I have been asked a million questions about my intent to kayak the Mississippi. But I am surprised that I have not yet been asked the one question: what is the purpose of this trip? Why do you want to do this?
I’ve thought a ton about this and I’ve been nervous to hear the question mostly because I didn’t have a clear, concise response. But now I do…
The Pulse of America
Generally speaking, I don’t know much about America. Nor do I have a clearly defined, passionate patriotic bone. However, I do know that this country is beautiful. I am curious to fall in love with America.
The East Coast is polluted with political, esoteric, white collar, and opulent aristocracy. The West Coast, as it has always been, is littered with the avant-garde cutting edge, fierce, liberal, and restless frontier.
The River flows through the heart of the country. The Midwest and her River pump the blood of hometown football games, porch rocking, blues loving, Bible reading, Budweiser and/or home brew drinking families that don’t lock their front doors because they hope their neighbor walks in for a slice of mom’s apple pie. This is an America that I believe still exists and one that I can fall in love with.
Adventure and Physical Demand
Surely you’ve gotten high from running 5 miles, swimming through ocean waves, hearing the screams of the football stadium, summiting a burly mountain, ripping through mountain bike trails, riding a horse at gallop. These activities require harnessing power, physical commitment, psychological engagement, emotional discipline, and passion found deep in the gut.
Paddling the White, Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers for 1400+ miles; braving the elements of 10+ hours of sun exposure per day; collaborating with the wind and currents; and embracing discomfort as I’m away from the excessive conveniences of the developed world for 30+ days will be my physical antidote from societal norms and challenge all elements of my psyche.
I have never spent an incredible amount of time alone. My preference is always to be surrounded by people. I like attention. I enjoy captivating people. I love storytelling. But it’s time for me to leave for a while. The few times that I have spent alone, I have felt it rewarding and powerfully motivating. Encountering loneliness seems to lend itself to maximum growth. I want to test this hypothesis.
Combining the elements of adventure and time spent alone, the experiencer seems to inevitably encounter the spiritual. Frodo Baggins, Jesus and many of his followers, Ghandi, hermits, yogis, Hemingway, Thoreau, Da Vinci all share a few things in common: they’re brilliant, enlightened, and had spiritual encounters within nature.
Over the past six years, I’ve made it a priority to get out of Indiana and outdoors at least twice per year. Each adventure has brought clarity and calm to my mental framework. Peace of mind and the amount of time/intensity outdoors directly correlate to spiritual clarity. Bring on the Mississippi.
Fringe Living: Push the Line
Imagine a spectrum. On the far left end envision a super safe, conservative, library-prowling, local news-watching, cruise-control-at-2 MPH-under-the-speed-limit driving grandpa.
The middle ground is the dude who is goes to high school, graduates, talks about and dreams of doing awesome things, goes to college, gets the adventure and exhilaration of his dreams sucked out of him, finds a girlfriend, breaks up, graduates with his degree, suckers himself another girl, finds a big boy job, gets married, buys his first house, racks up insane amounts of debt, has a child, labors away in his career barely making ends meet for 30+ years, maybe retires (comfortably?), and dies. (I call this “default living”.)
On the far right end of the spectrum dwells the undiagnosed psychopath that will voluntarily launch himself into a tank of wild eels with a lightning rod, eats a bowl of venomous snakes for breakfast (without the milk), and trains his wild, pet mongoose to catch himself on fire while robbing an armed and armored Garda bank truck (I wish there was a GIF for this). None of the above lifestyle options appeal to me (okay, maybe the last one just a little).
I think there’s a line that is generally agreed upon where you shouldn’t necessarily want to cross. I believe that line is not in the exact middle of this spectrum; rather, I think it’s biased toward the crazier end of the spectrum. I want to find that line and hang out there. I’m interested in gently pushing that line a little closer to the mongoose trainer’s neck of the woods. I call this lifestyle choice “fringe living”. I don’t want to be safe and conservative or normal, but I have no interest in the intentionally weird world either. I want to live the fringe life – cue a kayaking trip down the Mississippi River.
Like everybody, I will travel. Unlike everybody, I will travel roadless.