A Quick Update on the Early Days

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We’re currently in a motel room in Bemidji, about eight miles behind schedule. The first days have been harder than expected and have given us little time for playing music, lounging on our hammocks or blogging. We’ll have a longer post on these first few days as soon as we can catch our breath. And dry our clothes. Long story.

It Begins!

Well, here we are. To the cheers (and silent misgivings?) of parents, family and friends, we finally launched our canoe at the source of the Father of Waters. Only about 2,200 miles of paddling to go. Our parents were nice enough to drive us to Itasca State Park and camp with us last night before we left. Dave’s brother and sister-in-law and some of our friends from Minneapolis came along to see us off as well.

We really should say how we couldn’t have even begun this trip without the help of a lot of people, but primarily our parents. Dave’s parents essentially allowed us to turn their house into a gear storage facility and both sets of parents hosted, chauffeured and lent us their cars as we bounced around the Twin Cities acquiring equipment and getting everything ready to go.

From here until Minneapolis we’ll have the luxury of a barge-free river and nice campsites maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The river will be fairly narrow and won’t be much like the Mississippi as people know it, which hopefully will give us time to get into the swing of things. Because it’s fairly isolated here, cell phone reception may be spotty so we’ll post again when we have the chance. Ever forward!

Packing Fatigue

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Yesterday we found out whether we could actually fit all this stuff in a canoe. The answer was no. (Back to REI with you, Camp Time Roll-A-Table.) Yesterday we spent about 6 hours shopping, shoving things into dry bags and carrying backpacks upstairs and downstairs and back up again. Today we spent 10 hours registering a canoe, going to REI (twice, technically) and the hardware store, figuring out how to use all this gear, and shoving things into dry bags again.

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Playlist for the Mississippi River

We’ve spent more time than I want to admit putting together this list of songs about, pertaining to, or by people heavily associated with the river or river towns. As the regions the river runs through include the birthplaces of the blues, country, jazz, rock and roll and soul there’s a lot to cover. Listen to the playlist on Spotify and let us know what we’re missing.

  • Highway ’61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
    Bob Dylan was born and raised in northern Minnesota and is our #1 or #2 musical export, depending on who you ask. Highway 61 more or less follows the Mississippi for nearly its entire length. Dylan had interesting things to say about it, too.
  • Minneapolis Polka – Dick Rodgers
    Look, a song about our hometown!
  • Uptown – Prince
    Prince is our #1 or #2 musical export, depending on who you ask. Uptown is Uptown Minneapolis, where you can “set your mind free.”
  • Purple Rain – Prince
    Purple Rain (the film) was shot and took place in Minneapolis and this jam was mostly recorded live at Minneapolis venue First Avenue.

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Updates on the Weather Front: The Good, the Bad the Ugly

We knew one of the biggest variables in this trip was going to be the weather. Well, Mother Nature isn’t making it too easy for us this year.

The Good: The Mississippi River headwaters area trails supervisor called us back about last summer’s windstorm that toppled hundreds of trees, letting us know a crew went through last year and cleaned up the most significant damage. Although there may be a downed tree here or there, forcing us to portage our canoe occasionally, he saw no reason for us to change our plans.

The Bad: Certain sections of the Mississippi River between are experiencing significant flooding (some of it record-breaking), which has forced the closure of much of the river and made headlines around the country, including these gems: Mississippi River Communities Brace for Flooding, Floods to Sideline Mississippi Barges for at Least Another Week and Mississipi River Reopens After Barges Hit Bridge, a story about the river re-opening after several of the 30 barges that broke free from their towline because of the flooding hit the railroad bridge near Vicksburg. To think that just a few months ago the big concern was a drought that also threatened closure of the river. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that we won’t reach these sections for another few months, so hopefully flooding will not be a concern by then. But:

The Ugly: Snow storms continue to wallop the upper Midwest, increasing the risk of further flooding. As of April 19, 14 inches of snow have fallen in the Twin Cities, and that was before another several inches fell yesterday. Even before this week’s storm, this April is snowier than the past 10 Aprils combined. Uff da.

Not Quite Canoeing Weather

Our Canoe During a Snowstorm in April 2013

As we’ve enjoyed nearly 80-degree weather in New York, our canoe has been weathering a spring snowstorm in the backyard of Dave’s parents’ house in Minnesota. Word is that up in the Mississippi River headwaters, the ice on Lake Itasca is 30 inches thick and Itasca State Park is still buried under about 15 inches of snow. Ice out on the river is looking to be a bit late this year, but at this point launching our canoe over Memorial Weekend still seems quite feasible.

A park naturalist also gave us some unexpected bad news recently. A major windstorm blew through the stretch of river from Lake Itasca to Lake Bemidji last July, taking down hundreds of trees and making passage difficult-to-impossible. The naturalist was unsure if the damage will be cleaned up by May. We’re checking in with the area trails supervisor and crossing our fingers for good news.

(Photo courtesy of Dave’s favorite mom, Jo Behm.)

Updated, more ridiculous, pictures from April 19:
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It’s Finally Happening: A 10-Year Old Idea to Canoe the Mississippi River

After nearly a decade of having the idea to float/raft/canoe down the Mississippi River, Linnea and I will launch our 17′ Alumacraft canoe in Lake Itasca next month and, if all goes well, paddle to New Orleans. We’ll make a few stops along the way — some obvious, like the Twin Cities, where we’re both from — but we’ll also visit interesting-sounding, less-traveled towns like Nauvoo, Il. (which brands itself Williamsburg of the Midwest, as in Colonial Williamsburg, not the hipster capital in Brooklyn) and Helena, Ark. (known for its Delta blues). We’ll meet up with some friends along the way, and hope to make some new ones in the process.

We plan on blogging along the Mississippi River from our smartphones the best we can, assuming our solar panel proves sufficient and we get adequate reception. You can also follow our journey on Facebook and Twitter. See you on the water.