Tuesday, July 05, 2016

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... 


Anonymous said...

I can't believe this has no comments. This is about not hedging your bets. About running just the Nineteenth Century world, but the Twenty-First. Maybe folks were too excited about the mosquitoes.

Everywhere I go, folks are talking about those mosquitoes.

Trust you and Chas are doing well.

Anonymous said...

Truly enjoying the updates on your Missouri River expedition. Hang in there. I doubt anyone else has attempted the feat.


Notorious said...

Mr Heston and I are getting along very well! Bonding over fleeing from thunderstorms on the river... which is kind of like power walking away from a train down the tracks.

Thanks! As it turns out, about a dozen try this in canoes and kayaks each year... which I feel is the wrong boat. The Missouri river is in a lot of ways more a chain of lakes or inland seas more than a river. I think anyone doing this without sails is insane!