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The Riverbum Blog
Information about ASRT's efforts on Alabama’s rivers, creeks, and streams.
Happy Fred on Missouri River 1992

Paddle Trip Inspiration: How We Got Started

Fred Couch, ASRT Founder

Tom, a good customer of mine, asked me to read the 470-plus-page book by Stephen Amerson on the 1803 Lewis & Clark Trail adventure. The history of Lewis‘s family life for nearly 72 pages to me was boring; however, once the adventure began, I could barely put the book down – often skipping lunch to devour the text as an incredible inspiration. Their expedition opened the western portion of our country to acquisition and settlement. After the read, I asked Tom, “Why did you want me to read this?”, he said, “I want you to lead me on it in a canoe!”, My reply was – “ALL 3,000 miles?”, he said ‘’Yes’’ … I said … “Man, I’d do it, but my wife isn’t going to let me go that long – let’s do something shorter.” As he had zero experience and no equipment (which I trained and guided him into being properly prepared), I invited three others, Mike, Dave, and Marcus, who ended up joining us. Mike, being a 5-star chef in the wilderness, so we ate well. Dave arranged for a shuttle to have his SUV and my kayak trailer at the end of our 250-mile journey. Marcus, an attorney and history buff, is an ‘outward-bound’ adventurer.

a group of people standing around a fire
Mike Cowan, Marcus Reid, Dave Campbell, Tom Semmes went with Fred on Lewis and Clark Trail in Montana in 1990’s

In those early days of the internet, I researched the Great Falls area of Montana for AOL users who might know someone who had paddled this river. How lucky can one get? A ‘Diane’ replied that her guy had done 850 miles with a friend, but the trip had so worn on their friendship they were now not friends. Marcus took a law case only because the client would pay for his flight to catch up with us in Great Falls, regardless of the outcome. He won the case, and we all met up with Diane and her guy, who welcomed us with open arms, like family.

The Missouri River in that area flows steadily, with sticky clay banks and occasional Santa Anna Winds. Starting in Fort Shaw, Mike and Marcus were in a voluminous canoe that held all our food and cooking equipment. While he and Mike were cooking, we explored at every stop along our 250-mile journey. A few days into the trip, a 40-foot Voyageur-style canoe with 20 plus senior citizens pulling long paddles and one guide passed us – then a motorboat with its provisions went by well ahead. When we arrived that evening, they had already set up tents and cots, fed the tired paddlers, told them campfire stories on nearby lore, and sent them to sleep… a glamour trip of sorts. What the seniors did not know was that there was a small motor in the canoe’s rear doing most of their momentum. Thereupon, the ‘guides’ came to ask us for beers and regaled us with fun trips they had.
Some of our trip take-a-ways were: River water out west is glacier-fed and darned cold, so solar bags to heat water for showers are far better than a dunk. Right after seeing the historic Cimarron Trail, the Santa Anna 50 mph winds kept us on the bank for a few hours, funneled by the extensive canyon-like topography. The hills were almost chalky in a palette of soft colors with few trees, where on hikes, a watchful eye was needed for their large Timber rattlers. Tom’s PFD flew out of the trailer … he bought a bargain yellow one from another paddler – bargain because yellow attracts bugs out west – we had to muddy it up to ‘save’ him. From my Everglades journey, I learned to take 1,000 mg of Vitamin B-12 daily to ward off mosquitos. Tom tried 500 mg and quickly learned to double that.
The trip inspired me in other ways, as I realized the economic impact the Missouri was bringing via paddlers of every ilk could probably goad the use of Alabama waterways and economic purses. On vacations, I usually get inspiration for civic projects I could do back home; however, when I get back into my regular routine, the ideas can evaporate. Not this one – it ate at me, begging to be let out. I was at the end of raising money for a local skateboard park when I announced to the others helping me what I was about to embark upon in 2006: that trip’s inspiration, which became the Alabama Scenic River Trail.