Mark is attempting to become the first person to paddle the length of the longest river on each of the seven continents. He completed the Amazon in 2007/2008 and the Missouri – Mississippi earlier this year. He met us in 2011 and gave some great advice for our Yangtze descent. The blog below gives an account of his final day on North America's longest river.
I slept little the night before my final paddle to the Gulf of Mexico. Thoughts of having to paddle back upstream, finding dry ground to camp in an area mostly marsh and populated by alligators to boot!
River traffic on the Lower Mississippi had exploded to rush hour proportions. Crew boats, fishing charter boats, tugs, tows, barges, tankers, container ships, grain ship and even ear-splittingly loud air boats. Dodging them became half the battle.
The 10 miles from Venice down to Pilot Town went quickly and smoothly. Sprint paddling across river to avoid a tanker bearing down on me was exciting for sure. Soon enough I glided past mile 0 as marked by the Army Corps of Engineers. Why not stop here? Well…I could but there is still land of a sorts ahead. Got to make sure. My hardcore mates Norm, Big Muddy Mike and John Ruskey would never forgive me!
The South Pass is a beautiful and relatively peaceful passage to the Gulf of Mexico. A few fishing boats but otherwise, grass waving gently in the breeze, scores of bird life in the air and on any vestige of land they could find. Gators I kept a watchful eye for, but alas saw none.
In the distance, Port Eads approached. It’s lighthouse a clear marker. Almost there. Occasionally I saw a flash of light on the water near the port, currently under reconstruction after be levelled following Hurricane Katrina. What was it? Kayaks? No way! What are the chances? Yes, two kayaks. I paddled up to 2 kayakers. Boats dirty, decks covered in gear and their occupants looking remarkably similar to myself, sporting beards and looking decidedly unkempt. Wow! Brent and Hunter from Greenville, South Carolina had reached the Gulf that very morning just a few hours prior having paddled the length of the Mississippi River from Lake Ithasca! Awesome! I couldn’t believe it. This river is becoming like Everest!
Hunter assured me that open water was just a mile or so away. I told them to hang tight. I’ll be back in a jiffy. I cranked out the final mile and a bit into big, breaking waves. I whooped and hollered and tried to take photos and video in the unsettled sea. This was indeed the Gulf. Looking left and right the land had ended. Sweet!
Coasting onto a sandy beach, more photos. I even used my tripod for the first time on the entire journey. I knew it would come in handy. It’s over. 3780 miles (6083 km) give or take. 4 months. Give or take. I cannot think of a more perfect way to end my paddle than being able to share it with 2 guys who had just gone through such a similar journey. A battle of mind and body. Highlights, lowlights, rain, headwinds, stealth camping, peanut butter and stale tortillas.
On June 11th I trekked on snow shoes for 11 hours to Brower’s Spring, Montana. The ultimate source of the Missouri-Mississippi River. From beneath the snow water bubbled up and began trickling down hill. I followed. It grew. I paddled. I dragged my kayak over rocks and dams. I battled across lakes hundreds of miles long and miles wide. I swore, I smiled and met some of the most amazing and beautiful people ever. I paddled alone but was helped along my way by a network of people all bonded by the river. Yesterday, 5th October 2012. I reached the Gulf of Mexico. Source to sea.
Not exactly sure what to make of it just now. I still need to sort my gear and clean my boat. I still need to arrange a lift to New Orleans. I still need to change my flight to get home. I hope over the next few days I can get my head around it all. I know I am stoked but it is a subdued stoke. Supremely happy, but not jumping around like a conquerer of any kind. What a journey it was. Many times I wished it over. Now I am not so sure.