All my life I have never really given a damn about history, it happened, now its over. This is pretty much what I thought about most things. Ok, well, maybe I should re-word that, I thought history was boring and never really followed it as much as I probably should have. I mean I know the major events that happened in history changed our world and molded it into what we have today but, I have never really paid attention to the ACTUAL history that I would find out recently. The type of history that is just as entertaining as it is amazing. To me the history that really matters like river culture, historical craftsmanship, and ancestral heritage. All this coming from a living, breathing part of history that LITERALLY explored and shaped this country. Churchill Clark, the 4th grandson of William Clark or who most people know as “Lewis & Clark”
Friday, November 10th I got off work at 6 pm, stopped by my house to pick up my wife and we headed to Coopers Landing near Columbia Missouri. Coopers is located on the Missouri River 26 miles from the State Capital, Jefferson City. After 3 hours on the road, we pull in to Coopers with two lights flashing at us from the distance. As we got closer we noticed it was Elissa and Bailey waving us in, and to my amusement a short little paddleboarder doing a fire drill around my van, it was Shane. As we got settled into camp “We turned off the van”, we made a couple cocktails and started walking up to the canoe camp. Canoe Camp has been the home of Churchill Clark for the past year and a half. Now, this is where my new love of history starts. Churchill is the fourth grandson of William Clark of Lewis and Clark. We were at Coopers to follow him for the first leg of his week-long trip in a Dugout Canoe. As we walk up to his fire Shane introduced me to him and I did not get a handshake, I got a hug. I was humbled by how polite he was and you could tell he loved to tell his story and the many stories he had. He did not seem to get tired of telling us all about Lucy and Anna, the two Cottonwood Dugout Canoes he hand carved. I was learning history and the history of the Missouri River, his ancestors and what it takes to carve out these functional pieces of artwork.
Churchill Clark found his calling during the celebration of theLewis & Clark Bicentennial. He was not happy with “town life”, all he wanted to do was follow the tree’s, he wanted to “Help them on their transformational Journeys” as he say’s on his website, Dugout Canoe love. Churchill’s goal is to spread the love of carving out tree’s into this functional artwork and he want’s to take as many people as he can on this journey. His goal is to work with Schools, Tribes, museums and historical societies to create dugout canoes. He truly love’s to talk to people and teach them about this history of this craft and the history of the Missouri River. He is also just a pretty funny guy in general. Some people might think he is just a “hippie” carving a tree when in fact he is the exact opposite. He is a historian that gives people a hands-on experience in the ancient art of Dugout Canoe Carving. Everyone from children to elderly has been able to put in a little sweat in the making of his canoes, all the while learning the history of the river.
After our Friday evening with Churchill we woke up to a beautiful view of the Missouri River, slightly warmer temperatures and an excitement to get on the water. We were going to paddle the first 26 Miles alongside Anna the Dugout Canoe. As we shuttled our vans to Jefferson City and drove back to Coopers Landing we arrived to ton’s of people waiting to see Anna launch into the Missouri. The atmosphere was vibrant, people were friendly and excited to be part of a little piece of history.
As we waited at the ramp Steve L. White, a local Native American I have known only on Facebook came up to me to introduce himself and finally put a face to the profile. Once again, no handshake, just a hug, and positive vibes. Later on right before the trip started Steve came up to Nicole and I to perform a Smudging Ceremony. I have never experienced this and really did not know how to react but, I stood there and felt honored that this was happening. From what I gather, it is a cleansing ceremony. This is the way river people are, they share and care and love everyone that enjoy and love the river. Author, Rod Wellington writes about the people whom live on the river and help paddlers as they make journeys down these mighty rivers. He calls them “River Angels”, as do the folks that live in the towns along these rivers.
The time came and we shoved off and started our little “Day Adventure” down the Missouri River. The Missouri is a very respected river and she is extremely powerful but, if you respect her she will make your trip a breeze. A good guess would be she was running around 5 miles per hour which made paddling easier. It gave us a chance to take in her beauty and enjoy each other and fellow paddlers. Stopping halfway down the river we used the time to stretch our legs and do some shoreline clean up. It felt good to do our part to keep the Missouri river clean. In the 30 minutes we spent on shore we picked up a good size truck load of trash, we could have spent an entire day walking the shorelines but we had to press on.
As the sun was setting we made it to Wilson’s Serenity Point in Jefferson City where we would finish our journey with Churchill. Churchill, however, was just starting his journey, he and Jerico Lafort still had another week of paddling to St Louis. We used Saturday night to sit around a warm fire and get to know the people we just met and catch up with the people we missed. Jerico was one of the people we have missed. The gnome as he is called, became part of our SUP family last year when he was on Shanes first multi-person SUP in the MR340. Jerico is the bowman of Anna and is joining Churchill on this trip. It was good to catch up with Jerico and here some of the stories he has about the journeys he has taken in the past year. I did not want this moment to end, the photo’s below do not do justice to how special this time was. Maybe a little crazy camping in a park in the state capital in late fall but, the memories will last a long time.
To sum up this adventure, in short, one man had a dream to educate and teach people. For a year and a half, one man took a beautiful Cottonwood tree and shaped two beautiful canoes. As he started chipping away he also started a story, a story that would end up educating hundreds, inspiring thousands and bringing close friends together for an unforgettable weekend. Heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears went into these two functional works of art and Anna and Juicy Lucy. Along with Churchill’s other Dugouts, they will continue to educate and hopefully inspire future generations to follow their dreams.
As for us, we are all honored to have been part of Churchill’s first leg of his journey in Anna. Our little motley crew of SUP junkies felt right at home and at peace being together again. We even had a surprise visit from Madison who did not even tell us he was coming. He just showed up and said “HI”, we were sad that he was unable to paddle with us but for the short time he hung out with us at Cooper’s Landing it felt like the 340 all over again, with more sleep of course. Being on the river with my wife, close friends and new friends made for some unforgettable memories and a new found love for a river that already flows through my blood. Most of this blog post is about us, our old 340 crew but, without Churchill and Jerico taking this trip none of us would have been able to reunite for this fun weekend, and for that, I think I can speak for our whole crew………………. Thank you, Churchill Clark, thank you for bringing old friends back together and giving us new friendships that will last forever.
This is the face you make when the trip is over and you have to leave your friends to go back home…….