Where is the Crew?


Hey, Get Rhythm!

Well, this has been a trip! We haven’t had a moment to write a blog post, which is good for the trip and bad for the blog. Our newest friend Kevin (uncle of a friend from the Appalachian Trail) picked us up from the River about a week ago and took us to his home in New Orleans, Louisiana. We stayed in a house that he and his family are rehabbing. It was an awesome house with southern trees, a music amp with microphones, and fantastic neighbors wandering in and out of the house, cooking food and playing music. The first night, the music theory, which we’ve been learning from Brett, came into fruition and hit its climax. We played music with Kevin and his wife Tiffany until the early hours of the mid-hours of the moon while doing a good number on the kegerator beneath the stilted house. That was the same level of the house that three horses inhabited. We feasted throughout the night on the random grub that kept appearing on the countertop. As anyone would, we stayed for another three nights, ambling about the French Quarter, Frenchman Street, Bourbon Street, and whatever other streets we could find. That town had rhythm unlike any place we’ve been. The way people speak, the way they walk, the way they drive, dance, make music, drink, eat, and everything. We were directed to the cheap taverns, the best quarters, and everywhere had some new live music pumping through the souls of everyone. The streets were full of brass howling and calling us to dance, meet, and be. Kevin and Tiffany, along with their kids Mark and Tera, were some of the most hospitable people we’ve met yet. Their neighbors were all great, too. They cooked for us, advised us of the best places to be and introduced us to more and more people. They all taught us an incredible amount about misconceptions of the town, how the culture developed and how it remains as strong as it is. There is almost a tangible adhesive that brings the citizens together. We were blessed to have been a part of their home, family, culture, and lifestyle. If you get a chance to meet people from the crew, ask them individually about their experiences in New Orleans. You’ll be laughing and will stay engaged for over an hour.
One thing we all got to experience together was a Haiti festival, celebrating the Haitian culture. Music from Haitian bands danced, celebrated, and sang late into the night. We met the MC of the event. He was enthusiastic about our efforts and adventure. So, he invited us on stage to talk to the many people at the festival. Six of us got up there and talked about the charity and the trip. People screamed for us, clapped, and, afterwards, threw us money and bought shirts. What a success. We made more money, possibly, than we would have by hosting our own event. Timing was perfect. It was meant to be.
Although we were not happy to see our friends on the shore, waving as we paddled farther south, we knew our trip was close to the end and the River called to us like the music in the streets did for four nights before. So we went, but we’ll be back on another open invitation.
We can’t make as many miles down here as we could farther North. The current essentially stopped. We make between three and four miles per hour, but we only have a few miles left.  Tonight, we’re in some thick woods, cooking an eight pound red fish over hot coals. Robert Poche and Bruce Comeaux stopped by our site with beer and a fish they caught this evening. We’re nibbling off of it, toasting every few minutes to the trip and our last night in the woods.  We really have grown together. We’re closer, stronger, and have come to depend on each other more and more. It feels good for everyone. It will be sad to leave the River, but, like any long trip, the trip doesn’t stop at the terminus. We’ll keep raising money, passing the winter months together in Colorado.


Sore Muscles, Tasting Salt Water

Every night since the trout feast, we've been dining on Eric's venison. We made burgers, brats, and flank steak fajitas for the past few nights. After each, someone declares that that meal was the best yet. Our crew has teamed up regularly with the Boy Scout leaders from Camp Tomahawk (www.camptomahawk.com). They're a great group and we make up a fun, dynamic group of 12. We've camped with them for the past week, sharing meals, desserts, and stories around nightly fires. It ends up, after brats and cheese, like Blazing Saddles.
The wind has abated significantly but the nights have become brisk. The temperatures plummeted to the 20's a few nights ago. The morning fires are often larger than the evening fires. And we've come to build two separate fires. Not because we dislike each other, but because we can stay warm around one while we cook on the other. The days, after about an hour on the water, heat up and we shed layers quickly. The sun glares hard off the water. The stern person typically points the canoe directly at the sun in order to block the sun with the bow person.
People are starting to feel the effects of constant paddling. Muscles are sore and torn without much time to repair. We all try to get the Bending Branches paddles, but some have to use the heavy, water logged paddles. Ibuprofen has become as tasty as Skittles and breaks have become more necessary. We will probably have to figure out a system to keep muscles fresh for the last two weeks. We have 13 days left and would like to keep our bodies healthy for that stretch. The post-Halloween candy sales have helped, we like to believe.
But the fact is that we have 13 days left and most of the talk regards enthusiasm for the Gulf. Excitement abounds in every paddle stroke and flicker of the fire's flames. We entered Louisiana today, which makes us feel even more like we're in the final stretch. Less than 500 miles to go.


Trout Tonight

The pelicans flock together in the afternoons over the trees on the shore. They catch the thermals, floating high and slowly, then dropping quickly into another pattern, drifting in circles, but lazily going south. They turn to an angle that makes them seem invisible, then they turn again and we see their backs. somewhere in all that chaos, there is some natural order.

