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In 1994, in May, I was having a really bad day

2020-02-03

At that time, I was working at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, refinishing and repairing the hotels antique and reproduction furniture. Before that, I had worked in the banquet department, and I had just graduated shortly before that, with a Masters in History, at a time when nobody really needed any historians, so I was working these jobs and feeling, in many ways, that at 30 years old, my life was ending. I was tired again on that day, and I had been for really, months. It was a regular grind for me to get up and be at work at 7 oclock and get done at 4 oclock. I mean, these are regular things that people do all the time, but for me, that routine was really bone crushing, and the kind of work that I was doing was fun at firstI am always really a quick starter and I do very well, but then after about six months, I begin rotting because my expiration date has passed. So here I was on this day, and I was distracted, and I was thinking that life really had to have more to offer than just working and dying. I mean, I was sort of looking out on my life and thinking that, you know, Im going to work, day in and day out until I retire, and then Im going to die, and so there had to be something else besides that. Refinishing and repairing antique and reproduction furniture was a great job, but it was not my lifes calling. So I was distracted and thinking these terrible thoughts again and at the time, I was a relatively new father, and I was not doing very well at it. My daughter was born three years before, and I was a single dad. Her mom and I never got married. So she was sharing houses and I was just not doing very well. I was not very comfortable as a father. I was broke all the time, it seemed. Here I was, working and working and working, and I never had anything in the bank. Again, it just seemed to be getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home, falling dead tired into bed, and waking up the next morning. That is what life seemed to be, this sort of repetition of these days. And worse, I was impatient with my daughter, Sidney. There were times when she was with me, those weekends and those weeks when she was with me, because I did not feel very comfortable. I was afraid that I was always going to hurt her in some way, that I would have the wrong kind of discipline, that I would really screw up her whole life by making the wrong move. And due to these sorts of pressures that I was putting on myself, I really was not able to cope very well with life, as it presented itself. So on this day, as I said, I was tired and distracted and I was painting the floor of the engineering department at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. We had a Navy man who was in charge, I think he was second in charge of the engineering department, and he liked his floors battleship gray. So every couple of weeks, I would paint the floor of the engineering department, because our shoes were so dirty all the time. Of course I was doing the work with the furniture and had all kinds of solvents and stuff. So I was painting that day and I was sort of thinking these thoughts, and I was really sort of on the edge of despair, when I realized that I had painted myself into the middle of the room, just like a Mack Sennett movie, you know And at that point, I really did despair. I sort of leaned on the broomstick that had the roller on it, and I really did think that this was the way it was always going to be, and that I was a failure because of it. In the end that day, I thought something had to happen. I was standing there in the middle of the floor and the door to the loading dock was open, and outside, a thunderstorm sort of sat down on the city. The thunderstorm struck. And it was one of those big ones that gets into your insides. And so with the rain and the thunder, and the smell of rain and fresh grass coming in through the door, something did click. It was like spring breaking. It was not the thought that something had to happen, but the thought that I had to do something, anything, to end my misery. The thunderstorm reminded me of traveling in Kansas. I used to travel in Kansas a lot. I used to get sort of cooped up on the weekends, get into these crushing routines, and find myself driving those country roads out in central and western Kansas, and it reminded me, that thunderstorm reminded me, of the times that I was in Kansas and the way that the thunderstorms sort of sat at the end of those country roads where the sky really turns that blue-black above the blonde of the prairie, itself, and I thought to myself, you know, its time to walk. And I know that sounds strange to some people, but when I was a kid growing up, we would get in the car once a year and race across Kansas. My dad absolutely hated Kansas. He thought it was boring and it was the worst place in the world, and we would race to the mountains. As a matter of fact, we drove at night sometimes. But to me, looking out that car window, just the space itself, the space itself, fascinated me, and the way that it just seemed so different a world than the one I grew up in, and I lived on State Line Road, looking across the street at Kansas, so this was a completely different sort of Kansas that was presented to me. And as I was standing in the middle of that room that day, I thought I wanted to experience that space, and that I would walk in it. Im sure all of you understand what it is like to walk someplace versus whether to drive in it, and to be out in the middle of all that space, be underneath the sky and in the land, is a completely different experience than driving it. As a matter of fact, over the years, I have come to see driving as more a video screen than experience of the actual landscape around me. So I wanted to experience that space, and I thought to myself, well, Im going to do this. Im going to walk. Im going to walk the Great Plains. And I went home that night and looked for the biggest city farthest away from Kansas City, and that was Helena, Montana, at least on my map, that was going through my mind when I decided I