Part ll: My First Canoeing Adventure - Fort Osage to Ste. Charles, MO.
Hello again friends. I left off last month as we were beginning our descent of the Missouri River from Fort Osage heading for Ste. Charles, MO. It was an otherworldly scene; Four men in two canoes with Fort Osage’s bastions and stockade looming on the bluffs behind us, the mists lifting off the mighty Missouri’s waters before us. It was a solemn moment for me, full of a mix of giddiness, trepidation and awe. H’yar we go boys, on down the river that carried so many of our heroes to and from their grand adventures.
Unlike our heroes of yesteryear we had navigational charts which showed the main channel, wing dykes, islands, mileages, etc…etc…. most things are marked by mileage (ex. Island 84 was 84 miles upriver from the confluence of the Mississippi at St. Louis). Also, unlike our predecessors, we had to contend with modern river traffic. There wasn’t a whole lot of it, but there was some. Motor boats make wakes which can roll you over if you don’t head into the wave. The biggest obstacle was tows. Tows are tugboats that push rafts of barges up river. Each barge is about as big as a football field. These barges are ganged together to make huge masses of floating ‘stuff’. The paddle wheel tow pushes these rafts of barges up river, very slowly. The result is akin to a blender; it stirs up the water all across the river to a boil. The good news is you can see them coming along ways off and time it so as to find a good pulling out place. The bad news is you have to get the canoes out of the water, or have them smashed along the banks with the turbulent waters. Sometimes it was convenient, as we needed a break. Other times a nuisance. We’d pull the boats out and sit for about an hour as the tow and barges passed and the water settled back down.
Another problem we had was having enough good drinking water. I was the only one who had a pump water filter. The water so muddy and silty that the ceramic filter would clog quickly. To clean, we needed clear water to back flush the filter. There is nothing worse than being very thirsty, floating on a huge expanse of water and not being able to drink it. We’d seize any opportunity to ‘water up’ and or clean the pump for later. Farms, etc… along the way were our salvation. You can appreciate a bunch of fellows dressed in early 1800’s attire cautiously approaching a farmhouse, far from anywhere, in order to ask for water. Would we get water, or a shotgun invitation to get out of there?
We got water every time, after an explanation and good visit. I figured we’d see lots of town, industry, etc… along our way, but we didn’t as most everything is far from the riverbanks due to annual flooding. Because of this water stops weren’t as frequent as we’d have liked.
We had so many fun, or funny, times I can’t list them all. But there are few that deserve mention. We stopped at Jefferson, the State Capitol. While there we toured the State House. I guess I should describe us at this point. The three Missourians were French and Indian war styled. I was later western leaning in my interpretation. The big joke was that river pirates (the F&I guys) had kidnapped Huck Finn (me in broad fall pants, plain shirt and hat). The looks we got as we ran around the state capitol dressed as we were was precious. Another memorable stop was the village of Hermann, perched atop bluffs high overlooking the river. We tied up and hiked up a slope to a quaint old German immigrant town of the old style. As we entered town from the river side we found a bunch of old residents seated on a bench over looking the river. They asked us what was up, we told them, and proceeded to explore the town (and winery, seems these German immigrants of old were reminded of the Rhine Valley and settled here). On our way back to the canoes, these same old gents were waiting for us with armloads of fresh produce from their home gardens. They had hurried home to harvest for us, to send us on our way in Hermann style. Nice old folks. Our next big stop was Washington, MO.. Some local buckskinners knew of our trip and hosted a BBQ for us. While in Washington we toured the studio of a local artist, Gary Lucy, who did paintings of river history, etc… Mr. Lucy often uses local buckskinners as models for his works. Mr. Lucy made arrangements to meet us on Island 84 for a photo op.. He met us and took a bunch of pics, of which I’ve never seen. If you see me in a painting, it may be his.
After 6 ½ days and 310 channel miles we finally made it to Ste. Charles. Jim’s family was there to pick us up (and take us to a most welcome pizza feed). I had a day to kill before I flew home so Jim took me on a whirlwind tour of historical St. Louis. We went to the arch museum, the fur exchange building, the Bell Fontaine cemetery, etc.. etc….
The best part of all this is; I met a great bunch of brothers. Since, I’ve met their friends and have had many other adventures with them. This has all happened over the last 15 years, or so. Don’t be afraid to venture out. Seize the adventure. With the help of friends and brothers, travel isn’t always expensive. For me, the best part of my Mtn. Manning is that I’ve traveled largely and have met many new good friends. If I haven’t met you yet, I look forward to when I do. To those of you who I have met and shared adventures, I can hardly wait to the next one.
I am, Yfab, Randy