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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Here rudder rudder rudder....

Ok.  So where was I!?!

Oh yea.  So I got back to my boat and my rudder was missing!

The best that I can tell, I beached the bow of the boat against the river bank.  Then the dam closed the gates and the water level went down.  As it did, the bow stayed put and the back of the boat went down with the river.  The first thing to touch would be the rudder.  The upward pressure as it sank into the river bottom popped it out of its pins then it flopped over into the water.  When the water came back up, it just floated away.  

SUPER BUMMER!

Well, with the main control surface of my craft gone, I had to improvise.  I lashed an extra oar to the stern post.  An old whale boat trick... and to be honest... should probably stay with whale boats.  If i needed to spin the boat to put a harpooner next to the sperm whale, it would work great but for holding a steady course or angle to the wind it is pretty awkward.  

Worst case scenario the rudder is 125 miles down stream.  That is assuming 24 hours at about 5-6 miles an hour current.  Best case, it is hung up on a snag a quarter mile down stream.  Actually, that seems most likely!  I can hardly eat a can of soup before the river tries to throw me into a snag or the bank.  It is probably the same for the rudder!  I'll have it back in no time!



I hand the oars to Mr Heston, loosen the stop on the motor so I can swivel it by hand to use it to steer, then crank him up.  I start systematically searching the banks figuring the rudder couldn't have gotten far.  

Fast forward:  TWO DAYS Later:

So many thunderstorms... No rudder.

I’ll get back to the thunderstorms in a minute but for now, just consider I am motoring into Bismarck ND from the north and have been ravaged for days by thunderstorms.  I am cold and wet, everything I own is wet… well, I did manage to keep a few things like the oatmeal dry, but that is about it.  

I figure I’ll get into Bismarck, spend the night in a motel to dry out, then find a hardware store and talk the manager into letting me build a new rudder behind his store. 

Instead, what do I see as I come around the bend just north of town… A TALL SHIP!

Yea, you read that right!  I see a huge tall ship right on the river bank!  Well it is actually a house, but made to look like a tall ship.  On the forecastle of the ship/house there is a guy.  As I am blowing down the river he shouts to me.  “Where’d you start from?”

I answer and he shouted something else back to me.  I couldn’t hear so I turned around and came up to his dock to continue our conversation.  We start talking for a few minutes about the weather, he asks about the boat etc. 

Well, in the course of this conversation it comes out that that I will have to build a new rudder.  He offers for me to borrow his tools tomorrow and build it there!  He likes that kind of project anyways and would be happy to help!

Pulling in to Rollie and Corky's dock.


Yep... shits all wet... and no rudder.



The next morning Rollie picks me up from the motel where I have sort of dried out to the point of being only mostly damp and we proceed to build the rudder at his house.  As it turns out he has spent his whole life running up and down the river, restores old cars, and has sort of a side gig of buying rust free cars from the desert and bringing them up north to sell where they have all disappeared.  

Couldn't have lucked out any better!

Here is the new rudder we built!


Due to glue drying, and sealing the wood… it takes two days to finish the rudder to the point it will survive the next few months in the water.  So for these few days, Rollie and Corky take me in, let me turn their yard into a huge drying rack for everything I own.

My stuff drying all over the place. (Also, inside the buildings are a few awesome old cars!)

Bests of all!  I got to sail their house around the river for a while!  


ARRRrrrrgggg!  









Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"You're gonna need a bigger boat!"

More sailing through cowboy country!

So with a few days of perfect wind, (See previous post) I make my way down to the Garrison Dam.  As I am almost at the marina, the largest pontoon boat I have ever seen pulls me over and after a few minutes of questions about what I am up to they ask me over for dinner!  Great!, because at this point my stove has been broken for about a week and a half so I haven’t eaten anything hot in that long!  (This pontoon boat was so big it had a bridge on it!)  Anyways, disappointingly they no-showed so I just spent the night in the hammock in the harbor with plans to figure out how to get below the dam the next day.  

