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Let the adventure begin!

New Mizzou graduate plans record-setting kayaking expedition

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  • Story by Nancy Moen
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: Dec. 7, 2012
Janet Moreland

December Mizzou graduate Janet Moreland plans to make history on a solo kayaking expedition this spring — and hopes to incorporate her adventures into a middle school curriculum. She's equipped with 16 years of kayaking experience and a brand-new bachelor's degree from the MU College of Education.

At 56 and with a new bachelor’s degree from the MU College of Education, one nontraditional student leaves Mizzou to pursue an adventure she’s been dreaming of for years. In May, Janet Moreland will embark on a solo kayaking expedition of the Missouri River from its headwaters at Three Forks, Mont., to St. Louis, a 2,320-mile span of paddling and portaging.

Moreland hopes to become the first woman to navigate that length of the Missouri River solo by kayak and to use the expedition as a teaching tool for social studies and science classes. She views the river as a “living laboratory” for teaching middle-school students about cultural history, geography, the natural environment and social interactions. 

Just the thought of the approaching adventure wakes her up at night. “Maybe I’m an adrenalin junkie,” Moreland says.

Moreland’s journey will take three months, far less time than the 20 years she invested in working on a bachelor’s degree in education.

Extreme journey

Moreland has been training for her river adventure for years. The self-described river rat has been kayaking for 16 years, with nine of those on the Missouri River. She runs two miles every other day and has been jogging most of her life.

Moreland will need mental endurance as well as physical stamina to be on the river for days on end. As lonely as the expedition seems, Moreland will find support from a network of kayakers.

There will be fishermen, boaters and towns along the way, but Moreland could spend 10 days to two weeks on the river with no sign of civilization. She says solitude doesn’t bother her; she once lived alone in a house on 220 acres: “I’ve always been extremely independent. The solitude is something I look forward to.”

The tradeoff is the extraordinary beauty she’ll experience. The first 300 miles of the expedition will be engagingly scenic, and if she’s paddling on a cloudy night, light from the towns will reflect off the clouds to show her the way.

But the seven to nine big lakes along the route will offer challenges. One of those lakes is 230 miles long. Moreland’s major concern, however, is wind. Gusts along the river can reach 70 miles an hour, and if the winds are too strong, she’ll need to paddle at night when they die down.

Moreland caught the lure of extreme kayaking seven years ago after meeting paddler Dave Miller, author of The Complete Paddler. Miller had stopped for breakfast at Cooper’s Landing on the Missouri River, where Moreland cooked on Saturday mornings.

She was further hooked after another paddler, Norm Miller of Montana, said he believed she could be the first woman to kayak the entire length of the river solo. In 2004, Norm Miller (no relation to Dave Miller) paddled and hiked the Lewis and Clark route.

Janet Moreland

In September Moreland retired from her job in the MU Sustainability Office. A longtime environmentalist, Moreland thrives on outdoor adventures.

Wilderness and wildlife

Moreland will take an assortment of essential supplies for her journey, and she’ll refresh her two-week food and water supply in the river towns.  

She’ll pack an expedition tent that can handle wind, a cook stove, a two-wheel trailer to portage her kayak around the dams, a sleeping bag, warm clothes and boots. She’ll take a flint stone as an emergency fire starter and a hatchet for chopping firewood, building windbreaks and cutting her way through river brush and vegetation.

She’ll keep bear spray on hand for any encounters with grizzly bears.  

Because cell phone service will be scarce, she’ll use a laptop to post blogs and update her journal, forming the basis of a book she plans to write. A video camera attached to her kayak will capture images.

Moreland’s students and the public can follow her adventures at loveyourbigmuddy.com.

Trailblazing teacher

“Life is a journey. Live fast. Paddle slow,” sums up Moreland’s philosophy of life and love of adventure. Her goal as a teacher is to show students that it’s possible to follow their dreams, even those dreams considered out of reach.

“Children need to learn to believe they can make things happen they didn’t think were possible, and I want women to know that, too,” she says.

A lifetime of challenges that would test any adventurous spirit has seriously overqualified Moreland for extreme adventure.

She lived alone in Hawaii in the most remote part of the island and in Yosemite National Park. She worked as the first certified female member of a ski patrol in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, routinely doing avalanche control with dynamite and sometimes “under-the-rope” skiing on unpatrolled slopes.

She taught wind surfing and tried skydiving. She worked as a commercial salmon fisher in Southeast Alaska and as a carpenter in Bear Valley, Calif., repairing snow-damaged houses and, with two other carpenters, building a redwood house “from the ground up.”

Moreland’s quest for an education degree began in San Francisco, when her daughter, Haley Rose, was in preschool. Attending college part time, Moreland took classes here and there, fitting course work between moves, jobs and family responsibilities.

She moved to Columbia in 1996 after two years in Springfield, Mo., and, in 2005, decided to get serious about a Mizzou degree while working at the university. She retired recently from the Sustainability Office, where she worked on MU’s projects in environmental responsibility.   

Her interest in kayaking developed after she learned her house was just down the road from the Missouri River. She drove to Coopers Landing and discovered the river.

“All of a sudden Columbia became home for me,” she says.

Teachable moments

Moreland plans to use her solo kayaking adventure as the basis of a curriculum on river sustainability and stewardship, as well as to build self-esteem in adolescents.   

She’s greatly appreciative of and works locally with Missouri River Relief, a volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to the health of the Missouri River. The organization connects children, teachers and the public to the Missouri River through clean-up activities and educational events. 

Partly because of that group, the Missouri River is an “incredibly clean, beautiful wilderness waterway,” Moreland says.

Moreland’s river explorations will continue after she completes this summer’s expedition. She plans to paddle down the Mississippi River, from St. Louis to New Orleans, in summer 2014.  

Moreland completed a student-teaching internship during the fall semester at Jefferson Junior High School. She will work as a substitute teacher for Columbia Public Schools in spring semester, while applying for a permanent position after her adventure.

Read more in:  EducationBeyond CampusSportsAgriculture & the EnvironmentFamily & CommunityOn CampusScience & Technology

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Last updated: Dec. 7, 2012