good we got on the water when we did. Those predicted 30 mph wind gusts had just started. We unloaded the canoe as quickly as we could and carried everything up to the road where we would meet Viki.
Viki arrived shortly after and we had a great reunion with coffee, fresh food, and good conversation. It was nearly 10:30am, the time we had said we wanted to start so we made a plan to get moving. Managing our time goals is still an area we are figuring out, as we often lose track of time while deep in meaningful conversations. Realizing that we needed to clear up some memory cards, we spent another hour getting that done while organizing what we would need for the day. For some reason, it is still surprising just how long things can take to get done. Finally ready to start the portage, the canoe locked and loaded, Lisa’s phone rang. It was a local news reporter from ABC-FOX Montana, Melinda Zosh, and she wanted to do a live interview with us for the local Great Falls news station, KFBB. Our first television interview! This was probably the best way to go into the 16-mile portage, with thoughts of being on television swirling in our brains as we started walking.
Within a few minutes some guys in a Northwestern energy company truck stopped and asked if we wanted a ride around the dams. The energy company provides free shuttle service to paddlers. We explained that we were doing this on purpose. We would have many more experiences like this one throughout the day, with kindhearted individuals asking if we wanted a ride or if we were “alright”. Our responses of “yes, we are doing this on purpose” worked to get the point across.
The first few hours moved quickly, as we pulled the canoe along the paved road and had a few more conversations with curious people driving by. We had to cross the highway two times, as we did a diagonal cut around it on dirt roads, in order to avoid walking next to the fast moving cars and trucks. When we made it to Morony Dam Rd, we were feeling triumphant! To pass the time, Lisa pulled out her guitar and Alyce got “the nails” and we made music while pulling the canoe along the paved road. Viki filmed us and we created some stellar music videos! Get excited to view those.
All of a sudden it was 4:30 pm and Melinda pulled up in her car. What an awesome, enthusiastic, and professional woman! After introductions, she got to setting up her camera and talking us through the process of how the interview would go. “When I wave, you wave” she told us. We laughed. With her equipment set-up, we practiced for the live television interview, as Melinda streamed our answers live to her Facebook page. Then it was time for our minute on the local 5pm broadcast. It was an incredible experience to be interviewed about what we are doing while portaging our canoe. We definitely felt the adrenaline from this monumental moment for Source of Confidence and us.
After the interview, Lisa started playing guitar while we waited to go on again at 6:00. Melinda continued to film a bit and then we told stories and made plans to for her to join us in the canoe on Monday. She wanted to get more footage and ask us more questions for a longer piece on our journey. For our second live interview, Melinda’s producer (also a woman!) wanted Lisa to sing and play the guitar, with Alyce providing back-up vocals and toe-nail accompaniment. *NOTE: this is a huge leap in confidence to go from being apprehensive to play with a group of strangers to playing on live television within the span of 5 days. That’s what positive risk-taking is all about though and here was a great opportunity. In position, Melinda started the introduction, Alyce explained what we are doing and then Lisa began the song. We got to be on air for longer than initially planned! Dang. That felt good.
With adrenaline, energy and all the good feelings pumping in our bodies, it was time to get back to the work, hauling out canoe along the road. Having started this 16-mile portage at noon, we knew that the moon and stars would be our back-drop for the end. Viki went into town and got pizza for dinner which we devoured in under 5 minutes and got back to work. While trekking along, we also still had to figure out our camping situation for the evening. Since we wanted to spend a few days in Great Falls, we were hoping to store our canoe and some gear at the Morony Dam (we will be back on the river on Monday, June 20th). Ms. Mary Milo for the win, again! As luck would have it, Mary’s dad, Sam, works for North Western Energy, the company in charge of the dams. He got in touch with the right people and secured us a spot to stow our canoe. He also gave us the details on where to camp. Thanks, Sam!
We had learned earlier in the day that Sacajawea, Lewis, and Clark had been working their way around Great Falls on these same dates 211 years ago. The river was not blocked by dams in 1805, but they still had to portage the 5 sets of falls, just like we were doing. This timing was total coincidence. We had no idea that the dates of our portages were the same. Thanks, Norm Miller, for tipping us off! We could feel the history in our bones and were awestruck by the immensity of our experience as the sun started to set. Our feet and hips were hurting from the walking (going from 3 weeks of sitting all day in a canoe, to pounding out 16 miles on pavement meant the ache was inevitable); yet we were still riding the high of being interviewed on live television. The sky turned orange and pink as we started moving back down towards the river. The moon and stars made their appearance, not wanting to be left out of this historic day. The same moon was hanging in the sky when Sacajawea was here helping to guide the Lewis and Clark expedition. Did she have the same vistas as us? Did she stand in the same spots we were standing? There is magic in living history, in being in the same place and at the same time as someone who came long before you.