The next morning comes and I meet a guy named Mike Quinn. He is also a sailor of cowboy country though with a much bigger sailboat. I am sure he could win a Hemingway look alike contest if he ever found himself in Key West. Within minutes of talking to him… using the shock and awe method of asking for favors, he has borrowed a passerby’s full size sailboat trailer, borrowed another passerby’s pickup truck, and we are watching for trees and power lines as the whole thing is on it’s way down the backside of the dam without even taking down the masts!  

PLOOOOP!  Into the river again!  Couldn’t be easier!

Mike Quinn, picture stolen from GEARJUNKIE


With all my problems solved for the day, Mike asks if I would like to go sailing with him.  

Of course!

Next thing you know, we are back out on the reservoir sailing along… same wind, but whole different feeling about it!  At probably about a knot or so faster that I could get for the same wind, we glide through the waves and wind smooth as can be!  Well, smooth like standing on the side of the seats and wetting the railings… but none of the white knuckle peril I feel in my boat.  

Lot of discussions about putting tell-tails on your sails.  This progresses to discussions about women, politics, more sailing… Either way, as I remember it, we pretty much solved all the worlds problems in a few hours of talking while sailing!  


With the world’s problems solved we headed back into the harbor for whiskey cokes!  Mike calls his wife Sissy to come pick us up… or at least me up as he is only there on his pretty much one seater motorcycle.  

Two dudes on a motorcycle, hey, we have all been there… two dudes on a one seat motorcycle, well, like I said we called Sissy.

Just as Sissy arrives, who else should walk onto this same dock in the middle of North Dakota but Melissa and Mark Sprague and family!  

So after a few “Holy shit, what the hell are you doing heres!?!?!”  You can imagine that we were surprised we could even recognize each other after what, ten years?  I look like the castaway she is back flying Hueys, and neither one of us was expecting or looking for each other.  We make plans to hang out the next day and I head home with the Quinn’s.

Well, it turns out there were a few problems Mike and I hadn’t gotten to, but luckily Sissy and I solved them on the back porch with beer.

The next morning Mike and I go to Knife River Indian Village.  Another NPS run spot, and extremely well done.  Being kind of slow at nine in the morning on a weekday, the park ranger David Carr gave us a personal tour.  Extremely knowledgeable and excellent at explaining things.  A little soft spoken so my best advice is to just let him talk.  One interesting thing he mentioned was, that not only was this Sakakawea’s home village… also, John Yunker’s family farm is almost right across the river!  Mr Carr was familiar with Yunker’s site and though never having been there in person, thought that from what has been described, Yunker’s probably has found the original Ft Mandan!

Mike dropped me off at the Sprague’s campsite and we spent a few hours catching up!  This was the usual Air Force checking in about where everyone is at these days.  Chances are, if you know both of us, we talked about what you are up to now.  

They dropped me back at the boat where I discovered my rudder was missing!?!?

Well SHIT!  I really needed that rudder!

Sailing through Cowboy Country!

Lets resume after I left the little cove of the big fish… 

The next day the wind was perfect… well perfect direction anyways. I am starting to conclude that it is never possible to have the right amount of wind or the right amount of sail up.  So the day started off with not quite enough wind to make me feel happy, but I was sailing along easily at about three knots.  Not to bad for just sitting there.  I didn’t even hope for more wind. REALLY I didn't!!  I am now super happy with a three-knot-all-day day! 



Slowly though, it started blowing harder and harder.  

The way the progression usually works is you start off in the morning with just enough breaths of air that you can tell which direction it is going to blow.  Then by about 9 or so it is blowing hard enough that you are coasting along at about 2.5 knots. Just enough so that you wish it would blow a little more.

Then around 11 O’clock it is perfect!  The wind is blowing you along at a nice steady 5 knots.  Very comfortable.  No strain on anything.  Then after usually only about ten perfect minutes… you realize shit is getting real.  You start hitting 6 knots regularly… sometimes the boat just starts to come up on plane… then settles back in.  The speed is so much fun that you decide to push it a little bit… but you do start to wish that you had some reef points in this sail or maybe you had a smaller non-shredded sail. You start getting bolder and thinking you can handle it! 

