The 76th Sunset race started with me arriving early and going for a 2 mile unicycle ride down the paved path. I turned around when the path went under the waters of the flooded Meramec river.
Shortly after my ride, Joe Sartori showed up to paddle with me. He brought out his whitewater boat that can handle just about anything.
Once out in the current, the river was quite peaceful and easy to paddle upstream in. We went up a bit past Simpson lake before turning around and coming back. Here are a few snaps of the flooded river.
I often talk about wanting to paddle in the snow. Most years I complain that it snowed while I was at work. This last weekend, it happened to me again. It was snowing like mad on Saturday, but I was home alone with the kids. I wasn’t upset, but life just happens that way. Then on Sunday I ended up meeting up with Dan Prater, a paddler with the same desire to get out in any weather. Our plan was a 14 mile route along a scenic section of the Meramec River. Our initial take out was slated for Route 66 start park. Due to the snow, the park was not open or even plowed. Not deterred, we went to the other side of the river and found a place to park across from the official ramp.
I gathered my gear and hopped into Dan’s truck to head to Pacific Palisades for the put in. Dan has 4 wheel drive, so there was no worry about getting to the ramp. I should add that we were mildly worried about ice, but the river appeared to be free of ice enough to get through without issue.
After a few donuts in the parking lot with lots of shared laughter, we unloaded the boat and our equipment. With a quick change of clothes, we were ready to put on the river.
View downstream at Pacific Palisades
View upstream at Pacific Palisades
Our fresh tracks on the ramp. First and likely only visitors for the day.
Right before we set of down the river, Dan got a call from Daren. He wanted to paddle, and we arranged to meet him at the Allenton ramp and provide a shuttle back to his car after we finished. As we paddled along, we quickly got warm enough that we pulled over and took off a layer of clothes.
The view was perfect and it didn’t take long till Dan told me to stop paddling and get out my camera for the first eagle nest of the day. My cell phone doesn’t do it justice, but it was amazing!
What are photos without a selfie? Hogan in the front and Dan in the back.
Just before the turn with the eagles.
Eagle in the tall tree.
Dan is quite familiar with this stretch of the river and took us on an interesting side route. I was very nervous of tipping in the cold weather, but Dan pulled us through with only a little extra excitement on my part. It didn’t take long till we turned the corner to the best photography of the day, ice down a cliff!
I wanted more photos, but my phone started having issues, so the rest are just in my head. We didn’t share too much additional conversation after this view as it was just a lot to take in. But we were just around the corner from the half way point.
At the Allenton ramp, we pulled in and waited for Daren. We had a friendly conversation with a lady taking photos. She asked about eagle activity and we shared what we had seen and suggested where she might drive to see more eagle action. It took at least 15 minutes from when we stopped till when Daren was ready to go on his stand up paddleboard (SUP). During that time, Dan and I both shared coffee from a thermos to stay warm.
I was slightly worried about Darren as he was wearing street clothes on top of a SUP. If he fell in the river, he was going to be in big trouble and we would have to rescue him! Having Daren around created another person to focus our conversations on. Dan and I paddled easier so Darren could keep up with us, not that he was any slouch!
While we were in a rhythm paddling and talking, we got to a straight stretch that I’ll never forget. Up ahead on the trees were two eagles, a bald mature one and an immature one. The mature eagle flew down from its perch on high with something in its claws. I wondered what could be going on but we all stopped paddling to see what would happen. With wings wide, it flew about 25 feet off the water a few hundred feet in front of us. Then it dropped a stick into the water. This seemed strange, almost like a stick that was not good enough for its nest.
Then the immature eagle flew down from its perch a tree over. Again with wings spread, it floated down with its claws out. It took two passes, but the younger eagle grasped the stick back up out of the water and flapped its way back up to the tree it started from. We had been floating ever closer during this process and were rather close to the starting tree. I heard a thump when the young eagle landed back where it started. None of the three of us had ever seen anything like that before!
Both fortunately and unfortunately the paddling trip was over before we knew it. We pulled up to the ramp and I was quick to get up to my van and start it for heat. I was having trouble feeling my fingers, not realizing how cold they were. We efficiently packed up Darren’s paddleboard on the van and moved Dan’s boat near the road to pick up on our way back home.
I love my dry suit, but 3 hours is about all my body can take at a time. See what it did to my wrists! This is probably also why my hands get cold fast, having less circulation.
As much as training for the MR340 is all about speed and distance, sometimes you need to stop and remember why you are on the water. Jo and I wanted to get out and enjoy the Meramec in all of its beauty. The sky looked like it could rain, but we were up for anything.
We always seem to find some sort of excitement when we paddle the river. This day was no exception. While going upstream, we noticed what looked to be the legs of a cheap table sticking out of the water. We decided to divert over and see what it was. As we got closer, we realized that it was possibly something more. What we pulled out of the water was a hex-rotor aircraft from dji. We didn’t know the correct name, so we called it a sexcopter. We couldn’t think of the correct word for six and just laughed at the name. Later research had us estimating an initial purchase price of $5,000.
Unfortunately when I pulled it out of the river and placed it in the boat, the battery pack fell off and back into the river. Jo went straight into action and got out of the boat to look for it. She spent at least 30 minutes sliding around on the bottom of the river till she eventually came up with it! My hero!
After our excitement settled, we continued upriver just past the 141 bridge. There we examined a snag that we can only see in low water. There is an old concrete column with metal sticking out. Its good to know more about it for when the water is slightly above it.
