Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Year From Now...

Been a while since my last post and for those following, I apologize. Life has been pretty hectic these past several months with the troubles of starting a business, writing a novel, and of course work. But now it's time to get back to the posts because it's time to get back to the Adventures.

In one year (August 2012), I will embark on my most ambitious adventure to date: the exploration of the full length of the Mississippi River. The countdown begins, as does the race against time to condition, outfit and prepare for such a journey.

Why? Because it's there. Because the largest river on this continent ends its winding in my home state. Because I've never, in 31 years, set foot in those muddy currents. Because one is more likely to meet a person who has summited Mount Everest than to meet a person who has seen the full length of the Mississippi. But mainly I wish to do it because I'm curious and the sound of the river calls to me much like the sound of the road tugged at my soul before I went Walkabout in September of 2009.

Who? I, for one, will be making the 2,320 mile voyage, spending most of my time sitting at the stern, steering the vessel. Tasha will be accompanying me, taking her seat at the bow. Between us (and rocking the boat from side to side as he looks at everything) will be Rocco (Adventure Dog). He'll be there mostly because it's nearly impossible to go anywhere for five minutes without him and definitely not three months. Also, because he'll be THE FIRST DOG TO CANOE THE ENTIRE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. EVER. PERIOD.

When? From August 2012 to October/November 2012. It takes 75-90 days to travel from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico by way of canoe, and launching in August will grant us mild weather while in Minnesota. As fall advances, we'll be steadily paddling south through Minneapolis, Davenport, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, ending our journey near Venice, Louisiana after we paddle out to the Gulf of Mexico.

How? With great difficulty, I expect. There are water falls in the upper portions, dozens of lakes, boats, barges, swamps, dams, locks, alligators, waves, snakes, undertow, storms, floods and hurricanes. And those are only the difficulties we'll have to face that come from beyond the gunwales of our boat. Within, we face sunburn, blisters, illness, muscle fatigue/strain, fear, apprehension, panic, frustration and arguments. Tasha and I know our relationship can withstand the difficulties associated with separation. We did it when I went Walkabout and it continues now that I drive a truck 3 weeks out of the month. But will being trapped in a canoe for three months put us to the test? Probably. No matter how fast either of us paddles, we won't be able to escape. We'll probably hate each other before the end... but we'll get through it. We'll have to. There's no way out but downstream. I just have to hope she doesn't shank me in my sleep.

A Canoe? Yes. We're going to tackle that river in a canoe. An extremely narrow, low-profile canoe with no motor. It will be propelled by a pair of wooden paddles and a lot of manual labor. Why a canoe? Because my earliest memories on the water were in a canoe, an orange Coleman, 15.5 feet in length. Canoes are good boats for river travel, especially extended trips. They have a higher payload capacity than kayaks and even some aluminum boats, yet they're still narrow and nimble enough to slide into spots that motor driven boats could never hope to explore. They draw only a few inches of water, so those early miles through shallow portions will be easy. By most recent count, there are 22 places where one must portage a boat (carry the boat over land to cross obstacles). Most of these are small dams and waterfalls in the upper quarter of the river. Try carrying a 16 foot bass boat and let me know if it's a good idea. No. Canoes and kayaks alone can traverse the entire length of the river. And I'm not putting that high-energy dog in a kayak. I don't like swimming that much.

What's Wrong With Me? Plenty. First is the belief that I was born in the wrong century. Exploration, facing dangers and challenges, eating bugs, drinking out of streams and sleeping on the ground suits me fine. It's not only my idea of fun, it's my ideal life. I yearn for the day when I can spend the majority of my time living like that. Secondly, my time on Walkabout didn't quench my wanderlust, it inflamed it. I got a taste for exploration and now I need more. Driving this truck 70,000 miles in the past 9 months is not enough. I see the same roads more then twice and I get antsy. I need to get off the pavement and find some other avenue... like a river. Lastly, I made a bucket list and I'm steadily checking things off. Canoeing the Mississippi has been on that list for a long time, but soon it will be crossed off. I don't ever expect to do everything on my list because I keep adding to it, but I'll cross out a hell of a lot of items before I die.

What If I Fail? I'm going to do my very best to paddle that entire river from start to finish. I don't intend to stop in New Orleans like most thru-paddlers. That's not the end of it. I intend to do it all. If blisters force me to stop, then I'll stop... until my hands heal. Then I'll buy gloves. If a hurricane blows through, I'll wait it out. If the river floods, I'll keep paddling and watch for strange currents. But if, for some unforeseen reason, I cannot complete the trip, then I'll go home with a heavy heart and the ability to hold my head high and say "I did my best". Then I'll figure out what went wrong and start making plans to do  it again. And do it right. And I'll finish. I promise.