Sunday: Wolf Point, Montana I was surprised to hear the voice say "are you Norm?" At first I thought the two fellow paddlers were someone from my hometown of Livingston. They introduced themselves as Wolfman and Freight Train, each paddling solo canoes and headed for New Orleans. Freight Train had to share his space with a rather large black dog who didn't like the water. He had found the dog while backpacking the Appalachian Trail and it has become his traveling buddy. They had read my web site prior to their departure from Three Forks, Montana and were surprised to see me as I was of them. We exchanged a half hour's worth of river stories and departed our separate ways, they downstream, me up stream into steady current.I feel much closer to home now that I have crossed the border into Montana.
The days prior I had spent with farmers Stan and Jan Anderson on their wheat and sugar beat farm along the Missouri River. They had been kind enough to let me camp on their property and to give me the grand tour of the beautiful area. They live close to the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers which was the meeting place for Lewis and Clark on their return journey in 1806. Clark had returned by way of the Yellowstone and Lewis and went north along the Marias River and back down the Missouri. Clark arrived only a few days before Lewis where these two rivers meet. The landscape has become harsher since arriving in Montana. Large arid bluffs rise above the rivers edge like eroding sand castles providing me with a colorful array of white, pink, yellow and gray. I know have to pay close attention to the river to find the proper channel, current and sandbars. It is rather challenging since the water levels are continuously dropping. I feel I have mastered this skill and have gone many miles without having to push myself off any sandbars.
I made it to Culberston by noon on Friday and was greeted by Texan Craig Swanson who is kayaking solo to St. Louis. The day before he had been beaten up bad by three young men on the Reservation in Wolf Point. They had first tried to take his kayak but when he interfered they switched their aggression on him. He was very disturbed and upset by the situation which has now taken away a lot of the fun out of his journey. I tried to boost his spirits and told him he should not camp on the "north" side which is the reservation and to be thankful nothing worse happened. He now has to paddle to Williston, N.D. for some dental work due to the incident. We spent the day camped together and made numerous trips to town to eat ice cream and pizza which we both don't get to eat while paddling. He is sort of a minimalist and eats canned soup right of the can without heating and only has a bar of granola for breakfast while I consume about 4000 calories of food just to keep me going.The nights have been cold but are now starting to warm up and slowly bringing out the mosquitoes. I have talked to several people who have had the West Nile Virus and it really affected them. Lewis and Clark were plagued by mosquitoes but they didn't have to worry about this new 21st century disease.
On July 2nd my friend Terri will meet me at Ft. Peck to help transport me around the reservoir where I will put back in at James Kipp Bridge to start my way through the Wild and Scenic Missouri Breaks to Ft. Benton which I hope to arrive on around the 14th-17th where I hope to see my sister Gail and brother-in-law Barry. This next section of the river will be the most wild and has changed very little since Lewis and Clark passed through. It is also a popular canoeing and floating destination. Me? Glad to be "home". I have reached the 1/2 way point after three long months of some very challenging situations and conditions. I have a better appreciation for what Lewis and Clark went through and their journey I feel I have begun to understand a lot of what they mentally went through. Constant extreme weather and very uncomfortable living conditions. The last few days have been the first in three months that my feet have been dry. Dirty? Yes, they are still dirty but they are dry.
Photo above: Fort Union. This was the site of the American Fur Trade Company's empire in the late 1800's, many years after Lewis and Clark passed by.
The two spotted fawns were unaware of me as I approached the shore of the river. The mother sensed my presence and quickly bolted into the nearby woods with one of the fawns right behind. The second fawn did not know the other two had left but quickly realized it when it became aware of "the big blue boat" paddling towards shore. It pranced wildly up and down the shore looking for its mother who was probably now too far away. The young deer finally found a trail leading into the thick brush and it too disappeared from site. I knew this would be a good area to camp since animals bring me good luck and safety.
I pulled my boat to shore after a long 23 miles which included three sets of rapids in which I had to pull my boat through the knee deep water since the current was too strong to even consider paddling. The standing wave in the center of the river bounced off rocks as the waters headed downstream. I am camped directly across from the Milk River, which William Clark named because of its appearance. It looks like tea which one has added a hearty portion of milk to. This was the river that the Indians had told them about the previous winter while living at Fort Mandan. They called it "the river that scolds all others". It is the most northern river that empties into the Missouri and was a major trade route for the trappers and Native Americans for many years. I am within 8 miles of Ft. Peck dam, which is one of the largest earth dams ever built. The wind is at my back that should help push me through the strong current to Ft. Peck.
