Nov 27 2010

Tyler Higgins’ Missouri River Odyssey

Every now and then a reader writes in to tell the story of a trip he (or she) has taken, and Tyler Higgins’ tale of an autumn “drift” down the historic Missouri River is the latest. He was in a canoe, but many cyclists will experience a sense of déja vu in reading his adventures, since the popular Katy Trail follows the river for much of the distance. It sounds like an ideal setting for amphibious exploration, and it’s a pity that the one cyclist Tyler meets is definitely on the surly side. (I trust he wasn’t a Surly owner, however. Only good guys—and girls—ride Surlys, after all.)

In any event, Tyler’s journey was a remarkable one, both for the prodigious distances he covered (“Nearly 70 miles, not at all a bad first day”) and for his choice of craft, Old Town’s diminutive Pack canoe:

Tyler Higgins' Pack Canoe

Now, as it happens, I’ve owned a Pack for more than a quarter of a century, and I can vouch for its versatility, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to recommend it as a boat for big water. Clearly, I’m going to have to adjust my expectations! And you may have to, as well, after reading Tyler’s fascinating tale. So there’s not a moment to be lost. Let’s join Tyler and shove off down the wide Missouri…


I put in about four in the afternoon yesterday, figuring to get to Cousin Johnson’s place by dusk. I remember well how important each mile gained is. So I left this morning about four miles south of Atchison, Kansas. It was a terrific day, weather-wise, and I even encountered three pairs of canoeists between Leavenworth and Kansas City, Missouri. I enjoyed some barge wake south of Leavenworth as well.

By dusk I was nearing La Benite Park, and I camped across and just down river. Nearly 70 miles, not at all a bad first day.


I head out, and soon yet another Indian summer day develops. Nearing Lexington I get drizzled on a bit, which my new rain suit repels easily. It also gets a bit gusty, but nothing too bad. I stop about nine miles past Waverly, making it a well over 60 mile day. I had maybe a half hour of daylight, but I saw a spot too nice to pass up.


Today I head out before dawn and soon I encounter fog—the nights are as chilly as the days are warm. It is fairly dense in places, but soon the sun burns it off.

My strategy is to paddle to Stump Island Park in Glasgow. Along the way I stop at Miami to eat at St. Cloud’s, recommended in A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri. I am told St. Cloud’s has been closed for some years, but I stop at a small mom-and-pop place instead, picking up a pencil there as well. Now I can fill in the blank pages in my journal. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered on my first night that I didn’t have a pencil in my gear bag!

Soon it gets quite warm, and I feel exhausted, maybe heat exhaustion. I drink lots of water but have no appetite to speak of. Not to mention I am quite sore and aching. Nevertheless, I hit Glasgow about 6:00 p.m., well before dusk. Tomorrow my goal is Marion Bottoms, and from there I hope to arrive at Hermann by Thursday evening. Compared to last year, it has been a most auspicious beginning.


Today I wake feeling renewed. Manna from Heaven cannot compete with Beckett’s flame-grilled burger, or maybe it was the hot shower. I am certainly glad I stopped to explore Glasgow, a fine town.

It goes without saying today turned into another splendid day. I slept so well last night it was nearing daybreak as I launched. Nothing of real import happened, not even a barge. I simply paddle as though I was a machine. Which reminds me, I forgot to mention the giant barge coming upriver yesterday. I was just getting back to my canoe after leaving the small store in Miami. I knew if I didn’t put in at once, I’d have quite a wait. Actually riding the waves was good fun. I have lost all fear of barges.

The 68 miles I gained found it near nightfall by the time I reached the ramp at Marion Bottoms. I kept thinking as I was approaching here, “Just stop at one of those nice sandy beaches, what’s a couple more miles?” But my determination often borders on obstinancy, and I’ll have reason aplenty to rue camping here.

There is a railroad crossing and a road right by the entrance. Only a sadist or a nitwit would have designated this place suitable for camping. But I’d already dragged my Pack up the bank and trundled up my camping gear, and it was quite dark. Oddly enough, there is a tent and bicycle here, on the one spot actually suitable for pitching a tent. I am certain he wishes he had pedaled on, as I should have paddled on, for I crowded right in. I will try to be a good neighbor at least.

All the same, it is vindication to be 61 miles from Hermann this Wednesday night, for I am certain to arrive tomorrow evening. It almost seemed unreal passing the spot early today where I had pitched camp last year on Thursday, 110 miles from my goal. Now if I am lucky enough to get a decent night’s sleep… but at least it’s my last night on the river.


