Friday, July 8, 2011

Outlasting The Storm & The Final Paddle

Day 29
In the middle of the Mississippi, on a small sandbar, we made our camp. We were 100 miles away from St. Louis—so close we could practically smell the Gateway Arch. We were just zipping up our tents for the night, feeling very positive that were going to make it. You could say we were feeling rather home free. But what happened next took us completely by surprise.

A powerful wind suddenly swept in. In the space of an instant, everything was chaos. It was as though nature had decided to throw a rock concert on our camp site and forgot to tell us about it. We couldn’t hear over the thunder and wind. We couldn’t see through the crowd of rain. We were blinded by lightening pyrotechnics. Our tents were pulled out of the ground and blown across the sandbar. The water quickly began to rise and it was apparent that we were going to have to leave, and quick!

Don’t worry, we got to shore safely. No one was hurt, but it was definitely a dangerous situation. We found out later that the wind speeds reached nearly 85mph!

Nature had given us a whupin’ at exactly the moment we let our guard down and we suddenly remembered what Kenny had said. “Respect the river.” It wasn’t as though we were disrespecting the river, we simply weren’t keeping in mind all the things that the river is capable of, both great and terrible. Our minds were thinking about our friends, our homes, our subscriptions to Netflix, and the finish line.

Nature can appear to move really slow at times. But nature can also move swiftly—and how! That was a lesson I don’t think we will soon forget.

Day 30
We decided to paddle the last 70 miles of the trip all in one day.

Since we’ve been home, everyone has been asking us, “What is it like to canoe for 70 miles in one day?” First, we should tell you that we were able to go faster than normal. In fact, it was the fastest we had gone the entire trip. We had a slight tail wind the whole way, the water had risen from the rain and was moving swiftly, and of course, we had been paddling for a whole month—WE’RE SUPER STRONG NOW! BAMSKI!

Anyway, conversation gets strange over the course of 12 hours. It went from deep philosophizing to song-singing to argument to more singing then to just singing every sentence you say and finally to jokes (Justin’s doesn’t have very good jokes by the way). You could just say it’s a lot like riding in the car on a road trip, only it’s a lot more peaceful and watery. And instead of pushing the gas pedal you have to make the car (a.k.a. canoe) go forward with your muscles (big muscles) like the Flinstones.

But more memorable than the conversation we shared was the silence (which was also shared). We did a lot of reflection. You know, just thinking. The repetition of the paddling motion becomes hypnotizing and kinda comforting in a way. It felt a lot like distance running. It was easy to get swept up in the rhythm of your own breathing, the sound of moving through the water, the miniature whirl-pools left in the wake.

Where do those whirl-pools go? It’s one of those questions that pops in your head during a period of long silence. You have a lot of questions like that which you just keep in your head…or your blog.

Time drifts away and no longer matters. How many miles have we gone? That doesn’t matter either.

Before we know it, there’s St. Louis and her Gateway to the West. Even though seeing the city around the river bend was an absolutely euphoric moment as well as quite an accomplishment, there was something else. A tugging sensation. Like there’s a fishing string attached to some part of our brains and there’s a little fish nibbling on it. It makes us want to keep paddling. What’s the next city? What is the river like further down? Is there any reason why we can’t just keep going?

Oh yeah, we have shows to play.

But it’s like Forrest Gump once said, “Since I gone this far, I might as well just keep on goin’. I ran clear across Alabama. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured since I gone this far, I might as well just turn around and just keep on goin’. When I got to another ocean, I figured since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back and keep right on goin’.”

Maybe someday we’ll take another trip. And not because we want to get somewhere. With all trips like this, you realize that getting there wasn’t the point. It wasn’t the best part or even the reason for going. It was just a place to stop.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 25

“People on the river are happy to give.”
                                    -Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

We paddled 50 miles today. Back on track, baby! We have had some good luck. The people we have met in the past few days have been so kind and generous. We’ve gotten rides to the grocery store, directions when we were lost, campsite recommendations, and even home cooked meals. As we paddle closer to Hannibal, MO, there seems to be a deep understanding of what it is we’re doing and what we’ve been through.

