We woke elated on our 4th day of vacation. Actually that was true about every morning but this morning was special, very special. Today was the day of our biggest adventure on a vacation full of adventures.
Today we were going to paddle the untamed Yellowstone River in our Sea Eagle white water kayak. Untamed is an accurate statement. This amazing national treasure is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. It flows 692 miles through 3 states; Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. A 64 year old man (Frank) and soon to be 54 year old woman (Me) was going to paddle one of America’s most powerful and beautiful rivers by themselves, no guide and no companion kayaks or rafts. Not only that, it’s a white water river! It’s like the Dierks Bentley song says “I know what I was feelin’ but what was I thinkin’.”
Now, if you’ve been following our post, I know what your thinkin’. If they flew out west, how did they bring a two person whitewater kayak with them? The answer is, in the biggest suitcase the airlines allow without paying an oversize penalty. It took several attempts but after a concerted effort, we shoehorned the kayak in one bag and put the seats, the floor, 2 four piece Werner paddles, 2 personal flotation devices, pump and the rest of our paddling gear in another bag. The picture below really tells the story.
When we originally planned our trip, we knew we were going to bring the kayak, but we weren’t sure exactly where we were going to paddle. Paradise Gateway Bed & Breakfast in Montana, where we were staying the first 4 days of our trip, is home to some beautiful big sky country and sits on the Yellowstone River. The river runs right along the property of this beautiful rustic B&B and the location was one of the reasons we wanted to stay there. The hospitality of the owners was more than we could have ever expected. Frank had called and talked to Pete about access to the river before we left Jacksonville and Pete said, “I can drive you up the road 5 or 10 miles and you can paddle back and take out right here at the property”.
That morning, Carol cooked us one of her famous 3 course breakfasts providing plenty of fuel for our upcoming day on the Yellowstone River. We packed all our gear and Pete dropped us off at the boat ramp about 10 highway miles away.
The sun was warm to the skin, but the wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 30 mph. We were really doing this! Around noon, Frank got the boat inflated, and in the water we went. My excitement was infectious as Frank and I began our new adventure. Frank is a skilled paddler and I’m still a beginner to intermediate. I’ve been paddling with him for the past 15 years, but no rapids as there are none really to speak of in Florida. This is my first time to experience real rushing water.
One of the things about a white water kayak is that it is designed with holes in the bottom. That’s right holes. If it doesn’t have holes when the water comes in the boat (believe me in white water it comes in the boat) the boat will fill up and you can’t paddle. The holes allow the water to flow in and out of the boat. On the Yellowstone River that means COLD water. I had on my gortex pants, so even though I was sitting in water, I was a dry happy girl.
Shortly after launching, it became apparent we were in for a difficult and very physical paddle. The wind was blowing straight up the river and controlling the boat was a real issue. This was going to be a multiple hour paddle on a very powerful river and we needed to make some adjustments to ensure a safe and comfortable trip. On a river like this, you can’t just pull over and get out. You have to wait for the right spot. On the Yellowstone there are small rock washed and vegetated islands and the perfect one for a stop was just ahead. After beaching the boat, we adjusted the seats, stowed some gear and repositioned the dry bag.
We had dry clothes, camera equipment, our lunch and other items packed in our big yellow dry bag mounted to the bow of the boat. A dry bag is an essential item to have on any boat to protect your survival gear & expensive electronics. Once all the adjustments were made, we got back in the boat and paddled on.
The boat handled much better, the seats were more comfortable and our attitude about our upcoming challenge was more focused, allowing us to really begin enjoying the trip. The view of mountains as the sun and clouds created shadows throughout this 12 mile river journey was breathtaking. We saw Osprey, Green-Winged Teals, Bald Eagles and Cormorants. We saw 6 humans fishing from shore in over six hours on the river. Besides those six people and the raft that launched before we did, we were alone, woohoo and yeehaw!
Moments of serenity as we were able to float without the wind blowing was rare, but provided us with images of the mountainside like the photo above.
September is a great time to paddle the river. The daytime temperatures are usually comfortable and the river isn’t raging out of control like the Spring. We had never been on the river before and did a pretty good job of reading the conditions. Still, several times we got very close to the bottom and ran aground twice. One of those times, Frank had to get out into the frigid water and push us off the rocks. We hit quite a few 1’s some class 2’s and one almost class 3 rapid along the way. Frank said I did well through them. Remember, this is my first experience of paddling rapids. Maybe I have good instincts or maybe I watch a lot of TV. Regardless, it felt natural!
We still had a little ways when we looked behind us and saw a storm heading in our direction. The rays of the sun were magically shining through the clouds reflecting off the river as if it were moonlight. We started paddling quickly as we still had no idea how much further it was to our take out. It began to sprinkle on us, but we persevered, paddling with all we had. My muscles were screaming at me, but I just had to keep going.
After 6 hours of paddling the Yellowstone River, we began approaching Paradise Gateway Bed & Breakfast just ahead of the storm. We were tired, elated, empowered and thankful for a magical trip. We got the boat and gear out of the water and while Frank cleaned things up, I went inside for a wonderful shower and to put my jammies on.
We live in a society and a social climate where we are constantly inundated with advertisements on how to make our entertainment experiences more real. There’s 4k TV, blue ray, surround sound, cable this and satellite that. Car stereos so loud they shake your car from the vehicle along side you. The movies feature 3D, IMAX and Dolby sound to go with their stale popcorn. All these things are great if that’s what you’re into. But, if you really want to feel alive, spend some time in nature on an adventure like the Yellowstone River. Your senses will be firing on all cylinders. The sites, the sounds and the feel are unforgettable and will live in your memory forever.
What a day!!! Would we do it again? ABSOLUTELY!
Living in the Moment is what we do while enjoying our time in nature. If you missed any of the other Living in the Moment Series, you can click on them here. Just After Take Off, Day 1, Day 2 Mammoth Hot Spring, Day 2 Traffic Jam, Day 2 Undine Falls and Lava Creek, Lamar Valley – Slough Creek, Day 2 Trout Lake, Lunch at Otter Creek, Mount Washburn, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Please look forward to our next post as the adventure continues.