Monday, June 8, 2009

Norm Miller's Fort Benton Post


Norm Miller sent me a great article on Joe's Portage of Great Falls along with pictures. Here it is:

Sat- June 6th :

The weather turned for the worse here in Montana over the weekend, with moist air from the south colliding with a cold front out of Canada. Joe was in for a few days of really cold weather. Its not uncommon to get snow here any month of the year and we got a dusting over the weekend. I opted to drive north to Great Falls to help Joe by hauling his kayak around the 5-hydro dams that chock a once beautiful series of waterfalls. First off, I probably should make a short introduction. I met Joe after a friend passed along his Parkinsons website to me only a couple of weeks ago. The paddling world is a unique group of people who, when not paddling like to help out fellow paddlers as a mean for us to be a part of their journey or be back on the water by living through the other paddler. As a long time paddler, I feel really connected to the rivers and the lifestyle. I often tell people that "paddling is a means in which I travel to myself". I paddled the Missouri River in 2004 during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial however I started in St. Louis and went upstream eventually hiking over the Rocky mountains when the river ran out, and continuing down the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific. I acquired a wealth of information during my planning process and felt Joe could gain from my personal knowledge and experiences as I too traveled solo.

There are individuals who help long distance hikers on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails in similar ways as we river rats help fellow paddlers. These people are called "trail angles", and I suppose that name could fit us river supporters too. By me helping Joe, I got to relive so many wonderful experiences that are still etched in my mind. When I helped Joe depart last Tuesday from Three Forks, I really wanted to head downstream with him at that moment and that same feeling was here in Great Falls—in never goes away. The river calls to me ever time I stand on its bank watching the current flow by.

I drove to Great Falls Saturday afternoon under dismal clouds that dropped cold rain and even snow. I could almost feel what Joe was experiencing on the river in his kayak. It’s always better to paddle in such lousy conditions than lay in a cold tent; when in fact one stays very warm while paddling as long as you have your rain gear and spray skirt affixed. I relayed to Joe’s brother Jared that I was coming north to help haul him around the dams. I knew Joe had a cell phone too, so I left a few detailed messages as to the logistics on meeting him the next day.

I contacted the newspaper and local TV station but didn’t get much of a response and I think that was due to the lousy weather— no reporter wanted to stand out in the blowing rain and snow when they could stay home where it was warm. Can’t blame them really, however I opted to hang out in it Sunday morning waiting for Joe at the Oddfellows Boat ramp (no lie- that’s the name!) I knew the current would slow down for Joe the closer he got to town due to the dams just downstream holding back the water. A couple of times I drove down a small road which borders the river in hopes of getting a glimpse of Joe’s red kayak but all I saw was my windshield wipers tossing the water from windshield. I happened to be reading a book at the waters edge (in my truck) when a red kayak goes zipping by— but in the opposite direction (upstream). I thought Joe had lost his mind because who in their right mind would want to go upstream? I almost yelled out "Joe have you lost your mind, some idiot has already done that!", when I realized it was not Joe but another kayaker. I asked him to keep an eye out for another red kayak coming downstream and was surprised when the guy said "is it Joe Forrester?"
The paddling world is very small at times, and this was proof of that. The upstream paddler was photographer Jason Savage from Helena Montana. He had stumbled upon Joe’s website and wanted to hook up with him for some photographs. Jason said he also worked for the publishing company that printed "The Complete Paddle"; which is a guide book for paddling the entire Missouri River by author David Miller. It just so happened that it was THIS very book I was reading when he paddled by! Jason had asked me if I had heard of the book. In which I told him the author actually asked me to write a short section in the book about paddling upstream of which I subtlety tried to paint a grim experience of such an endeavor. (The world is getting smaller.) Joe too has a copy of this detailed book in his kayak. Jason continued on upstream in hopes of intersecting Joe. After a half hour I spotted both of them paddling back downstream while Jason snapped away with his camera shutter.

After such a wet and dreary weekend, the sun opened up slightly as Joe pulled his kayak into the boat ramp.

He was all smiles and in a great mood despite having paddled in the rain and snow for a couple of days. We piled some of Joe’s wet cloths on my dashboard and blasted the heater- defroster so they would sort of dry out as we drove off down the road. Joe wanted to see one of the falls of the "great falls" described by the Lewis & Clark expedition so we made a detour to them.

Unfortunately a large dam now rest directly at the brink of the falls and controls the amount of water pouring over. I could imagine the look of Lewis as he first glimpsed this cascade back in 1805. Below this first dam and at each of other drops in the river, there is another dam—actually four more; Morony dam being the final one about 15-miles downstream. It was here that Lewis and Clark and the other 30+ members laboriously hauled thousands of pounds of gear, including several dugout canoes overland around the rapids. This entire undertaking took two weeks, with an additional two weeks being for exploration, hunting, and mending clothing. So...what took L&C 30 days...Joe and I did entirely in a few hours, including a brief stop at the store and a lunch at the local Applebees. It was here that I got to see Joe inhale a chocolate cookie-ice cream desert the size of a small wedding cake. I wasn’t surprise by this knowing how my own appetite became ravenous during my trip. I said to Joe, "wait until you get to the lower Missouri where there are floating casinos on the water, and each one has an ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET"! Those casinos will most likely lose money when Joe arrives.

We were followed out to the river put-in my Gilbert and Linda Payne who operate a shuttle service for paddlers in Great Falls.

Their paddling club has really helped out in the area in maintaining stream access for paddlers as well as picking up litter at all the boat ramps. It was about a 15- mile drive through beautiful Montana wheat fields then a steep drop off the bluffs to the river bottom. We made a brief stop high above over looking the route that Lewis and Clark portaged around. Gilbert explained the process of hauling all the gear from the river below to the high bluffs where we now stood. I think Joe was glad he too didn’t have to spend a month getting around the rapids like Lewis and Clark did.

The sun managed to stay out as we unloaded Joe’s kayak at the waters edge. Joe put up his rain soaked tent which looked more like a used tea bag than a tent; but after 20 minutes the sun had completely dried it out.

It was here that we experienced a horrible event. Mosquitoes! Even though hours before it was snowing, there were plenty of these blood suckers taking advantage of the fresh meat that just arrived. Gilbert and Linda took off before the bugs got too thick, while Joe and I talked more about the journey for over an hour before I departed back home to Livingston. I offered Joe wishes of good fortune and hoped for a pleasant journey.

We knew that we would see each other somewhere— after all the river-world is a small place. The drive home was absolutely beautiful....but that’s another story...and not Joe’s take it over Joe!!!

Take care and remember; "one stroke at a time will get you to the ocean"!
Norm Miller

PS: For those following Joe —there will be a big gap between his next stop in Ft. Benton and the next town of Ft. Peck. Joe will not have any towns to gain email access and will have limited use of a cell phone. After a week Joe will encounter his first BIG reservoir which is Ft. Peck and it may take a week for him to paddle its length. The town of Ft. Peck at the opposite end has very limited supplies and amenities. I told Joe to stock up on food in Ft. Benton to get him covered for a couple of weeks while he’s in the most remote part of his entire journey. It will also be his most scenic and there’s a good chance he will see lots of elk, deers, antelope, and waterfowl.

No comments: