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Janet keeps paddling and smiling

Interview with Janet Moreland

UPDATE: On December 5, 2013, Janet Moreland completed her Source to Sea journey by entering the Gulf of Mexico at the South Pass mouth of the Mississippi River. Congrats Janet!

Webmaster note: Janet Moreland is travelling from the source of the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico. The name of her expedition is "Love your Big Muddy". Janet is a friend and neighbor. We both live on the outskirts of Whoop-up, MO. I caught up with her on August 23 after she had just finished portaging Gavin's Point Dam (with help from new friend Wayne Nelson-Stastny), the final dam on the Missouri River. She had just finished the final large lake on the Missouri and was looking forward to a free-flowing river. As this is published, she is now downstream of Omaha, NE.

sourcesuccessMoreland began her journey on skis, with fellow endurance kayaker Norm Miller, on April 24. In deep mountain snow, the pair traversed the Centennial Mountain range to visit Brower’s Spring, the farthest source of the Missouri River located on the Continental Divide. Continuing by bicycle downstream through the Centennial Valley, Janet put her kayak in the Beaverhead River on May 1 below the Clark Canyon Dam. On May 15 she arrived at Three Forks, where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson River join to form the Missouri River. Since then she has been paddling downstream, documenting the natural beauty of the Missouri River and the interesting and generous people she has met along the way.

bikingMoreland is planning on continuing her journey, called the “Love Your Big Muddy Expedition”, on the free-flowing Missouri River to the Mississippi River. She will then take a right, paddling down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. She expects to complete her journey in November. She will be the first American to descend the entire Missouri/Mississippi River from its source to the sea. The Missouri River is the longest river in North America.

I interviewed her for a press release but would like to share the full text of my conversation with this amazing woman.

Click here for the rest of this article»


What was your goal when you started and how has that evolved?

I started this journey with three missions beyond my dream of finishing it.

The first mission was to empower youth to pursue their dreams. As I’ve been paddling, and communicating with more and more followers and friends, I’ve seen that women are very inspired by what I’m doing. And men as well. People of all ages have dreams. I want to be a voice that says “You may think your dream is too big or that it’s not the right time. But it may not be too big once you decide to start.”

My second mission, and this journey is just the first step, is to bring the Missouri River and its history back to the classroom. Just before leaving on this journey, I earned my Master’s degree in education. I’m gathering information along the way and gaining a deeper understanding of this river system, the longest in North America. My goal is to use this story and what I’ve learned to work with other teachers and develop a Missouri River curriculum that crosses all subjects.


My third mission is to spread the word about Missouri River Relief and the work they do cleaning up the Missouri River and educating our children about it. This organization has inspired me. They work in all of these different communities along the river and they are so humble about what they do. I want to remind people that they can do this in their own community with their own organizations. We all live downstream and we all share this river.

The upper stretches of the Missouri River are not trashed, although there are some places where old car skeletons are used to retain the bank. It really seems like people treasure their river. As I get down into the lower reaches of the river in the areas where Missouri River Relief works I’ll be discussing this more. I’m excited I can talk up the Missouri River Relief clean-up in Omaha and Council Bluffs one week before my friends come up to clean it up.  

What has surprised you about the river or the people you’ve met on your trip?

It was surprising how clean and pristine the upper river is. Not polluted, not a lot of trash. People who live on the river have an incredible respect for this river. They love it. They take a lot of pride in the river. It was nice to see that.

People have been above and beyond big-hearted, kind, generous, and thoughtful. All rolled up into these River Angels. They are excited about the trip and will do anything to help me out which is incredible, amazing. These wonderful river people have made it so much easier for me.


On the lakes, which are created by a series of massive dams, it can be difficult for me to imagine what it was like when the Sioux and Mandan lived along its banks or when Lewis and Clark pushed their way up through there. But then other sections are almost exactly the same. That’s when my imagination takes off.

There is no one section that is the most beautiful. Around every bend there is something that appeals  to me. That’s why I have 3500 photos! Every mountain, hillside, rock and cove has a unique feel to it. When you’re way out on the lakes way you feel really isolated. I really enjoy that but then there are these really nice places to refresh, get water and supplies and meet incredible people. It’s a nice balance of awesomeness. Pure isolation and then comfort stations along the way.


The White Cliffs in Montana. Photo by Janet Moreland

In your Facebook posts, you seem to have developed a unique relationship with the wildlife along the way. Explain how the birds and wildlife have kept you company.

pronghornImmediately upon first putting my boat in the water at Clark Canyon Dam, within minutes there is a muskrat in front of my guiding the way for me. There were a lot of shallow spots and he just stayed right ahead of me showing me the channel. I felt like “You’re guiding me down the river cause I’m new and you want to help.”

 I immediately felt at home with the animals. I’ve been paddling with American white pelicans the whole way. Pelicans are quiet. Their energy is very appealing and calming. It makes me feel secure. Higher on the river they would fly away as I approached. Each mile I paddled downstream they would let me get closer. They seemed to realize there was no threat and it was almost like word spread downriver  – I felt like I was part of the pelican community. They’re my pelicans. They’re my buddies, man!

Going around UL Bend top of Lake Sakakewea is strange transition. There is a delta type area formed by the siltation of the lake. Norm Miler had described this area and had me petrified of quicksand. As I made my way through the maze, one pelican just flew ahead in front of me and would just sit where the channel was. He guided me through UL Bend!


When I started, the geese were just starting to get their nests together. Then they’d holler at me when I’d get close to their beach. Then I’d start seeing tiny babies out with their parents on the water. I watched this whole cycle as I paddled down. Now you see these big flocks. The young ones are teenagers now and have joined the larger community. I feel like I’ve been a daily part of the progression, the cycle.

What have you learned along the way that you hope to convey to people?

breakfastWhat it boils down to is that you need to make the decision to do something that’s your hearts desire. So many people think they can’t do it or they can’t take the time because of other responsibilities. If you are physically able and the desire is there, I would like people to know that I’m modeling how to do this. I’ve tried to get each step written down on my blog. Once you make the decision to do it, the next steps unfold for you. Then you sit down figure out your next steps and get down to details. Once the progression begins, those details will start to unfold. I recorded this process on my blog so I hope it’s helpful for others that want to do it.

In the same way that it took one first decision to get me to where I am now, I’m constantly making decisions every day as the journey goes forward. You learn to make decisions and be confident in your abilty to do it. I’m out here by myself doing it. It’s a great place to be.

You spend a lot of energy posting photos, progress, stories, gratitudes and spontaneous thoughts on Facebook. Following you feels more intimate, personal and even inspiring than some others doing similar expeditions.

I know from the past watching posts of paddlers coming down the river what I craved from them and what I didn’t get from them. I wanted to feel that I could picture what they were seeing or doing. But most updates were too infrequent, with not enough pictures, and too vague. I didn’t think a lot about my approach to documenting my trip online, I just did it. I want to share what I’m seeing…this is a once in a lifetime thing.

And if I’m going to bringing the Missouri River back into the classroom, I want to do a good job of documenting it, what unique places it runs through and the unique character of this river.

I immediately started getting responses from my posts and now I have almost 900 followers. My Iphone has taken phenomenal pictures and that has helped. It’s become my passion to share this river trip to the best of my ability. People tell me that it enriches their lives. It all gets back to: “Hey I am doing my dream and you can too.” It’s a really enjoyable part of my trip, reading people’s reactions to what I’m seeing and their advice on what is ahead.


Honestly, almost all of the people doing long Missouri River expeditions are men. Reading some of their journals and posts you get a lot more complaining about wind, storms, heat and cold. You always seem happy in your posts despite the circumstances.

Men can really be dramatic in their posts (laughs). It’s going to be high winds. It’s going to be tiresome. Sometimes you need to stop and wait for better weather. It’s not a burden, it’s a part of the total experience. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me out here. Nothing has been so outrageous I’ve been miserable. I honestly haven’t had a miserable moment.


There are dicey situations, like one night where I was on a small beach on Lake Sharpe and a storm came barreling right at me, pushing waves all the way up to my tent. You are in a situation that may be terrifying to somebody. You don’t think about how scared you are. You just think “What can I do to survive this, to get in a better situation.” Your mind goes through those steps rapid fire. Figure out the solution immediately. There’s no need to complain about this. It’s the path I chose and I love it.

As you approached the final reservoir on the Missouri River before the free-flowing lower river, you dediced that you were going to continue this trip all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. You had originally planned on paddling from St. Louis down the Mississippi next year. Why did you decide to continue to the Gulf in one swoop?

I decided for several reasons.

For one thing I was thinking of how to pursue getting a teaching job after this trip. If I did the Mississippi leg next summer I wouldn’t be able to do summer school next year and wouldn’t be able to search for a more stable job. If figured it was better to continue now and then pursue aggressively what I’m going to do next.

I have a lot of momentum. I have a lot of people following my trip and getting excited about it. If I took the winter off I’d have to rebuild that whole momentum. When I was on Fort Peck lake, where there was no internet service, I lost a lot of that buzz and had to rebuild it.

Doing the expedition all in one shot is more appealing to me. Once a day I ask myself – “How are you body, how are you holding up?”  I feel great. My fingers are a little stiff (laughs). I’m doing good.

You started this expedition with your own savings and the proceeds from a benefit concert in your hometown Columbia, MO. Now you’re continuing on donations – and your credit card. You’ve had great support along the way…how does that feel?

I’ve received around $6,000 in donations. I’ve got my bills rolling in each month and it is such a blessing to have such support. It’s really humbling. People have been so generous. I took a leap of faith and they are sustaining me.

My supporters are making this happen. We are taking this trip together. There’s a bunch of us taking this trip together.

I mean it’s pretty historic. It really is. I don’t talk much about that, but from what I understand I’m the first American to travel  from the source of the Missouri River, Brower’s Spring, all the way to saltwater at the Gulf of Mexico. And the first woman. People can appreciate that and they’re proud to be a part of it. 

Many people have gone from Three Forks, where the Missouri picks up its name, to the Gulf, which is a big enough deal. And last year Mark Kalch, an Australian, and Rod Wellington from Canada completed the source to sea trip. They’ve helped me a lot.

I’ve had the pleasure to paddle with several other people doing long expeditions on the Missouri River and it’s been a delight to meet them and paddle with them. I feel so lucky.


Read past posts and background at Janet's blog:

Follow her frequent posts and photos on Facebook:

And if you are inspired by her journey, please consider donating through her website.


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