It is hard to believe it has been just over a year since myself(Phil) and Rich canoed down the Mississippi. I figured that it is about time I update all of our loyal fans of the passed year as well as a list of lessons learned for those who are thinking about attempting a similar adventure.
Upon our arrival New Orleans. We were greeted by my father who housed us up in a hotel for the night and then drove us to Scottsborrow Alabama where we boarded his 40′ sailboat which was in a state of disarray to say the least. We assembled a motley crew of our good friend Rob and My Brother and began making our way down the TomBigbee Waterway on a jury rigged outboard motor. My father was unable to accompany us due to prior arrangements. With the intent to make it to New Orleans, our journey was met with disaster of a lightning which resulted in a minor burn to myself and our jury-rigged outboard taking a swim in the inter-coastal waterway of the gulf. Our plan to live aboard the boat in New Orleans was quickly abandoned and Replaced by us renting an apartment in the Garden District of New Orleans.
Since then. Myself and Rich both worked and received our National Registry EMT License’s. I quickly got a job working Private law enforcement in the French Quarter. While doing this I have sent two people to jail, been in a large street fight and personally met Tom Hanks and Dr John. Rich got a job working at the Roosevelt Hotel as a Valet and spent a lot of time parking other peoples cars.
I will have to say that I don’t think would could have lived in New Orleans at a better time. We were here to witness the city’s spirit first hand as the Saints led them to a Superbowl and also witness the worse ecological disaster of our lifetime(Deep Water Horizon). I am probably not supposed to mention it, but for a couple of days I was working witness protection for a few members of BP and their family’s while they attended conferences.
As for what we are doing now. Rich has already Moved out of New Orleans and landed a job as a Deck Hand aboard the HMS Bounty.
I guess this is Rich’s way of making his way back up north given that the ship will be traveling to Duluth Minnesota this summer which is only 90 miles or so from where we first departed on lake Namekagon a year ago.
I for one have found an alternative method to make my way back up North. I have decided to follow my childhood dreams and honor the family tradition by joining the military. I recently enlisted in the U.S Navy and signed on a Corpsman. I will be attending training at Great Lakes IL. which is only 15 miles from where I grew up.
That said and done, I realized that the information provided for people interested in doing a trip like this on their own is difficult to find with in this site. So I figured I should go ahead and share what we have learned to help those who may be wanting to complete a similar trip:
Bring Butt Pads: This hands down was the biggest factor of how much miles we did in a day. we started out with a small thin strip of foam and with that we were good for about 40 miles a day. Halfway through the trip we stopped and got some pads meant for patio furniture and we were instantly able to make 55-65 miles a day because we no longer needed breaks.
“Watch out for them Tows” This was the phrase that we associated with people who didn’t know what they were talking about. The tow boats are about as dangerous as a freight train, so long as you stay alert you can see them from a mile away, you know exactly where they are going and you have ample time to get out of their way. That’s they key “GET OUT OF THEIR WAY”. Technically speaking you have right of way but you are in a nimble more maneuverable craft and it is much easier for you to just get twenty feet outside of the channel. They will not hesitate to run you over. That said the most dangerous thing on the river besides the elements is Recreation Boaters. Most of the time these people are nice and well intentioned but their are a few who are downright reckless and it is enough of them to add to the dangers of the river. Often times they do not know on how much of a risk they pose to you. Know your own abilities and be prepared to turn sharply into or away from their wake to prevent from swamping. When in areas that have a high boater traffic it is best to stay close to the shore or simply get off the river. Often times you can find people more than willing to give you burgers and beer in exchange for your stories.
Looks are deceiving: I say this with regards to campsites. Especially in the south. Once you get passed St. Louis you will find that there are miles upon miles of sandbars. My advice to anyone camping out on them is to either have an accurate weather report or stay within the tree line. There were several times when we decided to camp in the middle of a sandbar only to have a thunderstorm roll in at 2:00 in the morning. In one instance the lightning was so intense that we broke camp and loaded the canoe and crossed the river to get into the tree line. Another time we found ourselves dragging our tent a quarter of a mile over sand to get inside the tree line. For the sake of comfort it is sometimes best to travel an extra mile or two just to find that perfect site than to risk the stress of knowing you are the tallest standing object for a mile in all directions with metal poles sticking up in the air.
Stop in Baton Rouge: This is our humble advice to anyone attempting the river. Frankly there is nothing special between their and New Orleans and it seems like one shitty place to die. The fact of the matter is, the area is entirely industrial. it is walled on all sides making the water nothing but chop with some very strange currents. On top of that the water is in no way clean. It seems to be more than just a coincidence but the varnish on our paddles started peeling off at the same time just before we reached New Orleans. I don’t even want to know what is being dumped in the water that can cause this. There is also no place to pull of the river and camp. We were stuck traveling 14 miles in the dark with no safe areas to camp. Frankly the arbitrary goal making it to New Orleans or the Gulf Proper, is not worth the risks you take with your life.
Take the “Chain of Rocks” Route: Just above St Louis after the Missouri river confluence; there is a big sign that say’s “ALL BOATS ENTER HERE”. Don’t do it, it’s a trap! As mentioned, the biggest danger on the river is the recreational boaters. If you follow this sign you will be entering a walled in canal that is just wide enough to have two barges go through side by side. When we first saw it, we saw a large yacht zooming out of it. as you can imagine since there is no shore, the wake just bonces off of the wall and creates all sorts of eddies, whirl pools and chop. It is no place for a canoe. The alternative is a series of two rock dams that are about ten feet tall and have approximately a 45 degrees incline. if you hug the shore you can safely portage around them, We were cocky enough to just jump them and managed to stay upright. Granted we did take about eighty gallons of water each time but it was worth it. There are also plenty of places to camp along this stretch before you reach St. Louis.
Bring a radio: Enough Said.
Wear your life jacket: It is 90 degrees out, you are pouring sweat and your life vest is getting itchy. Don’t think about taking it off. I myself am a very strong swimmer and am able to swim a mile or two non-stop but the currents on this river are crazy. It was the weirdest thing when I was fishing. There was a five mile an our current going down river but when I put my line in the water it shot upriver at an alarming rate. I have no idea of the forces that cause this but my point is this current can kill you in some spots and it is just not worth the risk. So suck it up and wear your life vest.
Have fun, know your limits: When asked why you did a trip like this, you can give all sorts of theological reasons, but the fact of the matter is you are doing it for the fun of it. there is no need to push yourself beyond your abilities. Just go at your own pace and enjoy it.
Know when to quit: I may be the wrong person to get this advice from because that word is hardly in my vocabulary, but there may be a time when you have already invested time, money and dreams into the trip, but if you do not have the physical ability or find that you can’t cooperate with your partner or for whatever reason have severe doubts in your abilities to complete this trip safely. Do not hesitate to surrender the dream and give up.
That is pretty much all the advice I can think of. The rest of the trip will fall into place if you just put your mind to it. I wish anyone crazy enough to attempt this adventure the best of luck/ If by chance you would like to get in contact with myself or Rich feel free to contact me at the information provided at the bottom of this page. I guess that’s it, take care everybody!
Phil Middleton’s Contact: