River Rat: Madison River

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When you are used to being around the ocean your whole life, it is obvious that it stays with you and you constantly think about it when you are away from it. However, being away from the things you love can sometimes be the biggest blessing, it can also be extremely difficult to find happiness and to be creative with that happiness.

Adrien_LandscapeLiving in Montana is amazing, but like I said, for me growing up in California then moving here, it is difficult to find activities with the same relativity to what I am used to growing up. Bringing my SUP up here is what makes living here tolerable. Nothing against Montana and I have no desire to thrash the state by any means, it is just difficult to comprehend coming from where I grew up. But with that tolerance comes creativity, and with creativity there’s adventure.

Now I completed a first successful trip to Yellowstone National Park with ease and success doing the same idea, on a lake from point A to point B and back again. But a river however, raises its own complications and hurtles that need to be jumped over. Like A to B and back again for example, you can’t really do that on a flowing river unless you find joy in paddling against a river back to your car however far you floated. Or shallowness and rocks, a lake has depth, a river not. And rapids, they posses there own challenges. While watching kayaks dance through a section of rapids with joy, does not mean at all that me on an SUP with camping, camera, and fly fishing gear strapped to it will have the same outcome.

The weather in Montana is nothing short of unpredictable. Especially in spring. We had days in February that were 60 plus degrees with sun and not an ounce of wind. Then the very next day, it was minus three with 25-knot winds. So to see a three-day forecast with 55-degree weather with sun and little wind was something to get excited about, but also to raise the caution flag when appropriate.

So I set off at about eight in the morning and began taking in the steady flow of the clear water watching trout scatter below my board and eagles flying overhead. It was slightly overcast, which surprisingly enough, makes for some better fishing than during direct sunlight during the springtime. So simply floating and taking in what is the beauty of Montana, and stopping on an island or good bank with a deep hole to fish, the ten-mile stretch I chose came to go by much faster than I initially anticipated. I somehow, ended up doing the first five miles within two hours of floating.

The wind began to pick up slightly, luckily for me however, the wind was at my back and therefore was pushing me down the river for the most part. I would occasionally come across a shallow section where my fin would drag along the rocks of the riverbed and try its best to launch me forward off of my board and into the water. I was wearing what is known in the fishing world as waders, which keep you completely dry while standing in the water fishing. However, if I was to fall in head first, water could simply rush in from the top, fill up the waders, and drowned me. So needless to say, when I hit a shallow section of the river, I went onto my knees and held on until the section was up.

I arrived surprisingly fast, however I was relieved for the days are rather short, and there were certain sections of the river that were braided. Meaning, the river split into different sections and tributaries were everywhere. So if I were to take a wrong path down the wrong section of river, I would lose my friends vehicle support and would have no idea where to meet up if he couldn’t find me. There was no cell service. So I was thrilled and relived to have floated that section of river safely. But, it raised some more plans to do longer sections of the river and to be able to do multi-day trips down it.

As I said, the weather forecast was to predict 50 plus degree-days with sun and to have a low for the nighttime of around 32 degrees. However, as the sun began to set and the whiskey and beers around the campfire began to do there charm, my friend and I had little notice of what was to happen. When we ran out of booze and the exhaustion of paddling and fly-fishing told us to go to bed, we put the campfire out, and crawled into our tents.

I remember walking away from the fire and noticing that it was cold, but didn’t realize what the actual temperature was. I had some beers and whiskey so my thought process was slower than usually, but as I was unzipping my tent to crawl into it, it wouldn’t open because of a very thick layer of ice that decided to nestle on my tent. And as I turned my headlamp on, I couldn’t even recognize the color of the tent from the amount of ice on it. So I broke the ice shelf off of my zipper and crawled into my 0 degree rated, very expensive sleeping bag that is aptly named the, “Snow Shoe.”

However, the. “Snow Shoe,” for certain did not live up to its name. Either my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and tent were all defective, or it was so cold that the equipment decided that even they were cold. So with drunken mumbles coming from Adrian’s tent going something like, “SSShhhhaaaawwwww,” I could tell he was simply so cold that he couldn’t even say my name. His gear was less rated in temperature than mine so I knew he was colder than me. So we had no choice really other than to grab our sleeping bags, and run to the car and blast the heater.

I walked over to my tent and was immediately grateful at our choice to sleep in the car. I unzipped my tent, and inside my sleeping pad and the entire inside lining of the rain fly was covered in ice. Our waders hanging from the car were petrified, and our wading shoes were frozen to the ground. We quickly gathered some of the dry firewood we had left over in the car and blasted it with lighter fluid and got a fire going as soon as we could. But with the sun rising, and every minute it took getting higher into the sky, the temperature warmed and the ice melted almost as though it should have never have been there in the first place.

We boiled water from the river to drink and to make our Mountain House breakfasts and coffee’s with, and thawed our bones to get ready for another epic day of fly-fishing. With a morning beer, which were surprisingly cold, and a splash of whiskey in our coffees, we packed up camp, set up our rods and hit the river. I caught a few fish and shot photos of Adrian bringing in quality trout after quality trout. I was stoked that I survived a cold night, a first time SUP Madison River float, and a newfound idea to partake in more similar adventures of its kind. And not to mention when I got back home and jumped online to see what the temperature was that night, it got down to 3 degrees. Got to love the spontaneity of spring in Montana.

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