Fourteen years of canoe and camping is nothing compared to all the adventures, fun, quests, enjoyment, patience perseverance tests etc.…we have had along these trips. If you ask anybody from the trips, they will have a pretty good story to tell you about a trip, and it will be great, it may be funny and it will be something you will remember and pass on to others. We have done it all, and we are happy to tell about. I have to thank this wonderful group of friends enormously; there is no greater feeling in the world than knowing that you have accomplished a passion you used to have when you were a kid. The feeling of knowing that you have fulfilled one of your greatest dreams and passions in life is an incredible feeling; nothing else is out there to challenge me now! I am today 52 years old full of thankfulness and passionate about nature, specially the outdoors. And, I am still equally pumped up when we talk about planning a new season trip.
How it all started:
Since I moved to St. Louis, Missouri USA in 1999 I had the opportunity to meet great people and to go to great places as well. Back in Puerto Rico, I had always dreamed with doing great adventures in the outdoors. Movies of the Wild West and explorations programs fueled and fired up this outdoors passion I have. I did not have the chance, during my youth, to explore the outdoors in Puerto Rico, although I spend great deal of time with my brothers helping our dad around the farm, chasing cows and bulls on horses, helping dad keep up with the corrals, rebuilding fences, moving herds, etc.… Puerto Rico is my birthplace however, since I moved to Missouri everything have changed exponentially related to outdoors activities. Missouri is and has been for me a definitely outdoors paradise.
In 2001, as part of my duties to join the workforce after completing my master degree in Webster University, I joined a well-known corporation where I met a wonderful group of people that today I can call my brothers. Among the people I met, I met a “country boy” born and raised in Missouri but with great international exposure and understanding of diversity and cultures. This young person had the chance to participate, first, in international exchange student programs, expending several years back and forward in Brazil, where he learned to speak Portuguese. Secondly, as part of the US Army forces, he was stationed in Germany and did a lot of traveling in Europe, and he fought in the Kuwait War. During his US Army experience, he also managed to learn Spanish, with few Puerto Rican friends he met. The name of this Ozark native boy is Berkley Givens, today he is one of my dearest friends, not a boy any longer, and an accomplice of dreaming big about outdoors adventures and few other views about life that I have, I may follow up on this through other posts.
Berk is currently living in Florida, USA, and unfortunately has missed several years of tradition. However, he is coming back to tour with us this Spring 2015 Camping Trip! We have called this trip The Reunion, and we will be touring the Jack Fork River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Missouri.
The Initial trip:
In 2001 we started, what it is today a 14 years old tradition of camping and canoeing. The initial trip was just to take this Puerto Rican dude to learn about canoeing and camping through a Missouri River. Initially it was just as simple as that. Once, we started the trip, I was amazed, the spring sprout were all over the forest, the air was saturated with smells of nature, the sound of the river mesmerized my ears, the morning sun on the drop out section of the river was warming up my senses, my body can feel it, within five minutes of paddling we were into the wilderness.
Immediately, my test of the wilderness started. Within a mile of traveling down the Jack Fork River, I have flipped my canoe,
stuck it to a falling tree half way into the river, fully wet, freezing water was all over me, and I lost almost all my belongings down the river! Fortunately for me, I was traveling with an experienced canoeing guide, Berkley Givens, the Ozark boy! Berk picked up few of my belongings down the river, park his canoe few meters down, and immediately assisted me. He was laughing cry out loud, I have to admit it was annoying, and came to the rescue with a hatch that was dull as a rock. Not the kind of rescuer you dream off! I was half way into the river, and half way out, hanging from a branch desperately trying to release with my hands the trapped canoe but, my hands were no match the running waters of the river. The water was freezing and coming down fast, I needed to pull my legs out of the water constantly to avoid my legs freezing, eventually we cut a branch of the tree almost an hour later. We released the canoe from the falling tree, and yank it to the shore. Fortunately I did not lost much although my spared clothes and camping gear was all wet, the temperature in the river was about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, not to bad at all if it kept sunny. Now the night was my next concern. We did remove my pinched canoe from the log, inspect it for damage, the canoe only had a bump in one side, push it out, and done. My canoe was ready to rumble. We need to admit it; we were not prepared for this trip however we did managed to survive it. For me was a lifetime experience, although I was concerned about the first night at the river, mostly all my clothes and sleeping bag were somehow wet. However, Berk constantly reminded me that we were ok. I am not sure if he was concerned or not about my wellbeing during that night, we still debate that today but we managed, we passed the night OK.
