Thursday, June 14, 2007

Welcome to Iowa

It is hot. It is humid. It will get hotter. It will get more humid. We've fifty more days of this ahead. Morale has hit a new low.

We stop for the day in De Soto, Wisconsin, and watch a ten-year-old girls softball game. We haven't made much progress because the current has slowed, but we are tired and talk little. To beat the heat, we buy Gatorades from the local gas station and sit in the shade. We think about going into a restaurant, but no one wants to buy anything. What a world, we say to each other, where you have to spend money just to go inside.

The day before, we camp on a giant sand dune just north of Brownsville, MN and get drunk. It's only 3.2% Miller Lite from a Bait Shop on the opposite shore, but we drink a lot of them and everyone gets trashed. It takes us a half hour to unload the canoes. Danny says that paddling the river here is so different from what we did before. It is wider and longer; there are more ships. I tell him I like it much less.

Everyone is antsy and you can tell. Sitting on the ridge above our campsite at the end of the night, Danny, Ryan and I talk about catching barges. "We should just start camping at one site for days at a time, and stop canoeing," I say. "When we feel like it, we just go catch a barge." They both seem receptive to the idea. Three days in, and we all seem ready to quit. Why canoe, after all, when you can ride a barge?

After everyone has gone to bed, I go sit alone on the ridge and look at the stars. Down below in the water, a luxury houseboat has tied up for the night, the lights from the cabin emanating out into the darkness. Have we failed? I wonder. Is this trip just the brainchild of romantic stupidity? What is the point of doing this, of wrecking our bodies for eight hours a day to watch barges and daytrippers rupture the current? For what? To drink away our solitude at dusk? To tour Middle America with a camera and a blog?

My head throbs faintly from the beer binging earlier, and I don't have any answers. Earlier, around the campfire, we discussed canoeing as meditation and Danny posited the very act as escapism, as a futile attempt to shed consciousness and return to our animal instincts. Now, I try to take deep breaths, but the thought rings in my head. I don't agree with the argument, but still it gnaws at me and refuses me peace. Why are we paddling these canoes on this river? Are we running from the world or attempting to experience it? It is not the former, but if it is the latter, why are we spending the bulk of our time inching down a shipping lane and wearing out our arms? Why not just get a motorboat? Or a jet ski? We could drive the damn thing in 24 hours if we really wanted to. So why then this? Why two and a half months? Why canoes? I stare at the lights from the houseboat and wonder if I am a fool. I do not think I am, but I do not know I am, and so at day's end I find no peace.

The next day, I mull the thoughts over in my head. I pull my paddle through the water again and again, and the river is like glass. It stretches out, completely flat, not a hint of wind in the sky. The pace of the canoe helps you to see things, I think to myself. It forces you to be patient. There is something meditative about it, not as an escape, but as a means of reflection, as a means of better reinserting ourselves into the world. In that sense, it is a therapeutic thing.

Still, by the afternoon it is just an exhausting thing and it's a hard argument to buy. We are all beat. We eat dinner at a senior-friendly restaurant in De Soto, the four of us squared up around the table, and I read a senior weekly newspaper. I find out that June 8 is Upsy Daisy Day. Kevin orders a La Crosse beer and says it is possibly the worst thing he has ever tasted. And while we wait for our food, Ryan offers a toast. "Guys," he says, "To the trip. Today kicked my ass, but I'm gonna get better." We laugh like we are tired. "Cheers to the Mississippi Project," he says, and Cheers, we say, and nodding, savoring the restaurant air conditioning, lift our glasses together.


mikepam said...

Hey guys,
You sound completely beat!

Have you considered taking advantage of the early morning and evening hours to do most of your paddling? Maybe get up and paddle from 5:00 - 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, then take a break to eat and rest, check out the local places. Then back on the river for a few more hours around 5:00. You could eat an early dinner before you take off so you don't have to quit as early. The river must be at its most beautiful at those hours anyway.

But then we're just the old farts sitting at home, looking at a map and Goggle Earth - what do we know?

Hang in there, guys!

Al said...

"Cheers to the Mississippi Project" indeed! We're rootin' for you here.

famille stoa said...

The weather is supposed to cool down by Tuesday..... hang in there!

Thinking of you,

Famille Stoa

p.s. I like City beer. Brewed by the home town team in La Crosse. -ts

p.p.s. Of course , if you just stick to good French wine, you would not feel that way....CBS.