Our contacts in Baton Rouge have fallen through. We couldn't quite find the AJ we had in St. Paul or the Brett we had in St. Louis. And so, we worked hard for a few days in towns trying to organize something ourselves, seeking bands and venues, trying to combine them, and ultimately coming up with nothing. Instead of having a festival-type event like in St. Paul, we'll stop in Baton Rouge and dedicate a day to generating interest, possibly busking, and selling shirts. It should be LSU homecoming then (which is why many venues lacked interest) and many people will be in town for their alma mater's events. We also have a good friend in Milwaukee setting up an event for the week before Christmas. All of we who are moving out to Steamboat Springs after the River migration will also continue hosting events until we reach our ultimate goal of $50,000.

Tonight, after 35 miles through the mist, we have nine trout cooking over the fire. They're the same trout Eric gave us in Memphis. Tomorrow night, we'll cook up some of his venison. We have been eating well and it only gets better. Our mothers can rest easy, knowing that we have been soaking in all sorts of good nutrients.

The instruments are out again. Oscar is on ukulele, Brett on Mandolin, and Dave on guitar. Zach calculates the mileage for the next few days, which surely won't hold up more than an hour into tomorrow, due to our indecisive and capricious mentality. Amanda quietly prepares a side dish- something that will turn out to be one of the best things we've ever eaten, as usual. Louis listens attentively to the sizzle of the trout, checking them often and nibbling off the bellies. Dipper warms her feet next to the fire, careful not to burn through her Crocs, like she did last night. The sun will set soon, but we can't tell by the vibrant colors we've had for the past three weeks. Instead, the grey just becomes darker grey. Soon enough, our hunger will be satisfied and we'll be warm again in our sleeping bags.

Not Too Bad For a Bunch of Huck Finns

On Halloween morning, we left camp a few minutes before sunrise. The sun looked like a pumpkin. The morning was unusually warm as we said goodbye to the four Boy Scout leaders we’ve been traveling with. They were boiling a pot of diced apples with cinnamon. As tradition demanded, I (Michael) bobbed for one successfully. Memphis was our goal. 54 miles. That’s a big day for us, especially since we had to arrive by 5:30 to meet our ride. We were happy to see the Memphis bridge by about 4 pm. With achy muscles, we tossed all our gear in the back of Eric’s truck and loaded his trailer with the Grummans on the bottom and the Mohawks on top. He drove us downtown to his neighbor’s business. She was in the process of moving locations to a store one block away and offered that we spend the night in her store. The old store was full of great artwork. The artist, Madison, paints vibrant chickens. Madison and her friend stuck around for a while and chatted with us about the must-sees of Memphis. Apparently, we were right in the thick of things. Everything she mentioned was within walking distance, including Beale Street, the happening Halloween spot.

It didn’t take long to understand that we were about to have a great night in Memphis. We all dressed up in our best River gear, met with the Boy Scout group again, and went to dinner as a giant group of Huckleberry Finns. It was a great group costume. We went to one of the best Barbeque joints on Beale, thanks to Eric. There, a Johnny Cash tribute band sang rock, country, ballads, and blues. Dave had a great surprise waiting for him at the restaurant. His parents made the trip from Georgia to surprise him the day before his birthday. The night led to various shenanigans, including the Boy Scouts singing some embarrassing karaoke tune in their costumes. We also saw a dueling piano show full of ribald lyrics to dance and laugh to.

We took the next day off to ease the muscles and relax our minds. The entire previous week, we’d been averaging over 50 miles per day, much of which was fighting the wind. It ended up being worth it for a day off in a fun town. Monday night, we headed over to the house of the parents of Dave’s friend. They were possibly the most hospitable people we’ve met along the River. Our crew was incredibly happy to be in their company and they seemed to be beaming to have us in their house. We feasted on a huge meal of chicken, pasta, biscuits, and salad, all topped off with a creamy key lime pie. We dined outside by their fire and later smoked excellent cigars and sipped on our drinks of choice. We stayed the night there, going to bed after fun, engaging conversation and a dip in the hot tub. We headed out (although we could have spent a week with them) early in the morning to grab the last of our groceries and hit the River. We ended up with venison and trout, harvested from the Tennessee wilderness by Eric.

We will be back to Memphis in May. Pete and Karen (the gracious homeowners) gave us an official invitation to join them for a famous barbeque festival. It can’t be missed and we are all eager to maintain a relationship with our new friends.

Now, I sit under Mega-tarp with rain funneling down its creases. Everyone has gone to bed but the fire warms my still-wet back. We managed to cook some great pizzas over the fire tonight- onion, pepper, mushroom, cheese. Sure, we spent some of the best days so far in Memphis, Tennessee, but it’s always good to get back into a tent with the tap of the rain, and sleep like we earned it. Then again, one more night with Pete, Karen, and Eric couldn’t hurt.



Although we've had hotels in the past, last night's was the first we thought we actually needed one. We were beat. The southerly winds have been stronger than ever. Fortunately, the current has been strong enough to help us make over six miles per hour- faster than we'd been going in the past. We dig our paddles strongly against the River, trying to keep in line with the wind. If we don't, the wind throws the bow around and the stern-person throws five extra strokes to line back up. almost everyone has contemplated all too seriously what we're doing this for. It's not fun to fight wind for nine hours to make the necessary mileage. Yesterday, we woke before sunrise to get in 30 miles before the wind really picked up. The night before, our tents were folding in on themselves, the stakes torn from the ground, and the sand whipping against our canoes. It's been three days of gusts up to 35 miles per hour. It will be the same for the next two days. But, after that, the forecast looks to be quite attractive, with sunshine and blue skies. Hopefully, we'll be able to rest our muscles a bit during those days and put on over 50 miles per day. It shouldn't be too difficult, considering the current after the Missouri River joined the Mississippi (which was quite anti-climactic). We still have the Ohio River to look forward to as well.
All this wind makes it seem pretty realistic for Lewis and Clark to travel upstream on the Missouri River.


