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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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……..
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.
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
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.
We hope to see you and Ollie on your western National Parks tour,
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.