Bob Bellingham left his home in Perth, Australia, on May 20 for what would be the first kayaking trip of his life.
So far so good.
He’s now almost two months into the journey and spent 11 days paddling the length of the Missouri’s longest reservoir, Lake Oahe.
Bellingham arrived in Fort Pierre on Sunday after portaging around the Oahe Dam and stopping for a beer at the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area.
He started June 1 at the Three Forks of the Missouri in Montana with the goal of paddling the full length of the Missouri River to St. Louis by October so that he can be home by his 60th birthday.
“It’s sort of a bucket list thing,” Bellingham said.
By the end of the trip Bellingham will have traveled roughly 2,321 miles through seven states, all of it in his kayak.
In Australia, Bellingham works on contract with a mining exploration firm as an environmental specialist, ensuring that the company follows the environmental rules in the country in which it is working.
The job he said requires a fair amount of travel as the firm he works for does a lot of work in Africa and New Guinea.
“I keep my bosses honest,” Bellingham said.
Because he works on contract he is able to spend months at a time travelling with his wife, Barbara May, his kayak’s namesake. Two years ago the pair hiked the Pacific crest from Mexico to Canada.
This trip he’s doing alone, though he says that the people he’s met along the way have been both kind and generous.
Bellingham’s blog, steadypaddling.com, is full of photos and anecdotes attesting to the spirit of the people he’s met along the river.
“People have been very friendly,” Bellingham said.
To avoid the heat of the day Bellingham said he usually travels in the morning and evening.
Around 7 p.m. he said he starts looking for camping spots along the river; when he can he likes to stop at campgrounds or towns that have full service facilities so he can clean up and maybe have a beer or two.
“I just kind of take it day by day,” Bellingham said.
Bellingham is not the only person working his way down the length of the Missouri.
He says that he’s met several people on similar journeys.
One group in particular was a pair of men paddling a former rental canoe down the Missouri River to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico.
“This river is special,” Bellingham said.
The trip has not been easy for the 59-year-old first-time kayaker. Bellingham said that the reservoirs have been particularly challenging. On Fort Peck Lake he misjudged the weather one day and nearly swamped his kayak.
Since then, however, he’s learned to be a bit more cautious of the wind and hasn’t had any problems.
“The river has lived up to everything I expected it to be,” Bellingham said.
Kayaking the length of the Missouri River, Bellingham said, is not something everyone may want to do, but it is something everyone can do.
He hadn’t set foot in a kayak before he ordered the Barbara May from kayak maker Eddyline and picked it up in Montana right before he started his trip.
“I have a philosophy,” Bellingham said. “If you’ve got something you want to do, you don’t fail if you don’t finish – you fail if you don’t start.”