We’ve been without signal for the first 8 days of Swim1000, my 7th journey of Expedition1000, a 1000-mile swim down the Lower Missouri River, accompanied by a team all of whom are paddling the full distance in a Mad River Canoe and by Lakeshore River Rover Stand Up Paddleboards.
Here’s a blog I wrote after two days on the river:
This is the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on, bar none. Two days out from our launch point at Cedar Shore in Chamberlain, South Dakota, my body is sore all over. I feel nauseous. I’m exhausted. I’ve swum close to 11 miles and my team have paddled the same distance yet despite the aches and pains everyone is smiling. We have a real team here, and that’s why I’m not worried at all.
Seeing the final stages of Swim1000 come together in less than a week leaves me feeling something like a proud father. I’ve becoming used to taking trust falls - depending on the honesty and kindness of complete strangers - at the beginning of expeditions, but none more than this time. Jarett Bies and his wife Laura responded to an email I sent out two months ago asking for advice about the Missouri near Yankton and became our people on the ground. Jarett ran logistics, contacted media, set us up with further support up and downstream. Both he and Laura then opened up their delightful home to myself and the team as Ground Zero. Can you imagine letting 8 strangers into your home, let alone British ones preparing to embark on a huge endeavour? The team flew in jetlagged to the core. Jarett and Laura met them all and brought them home. Without them, the start of this journey would have been very different.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. A few sponsors let us down at the very last minute, leaving us without sleeping mats, a GPS and other basic items. But problems on these expeditions arise every day, we merely deal with them and move on.
Jessica of the Chamberlain Sun, Jim from Swenson Bros. Marine and Angela from the Cedar Shore Resort in Chamberlain lead a band of locals who have left the team in no doubt that human beings are intrinsically kind. From front page articles to taking receipt of our canoe and paddleboards, to organising a launch party and bringing supplies to our first night’s camp. Wow, strangers become friends fast in these situations.
A little highlight arrived in the form of Mark Kalch, my buddy from home and internationally river paddler who is currently descending the Missouri Mississippi to the Gulf. He bust a gut to reach Chamberlain in time for our launch party, so good for the team to feel part of a wider adventure community.
The journey ahead is a beautifully tough challenge. There is little to no current in the upper section of the river meaning our bodies need to condition fast to overcome a tremendously difficult first 170 miles or so. After that, once we reach Yankton Dam, the Missouri becomes a channel rather than an interconnected series of lakes, and then we have some assistance from the river.
Until then, it’s heads down. We’re exposed up here and high winds mean Day 3 of Swim1000 is one of rest. We’re camped in a small copse beside the river, the trees providing a little cover from a constant barrage of weather. The forecast says things will calm down tomorrow and I expect to be back in my Orca 3.8 by 7am, back to carving through water a mile wide, slowly strengthening my breast stroke, front crawl and back stroke while surrounded by four Lakeshore River Rover paddleboards and a Mad River canoe.
I’m so proud of my team. Emily, Annabel, Ness, Sarah, David, Ben and Miguel - who leaves us early tomorrow and is celebrating is birthday today - give of all the signs of being lifelong friends. After a long day on the water yesterday, battling big waves and high headwinds, they reached the bank without complaint and proceeded to set up camp and cook dinner in time for my arrival an hour later. I don’t get into gear this quickly when travelling by myself and it’s a testament to everyone involved that we even made it to the start line, let alone have become so tightly knit so fast.
From here, we have 989 miles to St Louis. As Doug the local farmer said to us this morning when he came across our campsite, ‘This is one hell of a trip’.