was going to walk. Once in my head, I decided I was going to do it. And I was also motivated by this feeling, this fear, that overcomes me when I get a thought like that in my head. I get this thing in my head and I begin to fear more than embrace things, I begin to fear not doing something more than doing it, if that makes any sense. I wind up doing these kinds of things when the fear of not doing them becomes greater than the fear of doing them. So it was very short order, that this became a solidified idea in my head, and that I would do it, and it was because that in fact I thought that if I didnt do it, I never would. The river idea came to me from a kid, my daughters brother, not my son, but her brother said, well, if youre going to walk Montana, if youre going to go all the way to Montana, why dont you just canoe back The kid, Bo, was six years old at the time, and they were studying Lewis and Clark at the time, and so to him, it sounded like a perfectly brilliant idea. Of course to me, it sounded like a real scary thing, but I had to ask myself, well if Im in Montana, why not canoe home It was instantly part of my plan, and I never thought not to do it. So for the next year, I worked in the banquet department and I worked overtime in the engineering department, so that I could save five months of money, five months of rent, five months of utilities, five months of what I thought I would need on the road, so that I could make this trip. And one of the reasons I wanted to pay rent and utilities, was so that when I came home, I would be there with my daughter. I would not have to go look for a new place. She would be able to come over to my house and we would be able to resume some kind of life together. And I know it sounds almost insane, really, to think that I was going to be away from my house for five months and still want to pay rent for it, but to me, at that particular moment in time, it made perfectly good sense. Part of the reason that the river became such a great idea after Bo mentioned it, as a matter of fact, it was almost instantly the idea that this would happen, was that ever since I was a kid, the river captivated me. I Everybody here, or probably most people here remember when the Broadway Bridge was a toll bridge, and you had to pay your quarter to get across it. Well sometimes in traffic, those cars would back up one behind the other and you would get stuck in the middle of the bridge, and that is something by itself, to be stuck on a bridge like that, because you get to feel the bridge sort of give and take beneath all those cars and all the traffic. Well looking down then, into the river, I began to think when I was a kid, just what was that like to be down there. To me, as a kid, it looked like a river. It did not look like many people would describe it to me later, as a trough. You know, it did not look like me to a manmade construct at all. To me, it was a river, and it was dark and it was scary, and I remember one time being stuck on the bridge, and having one of the big barge packets come through at the same time that we were on that bridge, and it was at night, and to see the lights and the way that they spotlighted the river bank as they went along, really captivated me. It was so big and so mysterious and so scary all at the same time. It is still a fixture of dreams of mine, to see them sort of unmanned, seemed like a scary, ghostlike thing, coming through the river in the middle of the night. So because I felt it so intriguing and my school life was not very exciting, grade school and high school were awful times for me, I would disappear in grade school, into the second story library in grade school, and the library was sort of stuck in a corner. You had to actually go looking for it in order to find it. And so I would disappear in there when it had free times when we had library days and I would disappear and start looking through the encyclopedias and stuff, and began to find stuff on the Missouri River. I remember I was very proud of myself, rivers in general, captivated me, the Missouri River in particular, but I will never forget when I was in the third grade and I read all of Tom Sawyer in two days and to me, that was quite a big accomplishment, and of course, there was a lot of river in that book. Later then, I read Huck Finn, and of course did not quite understand it. I mean, I was only in the third grade, but I certainly ate through that book and was very happy with myself when I finished it five days after I began. Later, when I was in high school, I decided I would start looking at Missouri River stuff in more particular ways, and I ran into the journals of Prince Maximilian Neuwied and his artist, Karl Bodmer. And so, in high school again, when I was feeling lonely or upset, which was nearly all the time, I would disappear into that library and read through those journals and flip through those beautiful watercolors that Karl Bodmer did in 1833, when he went upstream with Prince Maximilian on the Yellowstone. So I worked overtime for five months. In May, 1995, I began my walk on May 1. It was not an easy trip. I had never walked that far in my life. I certainly did a lot of walking when I was younger, and I came to know cities that I lived in fairly well from walking them. When I was 22, I lived in Trier, in Germany, and because I did not know anybody, I would spend hours and hours walking, so I walked a fair deal, but I had never walked a long way with a backpack on my back on hard surface roads. And so I learned a lot about what you need in terms of shoes and equipment and so on, and a lot about what you dont need. I had packed all this stuff, thinking that I was going to need it, like I was going on a backpacking trip in Missouri for a weekend, and it turns out to walk to Montana, you need a whole lot less stuff, and certainly on those hard surface roads in the heat and in the rain, it was a very difficult time for me. I was very scared, really almost all the way until I got to Guernsey, Wyoming, and I really experienced the very first day without any kind of anxiety. Now it never occurred to me to turn around and go home. It never occurred to me that this was something I was not