Mark Fingerhut, St. Louis, started on a 2,400-mile kayaking journey along the entire Missouri River back in May. He stopped in Washington Thursday, Aug. 15, before concluding his adventure.
It was around 10-12 years ago when he bought his first kayak.
In 2010, Fingerhut completed his first Missouri American Water MR340, a paddle race from Kansas City to St. Charles. Participants have 88 hours to complete it and nine checkpoints they must sign into along the way.
Since then, Fingerhut has participated in four MR340 races.
“It’s hard to do it every year,” he said.
Following Missouri River Paddlers on Facebook, Fingerhut began having discussions with people who had paddled the entire Missouri River.
“It was a good opportunity to have a mid-career break,” he said.
Fingerhut works as a software consultant and has been with the same company for 13 years. He said the company offered him extended time off so he could do this.
Along the way, Fingerhut has been raising money for Missouri River Relief.
“I wanted to involve fundraising as part of the trip,” he said.
Fingerhut started the trek in May on the Madison River near West Yellowstone, Mont. He has since kayaked through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
“Seeing the country at this speed is much better than in a car at 60 miles per hour,” he said.
Along the way, he said he’s met many “nice and generous” people, noting it’s fun to see people’s eyes light up when they hear he’s kayaking the entire Missouri River.
The kayak that kept him afloat through this journey was created by Shane Camden, a friend of Fingerhut. Camden owns the Timber Longboard Company in St. Louis, and recently opened a new workshop in New Haven called Paddle Stop New Haven.
Camden specifically built this kayak for Fingerhut’s journey.
Fingerhut noted this was Camden’s first kayak, and while he was nervous about that it wasn’t for the reason you might think.
“I wasn’t nervous that it wouldn’t work,” he said. “He basically worked on it until the first day of the trip. I was worried I wouldn’t have a kayak.”
However, it was completed in time and Fingerhut said it performed perfectly.
In the kayak, Fingerhut was able to store all of his camping gear, including a portable stove. Each night, he set up camp along the river.
Before the trip, he spent months dehydrating food. During the trip, Fingerhut’s wife would ship him two weeks of food at a time. Then when he could, he would stop in towns along the river, like New Haven and Washington. He would visit with the locals at restaurants and bars.
As for what he’s learned during these three months, Fingerhut said patience and flexibility were key.
“Let the river decide almost everything,” he said.
Specifically, he said it was important to let the river decide the pace. He also noted that if it was windy, he wouldn’t paddle that day. There were three or four days Fingerhut said it was too windy, especially in the larger lakes he came across that are a couple of miles wide.
Fingerhut said if the wind was strong enough, the waves could get up to 4 to 5 feet high.
With his trip wrapping up in a couple of days, he’s having a tough time telling how he feels right now. On one hand, he’s excited to see friends, family, his wife and two cats.
“I know next week I’m going to be itching to get back on the river again,” he said.
Going into the trip, Fingerhut expected the hardest part to be the weather. He was expecting thunderstorms, high heat and lots of humidity. But he said the weather was never too terrible, even noting this last week has been the hottest.
The hardest part was actually the day-to-day stuff, he said, and getting into a routine of paddling and setting up camp. He also noted the first two weeks of the journey were hard because he was in the mountains in Montana. It was cold and there was snow on the ground still.
Fingerhut is set to conclude his journey at the Arch in St. Louis. His trip has been documented at https://paddlestlouis.com/.