No more locks!

We made it to Alton, Illinois yesterday.  We can now give tours of the Alton library as we spent most our day there. We were grateful to have the use of their computers to do some venue searching for our next event at Baton Rouge.  We also made a groceries visit and grabbed a bite to eat at the Raggin Cajun which got us in the Halloween spirit as it was decorated from light fixture to chair leg in cob webs.  We now spend most our canoeing time creating Halloween costumes.  We have come up with some interesting outfits that will surely be posted Halloween day.  Stay tuned.
 We have finally waited through our last lock today.  It proved itself to be the hardest of them all.  We had a ten mile canal to paddle through in order to reach the last lock.  The paddle was long with no current and a headwind, something we did not expect, but the determination of our group was put to the test again and we made it in good time. Celebration was much needed after this long wait of completion, so we docked at the base of the St. Louis Arch leaned backed and took in the view for a few minutes of relaxation.  We now look forward to swift rivers with no locks to interrupt our peaceful flow.


Eight Again, Carp-Punching, Sunset

At long last, we are a full crew again. Dave made it back safe and sound with some great stories from the Georgia wedding. The eight of us reconvened at the Hannibal Boat Club, 50 yards upstream from the Mark Twain Riverboat. Brett Arndt saw us off. We were all happy to have a partner in our canoes. Yet another gorgeous day was ahead of us. It has been about three weeks without a drop of rain. The River has lowered a bit, but the current is still pushing us along. For a few years, there have been news stories and Youtube videos of Asian carp. You just don’t know what it’s all about until you canoe down the Mississippi. As we near the shores, the carp begin their frantic jumping. One fish, then two. Usually, no more than that. But today was a different story. The aluminum Grumman canoes served as giant lures for the invasives. The dirty backs of the 20-inch fish rise to the top of the River, then it all goes haywire. The fish leap up to three feet all around the canoes. They pound against the gunwales and flop over the bow. At this point our paddles become shields and weapons. A few fish have come charging like uncoordinated falcons at our bodies. Our grips tighten. Our paddles swing. A couple carp should have bruises at this point as we’ve punched some away from us. Some still land in the boat and flop their way back into the River after a few seconds. These things are aqua-monsters. Ugly, fat, and smelly. When we’re done screaming like school girls and the fish settle back the muddy River bed, we burst out into laughter and cursing.
Tonight, we floated onto shore with the sunset. 42 miles and feeling great. Magenta waves of clouds swirled with the grey to the west. The three-quarter moon floated higher in the sky, waiting for the darker hours. It was a pleasant end to the day. We ran through two dams today as we didn’t want to wait for the barges to spend their two hours in the lock. Our routine continued as usual at camp with a quick dinner over a fire. We’ve only been here an hour and we have sautéed veggies, lentils, and spaghetti. River life is only as difficult as you make it. Barges pass by, shining their spotlight on shore. Surely, the captains are cussing about our being faster than they are. Amanda is finishing up with tomorrow’s lunch. Dinner’s not done and we can’t wait for lunch tomorrow. We’ll pass through St. Louis in the next couple days, which means we’ll join forces with the Mighty Missouri River. It’s exciting to predict the change of pace as the arteries join. All that water from another part of the country will join with all the water we’ve been experiencing. We’ll accept it with open paddles and hopefully more miles per day.
It’s good to have Dave back.


