First, An Idea
I don’t know when the idea of paddling long distance on these rivers first took hold of my imagination.
Perhaps the idea was seeded there in my youth while learning about Lewis and Clark. Monuments to their feats and signs marking their route are found throughout rural St. Charles County in Missouri, where I was raised. I remember seeing these signs as a boy and wondering where I would see the next marker and what part of their adventure it might reveal.
Or perhaps the idea came later, as an adult, when I floated on a driftwood log down the Missouri River with my brother, from New Haven to Washington. We drank river-cooled beer, swam beside our log in the grit-filled river, and milked that carefree summer day just as Huck Finn did before us.
I do know when the idea for this journey surfaced. It was October of 2012, and I was driving across the country, from Yosemite Valley to Augusta, Missouri. I had rock-climbed in Yosemite for the past month. I was fit, healthy, and felt that I could do anything. But the old maxim, use it or lose it, is true. I needed an adventure; something big to keep my body fit and my thirst for adventure alive.
Somewhere on that drive, an idea swept my imagination. I don’t know if it came to me in the lonely deserts of Nevada or the bleak Great Plains of Colorado and Kansas, but the inspiration was there. It would be a journey through space and history. I would connect with the adventurous spirits of the mountain men of old. I would traverse the entire state of Missouri in a canoe, from Kansas City to St. Louis on the Missouri River.
Like all good ideas, this idea succumbed to the slippery slope of bigger is better. Missouri is a state of many rivers. Yes, it can be traversed from the West to the East in a canoe. In fact, there is an annual summer paddling race that does this in under 84 hours. It is called the MR340. But, for a bigger challenge, Missouri can also be traversed from the North to the South in a canoe.
So I decided that I would paddle across Missouri from the northwesternmost corner to the southeasternmost corner. Longitude and latitude, I would cross every direction.
Driving east, away from Yosemite’s granite walls and peaks that I grew to love, I felt I needed to do something soon. My mind and body were more energized than I had ever known. I wanted the adventure to keep going. My drive to do something “now” meant I would have to paddle in the winter.
I looked carefully at a map, and the journey instantly expanded.
I saw that if I tacked on a few days to the beginning and end of the trip, then I could paddle just over 1,000 miles. Those 1,000 miles neatly spanned Omaha, Nebraska on the Missouri River to Memphis, Tennessee on the Mississippi River. And the route passed right through my backyard.
1,000 miles down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers—in the winter—that sounded impressive!