After the sunk event, we decided to paddle for few more ours, and camp out sooner than scheduled, we collected some wood,
made a fire, dry part of my sleeping bag and clothes and get ready for the first night at the river. Berk came out with the great idea to heat big rocks under the fire for a while and then place them under the gravel were we were going to lay down our sleeping bags, the stones should radiate heat the whole night. I wasn’t sure of this at first but it made sense, so I went for it. My only concern was how much will they last heating us up during the night. We collected several big and medium size stones, put them under, on, and around the fire. We kept heating those stones for more than 5 hours while keeping the fire going on to heat us and cooking. We did have some alcoholic shots, drink some beers, and watched the sky above us all natural, full of darkness and stars. It was an amazing feeling that you are alone in the wilderness, no light pollution, the sky full of stars, the weather was nice, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the sound and smell of the fire complemented the beautiful outdoors night. When was time to bed, we dig rocks from the fire, dig them under the gravel on our sleeping area and aula! We spent a cozy warm night! This is a great trick to know if you want to have a warm sleeping area in a cold night. Today, I still remember how comfy and warm the floor under our sleeping bags was.
This tradition to go annually to canoe and camping throughout, initially, Missouri, has been kept alive by few of us, including me and few other new comers that joined us in the following years.
Along these 14 years of canoe/camping/hike extravagance, we have built a team of participants; I will proudly mention here few of the ones that love the tradition as I do and have joined the ride to never go back. First of all, Greg Kriebaum, who was the second dude to join us in 2002. Greg had an equally love for the outdoors, and equipped with great experience as well as knowledge of canoeing. Greg was a natural fit to this endeavor, he was also a work colleague, a husband, a father, and is and has been a great friend of me. Greg thanks you for keeping the fire on! Then, in 2003, another co-worker joined us, Eric Jimenez, an American kid of Philippine roots. Eric was the youngest but equally armed with passion for the outdoors. And, also part of the same working team (the corporation we used to work together) so, the word of our initial trips spread and few people were glad to join through the years. Another friend that joined us during 2006 or 2007 (the date may be debatable) was Mr. Cameron Imming, another great fellow and friend passionate for the outdoors he has been a great addition to the team. Cam has been lately the precursor of the trip; he inherited the torch from Berk, who has missed the trip few years do to being outside the state of Missouri. So, there you go, the dudes are, Berk, Greg, Eric, Cameron, and myself (José). These are the guys that fire up as soon as a trip plan is mentioned! Berk is planning a trip to alligator land however, we are not too thrilled about it, 😉 if you know what I mean.
This endeavor was for some a crazy thing we did, as some people thought that the timing of our trip was wrong. Oops, I may have forgotten to mention that we only camp-canoe early in spring, usually from March to April and Late in fall, September/October, although, we have done some over night hikes late on December/January as well. We have avoided at all cost the hot and humid weather of Missouri Summers, which I believe is for boating at the lakes, using the pool, and/or BBQ at the porches enjoying a nice beer. Also, I personally avoid flies of any kind and believe few of the guys do so too.
This year I am celebrating 14 years of hard work, planning and enjoying the outdoors in Missouri, and near and far states. We have mostly covered all, we have navigated and camping in several rivers of Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, we have gone to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, float the Nantahala River, we have camp out and canoed to the North Carolina outer banks, hike trails and camp out on extremely hot and humid weather (which I personally don’t like), as well as camping in freezing temperature (-13F degrees).
And we are looking to see what else nature can throw at us! As my dear friend Greg one time told me “we ask for a challenge, and life has no qualms with dishing one out.”