Modern-day mountain man Johnnie R. “Grizzly” Adams is hitting the water again — with pre-1830s equipment and a birch bark-like canoe.
The 59-year-old will shove off at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Grand River Bridge on Missouri 13 south of Clinton, and will paddle 46 miles to Truman Dam. He will be at the mercy of winter’s grip for the four- to five-day trip.
The “Row for the Dough” will raise money for 4-year-old Warsaw resident Elizabeth Barclay, who has leukemia. This will be the third time Adams has done such extreme winter paddling for an ailing child.
On Jan. 1, 1990, Adams embarked on a 12-day trip from Truman Dam to Bagnell Dam that raised more than $50,000 for a child needing a bone marrow transplant.
“He was needing money and they were having small local fundraisers, and he needed a lot of money in a hurry,” Adams said. “So I was going to float the lake for five years, for fun. Then I decided I would do this, this style, for this child to raise money, to draw interest for a bone marrow transplant.”
During the trip he battled high winds and subzero temperatures, plus other hazards.
“I busted several miles of ice,” he said. “The first morning out, I got up and had ice crystals on the side of my right foot, and I almost lost my foot the first night from frostbite.”
During his second trip on Dec. 1, 1991, he canoed 23 days and 377 miles through sleet, rain and ice, from the mouth of the Kansas River in Kansas City on the Missouri River to St. Charles.
“The whole width of the state,” he said. “…This was the first time the Missouri River had been floated in recorded history in the winter. And when I hit the landing in St. Charles, there was a $150,000 in the bank in medical money for three different kids.”
Adams has done pre-1800s re-enactments for 40 years and said he feels comfortable surviving extremes (he’s also survived three heart attacks).
He made much of the equipment he’ll carry with him, such as knives, a steel-headed tomahawk, scrimshaw drinking cups, a powder horn and a flintlock muzzle loading rifle. He also made his canoe.
“The American Legion Post 217, they are my co-sponsor, they made a very large donation to the material construction of the canoe,” added Adams, a Vietnam veteran. “Everything I’ve got I’ve made, except the cast iron skillet.”
To stay warm, he will wear a wool blanket capote coat, homemade buckskins and moccasins. He’s been prepping for the cold for the past few weeks.
“I started turning the temperature down in the house one degree a day the first of December,” he said. “Starting at 70, that should get it down to around 40 to 45 degrees by the time I leave to take the trip. No matches, no sleeping bag, no modern (survival) equipment. I will have no one with me.”
He’ll have just a few pieces of modern equipment, including a life jacket, which is required by the Missouri Water Patrol. He will also take a video camera to record the trip and an FM radio to receive messages. He will sleep in the canoe with a canvas as a cover. For food, he plans to take deer summer sausage and jerky, and sassafras root for tea. He will make hardtack by using dried out store-bought biscuits.
“At times there may 24 to 36 hours that they do not know where I am,” he added. “And if I turn that thing over in buckskins and capote coat — this trip is potentially deadly. If I turn it over, I’m not coming home. There’s no cellphone, there’s no propane heater, nothing modern.”
But the Kaysinger Bluff Pioneer Heritage Association, one of his sponsors, will be keeping track of him.
“We are his road team that checks on him if he gets in trouble,” said Steve Hanson, association vice president. “Well, I’ve never met a crazier man than this guy right here. I’ve known him for years,” he added, laughing.
If all goes as planned, he will arrive back at Truman Dam around Saturday or Sunday and land on a small island not far from the dam.
“Whatever day I get in there, I’m going to stay the day and the night there, so people here will know I’m in the area.”
And, in accordance with the Army Corps of Engineers, he will touch the gravel bar near the dam.
As for the fundraiser part, Adams said he’s met little Elizabeth once.
“I don’t even know these kids when I do this,” he said. “I advertised on the radio and at the Warsaw Health Department for a child to sponsor. … By the time I talked to the health department in Warsaw and drove 12 miles home I had a message from this little girl’s mom on the phone.”
Since beginning treatment in 2011, Elizabeth has had increasing doses of chemotherapy, and almost went into liver failure in 2013. She needs a bone marrow transplant, Adams said. All donations will go toward the family’s expenses related to the illness, such co-pays, gasoline, motel stays or physical assistance.
“If there are funds left over, where she no more needs them, then it will go on to the next child in the area,” Adams said.