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.