Tales to Tell

It has been a wild, wild past five days. We have not gotten much sleep at all and have been going at full speed. And again, we haven't found a minute to sit down and write about the happenings of the River life. So, here's a not-too-detailed synopsis.
On Wednesday, we became seven as Dave wandered into Keokuk, IA. He caught a bus to St. Louis, where he flew out of to Georgia for a wedding. We requested that he bring back some fancy hors d'oeuvres from the reception. The rest of the crew made it to Alexandria, MO (the first town in the state). A friend from La Crosse suggested that we keep a sharp eye out for a purple building on stilts when we come up to town. We found it and gave a holler into the bar. They came out and pointed a hundred yards down stream to an island. with a cabin on it. "It's yours for the night," they said. We beached the canoes and cleaned the cabin up a bit. It had eight bunks, a great radio station, and boxes of pictures of the guys who use the cabin for hunting. They leave it open for all the River travelers, so long as they're not looking to use the butcher block. We spent the evening with a few of the locals who were playing classic country jukebox songs and drinking Stag and Budweiser. They told to come by at 11 a.m. for a free fish fry cooked up by Duck, a volunteer bartender. That night led to a ride in the back of a pickup to the bar owner's beautiful house. On the way to the fish fry, we spotted two canoes headed south. A strange enthusiasm came over us. They were kin. We never see canoeists on the River. "How far?" Louis yelled. "All the way," they yelled back. They came over to shore after we told them we were headed to the Gulf too. They said they knew we were good folks because all they could see from the other bank was our pants rolled up to our knees and a few full-brimmed hats. We dined together at the Purple Cow (the bar) and decided the best thing to do would be to pass the day together at the cabin. So, that's exactly what we did. A couple hours later, three of us were walking down the street and spotted a kayak with gear stack all over it. He was relieved to meet the two groups. He didn't think he'd meet other crazy people doing the River. So, we were then 13 at the cabin, all paddling down the River. And, we hear about a traveling theatrical group ahead of us. We intend to meet with them in the next week.
The following day, we tried to reach Quincy, IL, to meet with Bev, Jack, and Dorothy. We couldn't do it in time, but ended up meeting in La Grange, MO. We stashed our canoes in the woods with our gear, hopped into the parents' cars, and headed to St. Louis after a pit stop at the Golden Corral buffet. Our event was that night at the Atomic Cowboy. Quite an event it was. Our good friend Brett Arndt pieced together several awesome bands (Palace, Dear Vincent, John Hardy & The Public) with DJ Mauf inside. All the music had a lot of energy and talent behind it. Thank you to everyone who helped make that event a success. We raised a good chunk of money for the Lambi Fund.
As we've traveled along, we become more passionate about the cause. We've become more adamant about selling shirts and doing everything we can to raise awareness and keep Haiti on the front of people's minds. We can't express enough how much help people in Haiti need. The Lambi Fund is very grassroots-based and is effective in their strategies to help develop the nation and its people into a sustainable, self-sufficient country.
On Saturday, the crew, along with Bev, Jack, Pam, and Jerry, toured the zoo and the rest of the city's Central Park-sized green area. It was great to get the legs moving and not use our upper bodies. The cities are a really different experience for us. It's more complex to figure out how to get around, plan a day, and meet with people. The lifestyle is much different than that of the River. Brandy, Brett's wife, made a comment about how much more slowly paced our lives are than those of the city dwellers. It's true and it becomes a culture shock to throw ourselves into it. We plan a rest day in a city, but we end up getting three to five hours of sleep because we try to fit everything in and try to meet everyone we see. We're happy to do so, but we also strongly appreciate the River lifestyles we've adopted.
That day led into a wild night. We met some awesome people who ended up being our night's tour guides. We went to the City Museum at 10 p.m. We didn't go to study the history or to contemplate artistic influences of the 18th century. No, we went to climb all over statues, ride a Ferris wheel on a roof, and take a slide ten stories down into gem caves. This was the coolest adult playground we could have possibly thought to have visited. It was stories and stories of funky artwork, swings, slides, mazes, skateboard ramps, fun people, and cave rooms made of concrete animals. I (Michael) was fortunate enough to celebrate the first hour of my birthday there. One hell of a birthday party.
Exhausted in the morning (some stayed up until 5:30 a.m. wandering around the city), we made our way back to La Grange. We have to give a SERIOUSLY HUGE thanks to Bev, Jack, Dorothy, Pam, and Jerry. They have been an amazing group of Team Parents. We would not have the opportunity to enjoy all these towns, people, and the River without their flexibility and enthusiasm. We are sad to leave them after each event, but are so grateful to have them on our side.
Today, after two days on the River, we're in Hannibal, MO. It's the hometown of the humorous author and national hero Mark Twain. Everything here is based around him and his literature. It's a fun place, though many vacant buildings stand unpainted and deteriorating. Locals we've met say that there is an effort to bring in more tourism to make blossom the high potential for fruitful business. We're waiting here for Dave to get back from Georgia. We've missed him more than we anticipated. Some have wanted to set his tent up at camp just to create a fraction of his presence. We assumed the time would pass quickly (and it did), but when we mention Dave, it seems like a lot longer than it was. Hopefully, he had as much fun as we did this past week.
Oscar just came back to the coffee shop with a bright pink ukulele with tabs for six love songs. Should be funny to hear Oscar singing "Love Me Tender" around the campfire tonight. Now that we're back on the River, we'll try to get more posts on the site. we said that last time, but clearly we've had a wild series of sleepless nights. We're doing this whole thing the way it should be done. We wanted to see the artery of this huge country. And here we are, ambling through every town, raising awareness and money, meeting the real people who make up these great states, and learning more than any classroom could ever teach us. The River, for us, is not made of water and mud. It's made of towns, changing leaves, coffee shops, people, stories, sandbars, and the River travelers we come to learn about and love. Again, thank you to everyone who has helped us and even more thanks to those who've supported the cause to help Haiti.


Pink Skies, Muddy Waters

I apologize for the hiatus between posts. We've had some issues with internet access and computer battery. But as lot has happened. We couchsurfed with a wonderful woman who has now become a great friend to all of us. She managed to get us each a bed in the Isle of Capri hotel and Casino in Bettendorf, Iowa. We spent the afternoon with her at the Golden Corral, eating like savages, going up to the buffet more than a healthy amount. Oscar ended up with a plate of gummy bears and pudding with an ear-to-ear smile. We also went to HyVee grocery store. They donated twenty dollars' worth of food to our trip. It goes a long way. The night ended up with a few people wandering around the casino, throwing dollars into the penny slots and finally convincing ourselves that the odds were in our favor at the roulette table. They were not. Our new friend met us in the morning at the hotel restaurant and treated us again to a wonderful breakfast buffet with french toast, waffles, fruit, and omelets. What a great person she was.

