Love Your Big Muddy

Janet Sullens Moreland takes on the Mighty Missouri

BY PHIL WHITE

In the past year, several paddlers have tackled and completed grueling endurance journeys, including the first complete descent of Mexico’s Rio Santo Domingo; Pete Marshall, Winchell Delano, Steve Keaveny and Matt Harren’s journey across Canada’s western territories; and West Hansen and Rocky Contos’s dueling record-setting slogs through the upper Amazon basin (Click HERE to read more about the year’s top expeditions and vote for your favorite).

Meanwhile, many of this year’s next best expeditions are unfolding as we speak. Going under the radar is a 57-year-old Columbia, Mo., resident named Janet Sullens Moreland, who’s currently taking a crack at an impressive trip down the entire Missouri River. Moreland, a former windsurfing instructor who switched to kayaking when she moved from San Francisco to the Midwest in 1994, decided to prove to herself that she could replicate Bob Bellingham’s ultra-marathon trip down the Missouri River in 2012.

After receiving affirmation from several friends and river-running experts (including David Miller, author of The Complete Paddler) that undertaking the 2,600-mile quest from Brower’s Spring, Mont., to St. Louis wasn’t crazy, Moreland set up a campaign website and Facebook page, then started making preparations in earnest. She put in at Clark Canyon Dam on May 1, and at the time of writing is 848 miles into the multi-state paddle, which requires cycling and portaging between several tributaries and will end mid-September. (Click HERE to read about Scott Mestrezat, a 27-year-old standup padlder also currently on a 100-day Missouri River endurance expedition).

We caught up with Moreland to ask about her progress, the biggest challenges so far, and how she keeps pushing, day after day, mile after mile, toward the finish in St. Louis.

CANOEKAYAK.COM: What’s been most frustrating?
Janet Sullens Moreland: Waiting for wind conditions to favor paddling on the big lakes, in particular Fort Peck Lake, on which I just spent over a week with lots of hours waiting for the wind to die. I still have the two biggest lakes to do, Sakakawea and Oahe. Also, maintaining peace of mind during a nasty electrical storm, again on Fort Peck Lake. It was a scary experience.

Where was the toughest paddling you’ve encountered?
The gnarliest stretch was the Beaverhead River at the very start. The Beaverhead is a narrow, swift, and shallow river with a lot of tight bends. I came oh so close to dumping the first day when I got caught in a low-hanging snag strainer. The next day, I put two holes in my 17-foot kayak because of strainers and trees in the water on the bends. Miraculously, my Wheeleez (portage cart) wheels caught on a branch just as I was tipping and my boat straightened out. I was able to peel myself out of the jam and move on. I think I sprained my hand in the process, though. It took about a month for the swelling to go down, though I could still paddle. Ironically, I had brought a 12.5-foot plastic kayak for this stretch, but by the time I got on the water, my support crew (my daughter and a friend) had to go back to Missouri, so I just put in my expedition kayak and went with it.

Other than completing the trip, what are your goals for this journey?
Like Scott Mansker and the other organizers of the MR 340, I want to raise awareness of the need for river relief and cleanup, particularly on the Missouri. It’ll only stay beautiful if people take better care of it. I also hope to inspire other women to be active and tackle challenges they might think are impossible.

How is your watersports background helping?
I grew up on the American River near Sacramento and have been involved in watersports my whole life, so I can read the river well. Before the trip, I also consulted with veteran paddlers like Victoria Jason, who paddled the MacKenzie 1,600 miles through the Northwest Passage, and helped me understand what was involved. I was also the first certified ski patrol member in the Sierra Nevada’s, so I’m used to dealing with the unexpected.

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