Reality in retrospect – one month on the Mississippi River!

I wanted to speak a little bit about how the journey is going on this my one month mark out on the Mississippi River. Putting the idea of such a sojourn into practice takes planning and will-power and courage but I’m here to say that once you do it – the nervousness ends and the wonderment begins. From that very first moment on Lake Itasca I was in heaven – I knew I had made the right choice and I knew that I would be able to follow it through.

It was Hemingway who talked about the importance of the casual acquaintances that you bump into along your path in life leaving a deep impression on your psyche – the people you’ll think about, often at the oddest times, for many years to come.

Out on this trip there have been many such people, one of the first being the Mayor of Bemidji, Richard Lehmann. I came into his office for an interview but ended up spending a couple of hours just talking life – all about the journey – where we are and where we think we’re headed. Such an encounter was a pleasure. Here you’ve got the mayor of the “First City on the Mississippi” and we’re talking the world.

There was a boating accident on Blackduck Lake while I was in town – one that I ended up getting myself involved with, to a little extent. This made a great impact on my thinking about life in general as well as the importance of such an expedition. To while we can, actually get out there and live.

Down the river a spell, I knew I wanted to do a story in Little Falls due to the fact that three of the four boaters from the tragedy on Blackduck Lake came from that town. I didn’t want to interfere with their families or with their grief but I did want to experience their town in an effort to see where they had grown up, where they had spent their lives. From my experience the best way to accomplish such a task is to tell a story as you meet the players of a town, moving from contact to contact, getting a pretty good idea of how the place ticks.

While portaging Little Falls I met Daryl Legler who took me in and gave me shelter. I had been paddling for twelve hours straight – through heavy headwinds and upon Little Falls, a steady downpour. And here comes a local resident in a four wheel drive with his hand out and sincere smile on his face. Somebody who just wanted to help.

I started the trip not wanting to ask anybody for anything. I didn’t go after sponsors, I didn’t ask for a free ride. But as the journey unfolds and the reality of the harshness of such a trip makes itself manifest at certain intervals, I’ve since learned that when a local offers you advice – you take it – and when they offer you their help, you accept. Not to do so would be rude.

Out here on the river people are just great. You see and experience little snapshots of life that are just priceless. Early this morning I met a Taiwanese family who have moved to the St. Cloud area and have taken up fishing. The little kid was so excited that his dad had caught two fish he could hardly stand it. “Superdad” was how he was introducing his hero to everybody, all the standerbyers he could find.

Big smiles, loads of well wishes. You see kids fishing and they’re very serious about it. When a kid asks you how far you’re going and you tell them New Orleans the first thing they’ll say up here in Minnesota is “Holy crap – that would be great!” You meet college kids, like last night (St. Cloud is a college town) and they’ll say the same. Their faces just brighten up when they contemplate such a trip and they’re immediately your friend. As well as the elderly. I went to visit one of Daryl’s old truck-driver friends who is hold up in hospital – battling cancer. His roommate was an old veteran who perked up when he heard about the trip – asking if I was “really, sincerely planning to make it all the way down”. Multiple people up here say they’ve dreamed of this particular trip, but have never gotten around to it accomplishing it.

This is the reality. I am surrounded by nature. Surrounded by good, hard-working, decent folk. I am at peace and I am happy.

The reality is the journey and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

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3 Comments

Filed under On the Mississippi, Wanderlust

3 responses to “Reality in retrospect – one month on the Mississippi River!

  1. jenn

    really glad jim told us about this on facebook.
    i did a mere 800-mile bike ride (w. ex(: up in that area and wisconsin. yes, you accept the kindness of strangers. i saw so much of it. let’s see, now if yur in twin cities, trempeleau (sp?) wisconsin won’t be far down. oh man, what a cool place. there is this groovy hotel there. its like coorugated metal exterior and it is right about where you would portage. lots of barges and like a damn, so you’ll have to get around that. i have canoed that stretch and found the current to be extremely strong, even with another adult paddling. but it is lovely.

    • flashriversafari

      Thanks Jenn – I’ll definitely check that town and hotel out. Learning a lot about currents and one thing I know thus far is that I like them! Loads of days with none or worse yet waves breaking against you! Best, Neal

      • jenn

        well, by strong currents, parts of them are flowing one way and parts flowing another and you can easily find yourself turning around.
        that is the trempealeau hotel in trempealeau, wisconsin. right near the boat landing. the aforementioned portage would be at lock n dam no. 6.
        rooms (starting at like $40 if you are willing to share a bath) are right on the river almost and food is good. try the walnut burger.
        beer garden, etc., all overlook the river.
        in Winona, Minnesota, there is something i always wish i had a picture of – there is this spot where there are these ‘houses’ on the river and they are old and beat to pieces and some are gray, some pink, some green. you’ll know it when you see them.

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