Viki had gone ahead of us and set up our tents so we could just crash. Around 10:30 pm we rolled in to the upper parking lot of the Morony Dam. Wow. The portage around Great Falls was done (well almost, we still needed to bring our boat closer to the water, about half a mile from where we were). Another huge expedition milestone accomplished. We all piled in the tent and ate chips and laughed with one another before saying “nighty noodle” and drifting into dream world.
June 17th, 2016
“You ladies awake yet?” A voice rang through our camp around 9am. It was Lyle Fogerty, the foreman of the Ryan and Morony Dams. Sam had informed him of our expedition the day before and he showed up to see how he could lend a hand. We had a lively conversation with Lyle and made a plan for storing our canoe at the Morony Dam. During this time we asked about camping spots in town. Being on a budget, the high camping fee costs for the weekend had rendered those spots as non-options. Initially Lyle offered us his mother-in-law’s yard to pitch our tents for the weekend. After talking more, he offered us the use of his house for the weekend, as he and his wife, Bonnie, were staying in town for the weekend. We were blown away by his generosity.
Although physically and mentally tired from the 16-mile portage, we rallied ourselves and brought our canoe down to the dam. We celebrated the accomplishment by jumping up and down for a few seconds and then laying on the pavement. We hopped in the car and headed to Ryan Dam where Lyle showed us around the island that Sacajawea, Lewis, and Clark camped on while they made their way around the Great Falls. During this time we discovered that on this exact date June 17th, William Clark had been there and remarked on the same falls we were seeing 211 years later. Yet again, it is difficult to put into words all the feelings that arose during this moment of feeling a part of history. It was very powerful, indeed.
Our tour of the Ryan Dam was astonishing as we got to see the mechanics that go into harnessing the power of the river. The Ryan Dam is what’s called a “run-of-the-river” hydroelectricity plant which means that water is not stored above it. The river runs through the plant to generate electricity by rotating large turbines. Any excess water not needed to run the plant spills over the top of the dam. We thought it was pretty cool that the river could mostly do it’s thing and that they didn’t flood the river valley to create a reservoir. Lyle was an expert, he knew everything about that dam and he was a fun tour-guide. He also showed us a nest of eaglets, 3 months old, on the island. He told us that one of them had fallen out of the nest about a month ago and when we gasped, he explained that it was likely on purpose. “They learn to fly from the ground,” he told us. “They eventually get kicked out of the nest to learn to fly.” Now doesn’t that sound familiar? Taking a risk to learn something new? We laughed out the comparison of our experiences with the little eagles. “Everybody fails,” said Lyle, “if you don’t fail, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
We drove back to Lyle’s house to drop off our stuff before heading up to the top of the dam in Lyle’s truck. It was fun to connect with Lyle over our midwestern roots, the three of us from Minnesota and he a big cheese head from Wisconsin. The conversation continued as Lyle brought us to the top of the Ryan Dam. As we walked along the top, taking in the landscape and downward view of the dam, it was another one of those “can’t believe this is our life right now” moments. The view was incredible. And it’s one that not a lot of folks get to see. A top-notch day.
By this point in the afternoon, we were all feeling the enormity of the day before and were in desperate need of a nap and some serious re-hydration. We discussed trying to make it into town for the opening night of the Lewis and Clark festival happening over the weekend (another example of river time working its magic, as we did not know about the festival before planning to stay in town for the weekend). Turns out what we needed was rest and so we napped for many hours.
While Viki made a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs (made ever-so-convenient by the availability of a conventional stove!), Lyle and his wife, Bonnie, arrived to get a few items for the weekend. What extraordinary people! We had a great time talking about our expedition and their lives as midwesterners in Montana. Meeting people and learning their histories is one of the most fun aspects of traveling rivers like the Missouri. When we asked how we could re-pay the kindness, Lyle told us, “I have a daughter, and I always hope people will treat her well wherever she goes.” Well, Lyle, we will definitely pay it forward.
Although we had each taken long naps we needed a full night of sleep. We said “nighty-noodle” (our nightly ritual) to each other shortly after Bonnie and Lyle left. We decided our bodies would be our alarm clocks the next morning and we would use the day to work at the library. It is important to have mornings with a relaxed vibe and we are definitely due for one. Good rest would also be necessary for attending the Lewis and Clark Festival the next day.