going to do, so I kept doing it, and I did it for 1450 miles, all the way to the Missouri River. When I arrived at the river, I had another thought, and that is, I had never really been in a canoe before, and during that year that I worked so hard, I also queried canoe makers and magazines and stuff, to see if I could write notes from the road, sort of a journal thing, and the only place they said yes to the journal thing was Pitch Weekly, and later I came to work there, because the walk and the river trip really began my career as a writer. But I arrived at that river and realized that this was a real grown-up river. This was not some sort of mountain stream below Holter Damn, below Holter Lake, that river was not what I saw when I went through Three Forks. When I went through Three Forks, that is still something that you can understand as a stream, as something that I could handle. But when I wound up there, at the Wolf Creek Access in Montana, all the sudden, that was something that was very difficult for me to imagine doing. I spent two days on that bank, soft of dillydallying around, putting things off, hoping that this would make things better. Again, it never occurred with me to walk back to Helena and get on a bus and come home. That canoe maker had made a canoe, he had sent it to Helena, Montana for me, and it had that big beautiful boat on the side of the river, and I was scared to get in it. The second evening I was there, two guys came up. One was a schoolteacher and the other one was a lawyer, and they had this really leaky, little 12 foot boat that they put on the river and they spent weekends, weeknights they would go out, then they would go the five miles from Wolf Creek Access, to Craig, Montana. They invited me along. It looked so natural and normal for them to be in this boat and to go down the river, and they really showed me a great time. We smoked cigars, fat cigars. I did some fly casting while we were out there, they drank whiskey, because I dont drink, but it really looked like they wore the river as they would their favorite sweater, and here I was so frightened of it. So I got this sort of confidence. The next day then, I put that boat in the river and really felt what it was to be on the river for the first time. But while I was dawdlingthis is sort of a side notewhile I was dawdling, I had been trying to convince myself that I really could do this thing. My boat is there on the bank, I have my little vent, and about the time I get myself convinced that I am going to take off the next morning, a truck bounces in down on the river access with a bunch of Mackenzie drift boatsIm not sure if you know what those are, but they are a certain kind of boat that is very familiar to that upper river, and a trailer full of boats and a whole bunch of dudes, literally, in the sense of the word dudes, in trucks and in cars, and the woman who was in charge, was barking orders at these other guys who were working for her, and they were filling coolers with beer, and I guess fat cigars for these guys who were all in perfect fly-fishing outfits, all fresh from the Orvis store, and so once they got on the river, she came down and sat on my picnic bench, and she was a heavy smoker. She smoked, and then lit the next one with the cigarette before. She says What are you doing here I said, Well, I came all the way. I walked here. I walked here, and Im going home on that river. The first thing she said to me after that was Youre doomed! Its a flood year boy. That river is going to eat you! And I put on that voice, because that is really the voice that she had, was this deep, gravelly voice, and so all the sudden, that confidence that I had, disappeared. After all, this was somebody who was on the river every day, or every other day, and she was telling me that I was doomed, and that the river was going to eat me up. Fortunately, I ran into those two guys, and they really showed me something else. Now while I was sitting there on the river bank and while I was doing my first day in the boat, I had to ask myself, what was I really looking for. And what I was looking for, unfolded as the walking trip first, and as the river trip unfolded. On the river, of course, I would be more alone than in any other time in my life. There was nobody there to distract me. There was nobody to blame anything on. Anything that happened, happened because I put myself into it. So I would be more alone, and I would be looking inside as never before. I dont know how you feel about looking inside yourself, but to me, at that particular moment in life, it still is really frightening stuff to look inside. I found the opportunities to be very, very frightening, as I said, and exciting at the same time. I had never done this before, and now I was committed and it was something that I had to do. At the time, of course, I was not very self aware. I had only been sober for about five years before I got on that river, and I was still trying to figure out what life was going to be. I had drank really, my whole life, from the time I was 11, to the time I was 27, so here I was on the river, actually looking back at my existence and these bone-crushing routines, and trying to figure out how did I come to get stuck in these things time and time again. So I had all of this time then, and all of these reasons, to look inside. I think I started the trip to challenge myself. I really wanted to have something to write about. That is all I have ever wanted to do since I was a little kid, was be a writer. And I believed all those things that people told me when they said I could not be a writer, that I would never be able to compete, that I would never be good enough. Well, this was the trip that was going to make me a writer, and I was determined to do it. I found, very quickly, that I was looking for a sense of purpose. I really had no idea of purpose before, other than to stay sober and make enough money to pay the rent, so I was rather adrift in life, and had no plans, and so that is why the bone crushing routines happened again and again, because I was just sort of going from one thing to the other. I wanted the strength to be a father, but at the same time, you know, I