Posted by Clare Durrett

As the only female out of the 12 people who went on our Team Gleason Canoe Adventure, it seems only fitting that I write the blog post for the trip. At 50, I pretty much thought going on a trip, surrounded by unshowered, unsupervised men and boys on an outdoor mini adventure, was pretty much off my radar at this point in life. However, when Steve suggested we arrange the trip for Jay Rink and his two sons, I said “I’ll go”, without hesitation. Maybe I thought a female or two might be on the trip or maybe I never considered whom I would be travelling with. But, I knew Steve was going and I thought if he was going , “then so should I”.

The trip started out much like one would imagine when you attempt to coordinate 4 separate groups of people, most of who have never met, in one location in Montana. When your throw in that two of those people have ALS, we were embarking on a trip where we would have no electricity or cell phone usage, relatively no comforts (bathroom) and we would be in the middle of nowhere for 4 days, you might imagine there were some concerns. But again, I thought, “if Steve and Jay wanted to go, I should go as well”.

Once we were all acquainted, we hopped on the school bus that took us on the long trip to where we launched our canoe on the majestic Missouri River. There may have been a stop at a casino, mid morning, where emergency spirits may have been purchased, but that’s another story. As we were about to leave on the canoe and all our connectivity bars were leaving our precious cell phones, I looked around and felt a little nervous. Was this going to be too dangerous? What if there was a medical emergency? What if I really wasn’t able to shampoo my hair?

The trip began. As a rule of thumb, to canoe you should be able to sit in the canoe. When you have ALS, sitting in one spot for a long while, especially a canoe, might be slightly challenging. But, the amazing guys from Row Adventures whom we now call friends, fashioned the most ingenious lawn chairs to the canoe with lots of straps. Voila! Common lawn chairs became seats for Steve and Jay. Our first challenge (aside from the spirits) was overcome.

Our canoe adventure was officially the “The Lewis and Clark Expedition-Canoeing the Missouri River” by Row Adventures. The trip replicates the 60 mile canoe journey by Lewis and Clark some 200 years ago. I’ll admit I’m not a history buff, but I did remember the story enough to think it was pretty cool when we stopped at the same places along the river that Lewis and Clark had hung out. Our guides told us stories as we travelled and filled us in on the habitat and history of the area. Throughout the entire trip, I could have counted the number of humans we saw on two hands, so it was pretty easy to imagine the actual trip 2 centuries prior.

To describe each day would be like saying all paintings are the same and all songs are alike. Each day was beautiful and had it’s own rhythm. Food. There was always amazing food. Every meal was stellar. There was water play, incredible sights, spiritual sunsets and rises, bald eagles, fire starting, time lapse videos, star gazing, soul searching and peace, lots of peace.

Special memories. If I was more of a writer, I could have written a book on this trip. But alas, you are spared. There are a few things that may very well have changed me for the rest of my days, but at the very least has added to the brick and mortar of who I am. One very powerful lesson I learned was listening is so under rated. Each night, while sitting around the fire, Steve would ask what our top 3 moments of the day were. We sat for hours listening to each other, laughing and sometimes crying. It was beautiful. While interviewing Jay, he opened up about some feelings he had regarding his amazing children and his legacy as a father. Again, beautiful and touching. Each day, the guys would get in the water and play. Jay’s sons were always skipping rocks and Blair, the manny, was the supreme leader of all things rock skipping. Steve would push the envelope with Blair and David Lee by his side. Bouncing around and almost floating away many times, I caught Steve belly laughing while water standing. I’ve burned that memory on my brain for safe keeping. We went on excursions into the mountains, body floated down and across the river, counted bald eagles, fought a rain storm and tracked animals we never found. Matt and John attempted sail making and gained a C+ for skill and an A+ for effort and imagination. At night I could hear Jay and his two sons journaling about their day, everyone settling into or outside of their tent for the night and wildlife of unknown, but fantastically imagined origin.

Yes, after 4 days, I remained unshowered along with my 11 male unshowered counterparts. We had no cell service, no electricity, no real bathroom and no modern comforts. We were sticky, muddy, a little sunburned, had bug bites and cuts and quite possibly looked about as awful as we could get. But, I missed it. I started out on the trip saying, “if Steve and Jay were going, I should go”. I felt like I needed to go and help them in any way they needed. It seemed like something pretty challenging for them…in my mind. As it turned out, they helped me more than I could ever do for them. I ended the trip forgetting that Steve and Jay had any less abilities than I have. They were just Steve and Jay, not Steve or Jay with ALS. Honestly, they had some physical challenges. Sure. But, who doesn’t. Do I wish they didn’t have those challenges? Of course. But to see those two on the last day of the trip opt out of the canoe to float down the Missouri River on chairs rigged with flotation devices, sipping champagne, is almost indescribable. But, in an effort to put that vision into words, I can only use one…living. This trip reminded me of that.

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