» LATEST FEATURES
LITERATURE» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
Between years living in California and Europe, I spent a few tepid years amongst the rolling hills and meandering rivers of Iowa. Not having a full grasp of the landscape beforehand, I brought my sea kayak - a sixteen and a half foot-long orange and yellow open water rocket - with me to the Great Plains. Iowa's rivers, while fetching from afar, turned out to be deceptively shallow (and, I would quickly find out, relatively toxic due to excessive nitrate concentrations resulting from the absurd amount of nitrogen and phosphorus applications by industrial farms) and regularly choked with vegetation and deadfall. A trip down all but the deepest of channels required regular portaging, an endeavor for which my boat was ill-suited. Iowa boasts a suprisingly healthy number of kayakers, and those based around Ames, a quiet university town in the middle of the state, favored canoes, smaller kayaks, or whitewater boats; I began to feel as if I stuck out like sore thumb in my sea kayak. That is until I crossed paths with Adam Brooks, a local paddler who I met practicing Eskimo rolls at a local park; Brooks not only had a Dagger kayak suitable for the open water, but it was orange to boot.
At the time that I came to casually know Brooks, who had already lost his mother years before, he was seeing his father, Clint Brooks, through the final months of a losing battle with cancer. Parentless and without a stable job, he turned to his kayak for solace, hatching a plan to paddle solo down the entire length of North America's most storied river as a way of clearing his head and honoring his father. Running some 2,350 miles from the woods of Minnesota and along the eastern edge of Iowa on down to the sprawling delta it has created in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi drains more than 1.2 million square miles via a network of tributaries snaking to meet it from sources spread across 32 US states and two Canadian provinces. Late last spring Brooks set out to paddle the mighty Mississippi, from source to sea, and wound up taking a trip that was as much about introspection as it was adventure. Along the way he kept a journal, filled alternately with bitter outrage (over his family's behavior after his father's death) and self-exploration. Having successfully made the passage (and in the process begun planning a similar trip down the Missouri River for this year) and returned to Ames, I caught up with Brooks over the winter, via email, to ask about the journey.
LAS: When did the thought of paddling the length of the Mississippi first enter your mind? What prompted you to finally give it a go?
Adam Brooks: I have wanted to paddle the Mississippi for as long as I can remember. I never thought it was something I would actually do until my dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I realized that if I were in his position I would deeply regret never going on my dream trip.
How did you go about planning your trip - where does someone start tackling the logistics of such an endeavor?
I had done a lot of paddling and camping prior to the trip so I had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't work. I read every book I could find about the Mississippi and did a lot of research on line. I was also lucky enough to have some great friends who were willing to Lake Itasca, take care of my house while I was away, and pick me up in New Orleans.
Were there any revelations about trip planning once you were out on the water? Any big surprises - things you didn't foresee, or any things you planned for but didn't run in to?
The trip went quite smoothly and I didn't really have any problems with my gear. I had been warned many times about the dangers of the river south of St. Louis. I was told there would be dangerous currents and whirlpools that could swallow a kayak whole. I was really worried about the lower river until I finally paddled it. It proved to be quite friendly and my favorite part of the whole trip.
Once you were on the water, what sort of pace did you maintain? Did you set out with waypoints in mind, or did you just kind of wing it and land wherever you found yourself?
I set out with a goal of paddling at least fifty miles a day. Obviously there were days that wasn't possible due to weather or delays at locks, but most days I didn't have a problem reaching my goal. At the end of the trip I figured up my mileage and found that I averaged forty two miles a day. I didn't have a schedule of any sort. I was afraid that would either cause me to take unnecessary risks or waste time to stay on time.
Did you do all of your paddling during the day, or were there any night miles on the river?
There were nights when it would have been beautiful to take an evening paddle, but I was usually too tired and I didn't know the river. I felt paddling after dark was too big of risk.
What was it like taking your boat through a lock and dam? Did you go in with a barge or tug, or would they run the thing just for your kayak?
The locks were fun at first, but soon became a hassle. They would run them for just one kayak and it was neat being in the chamber all by myself. I could also lock through with pleasure boats, but was not allowed in the chamber with tugs. Commercial traffic had priority over kayaks and I often found myself waiting for two hours or more when it there were several barges ahead of me and there was no easy portage.
What sort of things did the trip teach you about yourself? Any big surprises or disappointments? Were there any major differences in your physical or mental situation between when you left Minnesota and when you arrived in New Orleans?
I had a hard time convincing myself I could make it at the beginning. I would paddle as hard as I could every day, but New Orleans was still two thousand miles away. I wanted to quit but knew I would regret it the rest of my life. Once I had a thousand miles of water behind me I knew I could do it. I had fallen into a routine and was really enjoying my trip. When I finally reached New Orleans, I knew I could do anything if I tried hard enough.
Speaking of - did you paddle around New Orleans at all? What was the city like - as bad as the news makes it out to be?
I stayed with a friend's daughter and her husband in New Orleans. They drove me around town and I met some really interesting people. New Orleans is unimaginably devastated, but what struck me was the incredible sense of home the remaining people have. Many of them would be willing to spend the rest of their lives rebuilding just to live in the city. New Orleans will never be what it was , but I'm sure it will come back.
Did you meet any interesting characters along the way, or was your time pretty much covered by paddling and sleeping?
My trip was mostly a solitary one, but I did meet some good people along the way. It seemed that everyone I talked to had a story, some advice, or most importantly, some food to share with me. I was surprised how nice and supportive the people on the river are.
Are you a Mark Twain fan?
I have several Mark Twain books in my library and enjoy them, but the best Mississippi book I have read is Mississippi Solo, by Eddie Harris
I heard that you're planning to give the Missouri a run this year. What prompted that? Are you a river junky now?
The Mississippi River was the greatest experience of my life. It feels great to set a big goal for myself and accomplish it. I love to explore the world and overcome adversity. Maybe someday I'll be ready to put down my paddle, but I don't think it will be any time soon.
I've paddled the Missouri in late summer and with the long-running drought out west there wasn't all that much water to be had in South Dakota or Nebraska. There was enough to float my boat for the most part, but it made for quite a workout, since takeout points near any type of civilization were pretty spread out.
On the upper Missouri there are a lot of dams but not a lot of locks... how are you preparing for the long and potentially steep portages? I imagine you'll be carrying more gear - food and water - and your boat will be heavier.
I am hoping to arrange for portage transportation at the dams. I have a list of Marinas and their phone numbers. Many of them provide portage service for a small fee. If I can find someone to haul my boat around Great Falls, I should be able to rely on marinas and kind strangers for the rest of the trip.
I am planning on hiding a few food caches in some of the more remote areas of the river on my way out, so food shouldn't be a problem. I am somewhat concerned about fresh water. I will carry an ample supply and filter river water if necessary.
How far are you planning to take the Missouri?
I would love to end up in New Orleans again. The Lower Mississippi was the greatest stretch of river I have ever been on. I'll just have to see how things are going when I hit St. Louis. SEE ALSO: www.myriverquest.com
SEE ALSO: www.nps.gov/miss/features/factoids
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
» MEDIA DOWNLOADS
» GOT STICKERS?
--> Send an with $2 in PayPal funds to cover postage. Don't worry, we'll load you up with enough to cover your town. Then just be patient. They will arrive soon.