Maybe you get bold enough to reply to a text message or something as you are sailing… or take a video.


video


Just about then you realize you are going way to fast! The wind is blasting you along, and now the waves are up big enough that occasionally your rudder whiffs in the air because the back end of the boat has come out of the water as you crest a wave.  This gets your attention… and you have a little pucker in your ass that you should do something before it gets out of hand!  I mean something besides push the rudder down farther so you can steer through bigger waves.

(I have now learned to heed this little pucker feeling.  If you don’t, suddenly, you will realize you have fucked yourself!)

It is like if you have ever tried to ride a skateboard down a really steep hill.  At first it is fine.  Then you get faster… still OK… then faster… now it’s exciting!  Suddenly you are overcome by the feeling you are going too fast to stop, too fast to turn, and way too fast to jump off! 

Well it is the same in the boat.  You now can’t abandon the tiller to bring down the sail, because it will flop over and bring you broadside to the waves before you  can get it in, and then you have a damn good chance of getting swamped.  You can’t turn into the wind to pull them down for the same reason.  You've now just skate boarded past where you have the talent to handle… like a cold chill down your back, your whole body knows it!  You figure your best bet is to steer well and it should all be fine!  Also, look what great time you are making!

Then you pass the second chill down the back… You can’t stay this lucky for this long and steer this boat this well!  It is madness! At this point, you have no choice, you need to get that sail in!  You get smarter in this situation… and think of releasing the whole sheet tackle!  

NOW you are literally sheets to the wind!  The sail flapping around so angrily!   At least now you aren’t being pulled around and over!  

Your only problem now is to scamper up the length of the boat as it is riding up and down these obnoxiously sized waves to douse the sail and secure it at least well enough that it won’t surprise unfurl and set you sailing again.  This is like if you put a balance beam on a giant trampoline full of fat bullies trying to get you to fall as you practice tying your shoe when your shoe laces are just a little to short! 

Great! Sails are finally in!  Time for some bare pole sailing again!  This seems like a great idea… but then you kind of remember that time of Ft Peck Lake that handed you your ass and think I could be a reasonable person and put into a protected cove about now.  You look at the time and it is only about 1:30 in the afternoon.  Man, it could get a hell of a lot windier out here before evening.  

Pretty much every time now, I make the good decision to put in somewhere and stand on shore and watch the white caps…. thinking I could probably have been fine…

Either way… still uploading!  So there is that! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

People are great!

A few miles past Ft Union and the confluence  of the Missouri and Yellowstone I look over… and what do I see but?!?!


Holy smokes… Can it be?  Another man out here floating the river in his home made seemingly dog themed sail boat drinking coffee?

In fact that is exactly what it was!

This is John Yunkers.  After we spotted each other, we of course tied our boats together and talked for a while.  A few hours in fact.  

We talked about just about everything under the sun. The river, god, life, women, dogs, dams… and finally Lewis and Clark!

The Lewis and Clark conversation started like this:

John: “So, are you familiar at all with the Lewis and Clark, their journals?

Me: “Fairly familiar… I have read Courage Undaunted, but I have found the journals themselves kind of thick to read.”
John: Ah yes yes… so you are familiar with Fort Mandan?

Me:  “You mean the lost-to-history Corp of Discovery camp of the 1804/1805 winter… searched for and supposedly never to be found, destroyed by the river or flooded by the dam?  That Fort Mandan?

John: “Yes, yes… I found it!”

Now as any Lewis and Clark buff will know, that is a hell of a statement to make.  It is sort of the L&C equivalent of saying to a Greek Archaeology buff… “I found Atlantis!” or to a treasure hunter, “I found El Dorado and it is in my yard!”

Obviously this brought about another few hours of our boats tied together drifting down the river, only being interrupted once by an old train bridge that attempted to dismast “Grace,” (John’s boat.) 

Leading up to the bicentennial of the L&C expedition 2003 - 2006ish there was a lot of effort put into the finding of Fort Mandan.  Even NASA was aiding in the search with some of their remote sensing capabilities.  Still nothing. 

