Union native Larry Copeland marked off one of his bucket list items late last month when he arrived in Washington on a boat he had navigated down the Missouri River from Montana.
After spending the evening in Franklin County, Copeland, who lives in Grand Junction, Colo., set off Saturday morning, Aug. 25, to complete his journey in St. Charles, before returning by car to Union to spend more time with relatives.
“It was neat,” Copeland told The Missourian a few days later. “It was everything I’d hoped it would be. I saw some really neat country.”
Joining him for various stretches of the trip were relatives and friends. Among them, Bill Hervey, who lives in Kansas City but grew up in the Union/Beaufort area, and Del and Lynne Rinne, Beaufort.
Driving a support vehicle along the river road were Copeland’s cousins, Chuck Copeland of Union and Joe Eye of Sullivan. Chuck’s nephew, Steve, also took part in the trip.
It had long been a dream of Copeland’s to traverse the entire length of the Missouri River, much like Lewis and Clark did over 200 years ago. A self-described super fan of the famous explorers, Copeland has read more than a dozen books on Lewis and Clark and said as he floated downstream, he tried to imagine what their experience would have been like.
A 1957 graduate of Union High School, Copeland grew up in Franklin County and spent a lot of recreational time on the Missouri River.
“My dad had a gas station and garage here where he sold boats and motors, so I was on the river a lot demonstrating boats and water skiing,” he said.
Two years ago, Copeland spent three weeks canoeing the section of the Missouri River in Montana with his son, daughter-in-law, six grandchildren and a friend for the fun and experience of it, camping along the way. He had always planned to complete the trip and since retiring recently from a career as an orthopedic surgeon, he felt now was an opportune time.
Copeland purchased a boat specifically for the journey — a 23-foot aluminum boat with a small cabin and a V-8 engine.
On Aug. 10, he and three of his friends from Grand Junction picked up where he had left off in 2010, at Fort Peck Reservoir in northeast Montana.
“This time, we didn’t rough it,” said Copeland. “We pulled out each night and stayed in hotels.”
They floated with him to Omaha, and then they headed back home to work. He picked up Hervey in Kansas City, and the Rinnes in Columbia for the stretch in to Washington.
Copeland said floating down river was an interesting way to see parts of the country he’d never visited. One of the things that struck him the most was seeing the effects of the oil boom going on in North Dakota.
“It’s like a gold rush,” Copeland remarked, noting so many workers rushed there to get in on the demand. “The traffic was like St. Louis at rush hour.
“There were people living in tents, there were thousands of campers . . . and the number of pickup trucks, big trucks and all of the equipment . . . it was everywhere.”
Copeland had planned a schedule for his entire trip, allotting so much time at each stop, but when he reached Bismarck, he put the schedule on hold for a day so he could explore the city more.
“I visited the Lewis and Clark Museum there and I went to the Mandan village where they lived their first winter (on the expedition),” he said.
Further downriver in South Dakota and Nebraska, Copeland said he was shocked to see the effects of the drought on corn crops.
“They were half the height and a lot of them had no ears,” he commented.
Pierre, S.D., he said, was “very pretty.” The Capitol building was a classical design compared with the one in North Dakota, which Copeland described as more of an “office building.”
In Lower Brule, S.D., Copeland opted to stay his night off the river at a Sioux Tribe casino hotel. In a neighboring town, he attended a powwow that he said had the look and feel of a state fair.
“There were kids riding around on horses, dancing, crafts, booths to see . . . and I was pleasantly surprised at how polite and friendly everyone was.”
In Sioux City, Copeland was impressed by the multi-million dollar homes lining the riverbank for about a five-mile stretch.
“They were absolutely beautiful,” he said.
After Sioux City, the river became much easier to navigate because of the channel markers, said Copeland, noting that is where the Army Corps of Engineers takes over.
Looking back on his 15-day trip, Copeland was all smiles.
“It was neat, just a great experience,” he said. “We really had no problems along the way.”
And although he had a great time, Copeland said he was ready to get home, a 1,300-acre mountain ranch where he likes to spend time with his nine grandchildren.
Old classmates of Copeland’s who may have missed him on his brief stop in Union last month won’t have to wait long to see him. He plans to come back this month for the Class of ’57’s 55th reunion.