During the boom days when the dam was being constructed there was close to 13,000 people living here. Now only a small handful of about 300 residents live here. I am glad to have reached this area, as it is sort of another milestone. I usually try to paddle the distance on one of my maps, which is equal to about 15-20 miles. It is very rewarding to me when I cover such distance and very upsetting when my day is cut short due to winds. It has been very lonely the last several days. I have not seen or talked to anyone except myself. At times this entire project seems worthless and that I am typing these words that no one will read but only to have a message relayed to me from a long lost college roomate, high school teacher, or stranger who I have never met sending me words of encouragement and praise. Its days like these that keeps me going while other times I have all I can do to even get out of my tent in the morning.
The cottonwood trees are in full bloom the last few days. The seeds dropped by these giant trees each have a tuft of cotton like fiber, which floats in the air depositing the seed downwind. The air is so thick with cotton that is looks as is it is snowing out. Yesterday I was hit in the face with so much of it that it would stick to my whiskers like Velcro, which I then had to wipe off. I constantly felt like I was getting hit it the face with cobwebs.The technology I use to send photos and text data is far beyond anything used by Lewis and Clark except for the occasional pen to write a rough draft. I'm sure I am the first ever to paddle the Missouri River while carrying a Dell Inspiron 300M laptop, Satellite Phone, Iowa Thin Film Solar Panels, and a Nikion Cool Pics 5400 digital camera. Sending data from the field is very challenging. Not only must you keep out dirt, water and other debris but you must also set it up in rather obscure places while extremely fatigued from having paddled all day.
I begin by downloading all my photos onto my laptop photo program. I then open WordPad and type the text for that particular update. This is all saved where it will be attached to an outgoing email. I then decide which photo's I would like to send along to give you a feel for the trail or the mood of the day. I then open up a jpeg file compression program which reduces the 50K-350K photo's down to around 10k. This procedure saves battery life on my laptop and satellite phone. Since my Telestial Iridium Phone only transmits data at a rate of about 2k per second it is important that the size be reduced to save time and battery life. I usually send two updates per battery before they need to be recharged or replaced with a new one.I use two solar panels from Iowa Thin Films. These panels are lightweight and roll up like a map and easily stored in a dry bag. As I approach more remote areas I will be using these panels more and more. The first part of my journey I had access to electrical outlets but they are now few and far between. When the sun is out and I am wind bound or taking a break I pull out these panels and attach either my satellite phone or computer to them to recharge. They work really good and I highly recommend a set of these for anyone who ventures away from a power source.
Photo above: Craig Swanson heading off towards New Orleans, his final destination. Craig was assulted in Wolf Point by several Indian youth.
The tiny 2-horse powered Honda motor seemed too small for the large Grumman aluminum freight canoe tied up on shore. Two people moved about setting up an early camp as I inched along the shore. I pulled my boat up next to the large canoe and was greeted by Kathleen West a BLM Ranger who along with co-worker Chris Noyes were on their last night out of a week long patrol of the Missouri Breaks Wild and Scenic section between Ft. Benton and James Kipp Recreation Area. This beautiful section of the river is the most scenic, isolated, and most unchanged on the entire Missouri River. Little has changed since the days of Lewis and Clark except for the number of visitors to the area. The two rangers help maintain the designated campsites along the way as well as remove trash they happen to find. I tied my boat up to theirs, retrieved my lunch bag from my boat and joined them on shore.This was Kathleens first year on patrol. She is a photographer and lives the rest of the year in Arizona. Chris has worked several summers on the river and will return to college in Ashland, Oregon when the season is over. They had some of the camping comforts that I miss such as a folding table and a cooler. I was hoping they had some ice cream stored somewhere within the cooler.
I encountered many groups of canoeist the last two days. Some canoes were so full of gear they reminded me of my own departure from St. Louis three months ago. This past Sunday I managed to eliminate a few more items which I have not used as well as swap my heavy sleeping bag for a lighter one now that the nights are warm. My friend Terri arrived at Ft. Peck about noon on Saturday to help shuttle me around the reservoir. The area was busy with motorboats, jet skis, pontoons and screaming children all there for the July 4th weekend. I was glad to leave the chaos behind and get back to the solitude the river has offered me.The river is lined with high bluffs consisting of sand and limestone. Erosion is playing a key role in the every changing vista. Gullies are carved by water giving the bluffs the appearance of giant sand castles that a child transforms when a bucket of water is dumped overtop.The current is now the strongest I have yet encountered. I frequently must get out and pull my boat through the fast knee-deep rapids. This provides a much-needed break by allowing me to stretch my legs and cool down in the water. I've realized that walking in water is much slower that when I paddle. I have managed to cover 13 miles each of the last two days. I am looking forward to reaching Ft. Benton, which will be another milestone in this long arduous journey. My sister Gail and her husband Barry are planning on meeting me there from Michigan. The next 125 miles consist of more rapids, beautiful cliffs and bluffs, no towns, plenty of mud, bugs and heat. I am camped below the hills this evening that Meriwether Lewis climbed in 1805 to get his first view of the Rocky Mountains. It was a joyous occasion and milestone for their expedition to finally reach the source of the Missouri River. I hope to climb the bluffs myself to get a view of the mountains that I have missed these last three months. I dedicate this weeks paddling to my Uncle Richard Miller who passed away this past weekend. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He will be missed.
