Mississippi River Recap

Costa Mesa, California
November 30, 2019

Dear Family & Friends:

The Mississippi River trip was the adventure of a lifetime. The journey lasted 115 days, starting on July 26, 2019 at the source of the River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota and ending on November 17, 2019 at the Gulf of Mexico. At least 20 of these days were “zero days” when I pulled off the Big Muddy to visit family & friends, explore the fabulous cities and towns along the River and meet the wonderful and friendly people who populate these cities and towns. One of the reasons I chose a solo journey was that it gave me the freedom to enjoy these zero days.  

I was not prepared for the trials and tribulations that I encountered on this 2,300 mile journey down one of the greatest rivers on the planet. Every day presented a new challenge that had to be overcome, with no experience base to assist me in considering and evaluating options. Before beginning this journey, I had not even sat in a canoe. Some of those challenges were terrifying. It is probably a good thing I was not forewarned about the specifics, as this might have ended the trip before it began. At the very least, it would have added to my stress level and detracted from the overwhelming joy I experienced on the River.


In this report, I was hoping to draw some comparisons to the mountain trips I have enjoyed over the past 18 years. This was not possible because the adventures are so different. However, the lessons I learned from the mountains helped get me through the tough times I experienced on the Mighty Mississippi. See “Lessons Learned from the Mountains.” Most especially, I knew I had to stay calm, carefully evaluate options, pray diligently, trust in the Lord and give thanks for deliverance. In the end, this strategy worked perfectly, as it always does. 

The trip was never just about enjoying the sights and sounds of the River. The views were spectacular, especially in the Upper Mississippi. But, they did not change much from beginning to end. For most of the trip, I saw the bow of my canoe, the River all around me and the shore lined with beautiful trees and foliage. I saw deer, eagles, herons, ducks, geese, turtles, feral hogs, raccoons, snakes and even an adolescent alligator. I never saw bears, foxes, coyotes, muskrats, bobcats, otters, wild dogs or beavers, although I dragged my canoe over many beaver dams. 

As I progressed further south, especially below St. Francisville, Louisiana, the River widened considerably and the trees and vegetation gave way to heavy industrial sites, with smoke belching from smokestacks and wastewater spilling into the River. At the same time, the River traffic increased substantially, and my focus turned to avoiding towboats pushing barges, tugboats positioning barges in front of towboats, paddleboats and giant ocean-going ships plowing their way up and down the River. When these vessels passed, I had to negotiate my way up, over, around and through turbulent water and giant waves trying to throw me into the rocks.  

What I enjoyed most were the people I met who live in the cities and towns along the River. They were so interested in my journey and promised to track my progress through my blog and keep me in their thoughts and prayers. Many of them invited me into their homes, provided tours of their cities and even gave me the keys to their cars. Newspapers in Bemidji and Wabasha ran stories of my trip and I participated in a podcast hosted by my taxi driver in Vicksburg. I was overwhelmed by this Midwestern and Southern hospitality. It is impossible to complete a trip like this and not return with renewed hope in the essential goodness of humankind. I was also eager to stop in the towns and cities along the River and learn about the rich history of these venues. I hope some of that history came through in my reports and will inspire you to see for yourself. My reunions with family in Memphis and New Orleans were the highlight of the trip. 

I have so much to be thankful for:
—thanks to my family for letting me live this dream
—thanks to the family members who visited me in Memphis and New Orleans
—thanks to Liz & Mark Payne for allowing me to stay at their home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota and transporting my canoe and me to Lake Itasca
—thanks to the friends who visited me in the River cities and showed me such a good time
—thanks to the River Angels and the many, many people along the River who hosted me in their cities, towns and homes, made me feel so welcome and offered their prayers and words of support
—thanks to the towboat, tugboat, ferryboat and barge captains who took me in and greatly enriched my journey
—thanks to Capt. “Hoop,” who picked me up at the Head of Passes, transported my canoe and me back to Venice and showed me such a good time in Venice and the nearby cities
—thanks to all of you for following my adventure and offering your thoughts, prayers, support and words of encouragement
—thanks to God for keeping me safe and bringing me home with a lifetime of memories I will cherish forever
I want to recognize the major role played by my canoe-“Ollie Power”/“#livelikedan.” I would never have made it from Source to Sea without this beloved companion. All of my many errors were mitigated by this steady source of stability and power. Ollie Power/#livelikedan is a very large 17-1/2 foot canoe. With my weight, and the weight of my gear, I knew it would take a mighty force to put us in peril. Ollie Power/#livelikedan rode above the turbulent water and waves and refused to be intimidated by the worst conditions we encountered on the River. At times, I just stopped paddling and let Ollie Power/#livelikedan do the hard work to stay right-side-up. Yes, we capsized once while crossing a wing dam, but that was my fault, as I unwittingly steered my canoe into a rock. Still, my canoe stayed right beside me as we drifted down River, and preserved almost all of my gear. Ollie Power/#livelikedan is on its way home from the Gulf. I plan to store it at Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach.
What’s Next?
Many of you have asked about my next adventure. Here are some ideas I am considering, not in order of priority:
—reprise my motorcycle trip with Ollie to visit seven national parks in the western United States
—bicycle across the United States
—motorcycle around the world
–complete a through-hike of the 2,653 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada
—trek across Nepal
—serve as a deckhand on a Mississippi River towboat
–tour the European theaters of operation in World War II
—return to Mt. Everest. The oldest person to climb Mt. Everest is Yuichiro Miura from Japan. He was 80-years old when he summitted the Big E. I am the oldest person living outside of Asia to summit Mt. Everest and the fourth oldest person in the world. In three years, I will turn 80
God is good.
Bill Burke


