May 16, 17, 18, 19
Mississippi Trek

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Wednesday
Frost on my tent.  It's cold!
Friday
Mosquitoes!
Mississippi River Quest - Page 1
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5.16.06
My first day on the river.  Kent and I were up early to take pictures of me and the boat at
the headwaters.  After that we loaded the boat and I headed downstream a short way
and stashed it in the weeds.  We went to a small café just outside the park for my last
meal with someone I know for quite some time.

We each had an omelet with everything and a side of hash browns.  After breakfast we
went back to the boat and said our short goodbyes.  After some awkward silence I
paddled off.

Kent has been a good friend. When I was down and out he let me move into his trailer
house with him.  It was a lot warmer than my car, which I'd been living in for a year
before that.

The river was extremely small coming out of Itasca, and my 16.5 foot long boat was
definitely not the ideal craft to negotiate the twist and turns of the beginning of the mighty
Mississippi.

Shortly after leaving the park, the river flows into a series of ancient lake beds.  The lack
of incline in these lakes causes the river to meander terribly.   I went back and forth
through the oxbows bouncing off the banks on every turn.  This kayak pinball was
extremely tiring.

After the lakes the river goes into the woods which are beautiful up here.  Unfortunately,
when it went into the woods, it also went through a five mile long shallow rapid.  I
scraped many a boulder and had to portage twice.

From the rapids the river enters another lake bed and begins to meander.  I was able to
get through much easier as the river was wider and the turns not as sharp.

Just as I thought things were getting better, the river turned into a swamp.  I spent two
hours watching the grass blades under water to see if they were swaying with the
channel.

Now I am out of the swamp and at a nice campsite.  I covered 38 miles today.   Not bad
given the size of the river.

5.17.06
More of the same.  I am getting tired of being lost.  I have learned to look at the grass on
the bottom of the river for guidance.  It often times bends in the direction of the channel.  
My method is far from foolproof, but it's the best I have so far.

As the day wears on, the north wind increases.  My weather radio says winds of 20 to 25
miles per hour with gusts of 30 miles per hour.  I reach the last campsite before Lake
Bemidji.  I am concerned about big waves but decide to press on.

Four miles later I reach the lake.  The waves are big - four feet with occasional five
footers.  I decide to go for it.  The channel leaves the lake three miles upwind from
where I am.  It takes me an hour to get there and I'm exhausted.  I welcome the shelter
of the trees.

I pass an old man on roller blades.  He asks me if I'm going all the way.  I tell him yes
and he wishes me well.

After a 200 yard portage, I paddle several miles downstream to a beautiful campsite on
a hill.

After setting up camp I call Kent and find out my good friend Dustin's mother is passing
away.  I am sincerely sorry for him and it brings back painful memories for me of losing
my own parents.
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5.18.06
I leave my campsite about 9:30 AM.  I am looking forward to today as it will be big lakes
instead of marshes.  I make good time across Cass Lake and the weather is beautiful
and calm.  Perhaps I'll be able to paddle the 15 miles strait across Lake
Winnibigoshish instead of the 30 along the shore.

I reach the Big Winnie and stop at a café to check the weather and eat a whole pizza by
myself.

It's calm and supposed to stay that way so I head out.  There is a point a few miles out
where I have to turn so I focus on it.  I've never paddled ten miles of open water before
and it's not easy.  I should have peed before I left.  I make it to shore safely and relieve
myself.  As I am unloading my boat to camp, two old men pull up to the dock in a
fishing boat.  They ask me if I'm going all the way and tell me they were canoe racers in
the fifties.  We have a short conversation.  They wish me luck and take off.  

I made 45 miles today.  This is the first day that New Orleans has actually seemed
possible.

I go to bed thinking of Dustin and his mother.  I wish I could be there for him.  My
mother has been gone for 11 years now and I still miss her.  My father's been gone six
months and I haven't even had time to grieve yet.
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5.19.06
Today has been more of the same.  Marshes that wind on forever and countless lakes
to get lost in.

I am just out of Grand Rapids, which means I am in the 75 or so miles of headwaters I
don't have a map for.  I still have my GPS if things get hairy.  I am nearing the half way
mark on the headwaters and the river is getting bigger.  I hope things will get easier
soon.

I have done a lot of thinking about my mother today.  It troubles me how much I can't
remember about her.  I remember her love of horses; I remember going to visit her in
Phoenix when she lived there.  We would ride horses out into the desert.  I remember
the cruise she and I took to Alaska after she found out she had terminal cancer.

When I was in first or second grade she picked me up at school and took me to a
hotel in Des Moines.  She and my father were getting a divorce.  They are both gone
now and I'll never know why they separated.  I'll never know how they met, how my dad
proposed, or where they got married.  Cancer is a bitch.

Cancer took both of my parents from me.  I lost my mom to brain cancer, my dad to
lung cancer.

After the divorce my dad got custody of me.  The mother normally gets the kid and I'll
never know the story behind the custody battle. I do know they both wanted me and
both loved me very much.

I have looked back at my notes and realize I started writing of my adventure in the past
tense and switched to the present.  I apologize for this.  If I were reading it, I'd be
annoyed.

My mother called one day and talked to my dad for quite a while, then he handed me
the phone.  She didn't beat around the bush.  She said I have brain cancer.  The
doctors say I'll be dead in six months.  I was twelve.  She died two years later.  Time
has washed away many of the bad memories, too.  Many still haunt me. I remember
when she fell and broke her hip in the bathroom.  I called 911 and held a towel on the
cut on her head until the ambulance arrived.  I remember the cane, the wheelchair and
the hospital bed.  I remember the night she died.  She was in a coma.  I told her it was
OK to go and that I'd be OK.  She died 2 hours later.  I thank God for the time we had
together, just the two of us.  I didn't get that with my dad.  I never will - at least not in this
world.

It's late and tomorrow is a new day.  Dustin will have a special place in my prayers
tonight.  Losing a loved one is never easy.
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