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The Mississippi River!
In about a week I'll be flying to Minneapolis, meeting with Christine (aka GT or German Tourist) and making our way up to the source of the Mississippi River. A couple months or so later we hope to be at the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.
Why on earth would I kayak the Mississippi River?
Hmm, I'm not really sure the answer to that question. Initially, it just sounded like something fun to do. Since I'm taking a couple years off to travel, much of it on my own, when GT mentioned that she might kayak the Mississippi, I figured, why not? It sounded like something different and traveling with someone else on a crazy trip is always nice and the timing was perfect. I'm still not completely sure what this trip will be like. A small part of me is worried that paddling day in and day out on a big, slow, sometimes dirty river will be boring, but then another part of me thinks this trip will be very different and very cool. It will certainly be unique. I guess I'll see.
Where does the Mississippi River go?
Per Wikipedia: The Mississippi River is the chief river of the largest river system in North America. It rises in northern Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,530 miles to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 31 US states and 2 Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth longest and tenth largest river in the world. The river either borders or cuts through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
When hiking in New Zealand with Annie I couldn't even name all the states the Mississippi went through. I'm pretty sure I was required to read a couple of Mark Twain books in school, but I'm also pretty sure I read the Cliff Notes, if that. A nice part of this trip is that I'll be traveling through an area I've never really spent much time in or know much about, but is a big part of American history and the lifeblood of much of middle America.
What will I be paddling?
Thanks to GT, I'll be paddling a Folbot Cooper folding kayak. GT wanted to buy a folding kayak so me taking a cheap canoe wasn't really an option as I wouldn't be able to keep up. My hesitation with buying a hardshell kayak was what would I do with it at the end. Selling it is a huge pain and shipping it is expensive and a pain. GT did a ton of research and found the Folbot folding kayak which is expensive but a high quality folding kayak at the low/middle end of the high quality boats. It only weighs about 40 pounds, fits into a (very) large backpack and can be checked as baggage on a plane. Plus, living in San Diego it will be nice to have a kayak to paddle around the bay. The kayak itself is quite ingeniuos. It's basically an exoskeleton of collapsable poles (like tent poles) and braces that then slides into the "skin" which is made out of some high tech material. It's a lot more technical that that but that really is the gist. A pretty cool technology assuming it floats! GT bought the high end and classic Feathercraft K1 kayak. Neither of us have ever paddled a foldable or put ours in the water yet.
There are several downsides to the folding kayak that I can tell. Compared to a hardshell kayak, it's not going to be as fast or track as well, it's not as durable (no dragging on rocks) and it's a pain to pack up / access gear. This is all offset by the most positive aspect which is I can travel anywhere with it. Ultimately I decided that being able to travel with it was by far the most important factor.
What about other gear?
I have no idea what I am doing but the one thing I have learned from hiking is that I will learn quickly and then probably want new gear. I've tried to spend as little as possible on paddling specific gear because of this. Instead of a technical neoprene jacket I've got 2 rain coats, instead of fancy shoes I have cheap sandals and a pair of neoprene socks, etc, etc. I figure I will learn what works and what doesn't and will buy better gear for my next paddling trip, whatever that is. I did buy a bunch of drybags, a decent, but not insanely expensive paddle and a few other miscellaneous items but that's really it. I need to buy a PFD (lifejacket) at REI in Minneapolis.
What am I afraid of?
In order of when bad things might happen....
1) My kayak gets damaged on the airplane.
2) I put my kayak in the water for the first time ever in Minnesota and I sink.
3) I'm freezing cold while paddling / it rains on us a lot.
4) We have lots of demorilizing headwinds.
5) My neck strain from hiking comes back due to all the paddling.
6) Sitting in a kayak all day is really boring.
7) I get run over by a barge.
8) I mistakenly drink out of my pee bottle (How do I pee from a kayak? If I stand up I assume I will tip over and pulling to shore to pee all day seems like a pain. Is a pee bottle the answer?)
Who is this GT person you are kayaking with?
I think GT qualifies as a non-stop world traveler. She's been hiking, cycling and paddling all over the world for like 4+ years straight not to mention all the travel she has done before that. We met on the PCT in 2004 and while we didn't spend much time together we kept in contact over the years and GT became my own personal travel advisor. When I went to Australia in 2010 it was GT who had initially recommended the trails I hiked, when I needed something to do after the Te Araroa last year it was GT who recommended the Australia bike ride and then answered a million of my questions about buying cycling gear. And it was GT who's idea it was to paddle the Mississippi and then did all the research on the folding kayaks. She speaks several languages, has hiked, biked and paddled further than me and knows how to cook in the backcountry. Although I'm no slacker, I'm definitely the amateur on this trip :)
You can find her blog at:
What are the odds we'll make it to the Guld of Mexico?
Well, neither of us has ever really quit anything so I'm sure we'lll get there.
Mississippi River Thru-Kayak
The Mississippi River is the chief river of the largest river system in North America. It rises in northern Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,530 miles to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 31 US states and 2 Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth longest and tenth largest river in the world. The river either borders or cuts through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
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