Although I am frequently awakened by the clamor of numerous trains I fall asleep as soon as quiet is restored. Thus I feel suitably rested when I wake at 6:00 a.m. My neighbor is an older fellow, and seems to be of a most surly and hostile nature. I thus abandon attempts at conversation and strike camp. Soon the canoe is loaded and I am off for Hermann.

There is in places a shroud of fog, but the rays of the rising sun soon dispel it. These same rays will be an irritant for some time, as I am headed east. It is to be once more another sunny and cloudless day. It’s really too much, I was prepared for anything this time.

Approaching Jefferson City, I see a large island of which no trace had shown last year. I had noticed the same thing yesterday, at one point having to wend my way through a group of them. Also, the river seems languid and sluggish, more like a long lake. Any ground gained will be due chiefly to my unstinting efforts.

At times I face a wind not more, really, than a steady breeze, more a vexation than a real impediment. Show me the paddler that wants to feel the wind on their face. It starts to feel like a slogging match, the constant paddling just to maintain momentum. But at last I espy the final bend, and know my goal will soon be obtained. It feels an interminable amount of time passes between sighting the bridge and finally reaching it, but it must be a good eight miles. My speed is a steady 6 mph, for I reach Hermann at 5:00 on the nose, to the minute of what I predicted. It has taken 10 hours to cover the last 61 miles of this river voyage. There can be no question this year of taking Frene Creek, but I am fortunate to have friends here. While waiting, a fellow strikes up conversation with me. The denizens of this town seem of a warm and amiable character, once they perceive you have respect for their community, and are not here just to play the drunken fool. I run into him again at Sharp’s Corner, where I have been told they have a good burger.

I have surpassed all my expectations arriving here Thursday afternoon, yet I had sensed it was possible at the end of my first full day on the river. Certainly I am a more seasoned paddler than last year, but I cannot say I vindicated myself more. This round, Mother Nature opened her arms and clasped me to her bosom. Compared to the adversities I faced last year, the days I spent on the river went by in a blur.


I walked about town today. I think I have found a worthy peice of cast iron, today I may try to barter with them. I wind up at camp early afternoon, and am sitting there munching on deer jerky and dried bananas when someone drives by. He stops and backs up, and soon we are in fast conversation. Another local has taken me under his wing. Chris lives within sight of the park, and is a dyed in the wool river rat. He insists I accompany him and his friend to the bars tonight, his goal to get me good and drunk.

We wind up at the bar right on the river, and I see once again the fellow who was at the landing when I arrived. Then to my great delight I run into Mark, the friend I made here last year. Eventually the night comes to an end, and I am dropped off at my tent most pleasantly inebriated.


I awaken with no ill effects. I cannot wait to see what today holds in store for me. I soon decide food will do me good, so I walk over to Sharp’s Corner. The breakfast there is especially good and a real bargain, to boot. Then I walk about perusing the shops. I find an ornate old pair of bellows at the Bargain Basement which will make a fine wall decoration. The next shop I find is almost a fire fighter museum, and I cannot resist showing the proprietor my find.

At the Kunstler Haus I have quite a good conversation with Artur Hohl, who hails from the Lake Constance region. He is interested to hear of my old watercolors of Rothenburg an der Tauber, and I promise to email him some photos of them. I really doubt I’ll sell though.

By the time I return to camp it is time to attend the birthday celebration I have been invited to. As Leroy is a hunter who likes to travel, antelope chili is on the menu. It is quite tasty.

Later in the evening, I go to The Bank on Schiller Street, where my pal Keith’s band, The River Rats, are playing. It is quite a good show, and the fiddler especially is an amazing vocalist. They play folk and bluegrass, among other things. At show’s end I beg off on having some beers, for I find myself quite weary. It does not take me long to succumb to a deep slumber once I am in my tent.


So here I sit once again, all packed and ready to go. A great week it has been, but I cannot wait to see my lovely lady drive up. There have not been many moments since I saw her last that she has been far from my thoughts. Hermann, and my friends new and old, I bid you farewell.


What did I tell you? A remarkable journey, remarkably well told. And it wasn’t the first time that Tyler voyaged down the mighty Missouri. Here are three photos from an earlier trip:

Higgins Missouri Paddle

Higgins Missouri Paddle

Higgins Missouri Paddle

Tyler later recalled that he saw a couple other cyclists on this trip. Here’s what he has to say:

I did encounter a young couple of cyclists from afar, and insofar as possible they seemed quite friendly. They were crossing the bridge at Boonville as I was coming up to it, and they stopped to have a look down at me, and to wish me well. There wasn’t time for much else to be said before I went under the bridge.

It’s great to know that the surly cyclist wasn’t typical, eh? Thanks, Tyler! Hope we can travel along with you again sometime.

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