But now it’s a rainy day in Hannibal, so we have decided to set a spell. It just so happens that there is a big hullaballoo going on in town. Hannibal is the hometown of Mr. Mark Twain. The U.S. Postal service is here to unveil the Mark Twain postage stamp. It’s a pretty big deal.

Before we know it we are face-to-face with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Well, these were actually kids who won a contest a year ago to become the town’s ambassadors for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. They led us around town and explained to us what was going on. Before we knew it, they led us to a fence that Tom was supposed to be painting. We convinced him to let us do the painting. All it cost was a telescope and a doorknob. What a deal! I didn’t even know we HAD a doorknob. Good thing Bryan packed along icons from Mark Twain stories in case we walked into one.

Day 23

Just when we think our goals are within sight, nature flexes its biceps and shows us who is REALLY in control.

We had three whole days of bad canoeing weather. The winds blew in our faces and waves try to swallow our canoes. We made it as far as Keokuk, Iowa, but there is still a long way to go. Our arms feel like boiled noodles!

Currently we are floating into lock #19, the biggest lock and dam on the Mississippi. The 38 ft. drop kinda takes a while. Don't they know we have a lot of miles to make up?! 

The lock reminds us of the trash compacter scene from Star Wars. You know, that moment in the movie where you begin to try and remember how they got there? It feels like that part. Except in Star Wars, they eventually get out of the trash compacter. Then Luke and Han do some more amazing things with lightsabers and lasers and Chewbacca stuff and then they blow up the Death Star.

You know what? Forget the last three days. We are going to make this happen. We are going to release the Millennium Falcon from the tractor beam. We are totally going to blow up the Death Star.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Animal Adventures!

Day 16 -- Painted Turtle
It was rainy. We were wet and not feeling very lucky. Then we landed on shore and found a painted turtle laying her eggs in the sand. Stretched above her in the sky was a bright double rainbow! The scene was so unbelievable. We were speechless. Good thing we brought poetry hats along. We can explain the whole thing better with a haiku.

A double rainbow
Over a painted turtle
A TRIPLE rainbow!

She laid 15 eggs (that we witnessed) and covered the eggs with sand. Then we watched her slide back into the river, and there she was…gone. We started feeling a lot more lucky after that.

Day 17 – Pelican Island
Ten miles north of Clinton, Iowa, there is a hidden place inhabited by birds--many, many birds. The trees on the island look like the Truffula Trees of Dr. Seuss. From the water we saw them—blue herons, egrets, and pelicans. There were birds of all shapes and sizes. Thousands and thousands of birds! Good thing we brought our poetry hats along, for it was just that moment I realized--

What a wonderful bird, the pelican
For its beak can hold more than its belly can

Day 18 – Thousand Pound Catfish
At one of our campsites we met a big family. They were spending their weekend camping and catching catfish on the river. We ended up making friends with these kind folks. They were all so much fun and super creative. We stayed up late playing music together and just makin' up songs around the fire.

Then they started tellin’ us tall tales about the river. There were a bunch, but our favorite one was the Thousand Pound Catfish.

The story goes that there is a catfish living in the Mississippi weighing over 1000 lbs. It is so big it can swallow a school bus whole. Mere minnows will not satisfy the hunger of this great swimming beast. It lives off the tons of corn spilled by passing river barges. Legend has it that he’s over 100 years old! It’s a good thing we brought our poetry hats along because...
I can’t think of anything poetical. I guess my hat must have fallen off into the river. Shucks!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 13

We made it to Guttenberg, Iowa and landed on a small island. Not long after we got there, four more guys landed at the same island. It turned out they were paddling the ENTIRE Mississippi.

They reminded us of four other guys we know floating down the Mississippi—ahem!—But these guys were pretty darn cool too. One guy didn’t even bring a tent! He just sleeps out in the open or in a hammock or something crazy like that!

While we were hanging out with these guys, a bright spotlight shone on the island from on the river. A massive barge was moving past our island. Its light was so powerful that we had to shade our eyes. Until this point, we had never witnessed a barge moving at night. The river barges are big, but at night they seem even bigger.