left my kid in Kansas City for five months, in the care of her mother. I left my kid. But I left her, for I thought at that time, and I still think today, for a very good reason, and that was to show my daughter that there was something more in life than just taking what came, than just working and dying. There has to be something more. And hopefully, by my example, she will have learned that herself, and I think she has, to some extent, and more than anything of course, I just wanted life to be different. The river put me to the test and like I said, I had no experience on the river. The only time I had ever been in a canoe was a drunken weekend canoe on one of those mid Missouri or southern Missouri streams. I began to drink on Friday afternoon, and still dont know how I made it home. So I got home, Monday morning came, and I have no idea what happened between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, so that was the whole of my canoeing experience. I only had the barest notion, the barest idea of how to control that boat. When I was in Helena, I asked one of the people at the sporting goods store that took the canoe, and I asked them, Do you know anybody who gives canoe lessons And they were like, You got a canoe and you are going to need canoe lessons These were all these really buff and beautiful Montana outdoor people, and they could not believe that I needed a canoe lesson. They helped me up with this guy, who was a known, and they told me this, a well-known whitewater canoeist in Montana. So we got the boat out of the store, took it to a Helena city lake, and he yelled at me for about an hour and a half, while I turned the boat over and sloshed around and felt ashamed, because he was saying things like I cant understand how come you cant do a simple J-stroke. And I was J-ing and prying, and touring North Americahe called it the North American touring technique, where you just paddle on both sides of the boat. And so after that, I was completely humiliated, and I never thought to ask the guy until after the lesson, what I asked him, which was have you ever been on the Missouri River Oh, no, that river is too big. It is too dangerous. So here I have this big, blonde hourglass of a human being telling me that he is too frightened to get on the river and I am going to do it with flipping the boat over in a Helena, Montana city pond. So I took off. That day I felt really good. I made it to Craig, five miles away. I made it in less than one hour, and it had taken us, me and the two guys, several hours the night before. I had all the confidence in the world, but I really was not ready for what happened. What happened was the landscape and the quiet. It was sublime. I am sure that we have some people here who have done a lot of paddling before, but again, when you are loosed in that space, and with that kind of quiet, some very amazing things happen to the inside of you. And so after that first day, when I landed at Cascade, Montana, my very first camp, I really had all the confidence in the world. I really thought that I had learned a lot that day and that I could do this canoe thing fairly easily. The next day, however, I was sort of canoeing along and got real complacent and decided I would take a nap in my boat, and I woke up in the middle of a thunderstorm, a lightning storm in the middle of the stream. You know, what woke me up, was a wave crashed into the side of the boat and splashed my face, and I woke up and I was panicked all the sudden, and I realized that I really dont know anything about this canoeing thing, and I tried to figure out whether I am supposed to go to the Cut Bank or the Lee Bank, and there are cottonwoods on the Lee Bank, and in all my time outside, I had seen cottonwoods splinter in heavy thunderstorms. One time in Montana, I was actually fishing the North Platte River, and actually had a whole cottonwood come off a cliff, not on top of me, but fairly close to me, so I did not want to do that, but at some point, the panic set in and I was just going to do anything I could. And I finally decided, I dont know how I decided, I just decided, that even though the lightning would get the cottonwoods first, then I would get it right after, I was going to dive in underneath those cottonwoods and test my look. So I pushed into the cottonwoods, pulled some willow around the cross brace, around the yoke in the boat, and by that time, hail had begun. And it was not just pea-sized hail. This became really serious marble-sized hail. So, thrashing around, I pulled those willows around the yoke of the boat to hold it in, ripped open my bag, pulled out a terry cloth towel and threw it over the back of my head and my neck to lessen the blow of the hail, because by that time, it had gotten bigger than marbles, and it was really frightening. I think I did a lot of screaming and yelling, and about halfway through that, one of those branches on the cottonwood fell down next to the canoe and sloshed water in the boat, and I am curled into this really tight ball, and I barely notice when it stops, right All the sudden, I realize that I am sort of out of danger, and there are pearls and agates in the boat, right Two inches of hail in the boat. And so I got out this ridiculously small little pan I had, and I began to bail the boat out. I actually came around the corner, got back into the stream and was grateful to have my life, and I came around the corner, and there was the park I wanted to stay at that night, and I just laughed myself silly. Of course, I ran into rapids. If you have ever been on the upper Missouri, there are rapids. It is not like whitewater rapids. Instead, they are like huge stair steps, where the river sort of falls down into these standing waves. And so I saw the first of these, I think it was the Dauphin Rapids. And I thought to myself, my boat would be crushed, I mean, if I was going to go through these big waves. So I got smart, or I thought I got smart, and saw a chute on the side of the river and I thought, well, I will just walk my boat down to where it is calm at the bottom. Well, I got into the chute, and it was really great. Everything was fantastic. Then within about 100 feet, my