COLUMBIA – Bob Bellingham had never kayaked in an expedition before he decided to spend the last three months paddling the length of the Missouri River.
The river trip starts in Three Forks, Mont., and ends in St. Louis. But, for Bellingham, the journey started back home in Perth, Australia.
It was two years ago, while working on a report back in his Perth office, that Bellingham, 59, an environmental management specialist in mining explorations, had the idea.
“There had to be a better life, and I found it down river,” he said.
Planning a 2,341-mile kayaking expedition from Australia is a challenge, but Bellingham got help from Montana resident Norm Miller, an experienced Missouri River paddler. Bellingham – who calls Miller "Mr. Missouri" – said his encouragement was the main reason why he’s been successful.
Bellingham pushed his blue Eddyline "Shasta" kayak, named "Barbara May" after his wife of almost 40 years, into the river on June 1. Shortly after he started, he got caught in a storm on a 3-mile lake crossing in Fort Peck, Mont. The main lesson he took from that was to try to stay safe and be respectful of the weather.
He was still mindful of this resolution when he reached what he assumed to be the easiest 700 miles of his trip in the free flowing Missouri and encountered headwinds.
“It’s not so much a physical adventure but a mental one too,” Bellingham said. He is documenting the trip on his blog, Steady Paddling.
He reached Cooper’s Landing hangout in Columbia by Thursday.
Mike Cooper, the owner of Cooper's Landing, said long expeditions like this have been common since he opened the campsite 25 years ago. From August to September, people paddle in from places as far as Canada or Northern Colorado.
Bellingham is one of many on this particular Missouri River trip this month.
Although he acknowledges that you need to be happy by yourself on an expedition such as this one, Bellingham said the Missouri River people are the best part of his trip. The longest Bellingham has gone without seeing anyone was five days. He has been offered everything from barbeque and beers to free accommodation from what he calls the “fraternity of the river.”
“It renews your faith in the goodness of people,” he said.
One of those people is Columbia resident Janet Moreland, 55, who is planning to complete the same expedition as Bellingham this spring. The eighth-grade social studies and science student teacher has been a serious kayaker since 1994, when she moved to Missouri from California. The idea of going on the Missouri River expedition first came to her eight years ago, but she only started to seriously plan for it after Miller, who helped Bellingham, convinced her to do it.
“This is my trip. It has my name on it,” Moreland said.
However, the trip is also for her students.
“I’m very tenacious. If it can be done, I believe I can do it if I have the support and encouragement,” she said. “That’s the message I want to give to my students.”
Moreland is getting her support and encouragement from Bellingham. She hopes to buy his boat and re-christen it "Rio Osa," Spanish for "river bear."
Bellingham's best advice for Moreland is to be safe and have faith.
“I’ve seen the best scenery, and I’ve seen the best people in the country without a doubt," Bellingham said. "I’ll be back just to see if it’s really true.”
Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu