The Mighty Mississippi


blog post photo

by Marcus Eriksen, Mississippi River Quest

September 21, 22
Day 1 & 2 – 17 miles
Lake Itasca, Minnesota (Mile 1347 UM) to Coffee Pot Landing (Mile 1330 UM)

“I can jump over it,” Bill says to Stephen and me, standing in an ankle-deep stream that will soon become the Mighty Mississippi River. We’re standing roughly 10 feet downstream from Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river begins. It trickles over a barricade of glacial boulders and slowly flows into a thick forest. Our three canoes float, but not with us in them. The cool morning mist is just burning off the lake. It is silent except for us. I touch the water so I can feel what I see.

I was here six years ago with a homemade raft constructed from 232 plastic two-liter bottles, called the “Bottle Rocket.” It was a different adventure. I was a different person, and the Mississippi was a different river. It is familiar, but there seems to be more water. It’s late September and a bit cooler. And this time I’m not alone. Bill, Stephen and I slosh through shallow water, gravel in our sandals, quickly disappearing into America’s wild.

There are 2,300 river miles to the Gulf of Mexico: 1,347 to Cairo, Illinois, then another 953 to mile zero at the Head of Passes leading out to sea, give or take a mile here and there. A well-placed beaver dam can turn a long switchback into a flooded lake. We are in a dense forest with trees forming natural bridges and barricades across the river. It’s 17 miles to Coffee Pot Landing. I’m in and out of the canoe, walking, climbing, dragging the canoe behind me over trees and rocks.

Bill finds the first manmade object, a plastic water bottle less than a mile downstream. A plastic bag floats by Stephen’s canoe. There’s a Bible inside, nameless and wet. Ten miles down the river I find a tire. It’s the same one I found, but left, six year ago. “I can’t leave it here,” I say to the guys. I remember telling myself I would come back for it someday. I pull the massive truck tire out of the gravel. Stephen and Bill round the bend. I’m standing there, proud of my re-discovery. We haul it the next bridge and hoist it onto the side of the road.

Day 2 ends with our first campfire and first long conversations about who we are and how we got here. All the wet wood we could find within a few hundred feet of where we’re sitting is soon reduced to glowing embers.

Video Preview: High-Speed Rock-Dodge

The new three-part special, Mississippi River Quest, airs this Saturday July 3 starting at 7P.