Heat, floods, lightning storms, squalls and wind haven’t stopped Janet Sullens Moreland.
She’s well on her way to becoming the first woman to kayak solo from the source of the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 56-year-old from Columbia, Mo., reached the Omaha area Friday. She expects to finish her trip in early November.
She’s showing no signs of wear despite battling the elements since leaving Brower’s Spring in the Centennial Mountains of Montana in April.
“It’s been too good to be true,” Moreland said during a break from her trip at the Driftwood Inn near Blair on Thursday. “Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m having such a great time.”
Moreland has lost 20 pounds on the river, sticking mostly to vegetables, tuna and Knorr casseroles prepared on a single propane burner at makeshift campsites along the river. Her arms are solid muscle — her biceps bulge as she easily lifts her loaded boat.
“I tend to overpack,” she said.
Moreland’s life has been a series of adventures.
Just to start this trip, she snow-skied for more than 30 hours to get to Brower’s Spring. Then she took a three-day, 100-mile mountain bike trip before climbing in her kayak for the long haul.
Moreland left college to chase waves and jobs offering the thrills she craves while living in one paradise after another. She returned to school and earned her degree from Missouri in 2012. She aims to be teaching middle school science or social studies at this time next year.
She’s hoping this journey will bring attention to the group Missouri River Relief.
It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through cleanups and educational events. The group has organized 104 Missouri River cleanups, with 17,906 volunteers collecting 718 tons of trash from 863 miles of the river.
The organization is sponsoring its fifth cleanup in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area on Saturday. Volunteers can register at the Riverfront Marina at Lewis & Clark Landing at 8:30 a.m. and then will board a boat to be taken to pre-scouted areas.
“It’s important that people do not lose touch with the land and water,” Moreland said.
Patrick Mallette, co-owner of the Driftwood Inn, has been watching Moreland’s progress through her website and Facebook page. He was waiting on the bank of the river to flag Moreland down as she rounded the bend near the restaurant and bar.
Mallette also hosted two men who have done the trip. Australian Mark Kalch, the first person known to complete the trip, pulled up and ate at the restaurant without much notice. Then last December, Canadian Rod Wellington walked up from the river in a wetsuit and waist-length dreadlocks in search of water.
“I looked at him and said ‘Where’d you come from?’ ” Mallette said.
The two have become friends, finding they share a love for music and the river. But trying to feed Wellington was a challenge. The Driftwood Inn serves giant steaks and chops and succulent seafood. But Wellington is a vegan.
“All I could find,” Mallette said, “was a bag of carrots and fruit.”
After growing up on the river, Mallette lives vicariously through the adventurers.
“I’ve always sort of dreamed of doing something like this,” he said.
He gave Moreland a place to stay before she got back on the river to head for Omaha. And feeding her was easy.
“I’ve lost 20 pounds,” Moreland said. “I can eat a cheeseburger and fries whenever I want.”
While Moreland has been cautious on the river, she didn’t flinch when she decided to take the trip. She doesn’t think of herself as middle-aged and doesn’t seem to know the meaning of fear.
“When I found out about the trip, I knew it was for me,” she said. “I like to take an extra step into the extreme.”
Just days behind Moreland, Scott Mestrezat of Chicago is attempting his own trip on a different type of vessel. Mestrezat is standing on a paddleboard as he traverses from the mouth of the Missouri River to St. Louis, where it drains into the Mississippi.
Mestrezat’s stop in Omaha has been delayed while he fights wind and fatigue in the Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota.
Moreland stretches out a solar panel to charge her phone as she paddles. An American flag flies off the back.
She plans to head back to Columbia after finishing her trip. She has a daughter and boyfriend there and plans to start her teaching career in the spring. But she will always have what she calls river fever and a passion for adventure.
“If you don’t have a dream,” she said, “you’d better get one.”