Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A trip to the confluence: Hermann to St. Louis

Hello to all you bloggers out there! Time to tell you what has been happening for the past several days.

On 8/2 I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee. Ambling out through Spirit Hill guest house I walked out to the deck and joined Gary, one of the owners of Spirit Hill, for a morning viewing of the river and some coffee. As the morning sun was rising over the Mighty Mo, Marsha came and joined us and we had breakfast overlooking the river.

For much of the morning we spent time preparing for the evening's party. There were two excellent diversions, a fantastic massage from Susie at the Arbor Boutique Spa ( and a chance to meet some folks with Parkinson's in Hermann. The massage, my first ever, was quite an experience. I left totally relaxed and my muscles felt like they were healing. Next, Gary and I went to visit with Gary's mother as well as several gentlemen afflicted with Parkinson's at a nursing home in Hermann. I was very touched by their kindness and thanks.

After another lunch at Spirit Hill on the deck, we continued getting ready for the party. The Current Designs Storm GT "The Mary Agnes" received a good cleaning and my Hilleberg Nallo GT was set up in preparation for showing them off.

By 5pm, Alex Luft from the online Hermann Newspaper, the Hermann Muenster, came by to talk about the trip. Alex had just moved to the area and we had quite a good talk. Near the end of the interview a totally unexpected event occurred. Rita Grider, the daughter of my grandfather's brother, stopped by to say hi.

Joe and Rita

She drove down from Champaign, IL. This was such an incredible surprise because Rita had been such a supporter of the trip from the very beginning. She had been emailing my story out to newspapers and other media as well as emailing me letters of support. It was very, very nice to finally meet her in person and thank her for her support.

Shortly after Rita arrived, the other guests started arriving. As the evening sun started setting over the Missouri River and the beautiful gardens of Spirit Hill started glowing, I answered questions about the trip, about Parkinson's and had the chance to talk with so many great folks from the Hermann and St. Louis area. I would like to thank Gary and Marsha for organizing this truly special experience. We raised $346 for the National Parkinson Foundation!

On 8/3 I had a special paddling privilege. Gary had organized a large flotilla of kayaks and other boats that would accompany me to New Haven, MO.
(The Flotilla Prepares to Leave Hermann)
Among the paddlers were Gary, Tommy, Joey, Steve, Karen, Julie, Suzie, Alex, John and Amy. What a great group! All levels of paddlers were represented. We had kayaks, canoes and a really pretty motor boat. Laughter filled the river valley and we paddled down passing bluffs and sandbars. Luckily we dodged a thunderstorm and then enjoyed a great lunch at New Haven.

The flotilla broke up a bit at New Haven and I was accompanied by Amy to Washington, MO. By this time the temperatures had started to climb and the sun was getting hot but the paddle was fun nonetheless.

At Washington, I was greeted by Karen, a reporter from The Missourian as well as Mrs. Janet Hoven and Katherine Graham. Judge and Mrs. Hoven, the mother of Dave Hoven (my college roommate's mother) would be hosting me in Washington after I arrived in St. Louis. Katherine, the Hoven's neighbor was one of the most spry 90 year olds I have ever met. She nimbly hoped up rock steps and was a real pleasure to meet. After the interview, Mrs. Hoven handed me some water as well as homemade peanut butter cookies and two succulent peaches. Peach juice dripping from my face we talked for awhile before I headed back onto the water. I was headed toward the Augusta/Klondike ramp.
(Klondike/Augusta Ramp)

The afternoon paddle was quite pretty and the sun set, basking the river in a warm glow. As I pulled into the Klondike ramp, I was greeted first by a couple of dudes fishing on the river who showed me some Missouri hospitality and invited me over. After talking with them for a little bit, both Judge and Mrs. Hoven showed up for a picnic dinner.

We sat down at the river enjoying great company and food as the sun set and the stars came out.