Typical view of the River
My beloved Ollie Power/#livelikedan


11 thoughts on “Mississippi River Recap

  1. Dear Bill,

    We celebrate your successful journey with a grateful heart. Thank you for your living “sermon” about the wonderful people encountered along the MM. The mutual respect with your new friends is inspiring.

    Blessings with gratitude,
    Doug and Sandra

  2. Simply amazing, Bill. I’m very glad you are back home to your family and on terra firma and at sea level, i might add. It’s so great to follow you on your adventures but it’s always nice to know you are safe and back home. You have a very long list of potential adventures. I can’t wait to follow whichever one you pick from the comfort of my kitchen chair, albeit sometimes on the edge of it.
    Thanks for allowing us to be included in your many, spectacular adventures.

    Judy Y.

  3. Bill

    Such a great report. It was a blast keeping up your trip and I can’t wait to see what is next! Cathy and I heard something today we really liked: don’t have a “bucket” list but have a “book it” list!
    All the best to you and yours – I’m sure you had one great Thanksgiving!

  4. Yes, Bill, we rejoice in your optimism, and each day is a blessing with many wonderful surprises. Your history lessons were inspirational–a visit to Vicksberg and Natchez will be a must visit future trip.

    Holiday blessings,


  5. WHEWWWWWW! A wondeeeerful adventure. Thank you for taking us along on the trip of a lifetime. The people, places, history, emotions, danger, laughter and joys….all shared together has been amazing. I am thankful for this gift you have lived, breathed, AND survived with the assistance of Ollie Power/#livelikedan . You have earned a nice long rest at home with your family….. while mulling over your extensive list of future adventures…..
    God Bless and keep on keepin’ on……..

  6. Bill,

    Although I haven’t commented often, I eagerly followed your adventures every time I received an email of your post. You are a true inspiration to old farts (74 yrs young) like me. Every time I think I can’t do something, I think about you. If Bill could do this, I can do it. Keep it up. I will be looking forward to your next adventure, whatever it is.

  7. Great accomplishment Bill. You are indeed an inspiration. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure which ever one you choose from your list. As a hiker I would be interested in following your exploits on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wishing you success and good health
    Marcie Marinas

  8. Hi Bill. I’ve followed your adventures for years and can’t wait to see what you do next. If you ever decide to get your canoe out of storage, might I suggest the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail? My son was #16 to complete this 1500 mile trail in 2014. Congratulations again, and have a blessed Christmas.

  9. Bill,

    I stumbled across your documentary and was enthralled by the eight summit project to raise awareness for your Grandson Ollie. I have two sons with severe Autism, Jack and Dylan. I am tossing around ideas to bring attention to the conditions that these amazing kids endure on a daily basis. You get the key point that for certain people it’s a Mt Everest climb every day just to navigate the American Culture.

    Your optimism is wonderful but we also must acknowledge the human inability to identify with what real challenges are and spotlight those that are certainly far more deserved. The comments regarding Sherpa’s in comparison to Westerners are spot on. The way in which our glutenous society engorges in selfish behavior is daunting. Buddhist humor and enlightenment seems to identify this problem. It is better to give than receive and consider the people that have experienced a less fortunate circumstance, especially regarding health challenges. People want to feel sorry for disabled kids and adults but offer little to no support, this is the apex of the human conundrum. A mind puzzle that sadly harms the myopic individual far more, doomed to a life of self preservation and greed.

    I try to explain this to people the “blessing in disguise,” the gift of offering total selfless devotion which brings true happiness. This is a difficult lesson to teach without inspiration or an experience. Hopefully our society will get a glimpse and begin to change the course of perspective on these important issues.
    I am working on my own version of the “8 summit” thank you for leading and encouraging other special need families to find passion and rally around the cause.
    Thanks, Grant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *