I wanted my 2019 adventure to be closer to home and sea level. After viewing a six-part documentary on the Mississippi River, I knew I had found my next extreme escapade: completing a solo paddle the length of the Mississippi River from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles long and runs through 10 states-Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. The Mississippi River is the longest river in the United States and the fourth longest river in the world. The River drains about 1.2 million square miles, including all or part of 32 states and two Canadian provinces. The shallowest place on the River is one foot at its source, and the deepest place is 200 feet near New Orleans. Near its source, the River is less than five feet wide. The widest part of the River is over 11 miles at Lake Winnibigoshish.
My 17-1/2 foot Clipper canoe was made in Canada and shipped to Minnesota for my trip. I gave the canoe two names: “Ollie Power,” in honor of my 19-year old grandson, and “*livelikedan,” in honor of my 21-year old grandson who was killed in a skiing accident in December of 2018.
I began my journey down the Big Muddy at Lake Itasca on July 26, 2019, and I ended the journey at the Gulf of Mexico on November 17, 2019. The trip lasted 120 days. Over 20 of those days were “zero days” where I pulled off the River to visit family and 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 more dangerous solo trip is that it gave me the freedom to enjoy these zero days.
I had many trials and tribulations on this trip and over five terrifying experiences, including a capsize just north of Caruthersville, Illinois. Every day presented a new challenge that had to be faced and overcome with no experience base to assist me in considering and evaluating options. Before the beginning of the journey, I had never even sat in a canoe! Thanks to the grace of God, I finished my adventure in fine fettle.
The sights, sounds and smells of the River were truly enjoyable. But, 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, helped me re-provision and even gave me the keys to their cars. Newspapers in Bimidji 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 belief in the essential goodness of humanity.
I was also eager to stop in the cities and town along the River and learn more about their rich history. I reported this history in my blog in the hope that it would inspire readers to visit these venues.
My reunions with family in Memphis and New Orleans were the highlight of the trip.
You can view my trip on this video clip.