Anyhow, these guys we met are also raising money for the fishermen affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Check out there website at

Balancing Act
There is so much to do every day. There is a lot of river left to paddle and sometimes it’s tempting to paddle all day long. Sometimes it’s tempting to get out of the canoe and shoot videos all day long. Sometimes we want to sit in trees and sing songs all day and then grab a rope and swing over the river like Tarzaan and then do a sweet flip into the water and then forget about all that stuff we left behind in the “real world” like the price of gas, soap, and Justin Bieber.

 Actually, I think Joe has some Justin Bieber on his phone. Nevermind. I guess we have Bieber.

The truth is, our trip down the Mississippi has been a great balancing act. Besides keeping our balance in the canoe, we also need to keep our balance between distance and documentary, miles and music, art and accomplishment. We will complete all of our goals, but sometimes the wonderful experiences on the river are just too much to resist.

Day 12

We came up with this idea to film something called, The 2011 Okee Dokee Olympics. The events include Rockput (shot-put), River-Stick Throw (javelin), and the Paddle Spin & Sprint (gymnastics). During the filming, Joe’s sunglasses came off in the murky shallows of the mighty Mississippi. Lost.

Even though finding them again seemed hopeless, we all got in the water and began probing the spot where Joe fell. The water was about 4 feet deep and extremely muddy. After 15 minutes, we were all ready to give up. Suddenly Joe lifted his foot out of the water and pulled his sunglasses from between his toes. Amazing save!

Later that same day, we were in a lock waiting to be let through. Joe pulled his hat off to wipe his brow, forgetting that his sunglasses were sitting on top! PLUNK! Gone again. I guess the river really wanted those sunglasses.

Life and Death
After Joe lost his sunglasses in the lock, we noticed a small, injured bird floundering in the water. It must have struck the wall of the lock and fallen in. We hoisted it out the water with one of our paddles and placed it to rest on the front of the canoe. It lay there, barely breathing.

We continued down the river with the bird on our bow always keeping hope that it would soon get up and fly away. We were all very sad when it never did. After landing on shore, we had a small ceremony for the bird and continued on our way.

We didn’t have much desire to paddle after that. It was difficult to make good distance while pondering the bird we left behind. But whether we paddled or not, the river’s current moved us along and the flow was kinda soothing.

We have been witness to so much life on this trip. It is easy to forget that there is also death. Even though it was the death of a bird we hardly knew, life suddenly seemed like a delicate thing, as swift and light as a feather. Death kinda seemed heavy.

Time flows in a continuous current much like a river. It keeps us moving along when we are too sad to paddle. It also helps to soothe our wounds as we float along.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 11 - Keepin' it Real. Keepin' it Natural.

Remember how we said the beginning of the river was so small that it seemed like the Mississippi Creek? Well, this part of the river is so big that it’s more like the Mississippi Ocean!

In our canoes, we can travel at about 6mph. At that speed we can cover thirty miles in a matter of a few hours. We never imagined it would be this fast. However, the locks and dams slow us down considerably. We’ve gone through four locks so far, and one we were stuck in for nearly two hours!

Five Star Hotel? More Like THOUSAND Star Hotel!
On Thursday we landed on an island to make camp. It was hot and we needed a place to swim—a place where the water wasn’t moving so swiftly. After a little exploration, we found a rope swing someone had made. It hung over a spot along the shore where the water was still, like a little swimming hole. We must have played in it for hours. Before we knew it, the sun was going down and the air, after days of being hot, was finally beginning to get colder. It was almost like our whole world had gone for a dip to cool off.

 Our comfy island accommodations did not stay comfy for long. Friday turned cold and wet, but we paddled through La Crosse so quickly that we got to spend most of the day off of the water and writing music. One song we made was about a hummingbird (because we were feeling particularly small on the big river) and another one was about staying in a thousand-star hotel with king-size river beds and gold leaf pillows. Ahhh...

We've met a lot of cool people so far on our trip. In fact, there is a man from Scotland at our camp right now. He's canoeing down the entire Mississippi! We gotta go talk to him. We're going to find out how much he loves adventure...and Braveheart. See ya 'round the bend!