Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.
The river is calling and I must go. A parody of the famous John Muir quote flows off my typing fingers as I contemplate the next three weeks of my life.
The plan: to kayak approximately 500 miles of the Yellowstone River from Livingston, Montana to where the Yellowstone joins the Missouri River, just over the North Dakota state line.
The adventurers: Diane, Bev and I, supported by Tana, who plans to meet us every few days with re-supply.
Sunday morning the three of us will shove off into parts unknown, following an ancient route traveled by Cheyenne, Cree Sioux and Crow/Absaroka Native Americans, and European explorers and trappers. Who knows how many thousands of years humans have followed the Yellowstone River highway, and yet, here we will be, following in those unknown paddle-steps.
The Yellowstone River is described as the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. It is a corridor for wildlife as they follow the general path of the river, and a haven for fish including the prehistoric paddlefish that inhabits the waters near Glendive. Paddlefish live in only two areas of the world: the Yangtze River and the Mississippi River drainage that includes the Yellowstone River. How fortunate are we to have a 60+ million year old species living in the Yellowstone River, even if downstream from the Park by many miles?
Yellowstone River is the oldest place name in Yellowstone Park. While they did not live near present day Yellowstone National Park, the tribe of Minnetaree/Hidatsa Indians called the river Mi tse a-da-zi which means Yellow Rock River. The French translated it into Roche Jaune. Lewis and Clark recorded the English translation of “Yellow Stone” after meeting the Minnetaree in 1805. However, I have read that if you ask the Absaroka/Crow Indians who did live here, they will say that the French did not speak their language well and mis-translated. The Absaroka/Crow name for the Yellowstone River is E-chee-dick-karsh-ah-shay, which means Elk River. Living here in present day Montana, seeing and appreciating the elk especially now during the rut, I would trust the Absaroka/Crow name for the river over the Minnetaree name. No matter, we will paddle this river.
As I look into the future I hope for sunny warm early autumn days, clear nights. I hope for calm winds and easy paddling. I know this will not always be the case—what expedition has perfect weather the entire time? I hope to be a good expedition member and to make this trip memorable on every level.
By the time you, dear readers, read this post, I will be just finishing the expedition, with stories to tell, journal pictures and photographs to share. As we all go about our lives these next three weeks, I wish us all the Irish blessing:
May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.