Photo above: A typical scene in which I have to drag my boat up through the faster and shallow current. I would have to do this about every few hundred yards the entire way through the upper portion of the river.
Photo above: An old homestead in rapid decay along the river. It was interesting to explore this old house.
July 8th,2004: "We have ice cream", said the lady behind the counter of the tiny store. My eyes opened wide at her comment. I ordered 2 fruit Popsicles to go along with a cold bottle of Gatorade, Doritos and a Rolo Candy Bar. The small store carried the least amount of supplies for boaters but plenty for my quick lunch break at Judith Landing. The store is located about 50 miles from anywhere only by dirt road. It provides a quick re-supply for anyone going further down river, or upriver in my case. It is also the only store or building along the 150 mile section between Ft. Benton and James Kipp Recreation area except for the occasional old homestead. Dozens of canoeist were ending their trip at the bridge as I paused for a brief stop. A nice couple from Corvallus, Montana gave me 4 gallons of fresh drinking water, which I was about out of. They had just completed their first canoe trip through the Wild and Scenic Section of the White Cliffs region and enjoyed it despite the woman becoming ill on the last day.
Photos above: Scenes of visionary enchantment that seemed to never end.
July 18-21, 2004
I have finally arrived at Great Falls, Montana where Lewis and Clark spent over a month hauling tons of equipment around the 18 miles of rapids that are now drowned out by 4 hydro dams. It is hard to imagine the beauty of the falls as the Corp saw them in 1805. The dams are an eye soar to the beautiful landscape along the river. Days ago I passed the Marias River where Lewis and Clark had to make a difficult descision. They were unsure if they should follow the Marias or the Missouri since they both contained about the same volume of water. They spent over a week camped along the Marias while Lewis walked the great distance south to discover the "Great Falls" of the Missouri which was the correct route to the Pacific. The weather has been extremely hot and humid and the waters swift and shallow. I made it to Fort Benton on Tuesday afternoon where my sister Gail greeted me with her husband Barry who drove out from Michigan to spend a few days with me. The visit was short ( I cant figure out how to turn off this font style, sorry) but a nice change from the hectic pace of the river. Gail suprised me with a quilt she had made in honor of my Lewis and Clark journey. I know nothing about quilting, but the work she put into it is amazing. We ended up mailing it to my home since it would not last on the river. I was met by my girl friend DeeDee below the dams where she aided in hauling my boat the 20 miles around the dams here in Great Falls. The photos I am sending with this are of the dams that have wiped out the falls that Lewis and Clark mention in the journals as well as some of the large freshwater spring they discovered along the river. This spring is huge and pumps out over 135,000 gallons of water each minute. The water was crystal clear and was very tempting to jump in and cool off in the hot humid temperature. I have been spending the day with DeeDee since I have not seen her since I departed in March. She has helped out so much on the home front by answering my phone messages and sending food shipments to me along the trail to various post offices. If it wasn't for her this journey would be very difficult to pull off.