Early the next morning I put-in. My goal was to paddle to the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi, some 56 miles downstream. I was a little apprehensive as the weather was calling for severe thunderstorms. Luckily though, the weather gods looked favorably upon my trip and I enjoyed a pleasant paddle to the confluence. Wading through the thick Missouri mud, I climbed up on the most downriver section of land separating the Miss and the Mo and just took it all in.

It had taken me 63 days to paddle the 2,321 miles from Three Forks, MT to this point. What a ride!

Unexpectedly, my travels for the day were not finished. Judge Hoven was originally planning on picking me up at the confluence. Unfortunately though, when I arrived at the confluence I found the State Park closed. In order to meet Judge Hoven, I would have to make a 4.5 mile portage which wasn't really an option. After talking with Judge Hoven, we decided that I would paddle down into St. Louis where he would pick me up.

Tired and muddy I got back into the Mary Agnes and started hoofing it downriver. This was one of those times that my training, both mental and physical, paid off as I pushed my body further than it wanted to go. I pushed hard, and speedily portaged the Chain of Rocks, a dangerous feature on the Mississippi. This was my last portage on the trip. WWWWAAHHOOOO.

As I continued on into St. Louis, the Arch slowly came into view. I had been dreaming of this moment for some time and I was a bit overwhelmed.

However, I was so exhausted that I really just smiled and kept paddling. Judge Hoven was waiting for me down at the waterfront and we loaded the boat and my nasty smelling gear. Whew! I had made it. My 56 mile day had turned into a 72 mile day with a portage but I had arrived safe and sound. In celebration Judge Hoven took me out to eat before my drive back to Washington.

So, there is the synopsis for the past several days. I am so thankful for all of the folks who have helped me out in Hermann and Washington as well as the folks who donated at the Hermann Party.

I am going to be blogging later this afternoon as well as during my stay here at Washington with the Hovens' so stay tuned.

I want to leave you all with a quote from David Miller used in his book The Complete Paddler when he discusses paddling the entire Missouri.

"If you have made the distance from Three Forks to St. Louis, what have you accomplished? I have talked with several paddlers who have made the trip and reflected on these conversations for common themes. What follows is a distillation of experiences.

First you have made more than just a river passage. With or against the current, you have learned to read the river well enought and that new lessons are always just ahead. Now you have learned to move in cooperation with the twined currents of wind and water. For so long you sat at the air/water interface, subject at times to brutally uncooperative flows of energy that support the environment. You have learned flexibility and greater patience, and have experienced long periods of silence. You watch the sky and water; you pay attention to the rustle in the brush. You watch for snakes. You forever look and see elements of your world differently. In addition, it is fairly safe to assume that you have become a river rat.

Second, you understand that any day on the river can be at once a test and a lesson. You have had time to sort out which is which. You may find that you are quieter, and that you look more carefully at faces. You appreciate signs of weathering - the crows feet and undereye tracks of those who have spent time outside. You, and fellow voyagers, will forever have Missouri River mud flowing in your veins. You know more profoundly than anyone reading a historical account, looking at the river on a map, or driving along a highway, what a long passage is truly like on this river.

Third, after you return, people hearing about your adventure will ask you what it was like. How to reply? A meaningful response is difficult.....I cannot get it right, not yet at least. Perhaps I'll someday assemble the right combination of anecdotes to give those asking a glimps of the beauty, the silent endless miles of Dakota barrens, the sweat, the mud, the discovery of a single tree for shade, the burning heat and cottonmouth of thirst, the unrelenting bastard headwinds, the shoulder pain that you mentally can no longer numb, the terror/joy of racing with a storm tailwind up then down waves at an insane velocity, and the full body cry of relief when the dam at the end of a 250 mile long reservoir comes into sight. All these things have to be wrapped into the telling.....

....You understand that you do not conquer or bag this river as some might think about a successfull ascent of a high peak. Succussfull passage is earned because you approached the river with respect....Your passage was aided by prudence, reasoned judgement, good seamanship, the kindness of strangers, and, if you are honest about it, finish this river understanding that it granted you passage."

- David Miller, The Complete Paddler

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