Canoeing the Mississipi: Lake Itasca
Posted: Friday, August 17, 2012 at 5:02pm
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.
The 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.
The 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.
We 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.