Ummerr said...

Hey Guys,

I'm a friend of Ryan's from McGill. Been following your blog, and I'm enjoy the insight. Hang tough boys, it's an inspirational journey. May the luck and current be with you. Cheers.


Jamie-Lee said...

Hey Gabe.

"There is something meditative about it, not as an escape, but as a means of reflection, as a means of better reinserting ourselves into the world."

I think you've got it there. Doesn't mean it feels good all the time you're doing it though. Thinkin' of you!


Gabrielle said...

Hep Hep hurray for every paddle, for every meter forward, for every sore toughed in. The journey will give you all its treasures, through your effort, perseverence and self accomplishment! It will give you all your own personal legend!

Give'er!! Hang in there!


markie said...

Hi Guys,
You do sound down! Don't be hard on yourselves. I'm betting many of us, from our cool patios, think your trip is totally exciting but also totally too long! I'd be dead by now. You've got some good comments here. MikePam's idea of splitting the day sounds right. My question: is it too hot/humid, even at night, to ever get rest or sleep unless you're inside? Could you "hotel it" for awhile to heal and refuel?

I don't think any life changing experience comes without it's major low points. If you complete it, however you do it, you will have a big one to tell your grandkids. If you don't, you didn't fail. Maybe you chose to take on too much. Unfortunately, the gift of good judgment is often learned by taking on the hard stuff!

Choosing to NOT ruin your bodys and spirits doesn't sound like poor judgment to me. Keep thinking and feeling. It may become time to change your mind, plan a different adventure and for now, punt.

Remember the Donor party. Perhaps you havn't failed until you're truly thinking of eating one another.

Roxanne and Michael said...

Hi Gabe,

There is an honesty to your writing which makes us feel how difficult, both physically and emotionally, the trip has become these past few days. We know that you're an avid baseball fan and want to remind you that successful teams make adjustments during the course of a game. We hope you can find a way to spend more time with the people along the river rather than spending hours of time paddling.

Thinking of you,
Roxanne and Michael

DIRTBALL2 said...

Hey Guy's! Have you given any thought to jury rigging a sail? There's no law that says you have to paddle all the way to NO. I've often seen people do this in the BWCA, even though they are not supposed to. It wouldn't be too hard to do. If someone has a rain poncho along you could use it for a sail. Otherwise you would have to buy some of that cheap plastic sheeting you use for insulation. Cut 2 small green saplings, one for your mainmast and one for tieing across the top of your mainmast. Then tie the plastic to each end of the crossbar and gather the bottom part together and tie it to the bottom part of your mainmast. What you end up with is a sail in the shape of an inverted triangle. I would use a slipknot on one of the ends of your crossbar should the need to spill your sail quickly ever arise. After that the only effort required to keep you moving along will be by the stern man who would have to keep his paddle in the water in order to steer. Might be that you think this is a hair brained idea but I thought I would pass it along anyway. Hang in there guy's! Persevere! I had this same dream when I was 20 years old and didn't act on it. I would gladly trade places with any one of you but I'm sure you don't want an Auld Phart along. Enjoy guy's and keep it up!

markie said...

Don't know who you are, dirtball2, but that's a great idea. Coming from a sailboat family, I wish I'd thot of that. Thanks from Danny's mom.

dave said...


dave weiss here.

congrats on your walkabout.

adventures aren't always comfortable.

plenty of time for 600 threadcount and godiva chocolate on the pillow. but maybe never again for one of these...

everyone remembers the sweet butter. no one remembers the churnin'.


Marc said...

Perhaps you can meet some friendly sea otters to ferry your boat like a dog sled? Or try making an offering to Poseiden, who with his mighty tri-pronged staff will guide you to safety and untold riches!

Marc F.

leez. said...

C'mon Gabe, don't let it get you down just yet. For better or for worse, this is only the beginning and you've got more ups and downs to come. That's what adventure is, I guess. You took an idea and turned it into something real.. most of us can't even get that far, and I applaud all you guys for doing something this scary. Use what you used in bikram to breathe through it, it really helps. Berkeley miss you, stay safe and keep yer head up.

love leez.

leez. said...


superturbo said...

The one place you can always go inside is a public library. As you get south into the bigger cities, you'll probably even find that no matter how long it has been since your last shower, you won't even be the worst smelling library patron. Trust me.

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