And it was assumed lost forever.  Most likely destroyed by the river.

Then in 2011, the Missouri River flooded big despite the Army Corp of Engineers best efforts for the first time in many years.  Fort Peck dam washed out it’s spillway (which is still under reconstruction), The old Fort Union from my previous post was for the first time next to the water in sixty years, and… John Yunker’s grandfather’s farm which is just downstream of the Garison dam was also flooded!

John has been a L&C buff for many years… and the fact that most academic works put the probable location of the Fort Mandan somewhere on his grandfather’s farm only fed that interest.  As he was looking along the sand bars for some evidence of the destroyed fort… something like a broken pipe or a button or something… he started thinking about a depression that formed shortly after the floor in 2011 receded. 

Already being very familiar with the dimensions and it’s features… he started measuring off this depression.  It fit almost exactly the dimensions of the fort as it is described in the journals!

A hell of a good start for sure!  So, it’s in the right place, has the right dimensions… John decides to check for any additional evidence… He digs a small test hole at the edge of the depression… and immediately hits a charred beam. (The fort was burned down after the expedition left!)

So… right spot, right size and shape down to the foot, and materially exactly what it should be!  A pretty solid argument so far.  

We exchange information with plans to meet together at the now seemingly found Fort Mandan down the river. Hoist sails again and slowly go our separate way… or at least separate speeds.  

BREAK BREAK.

It is the 3rd of July… I have heard about a the campground in Tobacco Garden Bay being a good place to stop.

Supposedly they have a restaurant and showers.  I haven’t had a shower (legit with city clean water since Great Falls Montana, though I have jumped in the water a few times.  As far as I can tell I am clean, but the thought of a shower is appealing.  My supplies are getting a little low as well so I decide to push for there.

As I am sailing up the bay toward the campground I feel like I am entering some sort of civil war reenactment!  Rockets, explosions, bangs fires smoke…. The place is absolute madness!  I had mostly forgotten that it was the 4th of July weekend and that all camp grounds are going to be completely unchained! I am looking at the shore at the dogs, kids, fireworks, explosions, wall to wall tents and RV’s… Campers, beer…. WOW

I have basically been by myself for the last week and a half, and for most of that time I couldn’t even see anything man made from horizon to horizon.  This whole scene is a bit overwhelming! My new plans are to go eat, pick up what I can, then continue to a bay down the lake and sleep by myself in the boat as usual… skipping this madness!

I get into the little cove that the camp grounds are built on about nine that night After cleaning up the boat and finding my way around I make it to the restaurant/store about nine thirty.  It is definitely closed… just as I turn around to leave, a woman coming out of the closed building looks at me and says, “Are you a paddler?”

“Ummm… yes… sort of.  I am rowing and sailing but yes.”

It seems people that are floating the entire river have a look about them… I suppose if you have been on the river since the middle of Montana and now find yourself in North Dakota… that might be the case.  Even with all this madness, she looked at me for less than a second and knew what I was up to.

This was Peg! Owner and operator of this campground… and Mother to all journeying the river!  Before I can do or say anything more, she set me down at a picnic table for a moment to attend to some madness rolling by… then re-opens the store to let me in.

Apparently there is sort of a loose organization of people along the river keeping track of all of us fools making this trip.  She had already known there were a few of us leaking onto the beginning of Lake Sakakawae and was even expecting one or some of us to arrive within a day or so.  She gave me the shower code, hooked me up with a beer, and put me in a place right in front of my boat!

Peg has got to be one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever met!  If any other paddlers read this… a stop at Tobacco Garden is worth the trip up the bay!

After breakfast, before the camp Parade got started, I sailed right back out of the bay.  The winds were perfect and I made it all the way to New Town that day. 

Break Break.

I got into New Town and landed at the New Town Marina.  It seemed walking distance from the town itself and I still needed supplies.  Also, I wanted to upload some of my posts so I was looking to find some internet.  When you have a whole wad of posts and pictures to upload it never quite goes as fast as you would hope… so rather than camp my crazy hobo looking self in coffee shop that may or may not exist.  I decided to walk over the bridge and get a room for two nights at the 4Bears Casino.  This will give me all of tomorrow for uploading and other internet work I need to attend to.


Just south of the casino is what appears to be a commons for the three tribes living on the Fort Berthold Reservation.  (The three tribes of Ft Berthold are the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.)   Now being the actual 4th of July, it was even more madness than the previous campground!  Campers, fireworks, explosions, kids, 4-wheelers. WHAAAA!!!!!…  All still overwhelming… Also, being the reservation, people’s personal fireworks were serious serious serious artillery! After walking around under the raining burning confetti for a while I had had enough and went in to look around the casino.  

The next day, I was working my way through my list of stuff to do on the internet.  One of which was find the sat photo of Fort Mandan as John had described. After a few minutes on the phone with John trying to pin point it down… he asked where I was.  After telling him the 4Bears Casino, he quickly hangs up.  A few minutes later I get a call from another local number.  

It is a friend of John’s named Keith Bear.  Mr Bear is a Mandan tribal elder who offers to meet me and show me around the area. (Just for the record, Mr Bear is also part Sioux and Hidatsa.) After a few minute phone conversation, we meet up at the museum… and basically hung out the next two days.

After talking and telling stories through the tribal museum till it closed we went to the earth lodge reconstructions, more stories… As it turned out he had been in the 82nd Airborne.  We talked about Vietnam, Afghanistan, flying helicopters, jumping out of helicopters, Ospreys… as well as the usual, women, the river, music, art, dams, and even got in discussions about fish.


SIDE DISCUSSION 1:  Dams, (so far I haven’t met anyone who likes them yet!) So, the Mandan were traditionally farmers with permanent towns built along the river.  The river bottom land being the best farming areas, they had their towns along the river for hundreds of years… maybe thousands. It is where their houses are, where their family members are buried, the sacred places…  Culturally where everything had happened for centuries. Then they build the dam, and not only are they flooding a third of the reservation by area, but the area that got flooded was exactly the area for farming and where all the towns and culturally significant places.  

To put this in perspective… lets say Germany had won WW2.  They own France… and have for 70 years now.  The French get to live in a big section in the middle on a French reservation.  Luckily for them it includes Paris!  But about seventy years after the the French end up on the reservation at “Fort Paris,” (which is roughly the same timeline as onto the reservation in the late 1800’s to the 1940/50s when the dam was built,)  The Germans decide to build a dam on the Seine… that floods Paris and also all the vineyards in central France.  So to put this in perspective… The Americans building this dam in the 40’s and 50s would be like if Germany had won WW2 and was flooding Paris and all the french vineyards today.  

Anyways, back to the story!  So, of course we eventually end up talking about Lewis and Clark.  So L&C coming through was certainly a noted even for the Mandan, and it was kind of mind blowing to hear it from his perspective.  The families that were here when they came through are still the families that are still here now.  As in, just down the street are the great great… grand kids of the guy who had Sakakawea and married her off to Charbonneau. Families still have the Pease Medals that L&C passed out have been passed down through the families… Sort of you might have a pocket watch from your great great grandfather who worked on trains in the 1800s or a linen handkerchief that was brought from Ireland when your family immigrated and has been passed down.  

SIDE DISCUSSION 2: Sakakawea VS Sacagawea.  Living in the world outside of North Dakota, I had always heard the name of the woman who traveled with L&C as “Sacagawea.” Pronounced like ‘sack-a-ja-wee-a.’  In North Dakota, her name is spelled Sakakawea. Pronounced, ‘Sa-kak-a-wA-a.’  Not really being a man of spelling, I didn’t think all that much about it except that those are two obviously differently pronounced words.  (unlike Two, too, to or I’ll even give you here, ear, and year… as pretty much the same sounding words.) But a K and a “J” sound are not even in the same boat.  Well, after talking to some speakers of Hidatsa, I am now solidly with North Dakota on the spelling and pronunciation.  Here is the discussion as presented by the actual speakers. “Sakakawea means Bird Woman in Hidatsa. (Her known name with the Hidatsa.) Sacagawea… this is baby talk or something.  It isn’t words, it makes no sense.”  So.  Sakakawea it is.  Tell your friends.

This has already become a long post, but let me end with another fish story. So, one of the stories Mr Bear tells me was about some divers that went down under the 4 Bears casino.  He told me that the first set of divers came up after working some intake down there... and they refused to go back saying, "There are things down there... no one would swim here ever if they saw what we saw!"  So, they got another bunch to go work.  After one day, they came up and refused to go down again... saying the same thing.  They got a third set of divers who finished the work... but one of them talked about being bumped in the back by what he though was a submerged log, but when he turned around to push it away the log had an eye the size of a hub cap and was looking at him.

Well, lets keep this in perspective.  I am talking to literally a professional story teller, and he is literally telling me a fish story!  So... I say, "Dude!!!! No way!  There is no way there are fish in this lake that are so huge that they have eyes the size of hubcaps!"

His only response was, "yep... white men never believe our stories until they do..." This was all a good natured exchange, but come on... eyes the size of hubcaps? :-/

So... the second day out of New Town.  I sailed into a little cove to spend the night. I dropped anchor about ten feet from shore, and the anchor went down at least 40 feet before it hit bottom. Well, with that deep of water, I only had about ten feel of slack, and that isn't enough slack to hold me so I pulled up the anchor, ran the bow onto the beach and set up for the night. (Read that as... it was at least 40 feet deep only ten feet from shore!)  I sat there writing this... and as usual in the evening, fish started jumping.  If you have ever sat out in the wild completely still and quite for a few hours, it is like the animals and plants forget you are there and just start doing their thing. There was a beaver swimming around behind the boat.  I could hear the coyote talking to each other just a few feet away on the bank... and I looked up at a little fish jumping.  Then just after a little sploosh of a little fish jumping... SOMETHING surfaced.  I only saw the top of it's head and then the arch of it's back.  It's body just kept arching.  It had to be about a foot in diameter at least and it was like it's body never ended.  Now, I don't think it had an eye the size of a hubcap, but it was some giant predator fish of some sort!  Involuntarily out of my mouth came the words, "OH MY GOD!"  I didn't mean to say it... it was like my body just said it on it's own.  

And, now... I will never swim in Sakakawea.  


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Stop at the Pennant!!!!

So, I wasn’t happy with my previous Ft Union entry so I have revised it.  I don’t think the pictures carried it quite as well as I had hoped.  It really was an interesting place and deserved a better post.  

 Fort Union. 

As you are floating down the river, you will see a red, white, and blue pennant that almost looks like an American flag from a distance.  That is the flag of The American Fur Company.  The fort was not even set up by the US government.  It was a trading post set at the confluences of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers.  A private venture if you will… but kind of impersonating the US government.  They even struck Peace “Ornaments” that are almost exactly the same as the Peace medals given out by Lewis and Clark… hand shake symbol and all but stamped with “American Fur Company” instead of “United States of America.”  Slightly shady but ultimately probably good for everyone involved except for the animals that ended up as hides.

View from the river when you can finally see Ft Union... if you see this, you have gone to far!!! You must now face the trials of the fire swamp!

Like I said, the fort was really just a trading post.  In the springtime, a steam boat would venture up the Missouri River to Ft Union bringing all sorts of “trade goods.”  I had always been under the impression that the steam boats were going up and down all the time as they desired, but that is not correct.  Each steam boat would get about one run in a year maybe two if they were very fast about it.  The river would rise in the spring thaw and that was their chance! So the spring thaw would happen and a river boat would race up the flooded river bringing the kind of things that a bunch of people living in tents out on the great plains would need.  Blankets, tools, beads, replacement parts for coleman stoves… etc  Officially no whiskey, but also whiskey too.  

The guys running the traders would set up shop there in the fort, then the chief of negotiator for a clan would come in and negotiate the prices for everything.  As it was described, this would be a lot of discussing the weather, the family, smoking… before getting around to actual business of price setting.  It reminded me exactly of making he flight schedule with the Afghans.  Lots of tea, smoking, and discussions about family before anyone even brought up flying.  Then once it was being discussed… a lot of “Well, these hides are not as good as last year, so the price is going to be less than last year.” and “Thursday is a very busy day, I don’t think we can fly Thursday… maybe in the morning only.” kinds of discussions. 

At the end of it, the prices for that year were set.  Then that bunch would be able to show up and know exactly what they would get for each type of hide that they brought in.  This included everything from buffalo hides to mouse hides.  (The mouse hides were used to make glove linings.)

Until almost the very end, there were no white women ever brought out to Fort Union.  The traders would usually marry into the tribes they traded with sort of making the whole operation a family business.



Also I thought notable, most of the hides for trade were actually brought in by women and girls.  The men might hunt the animals… but for the most part the tanning was done by the women.  So they would be the ones that would bring the hides and take home the trade good.  To include little girls bringing in mouse hides.

Though run by the NPS, there are folks dressed up in period cloths to explain things and tell stories of the fort and area. Not in a weird uncomfortable way like you accidentally wandered into a renaissance fair, more in a reasonable good history teacher on Wednesday before thanksgiving kind of way.

Also… stop at the pennant.  That is the only trail through the 300 yards of swamp, willows, and needle grass… and literally clouds of vicious mosquitos.  If you stomp at the pennant you only have to boogy yourself through the clouds of blood thirsty mosquitos.  If you do like i did, and wait for a nicer place to beach, you will have the trials of the fire swamp to deal with on your way up to the fort.  Either way… worth it.


Fort Peck to Fort Union

The first day out of Fort Peck was a rowers dream!  There was no wind, the current was very fast, and the water was so clear you could see everything clear as a ringing bell under the water.  It was such a gratifying feeling to pull on the oars and see the weeds and rocks rocketing past underneath the boat!

That went on for about ten miles... then the apply named Milk river flowed into the Missouri and it turned back into its mocha colored opaque self again.

A few pictures of the Milk and the Missouri flowing into each other.  For a few miles downs street they stay separate rivers flowing in the same stream.  Then they totally mix after that.


An eroded bank... full of mosquito eating swallows!!!!


With private land on the right and the Fort Peck Reservation on the left, I elected to sleep onboard the boat in the hammock as I don't really have a good map of private and public land in this area.  The first morning I woke up to the wind blowing my hammock around like a loose flag.  Before I even opened my eyes I knew it was either going to be an awesome day with a following wind, or it was going to blow... in the face... all day...

After opening my eyes and remembering my orientation... I realized it was the blow option and I was going to have a massive headwind all day.  

Everyone on board and I have a sort of devision of labor worked out.  On days when there is no wind or light wind, I row.  When it is a medium head wind, Charlton Heston rows, when it is a medium to when-I-get-scared tail or cross wind, we sail...  (I can tell the medium head wind is when I can't keep the boat going down the river.  When we blow back up the current, I make Chuck row.)

So, I open my eyes and say, "Mr Heston... I believe it is your turn to row today."

His response... "You were a rock once, now you're crumbling like old chalk."

"I don't have time for your shit Mr Heston. We either wait here for the next few days talking to the swallows till the wind dies down, or you pick up those oars and row!" 

"I intend to smite the wicked, not save the Heathen." is his reply.

"Well, do that on your own time bub..." So with an unusually small amount of fiddling, I pull the cord and put Mr Heston to work.

Going into this face into the wind I was kind of anticipating an easy day.  Mr Heston was rowing, the sails were furled for storms, and figured I'll just man the tiller and keep us pointed down stream. Not to be the case!

This is just about when the Missouri River meets the Great Plains.  You see, the thing about rivers is they are kind of unguided free spirits.  No discipline! The mountains gave the river direction... a purpose!  It was sort of a battle of wills.  The mountains vs the river.  The mountains like parents guiding and channelling the water... the water always trying to expand it's privileges and trying to stay out late.  

