COLUMBIA — Andy Bugh is taking four days rest from his nearly 4,000-mile kayaking journey on the fourth largest river system in the world.
Bugh set up camp Tuesday morning at Cooper's Landing alongside mile 170 of the Missouri River, beaching his red Eddyline Shasta kayak for a chance to rest his arms and stretch his legs.
He has been on the Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson river system for three and a half months. He took off on July 5 from Hell Roaring Creek, Mont., one mile down from the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Bugh has the full beard, calloused hands, and soft-spoken nature of a weathered traveler. He also has the smile and enthusiasm of someone who’s endeavored to complete an adventure that few before him have attempted.
"I love being on the water, and I'd always dreamed of canoeing or kayaking the Mississippi when I was younger, thinking it was one of the longest rivers in the world. Then I discovered that the Missouri was actually longer than the Mississippi and the two together made up one of the longest river systems in the world," he said with enthusiasm.
Bugh has been taking pictures and blogging about his solo trip, which winds through 13 states in six and a half months, in an effort to raise money for a school he helped build in Honduras called Manos Felices, or Happy Hands.
Happy Hands is for deaf children, pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, and is the only academically accredited school for the deaf in Honduras. It costs about $15,000 to construct each new grade level, Bugh said.
Bugh got involved with the school through his sister-in-law, who saw the need for a school for the deaf in Honduras and needed someone to construct it.
Bugh’s background in construction made him a natural candidate, and he's been going back and forth between his home in Plano, Texas, and Honduras to contribute to the school for more than nine years.
Prior to the trip, Bugh received an $18,000 donation from a family who had previously donated to Happy Hands, so Bugh could rest assured he'd secured funding for at least one additional grade level to the school.
Since the trip began however, he's raised only $250 for the cause.
"I would have done the trip anyways. The fundraising was an afterthought," he said. "When I was researching more about my route, I noticed that other people had undertaken canoeing or kayaking trips along these rivers to fundraise, and it seemed like a good idea."
"People have been so generous to me along the way, but there’s a disconnect between helping me portage my kayak or giving me food, and donating $20 for a school for the deaf in Honduras. I think most people see me and just want to contribute to my trip," he added.
Bugh calls his sojourn a cultural expedition.
"I've been so surprised by the different places I've passed through," he said. "Before, I thought Montana was just filled with cattle ranches and mountains. I had no idea that there were huge German and Czech populations in the Dakotas."
Bugh has experienced long stretches of the trip in near isolation, when he's only seen three or four people during a three-week period. He said he's not reclusive by nature, but he does enjoy the time to himself.
"I wouldn't say it's loneliness," he said. "One of the most important things I've kept in mind along the way is that you’ve really got to be able to count on yourself."
In more trafficked parts of the river, Bugh has shared meals and even days of paddling with people he's met at campsites and on the water.
He carries three weeks worth of food with him and picks up new supplies along the way that are sent in advance by his wife. He also fishes when he can, feasting on silver salmon, catfish and walleye.
"Breakfast could be pancakes or oatmeal, but it's usually a cereal or energy bar," he said. "Lunch is usually peanut butter and crackers or tuna and crackers. Dinner is spaghetti or noodles. When I cook, it's by fire."
Bugh said there are a few comforts he misses, such as easily accessible showers, the occasional TV program and good Mexican food.
"I don’t think many of the folks in Montana knew what a jalapeno was," he said with a laugh.
Amidst paddling; stopping along the river to walk around, explore and take photos each day; portaging; and setting up camp, Bugh finds he doesn't have much leisure time, but he said the perfect end to each day is looking at the stars. In good weather, he simply lays out a tarp and sleeps in the open air.
"I'm already two-thirds of the way done with my trip. Sometimes I wonder how weird it will feel when I'm no longer waking up everyday to get on the river," he said. "I can't even imagine what I'll do when I finally reach the ocean."