Janet is paddling, not only for a record, but also to raise awareness about Missouri River Relief’s efforts to preserve a historic and important river.
By David Cawthon
In her fifteen-foot-long kayak, Janet Moreland traveled across thousands of miles of rivers and lakes. Never mind the holes in her boat, torrential rains, flooding, electrical storms, rocks, torrents, and threatening waves that passing barges created as they chugged along the river.
And it’s not only the allure of the record or her thirst for adventure that drives her—it’s the river’s well-being and the communities that call it home. “The river is the blood that we share,” she says.
Her river-conditioned frame and sun-ripened hair and skin affirm that she is a part of the currents. The Columbia resident is also a part of Missouri River Relief that has worked to clean up its waters. Janet, 57, hopes her 3,700-mile, 12-state journey from the river’s source in Montana to its end at the Gulf of Mexico will help the cause.
Only two other people, Australian expedition kayaker Mark Kalch and Canadian adventurer Rod Wellington, have paddled that route.
In April, Janet set out to become the first woman and the first American to paddle the continent’s longest river system.
Janet grew up on a river in Northern California and lived in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for eleven years. She called Yosemite home for a time, too. She moved to Columbia in 1996, but it took a few years before she kayaked the Big Muddy. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. The river is right in my backyard,’ ” she says. This epiphany inspired her to buy a kayak, which she could more easily maneuver. In the nimble craft, she could glide low in the water as the blades of her paddle kissed the surface, and the vessel flirted with the currents. On a whim, she could explore the river.
Janet’s journey follows the Missouri-Mississippi Rivers from the source at Bower’s Spring, Montana, to the Gulf of Mexico. The route spans 3,700 miles, through wilderness and major cities.
Janet continued her love affair with the Missouri when she opened her own breakfast nook on Saturday mornings at Cooper’s Landing in Columbia, a common stop for expeditioners. At the time, she had a full-time job at MU during the week. During one of those weekends in 2003, paddler Dave Miller came through Cooper’s. Dave told Janet how the Missouri winds through the heart of the country, through lakes, around mountains, and across valleys. The seed for her own journey was planted. But she found inspiration elsewhere, too.
A few years ago, Janet returned to the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a camping trip. On mornings, Janet would sip her coffee around the fire and read paddler and author Victoria Jason’s Kabloona in a Yellow Kayak about her solo voyage from the Canadian Northwest Territories to the Arctic Circle. If Victoria, a grandmother in her fifties, could paddle frigid northern waters, Janet knew the Big Muddy was a feat she could tackle.
Janet’s final push came during the summer of 2012 when she joined a private Facebook page called Missouri River Paddlers, run by kayaker Norm Miller. Janet told Norm about her goal to someday paddle the length of the Missouri. Norm knew the river, and his Livingston, Montana, home was a prime outpost for expeditioners.
To prepare for the voyage, Janet ran, strengthened her upper body on rowing machines, and paddled the river, a motion that would become part of her daily routine for months. What she didn’t prepare for was the cost. “I stepped out doing this trip with no money,” Janet says.
But her river angels, as she calls them, were watching over her. She received donations every so often that helped her purchase supplies.
The start of her journey affirmed that it wouldn’t be easy. Janet skied with Norm to the source of the Missouri at Montana’s Bowers Spring in April. Janet’s daughter and friend waited for the two voyagers at the bottom of Hell Roaring Canyon for two days, much longer than the planned seven-hours. Delayed by obstacles, Janet and Norm were forced to sleep in the snowy mountains without sleeping bags or fire. They shared one granola bar and a beer, until they reached Janet’s family van.
To follow the river’s modest beginnings, Janet biked the first hundred miles on a dirt road that traced the river, avoiding the tangle of wire fences and other obstacles impassable by boat. Her kayak, Blue Moon, was fastened to the top of the van that followed her until she entered the water at Clark Canyon Reservoir and Dam on May 1. Her journey in the water had begun.
This summer, she planned to stop at the river’s confluence with the Mississippi and continue later, but that changed on August 21 on South Dakota’s Lake Francis Case. The recent MU education grad didn’t have a job and didn’t expect an interview, so she chose instead to complete the entire trip in one shot. An hour after she made the announcement to continue, Columbia Public Schools called for an interview, but by then, she had already committed to finish.
Via cell phone powered by a portable solar panel, Janet has chronicled her journey on her Facebook page: fresh bear tracks in the Montana mountains; Missouri fisherman who sang happy birthday to her; and the Boonville Bridge. She captured serene river mornings when swathes of fog trapped the early sunlight near her makeshift camps along the shore. She passed mountains, hills, wildlife, and the silhouettes of iconic American cities on the horizon—Great Falls, Bismark, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis.
Sometimes, it was just she and the river and silence. Other times, fellow paddlers would lend their supplies and their company. Hearing of Janet’s journey, her river angels would offer food, drink, warm showers, and shelter.
About halfway through, Janet rested for a week at her Columbia home, near her old stomping grounds at Cooper’s Landing. One afternoon, she sat down at a bench overlooking the river for a chat. As she reminisced about the majestic sights that dotted her memories and thought about the bittersweet feeling of reaching the Gulf in Louisiana, it seemed that she had uncovered something special on the river, long before her journey would end.
From her stories, you could glean that the voyage was more than a solo trek through the wild. Janet discovered a new family who shares a love that spans 3,700 miles through the heart of America. They have common blood. River blood.
And that’s a discovery you won’t read about in the record books.