SIOUX CITY | Since she left home for college, only to drop out the first year to move to Hawaii with friends, Janet Moreland has lived life somewhere on the edge of complacency and adventure.
At 19, she left the island state for Yosemite Valley, Calif., worked on a ski patrol team at a nearby resort and later moved to San Francisco, where she spent time windsurfing for seven years.
But before all of that, Moreland spent her "formative years" romping around the American River in Sacramento, Calif.
“I grew up on a river,” she said. “That was back in the days when you could say goodbye to your mom at 10 o’clock in the morning and hop on your bike, go to the river and come back at dinnertime. So I spent a lot of time on the river.”
Now, at 56, Moreland, of Columbia, Mo., has transformed a childhood fascination into a mission.
She is kayaking alone through Midwestern wilderness from the source of the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico.
If she completes the expedition as planned in November, Moreland will become the first American woman to make the 3,700-mile journey, according to the Missouri River Relief nonprofit group.
The idea for her nontraditional vacation took shape when a friend and fellow paddler told her she’d be the first American to make the trip alone.
“So that got my attention. And it was within a month that I decided to do it,” she said.
She put her kayak in the Missouri River’s ultimate source at Brower’s Spring in the Centennial Mountain range in Montana on May 1, but not before it took a 31-hour overnight ski excursion to get there.
She camped at the Scenic Park Campground in South Sioux City on Monday, departed Tuesday and plans to arrive in Omaha by Friday. She said she can log up to about 50 miles in a day now that she’s on the channelized portion of the Missouri River where it has been dredged out for barge traffic.
The river spans about 2,600 miles from its source to St. Louis where it meets the Mississippi River, and it’s about 1,100 miles down Big Muddy to the Gulf of Mexico.
Only slightly concerned about barge traffic on the Mississippi, Moreland said it will just be another layer on top of everything else.
“It’s like, ‘What’s around the next bend or where does the channel go now or how am I going to get through these swells without getting swamped, which direction is the wind blowing … all of those kinds of mechanical thoughts go through your mind quite a bit while you’re on the water,” she said.
But other times, she can take it easy.
“It’s mind therapy because all the busy stuff gets put on hold,” she said. “It’s relaxing rest to your mind, and it’s good for you.”
Things put on hold for Moreland include finding full-time work when the excursion is over. They also include paying off student loans, as she just received a teaching degree from the University of Missouri.
Ideally, she’d like to give presentations and write a couple of books, including one to teach middle school children about the culture, history, ecology and wildlife around the Missouri River.
But until the time comes to worry about money (and an October hurricane season), Moreland said, she’ll take comfort in the river and the “gentle, kind-hearted river people” she meets along the way.
“I think when people get back to nature, you lose a lot of that harshness, hardness of heart,” she said. “And everyone I’ve met along the river has just been beautiful souls, just very kind and giving and thoughtful.”