feet were swept out from underneath me, I am struggling to hold onto the boat, and somehow I flop myself into the boat and start paddling like crazy, because I am so afraid I am going to get washed against these rocks. And this is serious standing wave stuff, where my boat is crashing through the whitewater, and then coming through on the other side, flipping up and down, and I finally came through in the calm water below all of these rapids, and went to the opposite bank. There was a guy standing there in a fly-fishing outfit. This guy did not look like a dude, he looked like the real deal. And he said Howd you do in there And I said Well, I dont think I did very well. And he said Well, I could tell by your EnglishI could hear you all the way out here. So thats the beginning of the trip. As I moved forward in the trip, I have a lot ofI will show you some pictures of the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic, but while I was up in Montana, it was the windiest time of the year, and some people told me that it was the windiest year they had had in 50 years up there. So I made it through the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic, which, if you have never been there in a boat, or even in person, just by yourself, you should do that. It is really a magnificent, lonely, lonely place. It is really just sublimely beautiful. So I get through the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic and into Fort Peck Lake, and I think to myself, well, all these stories people told me must not be true. Of course, that was a day that the wind was not blowing and I made 25 miles into the lake and I thought I was so brilliant, this is going to be really easy and what not. After that, I was completely shut down by the wind. The next five days, I made 10 miles, most of those miles, 8 or 9 of them in the first days. I put my boat on the river every day, and one day I paddled all day and I struggled to make 300 yards. I am paddling up the sides of these swells, these four and five foot swells. I am trying to stay close to the bank so that I could get out. The wind is pushing me out into open water, then I get to the top of one of these swells and I have to paddle back down the other side in order to keep from being blown backward. Fortunately, I only had to go really one open water stretch. That was where the crooked creek came into the Missouri at the UL Bend Wilderness. There is a little Corps of Engineers Rec site there, and there was a trailer there, and that was all I could see, but I thought this is going to be it, and I got out in the middle of this lake, and I began to curse the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for having built the lake during this administration. And if anybody knows me, for me to curse Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is quite something. So here I was out there, and I was cursing and screaming and I was very mad at the Corps of Engineers. I was really frustrated, not having anything to hold onto, literally, anything to hold onto out in the middle of that, and I finally was able, after a time, to actually surf my boatget on the top of a swelland surf toward the shore over and over again, until I wound up on that other shore. And there, I met a guy by the name of Kevin Scoby. I will show you his picture here in a minute. Kevin was one of these weird people who liked to spend all of their time alone. But he is still very friendly at the same time. He invited me to stay over the weekend where a lot of ranchers would come down over the weekend and we could have a good time together. And then when the next day came and I began to look out at that lake and it was smooth again, and I thought maybe I should get going because I may not have this opportunity again, Kevin said Well, where do you think youre going Im going to take you around this lake. And I was just stunned. I mean, this guy, out of nowhere, said Oh yeah, Ill take you around the lake, no big deal. And so I did. I spent the whole week with him and he took me to Wolf Point, Montana, and then I canoed into lake Sakakawea. I read the journal of another kayaker whoback up a minutewhen I got to Great Falls, I met an incredible couple by the name of Jim and Diane McDermott, and they took me around the Great Falls to Fort Benton. They gave me a lot of good advice. Like, when you are in the canoe by yourself, you turn it around, put the stern forward. I had no idea. I was sitting all the way in the back of my boat with the boat sitting up like this. They had all kinds of great advice, and they gave me this journal of this kayaker, and what the kayaker wrote in this journal, was that he stashed his boat in the bushes underneath a highway bridge at Williston, North Dakota, went up and got a shower, had a good meal and came back then two or three days later. And I thought, thats what is going to happen with me. And I did that, and while I was walking into Williston, I met somebody who was real nice to me, took me around, bought me lunch, introduced me to the best hotel in Williston, North Dakota at the time, and then as I got done that evening, I was worrying over how I was going to make it through all these big lakesthere was another 650 miles of big lake in front of me and I sat down on a bench in Williston, North Dakota, and a woman came up and introduced herself, Doris Hanson. She looked out of place. She had big bouffant hair, you know, with a polyester scarf wrapped around it, and big horn-rimmed glasses, and we got to talking and she said Well, I have a friend who goes down to Yankton all the time. You should go with him. And I was just stunned. That was another sort of incident where I thought, Well, this woman is crazy. She talks too loud and she just seemed to be sort of presumptuous. So she got up right away and we went down to talk to her friend by the name of Rick Hickok, and Rick said Oh yeah, Ill take you down to Yankton. You dont mind staying with Doris for a week, do you So I said, I dont know what that means! And Doris took me out to dinner and while we were at dinner, she was just so happy to be with me and so open and so honest, and she revealed to me that she had just gotten out of the mental hospital about three weeks before. It turns out, she had been in her house, shut in her house after her husband left her, she shut herself in her house for five years. She even unplugged the clock so she would not know what time it was, and pulled the shades and so on. Her ex-husband and her friends, they were the ones who brought cleaning supplies and food to her. She stayed in that house for five years. And so when it became obvious that something was very wrong with Doris, her ex-husband and the chief of police had her committed and she wound up spending, I think, three months, in a psychiatric institution, and she had just gotten out three weeks before she met me, and I had the most wonderful week. She cooked dinner. She would get big bags of potato chips and ice cream and we would sit on her patio and eat these things, and I went to five movies that week. I saw all of the movies that were showing at the two theatres in Williston. So really, Doris was real fine, and I was of course very sad to know that just a few years after I met her, she died, hopefully not of alcoholism or a heart attack, but she just died and it made me very sad. So Rick took me. He drove me and my boat 750 miles to Yankton, South Dakota, and put me on the river below the Gavins Point Dam. Now, there I ran into a river that is much more familiar to us, living on the lower riverrolling hills, grapevines, the kinds of reeds that we have on the river bank. The next 60 miles from Gavins Point Dam, to Ponca State Park, the river lulled really fat and warm a puddle in the sun. And so I took my time. I mean, I had skipped all this river and I had this growing feeling that I wanted to be back with my daughter, but I did not really want the trip to end. An so on the Missouri National Recreation River, I took my time. I really tried to put off going downstream, because I did not want my river trip to end. I was by myself for a week and a half on the way into Omaha and all the way along, of course you begin to realize differences of the upper river and the lower river. Of course, on the lower river, there are more human sounds, more mechanical sounds, more sounds of cars and traffic, but it was not that bad. I liked that, after having been alone for so long on the upper river, and not hearing anything. There were times when I was on the upper river, when there was not wind, when there was not any ripple in the stream where I could literally hear my heart beat in my ears. So I liked it. I liked being by myself in the middle of all this. It is a great feeling to feel that you are a thousand miles away from everybody, even though youre in the middle of a town. An in Omaha, I met a guy by the name of John Biondo. I had heard about him upstreamsome jet skiers caught me near Blair, Nebraska, and asked me what was going on. They had just met this guy, he was having a terrible trip, blah, blah, blah, and I was canoeing through Omaha and I saw an opening. There is a harbor there with a bar on the other end of it, and I thought what I really wanted at that time was a candy bar and cola. If you have been alone out there in the sun on the river for a long time, that sugar stuff really begins to sound very good. So I dashed in there, and I met John Biondo at the bar. He was writing in his journal. It was the middle of the day, actually about 11 oclock. They had some big party the night before. The bartender had bloodshot eyes, and there were people sweeping up and just not looking like they were having a good time of it, and it was already 103 outside, and I thought to myself, Well, how about if we canoe together, and in my head, I said, Im going to beg this guy. I am going to beg, because I had been by myself and it would be fun to have a river mate to go with me. It turns out that John had done the same thing I did. He went from Fort Peck Lake, around to Yankton, South Dakota. Actually, he canoed even less river than I did, and he had broken up with a girlfriend right before he went on this trip. He was lonely, alone, and he was really into Indian artifacts and the river was up so he could not search around on gravel bars for Indian artifacts, and he had all these reasons why he was having a terrible time. So I talked him into going with me. I told him, Look, you know, a couple of days. A couple of days. If you dont like it, you can get out of the river and go home, thats always there for you. Being able to canoe with somebody else and having a good time building big fires and shooting guns, does not happen very often. Of course, I did not have the guns, he had the guns and I wanted my fingers on them too, because it is like a free fire zone out there. It was kind of fun. I am not a gun guy. I dont own one, but it was still going to be a lot of fun, if I could talk him into going, I could shoot his guns. And from that point, I had the best two weeks of my entire life, to that point. John and I lived like a couple of Huck Finns. We did not put on our shoes for two weeks running. We came by a sandbar we liked, and we stayed there for two nights. We shot guns, we fished, we screwed around, we built big, big fires. We wrote and read in the sun. That took me all the way into Kansas City. While John and I were together, after the first day or so, we kept talking about how much longer we wanted the river to be, because life on the river really is something very special. And having been alone and on that river for two and a half months, you know, the prospect of it ending, was very, very difficult to think about. I wanted to go home and be with my kid. I did not want to go home and get a job. I did not want to go home and pay bills. I did not want to go home and be an upstanding human being, but I wanted to go home and be with my kid. But at the very same time, I wanted the river between Omaha and Kansas City to get longer. Now, I arrived on the river bank at Kaw Point. The river boat was still there. I was able to call a friend of mine to come pick me up, and I realized at that moment, that I really was home. It took me a while to understand how much the river really transformed me, being out there by myself, looking for the things that I was looking for. I did not find everything