Missour River a fast lane for flotilla of friends

Dawn breaks Sept. 21 2022 along the Missouri River in central Missouri. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Dawn breaks Sept. 21 2022 along the Missouri River in central Missouri. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Editor's Note: Seventeen paddlers from various states enjoyed five days floating the wide Missouri River where it runs through the heart of Missouri. The trip covered some 80 miles between Bonnot's Mill, Mo., near Jefferson City, to Washington Mo., just west of St. Louis. Flip Putthoff, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette outdoors reporter, was part of the group. Here are notes from a journal he kept along the way.

• Sunday, Sept. 18: The gang's all here tent camping at the little town of Bonnot's Mill, eager to start down the wonderful Missouri River in the morning. Our flotilla of 17 paddlers are all alumni of the Great River Rumble paddling trip that explored the upper Mississippi River and tributaries for 25 years. The final rumble took place in 2021 with a turnout of 200 paddlers from across the nation.

Our small group all became friends on those Mississippi River adventures and have gathered together for three summers now to float the Missouri River. We double dipped in 2021 and did the river rumble and then our Missouri River trip. There was no rumble in 2020 because of the virus. That's when our smaller group got together for the first time to float the Missouri that year. Nowadays it's more like a family reunion with a river trip thrown in. Five of our group hail from Kentucky, five from Kansas City, Mo. and others from Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and yours truly from Arkansas.

Crickets are chirping, stars are blinking and that sleeping bag is calling my name for a good rest before shoving off tomorrow.

• Monday Sept. 19, Bonnot's Mill, Mo. to Chamois, Mo., 16 miles: Bonnot's Mill is behind us as we paddle two miles down the slow-flowing Osage River to meet the fast current of the Missouri. At the confluence, the Missouri River grabs boats and flings them like a slingshot downstream. Just sitting still and not paddling you're going 3-4 mph. It's easy to cover some miles.

Big Muddy or Muddy Mo, as the Missouri River often gets called, is big, fast and scenic with little sign of civilization. Big Muddy is the longest river in the nation. Ah, summertime, and the paddling is easy. The banks are all prone to flooding so there are few homes or buildings in sight. We stretch legs during a couple of sandbar breaks then take out at the small Chamois city park where we'll camp.

Trip leader Mark has made all arrangements for our overnight stays way ahead of time. Since this is our third trip on the same route, the city honchos in each town know us and are glad to host our group.

• Tuesday Sept. 20, Chamois to Gasconade, Mo., 13 miles: Fairly short day today so we get a leisurely start. First order of business each day is to take care of some car shuttling, which is a pleasant adventure all its own. Since we're moving cars, tents and camping gear gets stashed in the cars. We only carry in our boats what we need for the day, such as lunch and water.

The rural Missouri countryside is highly scenic here on the northern edge of the Ozarks. There are more farm tractors and four-wheelers on these twisting two-lane highways than cars.

Our shuttle today passes through tiny Frankenstein, Mo., with its beautiful stone Catholic church and school. One can imagine that Halloween is a big deal in Frankenstein.

It's an easy paddle down to Gasconade, where we steer south into the mouth of the Gasconade River to reach our camp. It's in the town's lovely park and, thankfully, has big shade trees. For the end of September, it's hotter than blue blazes, in the mid-90s. Last year's trip in mid-August was so awful hot that we moved this trip to late September to beat the heat. But no, the heat followed us. We're looking forward to Thursday and a big change with highs in the 60s.

• Wednesday Sept. 21, Gasconade to Hermann, Mo. 7 miles: Shortest day of the float and we're taking out at Hermann by noon. Floating along, we see high bluffs on river right sporting groves of maple trees with early shows of color. Flocks of teal, the earliest migrating ducks, escorted us downriver.

Hermann is our largest overnight town of the trip with plenty to see and do. There's a rich German culture here. Hermann has Oktoberfest every weekend in October. A meat market downtown has 30 different kinds of bratwurst.

There's one constant companion on the mighty Missouri and that's trains. There's a double railroad track that runs along the river. Seems like there's a train every 15 minutes at Hermann, especially in the middle of the night. But Hermann is a no-whistle town, in that locomotives don't blast their horns if the crossing is gated.

On this trip, there's fun on the river, but barrels of fun at our camps that includes lots of singing. It's amazing in a group of 17 that there are four top-notch musicians. Dawn from Wisconsin is crazy good on the ukulele. Michael from Kansas City is professional grade on guitar. Maryellen from Kentucky has an angelic voice and loves to sing Patsy Cline. Yours truly tries to keep up on a beat-up 6-string.

• Thursday, Hermann to New Haven, Mo.: 16 miles: A longer day, but the prettiest on the Missouri. Beautiful tall bluffs sporting autumn coats of many colors. Cool weather has arrived. We're in long sleeves and jackets now, and it feels great.

The current is really ripping about 6-7 mph. With fast paddling it's easy to hit 11 mph. One of our group took the day off and had a blazing campfire going when we got off the river at New Haven on this chilly day.

This being our last night together, many of us walked to a nice bar and restaurant in town for a sumptuous feast. Back in camp, we threw another log on and sang long into the night.

• Friday, New Haven to Washington, Mo., 12 miles: Cool, cloudy and raining with a headwind on the home stretch. Tall church steeples came into view at Washington with about three miles to go to the end of the float.

The rain stopped and let us pack for home without getting soaked. We said long good-byes, but we'll be back next year for another run down our beloved Muddy Mo, the Missouri River.

  photo  Paddlers enjoy the fast current and woodland scenery of the Missouri River through the heart of Missouri. The group spent five days exploring some 80 miles of the river from near Jefferson City, Mo., to Washington, Mo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Paddlers take a sandbar break morning sandbar break on Sept. 22 2022 on their way down the Missouri River. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Mark Vehlewald of Illinois, trip leader, cruises into Hermann, Mo. for the group's overnight stop there. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Out of service U.S. Navy vessels are docked where the Gasconade River meets the Missouri River at the town of Gasconade, Mo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Floating into Washington, Mo., to end the trip. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Paddlers pass an industrial rig anchored in the river. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Bluffs rise up from the Missouri River in several areas through central Missouri. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

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Float ‘Big Muddy’

An outfitter and brewery in New Haven, Mo., the Paddle Stop, offers float trips on the Missouri River in their 10-passenger voyageur canoe from Hermann, Mo. to New Haven. They also hold an “Intro to Floating the Missouri River” paddling class about floating the Missouri River.

Information: www.paddlestop.com