26 mile portage ends

Rod Wellington gets a sign he is approaching the final descent back to the river on his four-day portage. Photo Rod Wellington

By Rod WellingtonDay four began as a chilly affair. The temperature had dropped to 46°F during the night, necessitating a layering of clothes in the morning. Those layers were quickly shed as the day warmed. A desire warmer than the sun burned inside me to end this portage. Only three and a half miles of road lay between the Missouri and me and I wanted to narrow that gap as soon as possible.

Excepting a few minor inclines that drew out groans and gritted teeth, the road to the river was mostly downhill, descending into a wide valley carved over eons by the river. From hundreds of feet up I could see the Missouri snaking its way north and I longed to be atop its surface in my little red kayak. Before the final descent to the river, I encountered a cattle guard embedded in the road. For those unfamiliar, the premise of the guard is to prevent cattle from crossing into adjoining property while allowing vehicles to proceed unhindered. Cattle guards were not designed, however, with kayak wheels in mind. The distance between the rails is too great and, as I learned after attempting to cross the guard on foot, will flatly stop anyone attempting to pull a boat on wheels over it. In my case, the sudden stop forced the kayak cart to collapse. I had to lift the boat off the cart, drag it off the guard and mount it back on the cart. I’ll also add that it was the first time I had ever encountered a cattle guard while portaging a kayak, but it wasn’t the last.

The final descent to the river came in the form of a steep 21% grade, hugely welcomed by my crippled fingers and ravaged feet. Gravity again lent its hand and the arid valley opened wide to accept a weary adventurer and his dusty kayak down to the river’s edge. But our journey was not complete until we made another cattle guard crossing. This time I stole from a large pile of cut weeds and placed the rotting vegetation between the rails to facilitate passage. My plan was hugely unsuccessful as the cart promptly collapsed again and the same procedure as before had to be followed; all this within sight of the boat ramp.

Rod Wellington reunites with the Missouri River after a four day portage. Click for full image. Photo Rod Wellington

Finally, after three and a half days of self-inflicted torture, balanced only by an abundance of friendly support and encouragement from strangers and friends alike, the 26-mile portage was complete. I had successfully worked my way around five hydroelectric dams and I had done so completely under my own power.

After a last-minute visit from a Wildlife and Fisheries officer that insisted on inspecting my life jacket, I slid the boat into the swift current, wedged my arse into the contoured seat and sighed heavily as a cooling breeze swept across the Missouri’s surface and gently caressed my sweaty face. I grinned and turned the camera on the towering walls of the surrounding badlands. I was home again. And I was happy.


Read Rod Wellington’s detailed accounts of his journey through the Mississippi-Missouri river system from source to mouth: exclusively on the CKReview. Track Rod on findmespot for his daily progress. Go to his facebook page for more pictures.

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