Near the Missouri River on a rocky road in Huntsdale, I pulled up to a man I’d never met before and invited him into my car.
Despite having his thumb stuck out, Brett Dufur was hardly a hitchhiker. Author of “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook” among his many Missouri-outdoors-related achievements, Dufur was the subject of a story my roommate was writing.
I was the driver last Saturday and Dufur needed help getting from Huntsdale near Katfish Katys Campground to Rocheport where he was about to lead a group of people on a guided float along the Missouri River.
“Need a ride?” I asked Dufur as I rolled down my window.
“Oh yeah, thanks,” Dufur said. “You saved the day.”
He guided us back through downtown Huntsdale and along Roby Farm Road to Rocheport. With trees hanging over the narrow rock road, the stretch looked like a hybrid between a Windows screensaver picture of a country road and the passage in the song “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Dufur swears it’s one the best places to drive when the leaves turn colors in the fall.
Arriving in Rocheport, Dufur greeted a group of people waiting to embark on the “Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals” 8.5-mile journey. Dufur runs one of a few guided canoe and kayak floats on the Missouri River. The trip costs $35 for two people.
Hauling canoes to the water’s edge, we set down the curvy Moniteau Creek where my roommate and I quickly discovered we weren’t very good at guiding a canoe. Dufur steered us over to a sawyer and began to teach us about the river. These small sawyers, which look like a mess of tangled branches jetting out of the water, used to sink entire steamboats along the Missouri. A Corps of Engineers project removed most of the sawyers as they deepened and narrowed the Missouri River.
Before the project, Dufur explained that Lewis and Clark found it very difficult to move through the wide, shallow river. Cutting edge military technology at the time was to have the Corps of Discovery men tie a rope to the edge of the boat and drag the vessel to more navigable waters.
We continued down the Missouri, one of the fastest rivers in the nation moving at speeds of up to 4-5 mph. Dufur pointed to the large bluffs which he said Native Americans considered sacred and talked about some of the tribes.
The waters were quiet as we floated along, and Dufur explained that the barge traffic on the Missouri was less than 1 percent of the Mississippi’s traffic. Being stripped of technology seemed weird at first but suddenly became very peaceful as I focused on paddling and listening to Dufur’s tales.
Dufur captivated us with stories about watching the sun rise and fall after a full day of rowing and about navigating the river at night without any light. We forgot about what time it was as we continued to paddle downstream. I’m not really sure why, but when you’re on the river, the sound of the water trickling past and the sight of the sky and the water melting together in the distance seems to calm all anxieties.
The trip ended in Huntsdale where we helped Dufur load the canoes into a van that he drove back to Rocheport. As the sun started to set and golden streaks seeped through tree leaves, it felt like one of those days that I desperately wanted to pause and keep forever. After a quick dinner at the Mulberry Grill, we had to say goodbye to Dufur and the others we met on the trip. And, as the miles stretched back to Columbia on the ride back, I thought about the river and how it kept flowing.