Sunday, September 23, 2012

Paddling the Mississippi: The Plan

Ursula and I this year
When I came back from the Yukon last year, I was both extremely happy and shaken. I was happy because paddling the Yukon had been a fantastic experience and I had discovered that I liked the paddling. But I was also shaken because I had had a very disappointing experience with my paddling partner and and had lost confidence. I immediately called my hiking friend Ursula, the only German I know who has hiked, cycled and paddled more than I (although I am hard on her heels now). Ursula has done a lot of paddling herself including the Yukon. After I had told her all my paddling adventures I asked for an idea for my next paddling trip. I was eager to go paddling again and was looking for a long, but easy trip that could be done in the shoulder or winter season to have the summer free for hiking. Ursula did not think very long and immediately suggested paddling the Mississippi. I did not think very long either and, although I knew almost nothing about the Mississippi, decided almost immediately that it was a good idea. And because it fit perfectly into my schedule for 2012 I decided after some cursory research to embark on this paddling trip after my hike through Europe.

Buck 30 on the PCT in 2004
A couple of weeks later I was skyping with Buck 30, an American long-distance hiker I had met on the PCT in 2004. Although we had not hiked together a lot we have always stayed in contact after the PCT.  Buck 30 and I always seemed to just have hiked a trail that the other one was planning to do next. He helped me a lot with his notes for the Arizona Trail and his recommendation of the Larapinta Trail and I sent him hiking and biking my favourite trails and routes in Australia. Buck 30 has quit working last year and was looking for ideas like me. So we were chatting about all sorts of trails and trips when I mentioned my Mississippi plan. Buck 30 did not think very long either and asked me what I thought of paddling it together. I was very much taken by surprise by this suggestion and still shell shocked from my last group experience but Buck 30 removed my biggest concern immediately by suggesting to paddle in two separate boats. And so I warmed quickly to the idea. Being relatively new to paddling it would be a great help to have a partner and after a long solitary hike through Europe I would be longing for company.

And so the plan began to take more and more shape. It was funny to develop the planning with one of us always hiking. While I was doing research on boats, maps and logistics Buck 30 was hiking Te Araroa in New Zealand. And while I was finishing my hike through Western Europe he did all the last fine tuning of our trip in the US. Despite the fact that we almost only communicated through emails the planning was easy and efficient. Soon we had both purchased a foldable kayak and purchased our flights. I'll be paddling in a Feathercraft K1 and Buck 30 in a Folbot Cooper. Neither of us has been on the water with the boat and neither of us has much experience in paddling a kayak. Basically two rookies will embark on a 2,350 mile long paddling trip that will take us 2 to 3 months.

When I was doing research on a German paddling forum I earned a lot of disbelief and blame for that fact. My German compatriots could not understand how you can embark on such a long trip with no training and a new boat you have not even been on the water with. Instead of getting advice an boats and paddling I was scolded. Luckily my Australian friend and paddling teacher Alan came to my rescue and gave me lots of advice on which boat and paddle to buy. I must admit that I am bit afraid myself how we two rookies will fare on this trip but we have two things in our favour. We might not have much paddling experience but we have both spent years outside on long expeditions and have a lot of outdoor experience. Plus the Mississippi is a very tame river. It has a very low flow rate, no rapids or other obstacles and is relatively warm compared to the Yukon.

When we first talked about the Mississippi Buck 30 told me not to have a romantic Tom Sawyer image of the river but being from Germany I hardly have any image of the Mississippi at all. Although I have done plenty of research now and have read several Mississippi paddling blogs I still have no clear image of the river. This will be very much of a surprise trip full of new experiences. Buck 30 will also keep a journal of this trip here.

1 comment:

Gerald said...

I wish you good luck on your Missisippi trip and can't wait to hear about your adventure.

All the best

Gerald