We managed to head out of town by noon and put on as many miles as we could. We got stuck at a lock and dam for two hours, waiting for a barge to get its cargo through. One side of the River was the Rock Island Arsenal, onto which we were not allowed to step (although we talked them into letting us nap on the shore). The other side was too dangerous to get to. So, portaging was out of the question. After the wait, we made another few miles to a campground. There were several people there. They all lived in Muscotine (five miles south), but spent several days at a time in the campground as a getaway. At first, we thought it to be strange. But, after meeting a group of the campers (Mike, Kenneth, carol, Faith, John, and Melissa), we understood the camaraderie between them. We spent the evening with John and Melissa, both of whom are phenomenal people, then spent the morning with the rest of the crew. They treated us well, supported the T-shirt sales, and helped us out with food for the next week. We were on our way again, headed south down the Big River. Since then, we've been doing bigger mileage days. Today, for example, we did our biggest day (47 miles) with daylight to spare. The current has been generous.

Today brought the first clouds we'd seen in over a week. As much as we love the sun on our shoulders, it was nice to have an overcast day with a warm headwind brushing through the holes in our pants and flapping the Paddle to Haiti flags. The evening brought glassy waters and a pink horizon with a bridge in the distance. As we neared it, we saw box cars rolling behind a roaring engine. The train was long and slow but a gorgeous sight with the sun setting behind it. The wake behind us warped the reflection of the broken clouds. The arch of drips from the swinging paddles distorted the sun's reflection. It was all calm. The train passed by the bridge and a siren rang out. A section of the bridge began turning 90 degrees and a barge pushed through the open gap. The four canoes stopped accelerating and we all watched. It was a cool system to watch. The siren rang again and the bridge again closed the gap and another train took its turn.

Tonight, we're staying on a nice couple's lawn. They hosted a group of four thru-paddlers earlier this year. We have a great fire going and people are heading to visit with their dreams again. No doubt, we'll sleep 11 hours, as usual. Oscar just finished writing a request for a visa extension. If he doesn't get it, he'll leave us on November 1. If he does get it, he'll be able to finish the trip and see the rest of the charity work through. We all have our fingers crossed and couldn't imagine losing him before our arrival at the Gulf.

We've gotten several compliments on our Bending Branches paddles lately. I let a group of people feel how light one of them was and they couldn't believe it was actually wood. And such gorgeous wood at that. They're awesome to have, especially compared to some of the other raft guiding paddles we are using.

Again, sorry for the several days without a post. we have over 150 people checking this blog out daily. It's great to have such support from everyone. Tell your friends. We'll see you in St. Louis at the Atomic Cowboy venue on October 15. Lot's of music and great folks.


Birthday Party!

We've had two birthdays this week. Oscar turned 24 on October 1. Amanda turned 26 on October 6 (today). We got our hands on a set of party hats and wore them down the River for 32 miles until Dubuque, Iowa. This does mean that we've left the great state of Wisconsin and all of its dairy glory. Our borders are now Iowa and Illinois. The day went by quickly with everyone feeling fresh and healthier than the past few days (stomach flu has passed between a few crew members). Half way through the day, Louis made a few phone calls to Dubuque's local grocers. They were responsive and eager to help. Eagle Country Market donated 20 dollars' worth of delicious pastas, sauces, and some calorie-packed grub that will sustain the group another few days. A huge thanks to them. Teri, of Calico Bean, along with her humorous friend, enthusiastic husband, and curious child (Nile), kept a couple of us entertained in their shop, located in the oldest wooden structure in the area. They gave the group a bag full of phenomenal food, four pounds of which is the best peanut butter to pass man's lips- made of honey roasted peanuts. They then gave us a ride back to the River to meet the rest of the crew. They are incredible people. When the group reconvened at the River, Amanda was gone, seeking a movie theatre for her birthday. She came back empty handed but with an idea. She'd been speaking with the front desk of the Grand Harbor Hotel about places to camp and things to do in town. They mentioned that they sometimes offer rooms to people doing charity work. So, we went in, chatted it up with the manager, an energetic young man, and now I write this in the comfort of a 6th floor hotel suite. We're all showered, fed, tired, and overly-pampered. On top of all this, they comped our breakfast in the morning. It's pretty amazing how local businesses strive to give back to their community. We are all thoroughly impressed and thankful for the generosity and hospitality that continues to come our way. We do not assume we'll get this sort of compassion throughout the entire journey, but, so far, people have gone above and beyond all expectations and desires. Quite a birthday for Amanda.

More and more people have become interested in Paddle to Haiti. Our blog followers continue to increase in number and several businesses have linked their sites to ours. The donations keep coming in. The support has been nonstop from friends and family. Communities reach out to us whenever we reach out to them. Thank you for continuing to read the blog and tell your friends about our journey and efforts to help the population down in Haiti. Every penny counts!


Barges Need Locks. Canoeists Are Small.