that I was looking for, and in some ways, the river is still transforming my life, with further trips on it, as well as the lessons that I learned. And what I learned, really, from all of this, was that I am not a finished product. That in fact, I am a work in progress. And I think when I left, I wanted to come back to a completely different life, and that is not what happens on river trips. River trips show you, or I think showed me anyway, who I was, and began to really show me that my best qualities are dealing with things as they come, not as I imagined them. And so I am still very scared a lot, I still think a lot about, If I dont do this, then I never will, and all of that, but I am more able to cope with the everyday realities, because the river really showed me that, if I just do one thing at a time, just one thing, and then the next thing after that, life is going to be just fine. I would like to show you some pictures of the river now. How much time do we have This is it. This is Sidney. She was three years old when we took this picture. This is what she looked like when I conceived the river as an idea, and the walk across the Great Plains as a way of transforming my life. She was really, at that point, the reason I was taking the trip. And I know that it sounds odd to some people, that you would leave your kid for five months, in order to find your kid, but that is exactly the way it was, and exactly what happened. It is why I kept going when I did. It is probably why I never thought to get on a bus and come back home. This of course, is my first camp in Cascade, Montana, at the end of that first night. When I was walking to Montana, I actually gained very quickly, a sense of decorum. I was camping in public, at public parks, in peoples front yards. People offered me their couches in their living rooms. They spontaneously offered me this. I met literally hundreds of people on the way to Montana, so I came to have this sort of practice where at night, I would sort of make sure all my stuff was in orderthat I didnt have undies laying out or my socks, you know, those kinds of things, because this was in the public. Of course, first night on the river, all that disappears. When I looked out of my tent, I actually was in my tent when I took this picture, and thought, Man, a bomb hit, because I had lot all sense of decorum, I was out on my own, and certainly free to do it. Now that bit from Montanahow many people have actually been in the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River So you already know some of what I am talking about. You probably recognize some of these pictures. But of course, Im out there in that lonely place, out there all by myself, and these scenes of the Cut Bank, this is the Cut Bank near Ohm, Montana, really did strike me as something very beautiful, and of course, you get a sense of loneliness if you look at this picture. There is a human in the picture, but he is looking out at, really open country. This is Jim and Diane McDermott. When I met them in Great Falls, that last telephone call I madeI mean, I got out of the river, and I am going to call these canoeing clubs, or I am going to try to find somebody who knows how to get around these big dams, and around the Great Falls. Some woman in a coffee shop was very nice, she gave me a telephone book, sat me down in her office where I could use the telephone and I made about 15 calls to sporting goods stores, and outdoor equipment places, and at the very last one, someone said Oh yeah, you ought to call the Medicine River Canoe Club. And I was like Well, how do I get a hold of them Diane answered the phone and they put me up at their house that night. Then some other people took me around town for a day or so, then they took me to Fort Benton, Montana, which is the start of the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic. Now, the river at Fort Benton, does not really look like this. This is very shortly after Fort Benton, we get into the White Cliffs country. It is more subtle. There is more brown, but it is still, like I said, very lonely up there. There is not much next to the river outside of Fort Benton, for many, many miles, actually probably all the way to the Kip Recreation area near Malta, Montana. But this is the White Cliffs Region. This is LaBarge Rock, named after Joseph LaBarge, a riverboat captain that resided on the upper Missouri River in the 1860s through the 1880s. These formations you see, are white sandstone and every now and then, there are these volcanic dykes that stick up in them, and you will see some more here in a second. But to me, seeing LaBarge Rock, was like magical, because I had looked at all of those Karl Bodmer watercolors, and dreamed about it for years and years, and all of the sudden, Im there. I mean, Im living it in a way. This is like my dreams come true. Of course, this is across the way from Eagle Rock campground. It is just this lonely little spit of land with some fire rings on it that the parks service keeps up in the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic. Really brilliant white cliffs, beautiful white cliffs. This is above Eagle Creek, and I did not realize, I mean I realized it at the time obviously, but I did not realize later, how much hiking I actually did, up from the river. I think I spent a good portion of every day, hiking up into the plains above the river, above the coolies and above all the ravines, and so you cant really see the river here, but it is behind that second row of rocks in front of the third, so I am pretty far away from the river itself. This is Eagle Creek Canyon. It is about 60 feet across at the very top, and probably not as wide as my shoulders at the bottom. This is Citadel Rock. And like I said, I was living the dream. I mean, this is a Karl Bodmer picture of that same formation. This one here, I saw that come into my vision and I thought, Oh My God, I almost died and went to Heaven. I cant remember exactly where this is, but these are part of the White Cliffs region. Like I said, I would hike up behind the cliffs, up on the thing, and I would have these great vistas, these fantastic views, and stuff that Lewis and Clark described