Nine states, 87 days, and 1,508 miles later it has come time to say farewell to the Mississippi River. When the dreaming, discussing, and planning of this voyage began 2 years ago the thought of making it so far was a small seed in the back of my mind. While I never doubted us, I was too focused on the tasks at hand to daydream as far as 1,500+ miles. Now that we have come this far I find myself looking back to the moment that this journey was born and all the moments in between.
It started over a cup of steaming coffee. As we sat on the foredeck of our 35ft sailboat home the black coffee’s aroma filled my nose as I inhaled in anticipation of the dark roasted liquid. “Let’s take a boat down the Mississippi River,” one of said to the other, although at this point we can’t remember who. Either way once those 8 words were put into the universe, she conspired to make them happen. Two days later I was laminating and gluing pictures onto a 2’X3’ black poster board, thus creating a dream board. The pictures included the river, a faering, a map of the Mississippi and an estimated route created on google maps. In the middle were the five words: No Schedule and No Rush. Kyle and I both spent countless hours staring at that dream board over the course of 18 months; looking at the picture of a faering wondering if we could really pull it off and build such a thing. Time went on, jobs were worked, money saved, and the days passed- but the seed that was planted over that steaming coffee began to build roots deep in our beings until soon the seed began sprouting and its leaves were constantly rustling in the back of our minds. On March 1st, 2016 Kyle quit his job and the build process began. On June 24th, 2016 Solvi was christened with bubbling champagne in the Edisto River. Everything that happened in between those two dates has become a blurred and satisfactory memory.
Two months after Solvi’s first splash we waved goodbye to our families on the shoreline of the St. Croix River as we rowed south on a river of unknowns. We laugh now when we think back to the 3rd day when we rowed 9 miles. Both of us were so incredibly exhausted that we collapsed before even eating dinner. Now we individually row 16 miles, 32 miles total and end our days with frisbee, fires, and activities. But it’s not just our muscles that have grown stronger, but our inner beings as well.
This voyage has been full of challenges, hardships, and discomfort. But it is those things that have also brought growth, learning, and strength. The river is wild and will never be fully tamed. We can build all the wing dams, channel markers, and revetments we want, but at the end of the day the river is its own being. Alive in its own way, the mighty waters have their own path creating a river of ever changing conditions. In response to this Kyle and I have learned to adapt and to be flexible. We can not control the river and that is the most beautiful thing. Emerging ourselves in something we can not control caused us to lift both our feet off the ground and fly. Free. Knowing that we must adapt in every situation presented because the waters aren’t going to adapt to us, has created a sense of vulnerability so deep that we are stripped of our expectations and urge to be in control. Leaving these things behind has left our path open for growth and development we may have missed otherwise. The ability to take a situation that could be scary and negative and make the conscious choice to laugh and view it positively has come from learning to let go of the need to be in control. Just as the trees on the shoreline give way to the river’s powers and float freely downstream, we must also give way to the universe and flow freely down our paths of life.
It is with this new found wonder of letting go fully that I have also learned to use my senses fully. When I see the sky break out into an array of colors and then watch as a line of birds glide by across the setting sun, I can also feel the playfulness of the universe. When Kyle or a stranger talks to me, I have learned to listen; and I don’t just mean hear the words they are speaking, but to internalize them. To not be distracted by stimuli or by my own thoughts, but to truly listen. The food I eat and the water I drink tastes fuller, more crisp due to a feeling of gratitude with each bite. The textures of the environment around me tell a story and I have begun to learn those stories. When my hand runs across the cracked mud and I observe the sun beating down I know rain has not fallen. The ripples on the water speak to me about wind direction and strength. Mindfulness- that is what I’ll call it. This journey has taught me to be fully present in each moment because that is all there really is. When I contemplate that thought enough it seems almost magical. Together Kyle and I created our world to be free, playful, beautiful, and most importantly joyous. Each day we find ourselves happy, satisfied, and grateful. Each interaction and situation full of discovery.
Nine states, 85 days, and 1,508 miles later, the seed that was planted two years ago has blossomed into something grander than we could have ever anticipate. As I sign off I will end with a quote I read daily:
“In the midst of our lives, we must find the magic that makes our souls soar.”
There are many names for the Mississippi River depending on your geographical location, the manner of the person you’re talking to and their particular experiences upon it. Books have been written, legends passed down, stories of great deeds, historical happenings, and many a tale of its dangers. The river’s history to America spans centuries to a time when the USA was but a dream to only a few locals. Until recently though my experiences on the river were few: some glamorous camping mostly, on sunny weekends and in big pontoons full of gear. Nearly three months ago that all changed when Danielle and I set out on an expedition to sail and row nearly the mighty river’s entire length. The goal of this leg of our journey is nearly at hand and this is our last day on the Mississippi River.
Last night, though we hid near the protection of trees as best we could, was spent in a loud and shaky tent as a cold north wind blew down on our little camp. We lived and cooked in the lee of our faithful little boat seeking shelter. But this same wind was a blessing to our day, instead of rowing the 26 miles we came down the river, we sailed. At times rushing along at over 8 knots, a great feeling of power and speed emanating from our bow wave over the smooth river, and Solvi seeming for all the world like this was her sole purpose of existence. Then this morning after launching her with an ease that speaks of our new seemingly extensive experience, I had the endless joy of sinking into quicksand and mud pockets. The ground disappearing under my feet faster than I could step, sinking me down into the water waist deep and covering my skin in that now familiar grey paste of clay and mud to my knees- not once or twice, but thrice. As I stumbled along the shore trying to find a place to stand that would hold my weight, while also working to maintain control of the boat being pulled away by the current, I can only laugh. Danielle and I both bursting out loud at the situation, though admittedly her a bit more than I. Now as I write this in my clean clothes I’m laughing again. What a journey this grand river has given to us! We set out full of wonder and excitement at what this expedition may hold for us and I can with enthusiastic honesty say- it never disappointed us for a second! This great resource of life deserves every legend it holds. After nearly 3 months of living and working with it every day it still fills us with the same wonder and excitement as when we started. Yesterdays great sailing in the strong wind and this mornings surprise shower are lasting reminders of the river’s duality. Perhaps as far as to say it’s physical representation of the balance. As it’s gotten bigger and more challenging to navigate, becoming more rugged and isolated, it has come into its natural state show casing its vast beauty and massive scale and giving us feathered and fury people to call friends. When the wind blows from the south, it is warm and usually not rainy, but brings the river’s worst waves: steep and sharp; making our day wet and difficult in the boat. When from the north, it’s commonly cold and crisp with strong gusts and rain, but since it’s pushing the water the same direction as the current, the water is calm and we move along comfortably. The confinement and cabin fever of the tent during rainy days, means more current in the river and its increased height means less mud along the banks as it rises towards the sand. The Mississippi has tested our faith, to see if we would falter on our path of learning its cadence of living. It’s soaked us through, worn us out until we could hardly stand, scared us quiet, sunk us, fried us in the sun’s glare, forced us to live in the mud that never lets go and ignore the blowing sand that fills your life with grit. It has made us cry and beg for relief and then scream and dance with joy. We have stood in stoic awe of its beauty and given it endless gratitude for its gifts and then gritted our teeth in livid frustration at its nature.
I came to this river prepared for an expedition and seeking an adventure, I was given a gauntlet of challenge and reward far surpassing any thoughts or expectations. This living thing we call a river, this flowing source of life, is truly a treasure of our country and our earth. I am blessed to have lived it, to have been given a small taste during this one season of this one year to experience the living Mississippi River.
**Kyle and I watched the build video for the first time since we left. How fun! For those of you who haven’t seen it or would like to see it again click here: Solvi Build