We ate lunch at Alex's restaurant in La Crosse, then Eric and Danno saw us off. Out of the marina where we had hesitantly left our gear for two days, then into the Big Muddy. Three folks joined us. We were going to sleep on their floor in La Crosse, but plans changed. We still met up and traveled 20 miles with us. It was a tired day. Oktoberfest got the best of most of us the night before, leaving us drained of energy and eager to sleep. We made it to Lock #8. Dusk had passed and the stars were not bright enough to light our way down any more miles. The lockmaster jogged down to the end of the lock to suggest that we camp behind the lock on some flat ground. It was a generous suggestion and sounded a lot better than finding an island that was not flooded out after all the Midwest rain. So we set up some tents, got a $2 burger from a pub down the street, and moseyed back to find our makeshift pillows. Within a few minutes of the last tent zippers, a train came charging, barreling, and screaming down the tracks, no more than twenty feet from our tents. And it was not the last one. Some claim that over a dozen trains rolled by. Some claim five. The trains are fun to see on the side of the River. They roll north and south all day long. It's American industry hard at work. It's what Whitman wrote about- the hum and ding of a hardworking population. I think we all appreciate it, but when it scares the living hell out of you at 3 a.m., we're willing to see it take a rest.

We left this morning by 11 a.m. I guess we needed the sleep. With such a late start, we still managed to put on 31 miles. Oscar took his first stab at being being in stern. I thought we were going to take 40 miles to do 31 miles after hitting every bank 25 times. But he picked it up like a champ. We told him to point to a fixed spot and don't get off track or we wouldn't give him dinner. He's motivated by food and he impressed us all.

Today we said bye to Minnesota. We are n9ow on the border of Iowa and Wisconsin. and still, the Wisconsin bluffs stand taller, the colors are more vibrant, and the people have that extra sparkle in their eye. Maybe I'm biased. Go Pack, Go.

The end of the day was a race. We saw a barge to our left, going three time as fast as we were. With Oscar at one of the helms, we pushed hard past the 450-foot barge and got to the lock before it. With torn muscles, we were denied by the lockmaster. Barges apparently take precedent over scruffy canoeists. We asked a few carefully worded questions to the lockmaster and decided we wouldn't get fined if we ran the dam. The River's so flooded, there was no drop at all. We saved ourselves the two-hour wait and got to see the belly of a Mississippi dam. We camped soon after and saw the big ugly barge drift by in the dark. The small guy won that one. We may meet with the wonderful Wisconsin River tomorrow.


Trempeauleau, La Crosse, New Vision?

The Hueffners did us well. We canoed right up to the cabin in Trempealeau and Bob talked us through the process of opening and closing the cabin. Indeed, we've learned to appreciate the smaller things in life. We slipped off our sandals and dug our toes into the carpet. "What a great idea to put carpet in a kitchen," someone noticed. And, of course, Brett was the first to fall asleep on it. He's been known to fall asleep in chairs at any moment of the day, so it was good to see him lying in the hallway to the kitchen after a couple hours. He's learning. We spent a lazy morning there, feeling the need to take full advantage of the luxurious opportunity. We left by 2:30 without an ounce of guilt. And we left that afternoon with nine people instead of eight. The night before, we met another thru-paddler named David. He paddles a 16-foot, 48-pound canoe. He spent several months before the trip meticulously working on this canoe. He handmade every inch of it. He let me (Michael) paddle it for a day into La Crosse. It was, without a doubt, the best experience I've had in a canoe. Smooth, graceful, and efficient. The craftsmanship is outstanding. He is also using a beautiful Bending Branches paddle. Light as a feather, strong as a bull. David has been a great addition to our flotilla and he has intriguing theories about levity which we've all been able to contemplate as we float down river. Gravity is taking us.
We are now in La Crosse, Wisconsin, staying with Alex Johnson, a couchsurfer. We also connected with Dan Popelka and Jessy Ellison, friends from Stevens Point, now living in La Crosse. They set up an interview for Channel 8 at 10 p.m. last night. When we find the link to it, we'll post it. Last night, a few of us went over to their place and played music until Jessy had to go to work at 5 a.m. We decided the people in La Crosse were too good to leave behind. We are staying here for the day and will leave tomorrow. Oktoberfest is in full swing here. We will amble about the streets, trying every flavor of brat and sauerkraut known to Germany and Wisconsin, surely trying to sing the traditional "hoch soll sie leben" at each corner.
We've fallen into a great rhythm on the River. The current is pumping and will undoubtedly be for the next couple weeks. It takes us effortlessly through miles, allowing us more time to relax and enjoy towns like Trempeauleau and La Crosse. We know we'll make it to St. Louis in time for our next event (October 15). After recognizing the wealth of generosity that is pouring over us from people, co-ops, and businesses, we seem to have developed a more serious interest in getting to know these people and their stories. For example, a young man we're with today has been telling us of the trip he took down the River last year in a "shack-raft."
People have expressed interest in hearing about our day-to-day life on the River. Well, each day is quite a bit different from the next. Generally, the guys wake after hearing the ladies pumping the stove and giggling about the burst of flame from the dual burner Coleman. Within a few minutes, sleeping bag zippers resonate throughout camp (usually a sand bar or any flat land along the River), followed soon after by the unmistakable tent zippers, groaning, and a few distant laughs about my perpetual gas. Otherwise, mornings are quiet. Not much needs to be said when eight people are of a common mindset of devouring breakfast, packing up, and hitting the Muddy Highway, which the River has recently become. Typically, a few tent flies hang in the trees until we're ready to push off, in an effort to dry off the morning dew. Some mornings, we talk about coffee for a couple hours. Other days, we toss riddles back and forth until we can find one that Louis has to think about for more than ten minutes. We stop 15 or so miles downstream and eat the lunch we made the night before. It's usually a tuna wrap with a selection of veggies that a co-op donated to us. Or it's potatoes and onions, leftover from the St. Paul event. Instead of napping after lunch, some continue to paddle, others (usually Brett and Oscar) lounge, picking on the mandolin and guitar. Come afternoon, we start thinking about a site to stay at. At that point, we've gone about 35 miles (biggest day- 45 miles). The routine is similar to the morning, once we hit the shore. The only difference is that we're more chatty. Hit the shore, open the wanagan, start a fire, cook, set up tents, wash dishes, and relax around the fire. Nights are early, especially after a long paddle. But we try to get lunches taken care of before hitting the hay. If not, snacking is on the next day's menu. We've become pretty good at setting up and breaking camp. Everyone has their task and if something isn't done, the next available person takes care of it. We are like a vagrant community, a migrating family.
We're trying our best to keep everything updated on the site. Bear with us as our daily routine cannot always offer time for updates. We're gaining more and more money every day. Every penny of it goes to the Lambi Fund. We are trying to keep up with the donor recognition and all will soon be up to date. Thanks for continuing to follow our progress.



