Mississippi River Source to Sea: The Beginning

On Day 2 I flew my dad's drone 35ft up into a tree and got it stuck. I was not able to get it out. On Day 11 I dropped my Canon camera into the river and it's broken due to water damage. On Day 13 my dad lost his phone and had to buy a new one. ... Only 14 days into my Mississippi River source to sea rowing trip and needless to say, things are not going smoothly. 

So let me start with announcing my intention...I am attempting to row the length of the Mississippi River this summer. I say attempt because I hope to accomplish my task but I understand that circumstances beyond my control could potentially prevent me from doing so. Other MS river paddlers call this journey a source to sea trip, starting at the headwaters in Minnesota and ending over 2000 miles later where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The plan is to kayak the beginning portion of the river until it is wide enough to use the canoe and rowing system. Then I will row backwards to the Gulf. [Click here to see my rowing system set-up and gear, found on my gear page]. I've been wanting to take-on a long distance river trip for many years now and first ventured out a few years ago by completing about 100 miles of the Suwannee River in Florida with my dad (blog about that trip HERE).  I found out about folks paddling the entirety of the MS river while on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and ever since I wanted to do it. My dad and I have been talking about it for years, jumping from plans involving him following me on a pontoon boat to him kayaking with me, leading up to last year when he kayaked the first 250 miles of the river. I had this summer open and decided to do it over hiking the PCT (which I still plan on doing at some point in the future). AND since I rowed in college I knew I wanted to row it rather than kayak it. I'll be able to go faster by rowing and use my whole body compared to just arms and core from kayaking.   

 
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On June 12th

I started kayaking from the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota. The mighty Mississippi starts out much more humbly as a 3 foot wide river.  The first 40 miles or so of the river are designated 'wild' and I didn't see other people on the river nor houses. The river meandered through wetlands passing through the occasional forests. The first town the river flows by is Bemidji, where I got a photo of Paul Bunyan and Babe's statue. From there I had to cross several lakes, always making sure to follow the shoreline rather than cross through the more direct way. The largest lake I've had to cross thus far was Lake Winnibogoshish or Lake Winnie. It took 2 days and 10 & 1/2 hours to get through that lake where I encountered white water waves at times. 

My dad is supporting me by car for this first section of the river so we decide how many miles I will do depending on where there is road access. Then he meets me at a bridge or boat ramp and we usually lock up the boat and go to a campground or sometimes a hotel. Having him follow along with a car makes this trip much easier on me as I don't have to carry all my gear with me, and I am able to have easy access to food and water. 

I traversed the first 155 miles of the river by kayak but now that the river is wide and deep enough I have been able to put in the canoe with the rowing system. My first day rowing just so happened to be the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. I had given myself a challenge to be on the river from sunrise to sunset. I started kayaking at 5:18AM, moved into the canoe around 9:30 and rowed over 30 miles until I couldn't go any further at 7:20PM. 14 hours on the river, 2 hours shy of sunset. The past few days I've been adjusting to rowing and getting used to the boat and my oars. I find it much more difficult to maneuver the canoe with my 9.7ft oars and am having to dodge overhanging trees and strainers all while rowing backwards. I do have a mirror set-up so I can see behind me but I find that I have to focus more intently than I did while kayaking. I've been on the river continuously for 13 days and have gone about 250 miles. Today, day 14 I am taking a zero day aka rest day. Besides the tragic accidents mentioned at the top, each day is full of wildlife sightings and the monotony and repetition of paddling/rowing.


I've decided not to do a daily report of this adventure like I have for the past couple of trips because this one will take longer and "ain't nobody got time for that". Plus, I most likely won't have computer access again to blog until I've completed my trip. I've also been trying to video blog more on this trip, but I will not be able to edit those videos until after as well. So keep checking in. Now, enjoy the photos!

 

Video Blog #1 -Day 1

Video Blog #2: Days 2-4

Video Blog #3: Days 5-8

Video Blog #4: Days 9-13

Sara Leibold