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Columbia kayaker Janet Moreland reflects on river adventure

Thursday, January 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:07 a.m. CST, Friday, January 17, 2014
Norm Miller, right, demonstrates to Janet Moreland how to get out of the spray skirt that sits on top of her kayak in photo from Moreland's blog in April. Moreland said during her trip she had "river angels" that helped her along the way.

*CORRECTION: Janet Moreland's car had a radiator problem instead of a muffler problem as reported in an earlier version of this article. She also received a call with a job opportunity one hour after her announcement to complete the trip in one stretch. An earlier version of this article said one day.

COLUMBIA — John Brockhouse of Columbia was drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon at Cooper's Landing when Janet Moreland entered the marina store.

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Before asking about her epic adventure down the length of the Missouri River, Brockhouse asked Moreland to autograph his kayak.

It was a simple request that comes with being a celebrity, but it still takes Moreland by surprise.

"I think it's unique and really special that we have someone like her in our kayaking community," Brockhouse said after the encounter. "It's inspiring."

Moreland embarked on her "source to sea" Missouri River kayaking trip April 24 in Montana and on Dec. 5 she finished at the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.

Moreland's talk Tuesday evening at the Les Bourgeois Vineyard Bistro in Rocheport was part of her homecoming. The room was packed from wall to wall, with many people sitting on the floor for Moreland's first public talk about her trip.

"It's like seeing the other side of Facebook," she said as she greeted the crowd.

Moreland's LoveYourBigMuddy Facebook page, where she documented her trip in real time — sometimes live from her campsites — has nearly 1,500 followers.

"A lot of you are my friends and have liked my Facebook page. A lot of you I've never met, but this is a room full of friends," Moreland said.

Moreland had more to share than time allowed, but the crowd urged her to go on, pushing the one-hour talk to 90 minutes.

Moreland described the different relationships she experienced on the journey and the "river angels" who helped her along the way.

Early in the expedition, en route to Montana, Moreland and her daughter, Haley Moreland, faced trouble with their bright-red-van — a *radiator problem that could have set them back an entire day. The father and son duo they encountered at Wick's Muffler & Auto Service in Kansas were the first among many whom Moreland ended her journey considering friends and family.

"He was a river angel, and he didn't even live on the river," Moreland said. "He gave me his son's truck to drive and get the part I needed."

What's more, Galen Wickham, owner of the business, picked up the tab.

After meeting Moreland, Wickham began following her videos online to see where she was in her journey, he said in a phone conversation Wednesday.

"I thought it was pretty neat for a gal to be doing what she'd done," Wickham said. "She reminded me of a Western gal with a gun strapped to her hip. She was super nice."

"They were interested in my trip and what I was doing, and they invested into that relationship," Moreland said. "I love those guys; they're family."

Widespread notoriety

Moreland's celebrity status has spread beyond the Show-Me State.

At the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., Deb Miller, a good friend of Moreland's, shared details about the ongoing expedition with a woman. Serendipitously, the woman had met Haley Moreland and had been following herblog and Facebook page since April.

"I was resting in the shade and telling everyone there about this amazing thing my friend was doing, and this random woman knew and had already been following the journey since April," Miller said. "It's really incredible how this has spread."

Moreland's use of social media came up repeatedly during her Tuesday evening talk.

"A lot of people in the river community are almost sad to see her finish up overall because we so enjoyed following her on her blog and online," Dave Bandy of Columbia said.

Perseverance and dedication

Moreland earned her degree in education at MU in December 2012. She originally intended to split the "source to sea" trip into two parts so she could begin her teaching career that August and resume the following summer.

Instead of ending the first part in St. Louis in August, she decided to continue down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ironically, one *hour after she announced she would continue, Moreland received a call with a possibility of work. She had already gone too far to consider changing her plan.

Miller was among the first of her friends and family to learn of her ambition to kayak all the way to the gulf.

"I was sitting with her at a table at Cooper's Landing when she first told me about the idea. I could tell in her face right away that she was going to do it," Miller said.

Miller never doubted Moreland.

"I knew there would be challenges, but I had every reason to believe she would do whatever research she needed to do and would do everything she had to do to prepare," Miller said.

Moreland said adjusting to life after the trip hasn't been challenging, but it's the little nuances — like remembering to shower every day and not worrying about where she'll sleep — that shed a humorous light on the experience.

"It was a great 3,800 miles," Moreland said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.


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