We’re just leaving Hastings, Mn, about 35 miles South of St. Paul. We had a beautiful, sun-filled day yesterday, with the current helping us by running about twice as fast as it had been, due to all the upstream rain. In about three miles we’ll be hitting the confluence of the St. Croix River and the Mississippi, which should make it even faster. We’ve got our lifejackets at the ready and Lock and Dam #2 (our fourth) is about 12 miles downstream. When we called ahead to alert the folks at the dam of our pending arrival, we were told that 2 kayakers had come through the day before, so it can’t be too hairy. We’re told to expect rising, faster water through Friday. We’re also frequently told we’re nuts to make this trip, which of course only serves to make us more determined to see it through. Last night’s delicious bratwurst dinner was donated by Bev and Jack Gutschenritter, and we dined listening to some great music, downloaded by Chris Dixon from Mac Ranch in Steamboat Springs.

We expect to make 30 to 40 miles today. We are looking forward to our stop in Trempeleau, Wi where we will have our own cabin courtesy of the Hueffner family (aunts and uncles to Lou and Michael). A kind couch surfer in LaCrosse, Alex, who owns a health food store, has volunteered to help us out when we get there.


Full Moon Reflections

We are putting the miles behind us. Tailwind or headwind, downpour or warm shoulders, we paddle. Well, we at least float. We've taken up the habit of procrastinating on sunny days. Instead of paddling, we lean back and catch some floating shut-eye. We wake with pink faces and unaware of the time. Other days, when it rains, we put our heads down, enter a state of zen, and paddle until we get to camp.
Our first event was a huge success. Yesterday, we hosted eight hours of eclectic music, 20 gallons of soup, and several barrels of delicious beer, compliments of Summit Brewery. By 10:30 a.m., youngsters were running around with face paint and sidewalk chalk. By noon, their parents stood, watching the kids climb all over the St. Paul Fire Department truck and the St. Paul police car. Fortunately, anyone who went in the backseat didn't have cuffs on. The public servicemen donated their time and resources to entertain the kids and adults alike. Later in the day, the party got cranking, people got to dancing, and before we knew it, we were getting more barrels. The raffle was a huge hit, too. The Bending Branches paddles and Joe Mauer's signed baseball were huge money-makers. We raised just under $2,400. That puts our running total over $10,000. That's a lot of dough that's going to help out a lot of people in Haiti. So many people pitched into the event and made it happen smoothly and flawlessly. Everyone had a ball and was eager to hear about the trip and the cause. We thank Adam Johnson most of all. A true networker and a motivated individual, AJ worked for months, sleeping little, stressing much, and pulling all the strings, to make this event what it was.
Tomorrow, we hit the River again, get back into our stride, and migrate with the geese. Sometimes the crew ends up in a V-pattern and I wonder if it's instinct. The full moon has been wonderful, reflecting off the River at each bend. We may try to use the still large waning light to do a night paddle. Weather looks to be cooperative for the coming week. Temperatures are undeniably lowering. Leaves are turning summer into autumn. We will chase these colors to the Gulf. We've determined we'll begin the journey of borders tomorrow as we leave Minnesota's body and, instead, have it on our right, while Wisconsin will be on our left. This is all quite exciting. We're getting a bit rough around the edges- real River Rats.


Minneapolis/St. Paul!

After much rain(18 hours straight), we made it to the Twin Cities. We we happily greeted by AJ, the man responsible for the huge festival that will be taking place tomorrow, saturday the 25th, at Highland Park in St. Paul. We have been running around with him trying to help out and are always amazed at just how much time and effort he has put in, and, as a result, how great of an event it will be. Hope to see you all there tomorrow!


