“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” Amelia Earhart
Diane has a dream. Her dream is to travel the length of the Yellowstone River. We have climbed Younts Peak, visiting the headwaters of the Yellowstone. We have kayaked Yellowstone Lake—Diane has kayaked the entire circumference while I’ve done most of it. And now, we have kayaked the river to the Missouri.
In mid September 2017, we set out from Livingston, MT with the goal of reaching the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers that season. My accidental river swim, cold temperatures, snow, and difficult conditions forced us off the river not once but twice that year. (I wrote about my swim on this blog, click link: Yellowstone River: Strength Demands Strength, Oct 28 2017.)
2018 saw us return to the Yellowstone, again later in the season. Day-long rain, snow and high winds once again got the better of us, but we reached Terry, Montana.
This year we put in at the Calypso access at Terry MT on September 9. After shuttling vehicles, Jane, Diane and I paddled 19 miles that first day to the Fallon Bridge, river mile 425. I had miscalculated the original distance, neglecting to put a 1 before the 9, so we were thrilled to be on schedule our first day. It was a calm, cool day and we arrived late afternoon. During the night trains blew whistles as they traveled through Fallon.
The morning of September 10 dawned clear, and after the sun rose, the air warmed as we dried out tents wet from dew, drank coffee and tea and ate a leisurely breakfast. What’s the hurry? We only have 20 miles and we have all day to get there! Fortunately we had cell service and we checked weather. The forecast was not good. Two days of hard rain, snow and flood warnings for the area were forecast. Well, we’ll see what happens, we thought. As we paddled, clouds built and a breeze strengthened. We stopped for a late lunch near our original mileage goal and discussed options. We could find a campsite and hunker in or we could try to outrun the coming rain, reach Glendive and hole up dry and warm in a motel for the next few days. After food, thought and discussion, we decided to give it a go and paddle thirteen more miles to Glendive. We put kayaks in and began to paddle, knowing we had islands and bridge abutments to navigate. Clouds continued to build and the wind continued to strengthen, a light rain began to fall. Gradually the town came into view—first a few outbuildings, then sounds of traffic, then the bridge abutments and sights of homes and buildings along the shore. We found the take-out and hauled our kayaks out of the water, securing them as we scouted for a place to store them.
One of the best things about this three-year expedition has been the adversity we have faced, as it has afforded us an opportunity to meet people we never would have met, had conditions been perfect. Diane, Jane and I walked up to the road and wandered down the street. Jane ran after a road crew truck but they left before she could reach them. In doing so, she noticed a man sitting on his porch. We walked up to him, explained what we were doing and told him our needs: a place to store our kayaks in someone’s back yard and directions to a motel. His name was Kip, and he not only let us store our kayaks in his yard, he drove his truck down to pick them up. Then he drove us to a motel and showed us various restaurants within walking distance. The following day he helped us shuttle Diane’s vehicle to Stipek, where my truck and boat trailer were parked. His help saved us a full day of shuttling and enabled us to continue down river sooner. We helped him celebrate his birthday, buying him lunch and beer. He provided us a ride back to our boats and transported them back to the landing. His kindness and help were one of the highlights of our trip.
Three inches of rain had brought the river up 9 inches. Bidding adieu to Kip, we put in the muddy water on Friday the 13th and paddled to our vehicles at Stipek Fish Landing. We took breaks from paddling and floated, just looking at the shore. Beavers had gnawed trees and made slides down the bank and Diane mentioned that she would love to see a beaver. No sooner had the words left her mouth—we saw and heard movement. One beaver slipped into the water and slapped its tail in warning. Two others looked out at us from sort of a hole in the bank. In all, we saw five beaver. Our Friday the 13th brought us good luck… and a full moon.
Construction on the diversion dam downstream at Intake meant we had to shuttle around the dam rather than portage. As we drove this final shuttle to the confluence, I found it hard to believe that in a few days we would actually arrive at the Missouri River, the place that we had tried so hard to reach so many times before.
We put in at Intake on the 14th and paddled in calm winds and 74-degree weather, searching for the Elk Island fish access. When paddling, Diane uses her GPS while I study the river maps. Together we make a good navigation team. The maps are old; the river has changed courses. Islands have appeared or disappeared, narrow channels have widened, river bends have changed, altering river direction. Diane turned her GPS to map mode and it showed us kayaking on land. Miles paddled and map configuration showed us close to Elk Island, then past it. Finally, we spotted a bank that looked promising for a campsite and decided to call it a day and just stop there. Jane christened our new home ‘Cocktail Beach’ as we enjoyed a drink after securing kayaks and setting up tents. Cocktail Beach turned out to be Elk Island. The river had changed, the outhouse had been removed, and the road was a two track with no boat access. We’d paddled about 21 miles from Intake, a lovely and successful day. We’d seen bald eagles, golden eagles, Canada geese and white tail deer. A few frogs and toads called the area around our campsite home.
Richland County Park, 27 miles downriver, was our final night’s destination. Today was warmer with calm winds. We left earlier, knowing we had a longer day’s paddle. As good as it feels to enter the kayak, it always feels even better to exit it and stretch our legs, giving our bums a rest from sitting. Tonight felt especially good. Again, we searched for the boat landing, then found it by following a motor boat. This night was humid and very warm. We would have liked to sit out longer and enjoy being together this final river night, but unseasonable September mosquitoes forced us into tents earlier than we liked.
September 16 dawned clear, warm and humid. We enjoyed our final breakfast, packed our wet gear, and slid our kayaks into the river one final time. The day heated up and I found myself soaking hands and wrists in the chocolate water to try to cool off. After our two previous years with so many adversities, I felt a bit anxious about what the day would bring. Anticipation and excitement overshadowed my anxiety though, and we paddled gently almost not wanting the trip to end. I read the map and knew we should be seeing the Missouri River soon. We watched around every bend. Jane called out and we held back as Diane paddled first into the Missouri. I followed then joined her and Jane took photos as we crossed the Missouri and sent our kayaks gliding into the Confluence boat access.
One dream. Three years. Perseverance, friendship and courage.
*Caveat: we will pick up 70 miles from Columbus to Pompeys Pillar in August 2020.
“The important thing is to know that you lived your life to its fullest….You could be a billionaire, and you couldn’t pay to do the things we’ve done.” Margareth Moth