Veteran and Branson native takes on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 3,800 mile haul

BRANSON, Mo. – Last Thursday, The Heartlander spoke with former Branson High School graduate Amanda Hoenes as she paddled her way down the Missouri River on a 3,800 mile adventure.

Hoenes began her trip on the headwaters of the Missouri River in Three Forks, Montana with the end goal of landing in the Gulf close to Venice, Louisiana. As of Thursday, Hoenes was just north of Chamberlain, South Dakota. 

Upcoming challenges for Hoenes include navigating around the Fort Thompson Dam and the dreaded 300-mile stretch on the Nebraska and Iowa borders before she reaches Missouri.

“I would say I have at least three to four weeks before I’ll be in Kansas City,” she said. 

The idea was to finish her trip in early November but a few setbacks pushed her final arrival date to the middle or end of November.

Hoenes is not alone on her trip, either – she brought her pitbull/labrador retriever mix ‘Hank’ along for the expedition. She adopted Hank from a shelter just five months ago and said that a lot of their training has been getting to know each other during this experience. 

“I couldn’t have known or created a better dog for this,” she said. “He’s been keeping me great company on this trip.”

Mark Twain novels and the Lewis and Clark journals gave Hoenes inspiration for the adventure, and she hopes her story will inspire others to face their fears.

“My mission would be to bring awareness to living fearlessly and adventurously, doing something that people are afraid of. I want to see more people get out and do that for themselves.”

She also hopes to use this trip and the spotlight it has given her to raise awareness for the challenges that veterans face as they work their way back into civilian life after service. 

Hoenes joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 19. She was sent to Iraq as soon as the war began and served three tours as a casualty evacuation specialist and command and supply. 

This 3,800-mile expedition is the first of its kind for the Missourian. She has previously floated regular canoe trips on the North Fork and Eleven Point Rivers in southern Missouri, but nothing to the magnitude she’s currently facing.

“I had an idea of gear and what a canoe trip means, especially overnight,” Hoenes said. “But, this is a different kind of water. The biggest factor is wind that I have never seen before.”

Although it may add a level of difficulty she had not experienced yet, Hoenes said the strong winds also have a bright side to them.

“[The wind] is also my most powerful ally,” she noted. “When it’s at my back, I’m making the most of it because I have a five foot by six foot sail that we retrofitted this canoe with. With the sail winds, I can double my speeds.”

The drawback to doubling her speed is that while doing so, it could put her at risk for ramming into large stumps that are sticking up out of the water, which she compared to landmines. 

Weather is also a factor on the river. Hoenes said if her gear gets wet, she has to pull everything out of the canoe, dry it off and put it back in so there is not an issue with rot or mildew.

Just one day before speaking with The Heartlander, Hoenes had experience with this when her canoe capsized.

Winds kicked up to around 15 miles per hour while crossing a lake. Hoenes said the massive gusts kicked her back across to the other side of the lake, which is when the waves began crashing and her canoe started taking on water.

“I got to shore and started throwing stuff out as the canoe was filling up with water. Before too long, the canoe was half-full.”

Eventually, Hoenes was able to scoop the water out of her canoe, but because the waves were still fierce, she was stuck in that spot for the rest of the evening and decided to camp.

Hoenes brought dehydrated foods, vegetables and freeze dried foods for fuel, but has since realized it wasn’t enough to keep her healthy along the trip.

“I only recently realized that it’s still not going to be enough,” she said. “So, I bit the bullet and bought some peanut butter, tortillas, and some granola bars because I keep losing a little too much weight, too quickly. You’re not eating enough for the amount of calories you are burning out here.”

Those interested can follow the rest of Amanda Hoenes’ trip on her blog

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