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Canoeing the Mississipi: Lake Itasca

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2012 at 5:02pm

Author: Holy Man Adventures

June 4, 2012 - Lake Itasca

 Over dinner in a college cafeteria, this idea surfaced: canoe the Mississippi River from its source to its mouth. Four years later, here we stand on the shores of Lake Itasca, Minnesota, with 2,350 miles and two months before us.

The morning fog hangs close to the still water. Like the first day of school, there is a giddy itch among the team. Our new gear brimming the canoe walls, our muscles revving, we cut across the placid lake. We’ve named our beautiful new Old Town Penobscot 17 RX “Rachel”, and her friend, a classic Old Town, “Leah”. Rachel is deep green with a watermelon design we added ourselves. Leah is sky-blue and painted like a war pony. Our pockets are full and we’re in clean clothes, impatient with pictures and excited for dirty fingernails.

Lake Itasca Image 2The largest river in the United States begins on the eastern rim of Lake Itasca, where a string of rocks cup the small stream before it tiptoes through green halls of marsh grasses. The water flows well, roused by spring rains, and we glide through rush-covered culverts and spaghetti switchbacks on the first 16 miles. Coffeepot Landing hosts our late-afternoon, Dutch-oven dinner. But there’s still more to see before we sleep, so we press on.

The sun sneaks behind stands of red pine, and the black damselflies have long since taken their marshy siestas. Rounding a 75-degree right hand bend, our canoe surprises a young doe standing ankle deep in the stream. Without finishing her last sip, she bounds into the cool green riverside bank.

Lake Itasca Image 3The June daylight hangs long enough for us to find our campsite. Twenty-five miles for day one! We still have a day and a half wandering north until the river officially heads south toward the Gulf of Mexico. A few mosquitoes, gear repair, and an ad-hoc rope-swing fill the first day’s twilight.

The crew, composed of close college friends, is a diverse combination of interests and personalities. Our career paths (as it were) span environmental science, economics, urban planning, medical, and theological fields, but there is a common love for natural fun among us all. We’re all athletes of different flavors, so physical exertion is bound to be part of our trip, but we’re not looking for an Everest-style challenge. No, we’re all very committed to naps and ice cream stops. Simply put, we paddle hard and we rest hard.

Lake Itasca Image 5We are officially commissioned to document the visual state of the Mississippi River as part of the “Riverview,” project. In conjunction with the EPA and Below the Surface, this chronicle of our journey is designed to inspire people to make their own explorations or America’s waterways and to seek healthy relationships with their freshwater resources. In addition, we’ve commissioned ourselves to have a blast and listen to whatever the River might say.

So far, so good. We are the new neighbors on the block and the United States wilderness welcoming committee (three eagles, five deer, a couple leeches, and a river otter) has met us with open appendages. Some cookies would be nice, but we’ve got two months, so no rush.

TAG(S): Canoe Trips, Mississippi River Adventure

Comments (12)

  • Curt Carter says:

    Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 7:01am

    Where are you guys at now? I'm in southern Illinois and would like to meet up with you guys on the river if possible...

  • Old Town says:

    Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 3:20pm

    Curt - Their trip is already done. Because we didn't have the new Old Town website done in time we are posting the blog posts after the fact. We should have the rest of the posts up by the end of next week.

  • Thomas Bogenschild says:

    Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 at 4:50pm

    I took this trip with my father in a Grumman 18' canoe, rigged for optional sail, in 1971. We began at Itasca and intended to make it to New Orleans. We took daily water samples and my dad, a photographer, shot 16mm movie footage. I was 15. We were on the river for 6 weeks, finding out the hard way that the summer winds blew upriver most of the time. And that the first 150 miles was serpentine and swampy. Great trip, but canoe was swamped while we were grocery shopping (ruining all the cameras/film), and I fell overboard at the confluence of the Ohio nr. Cairo IL, scraping most of the skin off my foot - which became seriously infected. We camped the whole way on sandbars, and by the time we reached Memphis my foot was pretty bad, we were pretty sunbaked, and we decided to sell the canoe ($100) and fly home to Los Angeles. Great learning experience for a 15 yr old, and I am astounded by my father's courage to undertake this at that time!

  • Barry Brock says:

    Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 9:21am

    I recently purchased a Old Town stern back.We live in central Mo.We want to get a group and do the Mo.River...KC to St.Louis....Any body interested?

  • Greg Gottsacker says:

    Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 5:23pm

    Nice Trip. We must have just missed you. My wife and I embarked from the headwaters on Labor Day weekend '12. Because of the nature of our work we can not do the entire trip at once. So we are breaking it up. We met many great people on the first leg (Itasca to Mpls) We are putting back in June 23 for our next leg (Mpls - St. Louis). A true adventure. We are using an Old Town two man 16' kayak (Loon). Not a lot of room for equipment or water draft. We are still working on the logistics for getting back home after each leg.

  • tom curtis says:

    Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 11:11pm

    Great trip, thanks for sharing. I could feel and taste every word you wrote. I'm 76 yrs young and was on the rivers of eastern Oklahoma with my Dad when I came up just past his knee. Built a 17 ft kayak when in highschool. It actuallly floated and paddled straight. I've fished everything from wading with sneakers and swim suit, float tube, 17 ft Gruman canoe, another kayak and bass boat. I still canoe and bass boat, mostly on lakes. Thanks again for sharing. tom curtis

  • Mark L Brozovich says:

    Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 1:00am

    Where can I read about this trip, a-z? Thank you, Mark

  • Henry Meguess says:

    Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 8:20am

    I would love to do the trip but at 68 have some problems and soon hopefully my granson and I will get a chance,Just not sure he will be allowed

  • Ben Smith says:

    Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 4:12pm

    I have an OldTown saranak 14'6" i modified with 8'x4" out riggers and a sunshade to fit 9'x12' tarp i love it and am wanting to do a shorter version of this trip in tx

  • DINET-CHERBOUQUET Christophe says:

    Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 2:49pm

    Bonjour, je souhaite acquérir 1 ou 2 canoë old town discovery 119. il n'ai apparemment pas possible d'en trouver en France ! auriez-vous une solution à me proposer et si oui à quel prix ?

  • Boyd Nutt says:

    Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8:34pm

    During May, 2014 I will depart Ponca, AR, the headwaters of the Buffalo, our only national river, and canoe to New Orleans. This will be a first. Anyone interested in joining me for all of the trip or any segment?

  • Sandy says:

    Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 10:36am

    We have a 1915 Old Town Canoe that needs restored which we would like to sell. My husband had planned to restore it, but is so busy he hasn't had any time to do so. We would take $200 for it. We have the build record for it and a title BUT we obtained it years and years ago and forgot to get the title notarized. We can't find the original owner. However it has the details on it. The canoe is 17" & we have photos. Located near Dayton, OH.

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