in their journals as grotesque forms and sort of other-worldly sorts of formations. This is another hike from the river. The White Cliffs runs for about 100 miles in the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River. This is Pilot Butte, another one of those volcanic dykes that just sticks up, and again, it is part of what Karl Bodmer painted in those wonderful watercolors that are all now in the Jocelyn Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. I cannot remember the name of this formation, but it is also part of a Bodmer watercolor. Of course, the river shifts a lot between 1833 and today, but it is the same formation. I wish I could have seen bison while I was up there, but most that land is left over to cows these days. This is Hole In The Wall. You can see, if you look close, there is a little hole in the wall. It is a formation that runs about 450 feet above the river. It is literally a rock wall, and here is the Hole In The Wall from above. When I hiked up onto that narrow wall, I actually walked all the way out to that point and just leaned into the wind, and it was frightening and scary, but it was so beautiful and you could see so far. This is on one side of the rock wall, these mushroom gardens, on either side of the Hole In The Wall. And this is Cow Creek. Now Cow Creek has its own story. If you remember history very well, it was the last clash between the Chief Justice Nez Perce and the American Army, happened at Cow Creek Island. The island is no longer there. In fact, below those branches, that is where the island once was. When you are looking across the Missouri River to Cow Creek, it slithers around in there like a big snake, hundreds and hundreds of turns and crooks in that river, all the way up to its source upon the plain. But I gotta tell you, that this is where it all came together. It was so peaceful, and so quiet, that I thought, if people have souls, like they told me about in grade school, then this is where they come when somebody dies. I had never been in a place more serene, more beautiful and more subtle, in my entire life. I headed into the Breaks country. Of course, the ground changes a lot, the landscape changes, and you get into what these big, what they call breaks or coolies, these ravines on either side of the river. Here we have another Karl Bodmer picture of a buffalo herd coming down one of the breaks in the river. This is on the last tail end of the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic. Things get more subtle. The colors are really much more nuanced, and no less beautiful than in the White Rocks region. This is one of my typical camps. This is at Judith River, which is a BLM campsite that they keep on the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic, so you can see my water is there boiling for coffee. It is the end of a good day. This is Kevin Scoby. I named him my savior, because he got me off that big lake and out of that scary stuff, and got me back to a river that actually flowed. And I have these other pictures from other trips that I made on the Missouri River, just to sort of show you the contrast between he upper and lower Missouri. You all are familiar with this, but one of the things that we do not often think about, is how beautiful the lower river is. You can see a white dot on the front of that pile of drift. That is my friend, Gary Jenkins. And that is just how big that sandbar was, west of Franklin, Missouri. This of course, is the river in the evening. Maybe anyone who has canoed the river, can understand what this means, when all the wind has settled down, and the sky and the river almost become one. This is Little LeBoeuf Creek, where it is storied or told, that John Colter was buried, just up the creek from here. Here is my friend, Gary Jenkins. And the only reason we ever set up a tent was against the bugs. I learned on the way to Montana, how not to sleep in a tent, and I still dont sleep in a tent. The only time I sleep in a tent is when there are bugs or if it is going to rain, and even if it is going to rain, I still have a canvas that I use instead of a tent. This is in Franklin Island. I mean, just this real, subtle stuff. And unless we stop, slow down and take a look at it, it escapes us. Glasgow. You guys are familiar, I imagine, with Glasgow, Missouri. And it is interesting too, how when you frame these things with a camera, how you can sort of pick out the beauty. Sometimes, it is too much for us to understand if we are looking at the whole thing. A picture like this, to me, brings back a memory of a time, as well as a landscape to me that is very, very beautiful. Missouris Rhineland Region. That is Gary there, in the front of the canoe. That canoe, I was telling some people before, got stolen from me. I had almost 5000 miles on that canoe when it got stolen from me, and it was a big loss, and I just recently bought a brand new canoe. I should not say just recentlya day and a half agobought a brand new canoe. The same profile as the one that I had before, that the canoe maker in Maine had gotten me. It is really brilliant and I am happy to have it and I cannot wait to get out on the river again. Labadie Bottomsand if you have ever canoed to Saint Louis, you know that Labadie, on one side is this really beautiful swampy area where the Labadie Creek comes out, and on the other side is a huge power plant. But these two things living side by side, make this very interesting sort of contrast, that unless we are looking for it, we miss. There is Gary again, on the way to the Columbia Bottoms. And there is Pelican Island. Again, when the wind dies down and there are only sounds, perhaps of the highway behind you, the river is sort of a really lovely, beautiful place. Here is Pelican Island again. This is John Biondo. He is still a friend of mine. We actually had a text message conversation yesterday. I have known him all these years between now and then. He and I have traveled the river again, before he met us at Weldon Springs when we went down the Missouri in 2009. And there is your wayfarer at the Columbia Bottoms. I want to thank everyone of you for being here for me tonight. I hope somebody has questions for me.