Once the river meets the plains....  Missouri River Rumspringa!  That river goes all over the damn place... no channel, no plans. The worst river to go down is a strait one!  With a bending river, you know where the channel is.  On a mostly straight one... not so easy.  

You can test this by taking a bucket of water and poring it out on your driveway.  The water spreads flat, wide, and shallow.  And so the river meets the plains... and spreads flat, wide, and shallow!

So, what I am saying is that this section of the river has gotten the most technical as far as river reading skills.

In the first hour, I run aground twice on sand bars that seem to exist for no reason at all and hit a submerged tree that broke the shear pins in the motor.

Mr Heston: "Tell yuh, Blue, ain't no good way to go."

"Thanks Chuck... Ya, I know... I need to get better at this shit don't I?!" I mean what can I say... the boat only draws about ankle deep water! I know it is ankle deep because when I jump out to slog this barge over the bar it is never more than my ankles.  (Like 80s high top ankle... not running shoe ankle.)

The adage about the Missouri River being a mile wide and an inch deep rings in my head over and over.

So after taking the bottom of the motor apart and replacing the shear pins, I decide that as a start I need a better view.  I take a few eye screws and hand jam them into the ribs of the boat on either side of the tiller.  Then I tie a line around the tiller then run the line through the eye screws out to the front of the boat.  Now I sort of have steering reigns for the boat.

To see what is going on with the river... aka, "read the river" I now set the motor just high enough that it pushes the boat faster through the river with the wind than the current pushes down.  This way I can still steer.  Then I run up to the front of the boat and stand on the mast thwart with the reigns in hand and try and guide the boat down the river through this mess.  

As I am standing there for hours in the wind gambling my time at ripples and waves and slight color changes in the water I start thinking about the riverboat pilots that used to take full on steam boats up this same river!  Honestly... WOW.

I am barely able to bring a damn rowboat down this river and these old school badasses used to bring full on steam boats up and down this river all the time!  

It occurs to me that this is why in the mid 1800's the steam boat captain was the most bad ass mother f'er in the country!  These guys were basically taking the 737's of the day and guiding them through the most rediculose hazards possible for a ship and mostly successfully pulling it off.  I was trying to think of a modern equivalent and the only thing I could compare was an airline pilot.  But instead of getting into St Louis by putting down the Martha Stuart's "Living" magazine and monitoring the radio... the delta pilot had to successfully fly the Red Bull Air Races with pylons made of real trees before landing every time. (I assume all Delta pilots don't all read Martha Stuart's Living. I am sure Fingerson is up there pretending to read Hustler with batman comic books hidden inside.)  

Anyways, after thinking about river boat captains for hours and hours I now understand why those guys thought they were authorized to comment on the country and run it.  The river hates men who hedge their bets.  If you are looking down the river... and you see a sawyer and a gnarly bank... if you are a pussy and hedge your bet... and think... hey.. I'll go towards the middle. I'll just float on the middle side of the sawyer and be a medium kind of guy!  The river laughs and then grounds you!!! like seriously 100 yards of boat dragging laughs!  BUT!!! if you scratch your dick, look at that same scene... and say... "the mother fucking channel is in the eight feet between the bank and that sawyer... and you go for it!  you will be rewarded by anxiety, anticipation... then nothing!!! then you know that your balls are big for a reason! And you just floated past some terrible situation. 

The river makes you who look at a scene... assess it.. guess right.  If you hedge your bet with this river, you drag your boat.  If you go all in, the river respects.  I have never run aground by being to close to an eroded bank.  I have only run aground when I thought the middle was safe.  

An old steam boat passable bridge.  When the steam boat came, they just raise the section.  No one around to raise it today...

After doing this for a week and not destroying my boat, I am pretty sure I can run a country no problem. Way easier! I see why everyone running everything in the 1800's was former river boat captains.  If you can survive the river with a steam boat... probably you should be incharge of earth!

So, as I am battling the winds and current... sails furled... I get to the next museum.  There is nothing to mark it but a small flag/pennant on a stick. For the love of christ... stop at the pennant...