Friday, June 1, 2007


The last leg of my trip was action adventure compared to the tedious poling I’d done for the previous eleven days. Due to severe rainfall recently in Western and Central Nebraska, the Platte River was in flood stage. Thursday morning I pushed my boat into the river with a huge knot in my stomach, wondering how it would handle the churning, boiling water.
It looked like the liquid in a blender when you're making a chocolate shake. It was impossible to believe that this was the same river I'd slogged down for over eleven days. The current was moving so fast and powerfully that trees were toppling into the river, standing waves reached two feet high and cross currents boiled and churned, alternating small whirlpools with powerful burbles. About all I could do was avoid the worst of it and hope for the best."
Fortunately, Plattepus I handled the currents and the waves as if it had been designed for them. Larger waves just washed right over the boat, and swirling currents spun under the shallow draft hull without causing problems. I thought it was humorous that about the only boats that dared to be on the river were $10,000 airboats and my little Plattepus.
Friday morning, with the end in sight, I took a rare opportunity to just enjoy the ride. For once, everything was finally in my favor. The wind was at my back, the current was strong, the river was wide and I knew that I'd make my goal. So I sat back in my chair for half an hour and listened to the birds, watched the clouds, reflected on what an amazing journey it has been, and thanked God for the privilege of being able to do this and for all of the people who have made it possible."
Although I was alone the whole way on the river, there is no sense in which it was a "solo" voyage. None of us ever accomplishes anything on our own, whether in business, in school, on the river or in life. There are always an incredible number of people behind the scenes making it possible. I even think of the people years and years ago who first sparked my interest in building boats, and my parents who taught me to try to achieve the improbable. Then there is Tammy, my wife, who dropped everything to be a support person for the trip along with Sheila, our daughter. And Beth, who keeps things on an even keel at the shelter while I'm gone. The list really does go on and on.
The homeless have never been far from my mind as I’ve poled and paddled. I have this image stuck in my head from the last couple of days. I picture all of us out here floating down the flooded river. Some have luxury liners, some have speedboats, some have canoes, and some are clinging to scraps of wood, barely staying afloat and desperately wondering how long this is going to go on.
I think it is still too easy even for me to give myself all kinds of credit for where I am in life and just dismiss those who are clinging to flotsam and jetsam, as if it is all their fault somehow that they don't have a better boat. When I fall into that kind of thinking, I'm failing to recognize all of those who have contributed to my being where I am, and failing to recognize that some people have never had the same backup I've had.
In the end, the current pushed me to my takeout on a muddy bank, burned, windblown and tired. For the sake of completeness, I paddled across the Missouri River to Iowa, picked up a handfull of Iowa mud as evidence, then paddled back for hugs and pictures. And a long, long nap.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ron's note on May 31 - Fremont to Louisville

What a dramatic and exciting approach to the finish line!
Last night I got out of the river at the Fremont bridge and pulled up in the front yard of a kind gentleman who was interested and welcoming. After we’d taken care of all the stuff, I commented that there was probably high water coming. “Nah,” he responded. “It always does this. It comes up at night and by tomorrow morning you’ll see sandbars out there again.” I was dubious, but he’s lived here for a lot of years.
This morning we arrived back at the river to see that it had risen a couple of feet. Muddy brown water churned and boiled, racing past carrying with it trees and branches. I was elated to see the speed, nervous about the churning. Nevertheless, we readied Plattepus I as a small crowd of fishing buddies collected to watch. They didn’t exactly say so, but it was fairly obvious that they thought it sheer folly to head off on the cusp of a flood. I couldn’t disagree.
Easing into the current, I took off like a shot, slapping small waves and paddling my way through the upcoming bridges. That accomplished, I eased off only to discover that I was headed for a group of standing waves that looked rather too threatening to me and my little boat. There was nothing to do about it but hang on and keep the nose straight, hoping against hope that I wasn’t about to take a swim.
Amazingly, Plattepus I was born to this stuff. She took a breath, put her head down and went right through the waves, leaving them washing across the boat from every direction. I never tipped, never felt like I was about to be thrown overboard. There is enough flex in her hull to make me wonder if she’d break apart, but I had no reason to worry, so that in a couple of minutes I was in relative calm, tearing along at over seven miles per hour but not getting sprayed with waves.
That summarizes the day. I got better at avoiding the largest of the waves, looking far ahead to figure out a route around them. By 10:00 the sun had come out strongly and I was getting burned, but didn’t want to let go of the paddle long enough to dig out my sun shirt. I was in the constant company of whole trees and continuous flotsam and jetsam. When I saw two whole, huge, live trees topple into the river in front of me, I decided to avoid keeping too close to the shore. I didn’t think it would be all that much fun to be under a tree when it toppled.
All of my mileage and time estimates went out the window. Since I could cut corners without running aground, my estimated mileages were all too long, and the speed of the river sailed me from bridge to bridge with breathtaking speed. What I had started out planning to be a very long day ended up being one of my shortest.
If I were living along the river, I’d be holding my breath. One campsite was already under water, the murky brown water running right through tents and RV’s. There are an uncountable number of RV’s and houses just a foot or two above the current river level, so if I were they, I’d be a bit tense right now.
The most fun of the day was my arrival at the fourth bridge, where I-80 crosses the river. I knew that Tammy and Sheila and a couple of reporters were going to be waiting for me there, but when I pulled up I was totally shocked to see Micah and Elisabeth waiting for me as well. They had driven over from Wisconsin on a father-daughter road trip to surprise me at the end of my journey.
So now it’s raining, and there’s a lot more in the forecast. Two and a half hours tomorrow and I’m done. Here’s hoping….

Ashland by 1:30 p.m.! 7 miles an hour!