May 31, 1805 The hills and river Clifts which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. The bluffs of the river rise to the hight of from 2 to 300 feet and in most places nearly perpendicular; they are formed of remarkable white sandstone which is sufficiently soft to give way readily to the impression of water; two or thre thin horizontal stratas of white free-stone, on which the rains or water make no impression as we passed on it Seemed as if those Seens of Visionary enchantment would never have an end; for here it is too that nature presents to the view of the traveler vast ranges of walls of tolerable workmanship, So perfect indeed are those walls that I Should have thought that nature had attempted here to rival the human art of Masonry had I not recollected that She had first began her work. These walls rise to the hight in many places of 100 feet, are perpindicular, with two regular faces, and are from one to 12 feet thick, each wall retains the Same thickess to the top which it possesses at bottomWm. Clark (Missouri Breaks National Monument,MT)
June 3rd Monday 1805we formed a Camp on the point in the junction of the two rivers, and dispatched a Canoe & three men up each river to examine and find if possible which is the most probable branch, the left fork which is the largest we are doubtfull of, the Indians do not mention any river falling in on the right in this part of the Missouri, The Scolding river, if there is Such a one Should have fallen in below agreeable to their accts. we also dispatched men in different dircts. by land, to a mountain Covered with Snow to the South & other up each river- Capt Lewis and my Self walked out & assended the hill in the point observed a leavel open Counrey to the foot of the mountains which lye South of this, also a River which falls into the Right hand fork about 1½ miles above its mouth on the Lard. Side this little river discharges a great deal of water & contains as much Cotton timber in its bottoms as either of the others we saw Buffalow & antelopes &c. wild Cheries, red & yellow burries, Goose berries &c. abound in the river bottoms, prickley pares on the high plains, we had a meridian altitude and the Lattd. produced was 47° 24' 12" N. Wm Clark (Junction of the Marias and Missouri River)
Saturday June 8th 1805"The whole of my party to a man except myself were fully peswaided that this river was the Missouri, but being fully of opinion that it was neither the main stream or that which it would be advisable for us to take, I determined to give it a name and in honour of Miss Maria W-d. called it Maria's River. it is true that the hue of the waters of this turbulent and troubled stream but illy comport with the pure celestial virtues and amiable qualifications of that lovely fair one; but on the other hand it is a noble river; one destined to become in my opinion an object of contention between the two great powers of America and Great Britin with rispect to the adjustment of the North westwardly boundary of the former; and that it will become one of the most interesting brances of the Missouri in a commercial point of view, I have but little doubt, as it abounds with anamals of the fur kind, and most probably furnishes a safe and direct communication to that productive country of valuable furs exclusively enjoyed at present by the subjects of his Britanic Majesty; in adition to which it passes through a rich fertile and one of the most beatifully picteresque countries that I ever beheld, through the wide expance of which, innumerable herds of living anamals are seen, it's borders garished with one continued garden of roses, while it's lofty and open forrests, are the habitation of miriads of the feathered tribes who salute the ear of the passing traveler with their wild and simple, yet s[w]eet and cheerfull melody." M. Lewis
Photo above: Citidel Rock made famous by the Bodmer painting.
Photo above: Maria's River named by Lewis. The Corp. camped near here and explored this river to determine which was the main channel and route to the Pacific.
Photo above: Just upstream from Maria's River.
Photo above: River high above Ft. Benton.
Photo above: Camp downstream from Great Falls.
Photo: DeeDee my girlfriend (at the time of the trip). She was a huge help in the success of this journey. I owe so much to her for all she did. This was taken at Big Spring in Great Falls.
Photo above: Big Sping. Encountered by the expedition. This spring pours out thousands of gallons of water a minute.
Photo: Dam built in Great Falls which has destroyed the orginal falls encountered by the explorers.
Thursday June 20th 1805. "This morning we had but little to do; waiting the return of Capt. Clark; I am apprehensive from his stay that the portage is longer than we had calculated on. I sent out 4 hunters this morning on the opposite side of the river to kill buffaloe; the country being more broken on that side and cut with ravenes they can get within shoot of the buffaloe with more ease and certainty than on this side of the river. my object is if possible while we have now but little to do, to lay in a large stock of dryed meat at this end of the portage to subsist the party while engaged in the transportation of our baggage &c, to the end, that they may not be taken from this duty when once commenced in order to surch for the necessary subsistence. The Indian woman is qute free from pain and fever this morning and appears to be in a fair way for recovery, she has been walking about and fishing. In the evening 2 of the hunters returned and informed me that they had killed eleven buffaloe eight of which were in very fine order, I sent off all hands immediately to bring in the meat they soon returned with about half of the best meat leaving three men to remain all night in order to secure the ballance." M. Lewis
Saturday June 22cd 1805. "This morning early Capt Clark and myself with all the party except Sergt. Ordway Sharbono, Goodrich, york and the Indian woman, set out to pass the portage with the canoe and baggage to the Whitebear Islands, where we intend that this portage shall end. Capt. Clarke piloted us through the plains. about noon we reached a little stream about 8 miles on the portage where we halted and dined" M Lewis
June 25, 1805"Capt. C. somewhat unwell today. he made Charbono kook for the party against their return. it is worthy of remark that the winds are sometimes so strong in these plains that the men informed me that they hoisted a sail in the canoe and it had driven her along on the truck wheels. this is really sailing on dry land." Lewis
Photo: Dam at Great Falls. Can you just imagine what it looked like before this thing was built?