We try never to forget why we love the river. Today, the river loved us back with some extra interesting adventures that had us talking for quite some time!
We had a large turn out for this Sunset Race. It was late enough in the day, that I brought my wife and kids. We put two boats in the water early and paddled for a bit before the start of the race. For the race, she and the kids hung out for a bit, then put the boat on the van and went home while I raced.
We had a new gentleman, Charles, with a new Spencer Extreme to paddle. He was still learning the ropes of the boat, but he was fast!
We paddled downstream to Meramec Marina in the hopes of getting some beer and pizza, but had just missed them closing for the night. So we paddled back upstream to the finish. A perfect race as usual with new friends!
On Thursday night, the day before, I made up my mind and decided what I wanted to do. I had Friday off while the wife and kids had school and work. I had a whole day free and to myself, my job was to make the most of it. I had asked my paddling friends earlier in the week if they could join me and they all had commitments. So I mapped out a 20 some mile route that took me from the last ramp on the Meramec river up to the Jefferson Barracks/I-255 bridge (JB) and back. What makes this route so interesting to me is that I have never paddled solo on the Mississippi river before. I was also planning to do half of the trip upstream!
Okay, so maybe there is one more thing that is going to make this trip interesting. I have a new kayak. A Hobie Adventure 16. This boat is a peddle powered sit on top kayak. To date, I have had about an hour in the boat on a lake and an additional 10 minutes on the Meramec river the previous weekend. So my experience is very low.
I set my alarm for 5:50 am on Friday morning excited to get out and start. When the alarm went off, the house was cold and dark, and I was a bit scared. So I decided to sleep for another hour waiting for my “standard” alarm to go off. From there I would just have to leave and take this trip. After the second alarm went, I dressed quickly and loaded up my van. I tried not to think about the trip that was in front of me. I realized quickly that I was quite scared! If I didn’t do this trip today, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to go on this river solo!
I kissed the wife and kids goodbye (hoping that it wasn’t for the last time) and took off. My first stop was to find a Quick Trip (QT) gas station on the way. I needed to get some breakfast and other supplies for the river. At QT, I picked up a breakfast sandwich, coffee, two water bottles, Gatorade, and trail mix. It was a strange purchase with mostly liquids, but I didn’t want to get dehydrated on the river. Okay, and maybe a bit of comfort food to help prod myself along!
At the ramp, I took my boat down and surveyed the surroundings to make sure I would find it when the time came to leave. I walked back up leaving my boat to park the van and bring the rest of my gear down. Once down at the water, I had the unfamiliar act of juggling all of my gear. In the past, I would just throw it in the canoe, tie a few important things down and shove off. With the sit on top kayak, there is much more consideration and preparation that goes into putting into the water. I had to stow everything as there is nowhere to just set junk and hope that it stays.
I had trouble getting the Mirage drive system in while the boat was on the land, so I carefully set it in the boat. I was extra careful here because the drive doesn’t float and it wasn’t secured to the boat. This was actually dumb, so I’ll have to figure out how to do it before I put the boat in the water next time. I don’t’ want an accidental sinking of my equipment! I pulled off my socks and placed them where I would sit so they would not be lost and I could put them back on if I got cold. I made the conscious decision to point the boat downriver to the Mississippi and started off.
The temperature was somewhere around 50 degrees when I set off and I was cold. I learned quickly that pants won’t work on this boat as they get caught in the water by the Mirage drive. I ended up pulling the pants up above my knees so they would not get wet and create extra drag. I also quickly got hot and took off all my layers down to a single shirt and PDF. I stuffed the two other layers behind me under the bungee cords. I later learned after my paddle that the back compartment is quite wet as the water comes up from the drain holes. This caused extra weight and made my clothes worthless if I wanted them later to warm up. I’ll have to find a better solution for this!
I took a few photos on my way down, but I value most the video I took of me heading into the Mississippi. I cut it a bit short as I wanted to have maximum control as I hit the big river!
Going out on a big river is always fun for me! There are so many different things to see. The industrial developments are always the most exciting for me. This stretch of the Mississippi didn’t disappoint either. Right away, I came across the Ameren Meramec power plant. They had a large presence along the river for what appeared to be delivery of coal to the plant.
After my paddle, I tried to get to the power tower in the photo above to closer examine the stone work. But the guard at the gate wasn’t having any of it. I’m not sure if he was having a bad day, or just didn’t like me. About the only words out of his mouth were “private property”. So I didn’t get any closer inspection of the stone work.
I went up the river about six miles just above Cliff Cave Park before I had enough upstream paddling. I tried to stay in the channel of the river so I would not scrape the Mirage drive on the boat, but I only got about 2 mph of speed upriver doing that. Towards the end, I used the slack water caused by the wing dikes to go much faster up!
On the way back down, I stuck myself right out in the channel enjoying all of its benefits. Between the river and myself, I made an easy 8 – 10 mph coming back! I even made it a point to get right out with the buoys.
I was quite glad to be back at the boat ramp at the end of the paddle. You can see the whole route/mileage/time on my fitness blog at FriendFit.com. But back to the ramp. I pulled up and talked to a fisherman for a few minutes. Then I was ready to walk my stuff up. But I noticed a truck coming to back down and launch their boat. So I moved my kayak to the side of the ramp. I walked my stuff up and moved my van to get the kayak. By the time I got back to the ramp, the guys had launched their boat and started unloading all of their stuff right in front of me!
Rather than getting furious, I just waited an extra 15 minutes for them to unload their pickup truck and get out of the way. It was an amazing paddle that I hope to do again soon!