— The following originally ran in our March 2014 issue.
I've spent a lot of time around girls and kayaks since then. Girls who paddle are usually remarkable for a lot of reasons. We boys could certainly improve our technique by emulating their smooth movements and natural finesse on the water. And when it comes to expedition paddling, we all could learn a thing or two from Janet Moreland, a quietly remarkable girl from Columbia, Mo.
On a cool Saturday this November, my own favorite paddling girl, Melissa Morrison, and I paddled alongside Janet beneath a balmy fall sky on the broad, brown Mississippi River. It was just before sunset, six miles upstream of Natchez, Miss., and Janet was closing in on the end of her 3,780-mile solo journey to the Gulf of Mexico. She'd started months earlier at the source of the Missouri River high in the Centennial Mountains of Montana.
Janet was poised to be the first woman ever to paddle the entire Missouri-Mississippi River complex, solo, from source to sea.
Above Natchez, 363.5 miles to go, she was beginning the final chapter of what she's dubbed the LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition.
More than this, however, Janet would be the first American, male or female, ever to accomplish this feat, and only the third person ever to do so.
(Australian paddler Mark Kalch completed the descent in 2012 in 117 days, and Canadian Rod Wellington did so last year in 256 days.)
"We skied in to the source," she told us, "on the 24th of April, 300 miles above the headwaters of the Missouri. I skied in with Norm Miller—a dear friend whom I met after deciding to do the trip with his encouragement—then biked down to Clark Canyon Dam and began my paddle toward the headwaters at Three Forks where the Jefferson and Madison join with the Gallatin.
"It's been a idyllic six months since then. There is nothing that compares with the solitude of being on a river—or to meeting so many gracious and wonderful people along the way."
When asked if she had any fears, or regrets, Janet thought for a moment. "I didn't much care for the lightning storms, especially just below Lake Sakakawea," she said. "And, you know, I've come an awful long way. Now that I'm down South, it would really be nice to see an alligator."
As we paddled in for the day, we kept our fingers crossed, ready for Janet to achieve the next big accomplishment.
— Never slowing her pace to see a single alligator, Janet Moreland completed the descent on Dec. 5.
Check out some video of her and Miller kicking off the expedition by skiing into the Centennial Mountains to Brower's Spring, the source of the Missouri River.