WARSAW — It takes a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of love for kids to attempt rowing the Grand River in the middle of winter, but modern day mountain man Johnnie R. Grizzly Adams plans to make a solo trip using only pre-1830s equipment and a birch bark-like canoe.
Adams is raising money for 4-year-old Warsaw resident Elizabeth Barclay who has leukemia. He is sponsored by the Kaysinger Bluff Pioneer Heritage Association and he hopes to be as successful as he was two times before.
“We are his road team that checks on him if he gets in trouble,” said Steve Hanson, Heritage 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.
Adams and the Association is just getting started with the donation campaign.
In 1990 and 1991, Adams made two similar winter trips when he was 35 and 36 years old. A 12-day trip from Truman Dam to Bagnell Dam Jan. 1, 1990, raised more than $50,000 for a child needing 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 sub-zero 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 frost bite.”
During his second trip on Dec. 1, 1991, he canoed 23 days and 377 miles, through sleet, rain and ice, from the mouth of Kaw River in Kansas City paddling the Missouri River to St. Charles.
“The whole width of the state,” he said. “Most people won’t put a boat in the Missouri River in the summer time. 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.”
He is now 59, with three past heart attacks, but he has no fear. Adams has done pre-1800s reenactments for 40 years and once raised North American black bears, to boot. He said he feels comfortable surviving extremes.
He will shove off at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 1 at the Grand River Bridge on state Route 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.
Much of his equipment such as knives, a steel-headed tomahawk, scrimshaw drinking cups, powder horn and a flintlock muzzle loading rifle were hand made by Adams.
“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 Hudson Bay six-point wool blanket capote coat, homemade buckskins and moccasins. He’s been prepping for the cold in a novel way.
“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.”
One piece of modern equipment, a life jacket, is required by the Missouri Water Patrol. He will also take a video snap-shot camera to record the trip and an FM one-way radio to receive messages.
“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 cell phone, there’s no propane heater, nothing modern.”
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 “wop-and-pop” store bought biscuits.
“I’ll be out four to five days, if it’s zero weather I’ll be out there,” he said. “The Lake of the Ozarks trip, the first night, it got 7 degrees below zero. And the hides I was going to cover up with got wet, I had three wool blankets and a wool capote coat, and I got up on the second of January and my right foot was black with ice crystals.”
Adams said this is his first time on this lake and only the third time in a canoe. If all goes as planned, he will arrive back at Truman Dam around Jan. 4 or 5 and land on a small island viewed from the Visitor’s Center and not far from the Dam.
“That’s where I’ll come in,” he said Saturday pointing to the small island. “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.”
“Saturday morning we’re going to have the TV people up there and the newspaper,” Hanson said. “What he’s going to do, he’s going to row up there and touch the Dam.”
Adams said he will, in accordance with the Army Corps of Engineers, touch the gravel bar near the Dam.
“I will probably come in at noon,” Adams added.
Adams said he’s met little Elizabeth once.
“I don’t even know these kids when I do this,” he added. “I advertised on the radio and at the Warsaw Health Department for a child to sponsor. The medical profession cannot give me their name, it’s private, so they give them mine. 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.”
If donation money is left over, Adams emphasized it will be used for other children’s medical needs.
“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.
Since beginning treatment in 2011, Elizabeth has had increasing doses of chemotherapy, and almost went into liver failure in 2013. At present, she is in need of a bone marrow transplant, Adams said.
The funds raised by Adams will go toward any related expense that would cause a hardship on the family, such as co-pays, gasoline, motel stays or physical assistance.
Those interested in donating to “Row for the Dough” may send contributions to “Friends of Grizzly Medical Aid Fund” in care of Hawthorn Bank P.O. Box 217, Warsaw, Mo. 65355.