Some technical hitch is preventing posting of pictures just now - but I'll be trying again later today.

The river Ron got out of last night south of Fremont was not around this morning. A deeper, faster, murkier river had taken its place. The flood waters he outran yesterday caught up with us overnight. Vernon Peterson, the kindly man with great river access who allowed Ron to beach Plattepus I on his lawn, said when the flood water first arrived it was carrying huge logs and branches. He saw a tire - complete with rim - go by before Ron got started this morning, and Ron called a while ago to say he'd caught up with the tire and passed it. He's zipping along at his fastest clip yet - 7 miles an hour!

Back on the Urubamba

I thought, for a minute there, that I was on the Urubamba again.
Wednesday, May 30. We spent the night in Columbus surrounded by dire weather predictions. Rain here, rain there, rain everywhere. Mostly rain back in the central and western part of the state, where previous rainfall records were being smashed. Flooding, roads out, stranded families. Just so everyone knows, I have NOT been praying for rain.
As we drove to the Platte, we crossed the Loup and saw that it was churning brown, unlike the quiet, shallow river we’d been over the afternoon before. But when we got to the Platte, it was just as we had left it, wide and shallow. I was disappointed, having hoped for at least some of the upriver rain to speed me along.
I had been warned that when the Loup and a big canal came into the Platte a couple of miles down, there would be a lot of turbulence on the north side of the river. “We had a drowning down there last week,” a reporter told me. “Stay on the south side.” With Tammy’s additional carefully modulated advice (something along the lines of, “This might be a good time to wear your PFD”) I headed off down a small rivulet and into a better channel, then worked my way across to the south side of the river. This is no small feat when the channels are strung like spider webs, but I eventually got over there.
Suddenly I noticed that the water was as brown as chocolate milk. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “How did this happen?” I looked behind me and saw that the Loup had gushed in, its swollen water running sort of parallel to mine for a ways. And then the turbulence did come as they mixed, so that although I didn’t feel in any great danger, it was like riding the surface of a blender making a milkshake. Yes, I was wearing my PFD.
The feeling was exhilarating, repeated a short time later when the canal water came in, also muddy and carrying a full load of logs and sticks. Burbles, whirlpools, waves. Memories flooded in with the muddy waters. For a while there, I was an eight-year-old on a huge balsa raft in December of ‘59 on Peru’s Urubamba River, racing along with the foam and the debris, feeling intensely alive. In a common twist of perspective, obstacles stuck in the river bottom looked as if they were racing past me upriver, leaving waves and backwaters in their wakes. I called my parents, knowing that they could picture it, and said, “This is going to be a great day!” Indeed, for about two hours I sped along at over 6 miles an hour, twice the best speed I had attained the first week of my journey. I started revising time and mileage estimates. No longer did I have to work back and forth across channels—now I could go point to point instead of back and forth with the current. Sixty miles today? Seventy? Eighty? I saw a huge log drifting beside me and briefly toyed with the idea of hopping on it, as Terry and I had done all those years ago.
Two and a half hours into this blast from the past, I blew through a crazy jumble of sticks and logs and it occurred to me that this looked an awful lot like the front edge of a flood. Surely I could not have outraced the raging waters, could I? Indeed I had. Within a few miles I was seeing sandbars again, the water was getting clearer and my speed was dropping. I reduced my expectations of the day and settled into a now-familiar rhythm of actual work.
Fortunately, the powerful wind has been at my back, scooting me along even when my shoulders ache me into temporary rests. I have been seeing more and more houses, including a high percentage of mobile homes, on the banks of the river. Wildlife has all but disappeared. And wonder of wonders, about an hour before I reached Fremont I actually saw high, tree-covered banks on the south side of the river, giving it a very different feel.
One more full day to go, if all goes well, and then around Friday noon I should hit the Missouri.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fremont 7:40 p.m. May 30

It's a liiiitle tougher to locate Ron on the river these days.... since there is so much more of it. Also, the bridges are further apart in this section. The shortest distance between bridges today was 15.7 miles.
Ron had a great ride on the river today - all the way from Columbus to Fremont. He started out on the Platte, which was soon joined by the Loup River and a canal. He'll be writing about his fun sometime in the future when he wakes up.
He exited the river tonight at a great location - boat ramp and all - courtesy of Vernon Peterson. We're deep in airboat country now, where folks understand the love of gliding around on the river.

Plattepus Shirts!

From day one - May 18 - Ron has been wearing a "Voyage of Plattepus I" tank top, and now you can wear one, too, and help the homeless at the same time.

The tank tops come in black, white, red, or blue, and they're available in men's and women's sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL. All sizes are $20, except XXL, which is $23.

To order, mail a note with your payment, stating your selected size and color to:

Plattepus I Tank Tops

Box 2154

North Platte, NE 69103

Also, enclose a contact number so we can notify you when your shirt is ready for pickup. Be sure to include your return address and $2 postage per shirt if you wish for the tanks to be mailed.

"Not a sandbar in sight!" he says

May 30 - 9:30 a.m.

A short distance past Columbus, the Loup River, the Platte River, and a canal all come together into a larger, more full Platte River. Ron called around 9:30 this morning, yelling, "Wooo hooo!! Not a sandbar in sight!" He says it looks for all the world like he's on a roaring river of Robert's chocolate milk, and it reminds him of riding the Urubamba in South America. The river is currently too deep for his pole, so he's using his kayak paddle to keep the Plattepus I straight with the speedy current.

Ron's oldest son Micah, daughter-in-law Jennifer, and granddaughter Elisabeth called this morning to see how he was getting along, and when I told Micah about the Urubamba comment, he said, "Dad's been out in the sun a lot lately, hasn't he?" Yes, and he's been drinking a lot of chocolate milk, too.