Ft. Peck Marina
June 19, 2023
Dear Family & Friends:
This message is long because I have not had cell or Internet service for over one week. I hope future messages can be shorter.
I departed Kipp on June 10 with four muffins given to me by Mary. The day was pretty much a non-event with few photo opportunities. I met Carl & Kaysie at a downstream camp area. Carl topped off my water supply since the next 6 days will put me in remote wilderness areas with no water or food supplies or human contact. Norm Miller told me I am in the most remote part of the lower 48. Carl is a hunting guide in Alaska. Carl & Kasie have a two year old who is being cared for by Grandma while they watch the Mighty Mo roll by and Kaysie hopes to snag a paddlefish.
After 7 hours of paddling, I got desperate to find a campsite for the night. I did not want to sleep in my canoe. Finally, I found a small area, about the size of a pool table, which was barely large enough to pitch my tent. That’s where I spent the night. My food for the day was 2 muffins for lunch and 2 muffins for dinner.
June 11. Now, I am paddling on Ft. Peck Lake. I have learned to respect and fear this Lake. It is 134 miles long and is the 5th largest reservoir in the world. It has more miles of shoreline (1520) than the state of California. The winds are fearsome and are almost always headwinds. The winds can turn Ft. Peck Lake into a roiling ocean, with waves that can swallow a fishing boat.
My trip on Ft. Peck Lake today was uneventful. For the most part, I stayed close to shore. But, I tracked and followed the seam of the mild current to gain some assist. The winds were moderate to heavy and always headwinds. There were some scary moments with the white-water waves, but my canoe and I managed them well. I feel like I am getting better at reading Ft. Peck Lake. But, I don”t want to get cocky. There is a long way to go to reach Ft. Peck Dam. In the last 2 days I have paddled over 55 River miles.
I saw no signs of life today other than birds on the River. The highlight of my day was to see how close I could get to the birds before they took flight. Pathetic? I agree.
June 12. Another bland day. Lots of smoke from the Canadian wildfires. Now, I have no current for assist. This was a really hard day of paddling. I hope to reach Ft. Peck in 5 more days. I have no cell service or internet until Ft. Peck. I respect this Lake but no longer fear it. I think I know how to manage the risks. Stay close to shore when the winds blow hard and move further away from shore when it is calm so as to avoid the counter currents along the shorelines. I had spaghetti for dinner spiced with ghost pepper. Beautiful sunset. I’m loving this journey
June 13. Woke up to a lot of smoke from the fires in Canada. Another slow, hard day of paddling. I chose a campsite 55 miles from Ft. Peck Dam. I hope to arrive in 3 days, maybe 4. Not many photo opportunities.
On the bright side, I saw 4 fishing boats. And, two Game Wardens checked to make sure I’m okay. Good thing I didn’t have my fishing line in the water. By the end of the day, the smoke had cleared and the great views had returned. I wish the smoke would clear for good. The forecast is for rain tomorrow night.
June 14. This was an exciting end of the day. I pushed off at 7:30 am, planing to pull off the Lake at 2 in anticipation of a rainstorm at 3. The travel was slow and tedious. I was moving on the water at a slow-walking speed. Hard work. I pulled off the Lake and set up camp, thinking it was 2pm. In fact, it was 1pm. Just after I set up camp, the rain started to fall and the Lake exploded. Strong winds generated huge waves and whitecaps were everywhere. The Lake resembles the ocean in a storm. It is 8 pm and the Lake is still turbulent. But, I have a secure and safe campsite and all is well. I just hope I can resume paddling tomorrow. I hope to reach Ft. Peck Dam in 3 days. It is about 40 miles downstream.
This evening, I got the news that, on June 11, at 2pm, a body was found about 2 miles downstream from Kipp. The police were concerned I was also missing. When I reach Ft. Peck Dam, they want to talk to me to find out what I know. The body was later identified as my new friend Jim who I mentioned in my last post.
June 15. Another short (3 hour) day on the Lake because of turbulent water.
June 16. I made good progress today. I was on the Lake at 6am and pulled off at 2pm. I hope to arrive at Ft. Peck tomorrow. I had my usual lunch, a peanut butter taco. My dinner was shrimp chow mein.
June 17. Decision day. Do I cross the Lake from South to North (a long and dangerous 7 mile traverse) or rest for the day and hope for better conditions tomorrow? Trevor, a kind local fisherman in a fishing boat saw me contemplating my options and urged me to go for it. He advised me conditions on the Lake will be worse for the next 3 days. I could not contemplate spending another 3 days stranded on this beach in no man’s land. So, I quickly broke down my camp and launched. I paddled really hard for 90 minutes to reach an island, which was halfway across the Lake. I paddled through 2 to 3 foot swells. When I reached the island, I contemplated my options and decided to paddle another two hours to reach Ft. Peck. The total distance paddled was about 7 miles. I reached Fort Peck marina at 11 am. I can’t believe how well, my beloved canoe has carried me through these difficult days on this dreaded Lake. The first thing I did was to have lunch-a delicious hamburger, fries, and two beers at the Ft. Peck Marina.
Tonight, I am staying at the Fort Peck Hotel, which is a gem of a hotel built in 1934 when the Ft. Peck Dam was being constructed. I plan to spend two days here to rest.
Today, my wife and I celebrate our 61st wedding anniversary. I love you, Sharon.
June 18. In the morning, I was invited by a large family to join them for breakfast at the Hotel. All the food was homemade. What a great way to start the day. Ft. Peck has a beautiful Theatre built in 1934. Like the Hotel, the Theatre is built in the Swiss Chalet style of architecture. I attended the matinee performance of the play “Murder on the Orient Express.” Great play and great acting.
On June 20, I plan to portage around Ft. Peck Dam and resume my trip downstream.
God is good.