By Tom Schlichter
Rob Samuelsen is a serious world traveler who strives to get the most out of every adventure he undertakes. The 60-year old Vail, AZ, resident has been to 48 of the 50 U.S. states, visited 40 countries, and lived in Utah, Indiana, Ohio, Ecuador, New York and California.
“I have an MBA in Finance and I’m a chief financial officer right now. Over the years, I have served as CEO at three different companies, one of which was public. I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional career, but mostly I work so I can play.”
And play he does. A certified canyoneer with significant climbing and repelling experience, Samuelsen also enjoys back-packing, owns a boat and drives a Jeep. “I have all the outdoors toys,” he says unapologetically, “I have a solid group of friends who love outdoors activities and we are always looking to challenge ourselves. Together, we’ve traipsed across much of this country. ”
With such impressive outdoors and business resumes, we were thrilled to learn Samuelsen chose the 11’ 2”, 26-pound Sea Eagle 330 Sport Kayak as his transportation of choice on a recent 108-mile passage down the Missouri River. He and his friends were planning to follow the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark more than 200 years ago, taking in the sights, reveling in the history and enjoying being on “The Big Muddy” for the four-day journey. As you might expect, the experienced paddle sport enthusiast did his research before making his determination.
“This was going to be my first time in an inflatable kayak,” explained Samuelsen, “so this was something new. Initially, I wanted an inflatable kayak (IK) for this trip because I planned to fly to the launch site rather than drive. As it turned out, we eventually drove, but having an inflatable Sea Eagle still proved a big plus because I could just put it in the trunk. At home, I could store it in the attic instead of the yard.”
Samuelsen also wanted an IK “that didn’t seem like a toy,” he stated. “I needed something that was a more serious expedition-type craft, more of a commercial grade kayak that could take a beating and keep up with the Kevlars,” he continued. “That narrowed the search to just a few vendors offering more serious expedition-type craft. Sea Eagle was on my radar at that point and then they put the 330 Kayak on sale. The price seemed crazy good, so I bought it.”
With a busy life, Samuelsen never actually got to try his new Sea Eagle until the day he set off on the big river, so he was real pleased when everything came together smoothly. He liked the stability when he first climbed in, loved how quickly it could be inflated and was happy with how well it transported. He would have liked a few more tie grommets for strapping in his gear, but he managed to get everything aboard by rigging a few extra tie downs and bungee cords.
“I’m a big guy, 6’ 4”,” says Samuelsen, looking back on the experience. When I look at pictures of myself in that kayak, it looks Lilliputian, so I’m already contemplating a bigger version. Sea Eagle’s 370 Sport Kayak is a little longer at 12’ 6”, so I’ll probably step up in the future. Still, I was very comfortable in the 330. I was really surprised at its stability and how well it tracked. I thought it might be a little “tippy” but it wasn’t’ at all.
So, how’d the trip go?
“It was wet, very wet,” said Samuelsen, “but it was fun and amazing, too. We launched at Coal Banks Landing in Montana and ended at James Kipp Recreation Area on the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. We covered as much as 37 miles per day, banging rocks and carving through all sorts of water. My friends were concerned I might pop my inflatable on the boulders and rough points, but it was absolutely fine.”
While the group had to deal with a lot of rain, they found the scenery spectacular, made great time, and viewed amazing sights.
“We saw a paddlefish that weighed a couple-hundred pounds moving upriver against the 4-mph current; that was something. We also got to see the White Cliffs and Missouri Breaks areas. The White Cliffs were astounding. Because of volcanic action, there are lines that split the white cliffs with vertical and horizontal black stripes. We saw a ton of swallows and swallow nests in the cliffs, too. We also saw big horned sheep, bald eagles, beaver and lots of deer on our route.”
For their second night on the water, the team camped at a place called Slaughter Creek. Lewis and Clark had a base camp there – and the first skeletons of dinosaurs in the Americas were discovered there, too.
“It’s named Slaughter Creek because Lewis and Clark found hundreds of dead buffalo at the base of the cliff here. They assumed Indians had driven the herd over the edge while hunting but it turned out that a flood had actually washed the huge creatures away.”
It turned out to be a good thing that Samuelsen and friends kept moving right along, for significant flood waters were building upriver and headed their way.
“The first couple of days,” revealed Samuelsen, “we noticed small debris floating in the in the river. Every morning I’d post a stick in the water and see how much it had risen from the day before and we could tell it was going up. The last day we took out on a beach to set up camp and the following morning found our vessels all afloat – the beach was completely underwater. At that point, we started seeing bigger stuff like whole trees coming down the river so we decided to come out a day early and shuttled our vessels to our end point. That turned out to be a smart choice because they closed the river half-an-hour after we pulled out. A ranger told us that in another day our cars would have been submerged. Always better to be safe than sorry.”
All this bears out how important it is to be prepared on any expedition that takes you off the grid, points out Samuelsen. “You’ve got to cover all the bases before departing,” he advises. “We had a satellite phone and put tracking on so friends could follow us on Facebook. I gave a separate link for the map share to my wife and family so they could track us as well. Nothing beats having fun, but you need to do it safely. Always keep that foremost in mind.”
Editor’s Note: You can see some of Rob Samuelsen’s excellent photography on his website: www.backcountryexpressions.com. To read a more detailed account of his 108-mile Missouri River kayak trip, check out his newspaper column here. To view a short video of his trip, visit here.