River experiences create lifelong friendship
By Daniel Arens
Friendships can be a slow and gradual process, or the result of sudden circumstances that thrust people together. But, however they are born, they are strengthened and developed by shared experiences.
One such friendship came about from a love of boating on the Missouri River – and not just any kind of boating. Bruce Narveson, a resident of Stanton, always had a desire to travel and explore the Missouri River here in North Dakota. He gained extensive experience on the river on free summer days.
But in the mid-2000s, a new opportunity presented itself when he met a man who had spent a great deal of his life on the river, and who had developed a more unique means of river travelling.
Butch Bouvier, who currently lives in the town of Onawa, Iowa, has developed a passion for traveling along the Missouri River, following the route taken by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous expedition. To make the experience more relatable to the historic Voyage of Discovery, Bouvier has built keel boats that are replicas of those used by Lewis and Clark, and has had to learn and teach others the nature of traveling in this way.
Bouvier has recently written a book, “Brown Water: A Narrative of My Personal Journey in the Wake of Lewis and Clark,” telling of his experiences and adventures along the Missouri River. His focus is on describing the boats of the expedition and what river travel would actually look like on these craft.
While staying in the Bismarck area and exploring the Missouri River in North Dakota, Bouvier met Narveson and, seeing that he had experience with the river, enlisted him in his crew. The two men quickly bonded over their shared love of the river, but one experience along their voyage cemented their friendship.
The keel boats utilized by Lewis and Clark, and replicated by Bouvier, are not modern boats. They demand a care and expertise to handle on the waters of the strong Missouri River. Local knowledge is also extremely important, as Bouvier did not know the depth of the water in this nearby part of the river.
Shortly after Bouvier and Narveson left the Mandan area for a major undertaking down the river, their keel boat went aground in 12 inches of water. Narveson, due to his experience on the river in that area, determined the distance they would need to shove the boat to get it into deep water again.
While some of the crew used their feet to carve a sort of path from where the boat was grounded to open water, others hauled the boat along the path towards the deeper water. Bouvier, still helping move the boat, began to approach the deep water, a fact which Narveson knew from his own expertise on the river.
Narveson told Bouvier to get back in the boat, but the latter held on for a little ways further. In his book, Bouvier describes what happened next.
“[Narveson] hollered at me to take his hand and get aboard, and as I finally listened to his advice, I felt the sand disappear from beneath my feet.”
Bouvier said that water pressure at the meeting place of deep flowing water and shallow sandbars creates deep holes, which often contain debris from upstream. He said that falling into such a hole “is like sliding down a water park water slide, but instead of a fun splash at the end, you get entangled in a bunch of trees and stuff!”
If not for Narveson’s warning and reaching to grab his hand, Bouvier said he would have ended up in the water hole, which likely could have led to him drowning. He credits Narveson with saving his life. For his part, Narveson said he simply did what needed to be done.