Here comes the rain

After an excellent stay in St. Cloud with a couchsurfer named Holly and her friends, life on the river has been easy. Yesterday we got off to a late start after enjoying the luxuries of indoor life  The sun shone brightly, the current was fast.  We pulled out the guitar, the mandolin, the fishing poles and some snacks as we leisurely floated down to our chosen campsite, 20 miles downstream. Dinner was bratwurst and sauteed onions and peppers, thanks to a friend named Pete, who is kayaking with us from St. Cloud to the twin cities. We happily drifted into sleep under a nearly full moon.

Oscar and Brett play their way down the river.
An easy day on the river can only be appreciated once you have something to compare it to, and it sounds like yet another reminder of that is headed our way. This afternoon, a passing fisherman asked us what we we were planning on doing about all the rain. What rain? It is supposed to rain? A call to Brett's sister confirmed that the remnants of a massive hurricane is headed our way. Five inches of rain is expected, lightning, flood warnings are in effect. We have set up our camp and plan to wait and see what the river and the weather look like in the morning. Hopefully the added water will only quicken our travels. Sounds like is will be a wet tomorrow.


Current, Dams, and Mandolin Dreams

We finished a long day today. And we are now in the great hospitality of Holly Santiago and her friends. Fortunately, among those friends in a massage therapist who I am trying to convince to offer service. So far, not so good. We woke this morning with strong current. It was hopeful, promising for an easy day. It lasted only a few miles. We always seem to be paddling across an endless lake. Current is weak, sometimes nonexistent, and the wind is always at our face. Hair gets pushed toward the stern. Faces get flush from wind instead of sun. The reeds dancing at the surface of the River let us know there is indeed a current. Again, it's hopeful.
The dams are to blame. They create huge reservoirs, several miles long. The portages, therefore, have also become abundant. We're getting better and more efficient, hauling gear, then canoes. Oscar brought a skateboard. We teased him at first until we began setting the canoes atop it and skating our canoes around the dam. These dams are mighty structures. But it's sad to see so many obstacles interfering with the natural course of the River. Hard to believe this is only the beginning of them. we wonder each time what the River used to be like.
Brett bought a mandolin to complement the community guitar and harmonicas. Everyone fiddles around on the instruments. The twang rings throughout the campsite and around the fire. Those who are early to bed fall asleep to the stringy beats and harmonica toots. For some reason, it all sounds better in a tent after a tough day. The aching backs and weary triceps soon give in to the gentle cadence of the tunes and we fall smoothly into mandolin dreams. 


Day 13 - Aitken Park, Bring on the Rain

I write this from under the "mega-tarp." Brett managed to bring a football field-sized tarp that has saved us from wet tents and miserable nights time and time again. Every night, we raise the population of a new town by eight people. We were all sad to see Matt Bailey hitch-hike in the opposite direction from us due to some unforeseen circumstances. But the same day we saw Matt stick his lone thumb out, we got news from our Colombian friend, Oscar, with whom we played Ultimate Frisbee in Steamboat. He couldn't find work to support a surfing lifestyle out in San Diego, so he joined us, after using all methods of transportation, in Sandy Lake recreation area, just up stream of Palisade, Minn. We are again eight, which has proven to allow faster, more efficient paddling. His enthusiasm and lack of expectations are welcome in this crew. The full day of rain today didn't stop the bald eagles from sweeping down by our canoes and soaring south. They may be faster than we are, but we share a common direction and appreciation for the bountiful beauty of northern Minnesota. We arrived at the state park this evening, expecting showers, shelter, and space to make a warm meal. Our resources were not as reliable as we hoped, but the night ended up great. We met a man traveling for work who offered to head to town for a resupply. Though we all had a luxury, such as hot chocolate and marshmallows on our minds, we refused. His nephew and his nephew's wife showed up later with dry firewood and pleasant conversation. We cooked rolls and hot dogs in the fire. Now, the crew is munching on cinnamon rolls- a treat we picked up in Grand Rapids. Collectively, we end each day feeling that "roughing it" is not as bad as people have made it out to be- not with cinnamon rolls at least.
Brett made up an itinerary that we can follow in order to make it to St. Paul in time for the event. It involves many 30-mile days, which, considering the quickening pace of the River, is quite feasible. But we have decided not to rush anything. We are getting a taste of the towns and the people along the shores. Many have offered hospitality, food, and a beverage over a conversation. And we've taken them all up on their offers. A few people send a holler from shore. We heed and yak it up for a few minutes, then hit the aqua highway. Everyone has been overwhelmingly generous. Is it because of the cause we work for or is it out of the hospitable spirit of Minnesota? I don't know, but it has begun to affect us deeply. Although the crew has Haiti on the forefront of thought, it is impossible to live outside the moment. It is impossible to bypass these people and to ignore the intrigue we've ignited in the towns. tomorrow morning, before we head out of camp, we have another interview with a local newspaper. We plan to have everything packed up and ready to go by 7:45 am, when we meet the reporter. We'll have to get some beauty sleep before our picture hits the press, I suppose. Then, after we get out our quotes out to the public and grab a quick breakfast, we'll paddle 41 miles, giving us an easy day into Brainerd on Friday.
Wildlife abounds, spirits remain heightened, paddles continue to stroke, people prove the American spirit, and we head south for Haiti.
The original 8. From left to right- Amanda Stenman, Matt Bailey, Brett Poche, Dave Lathrop, Karrie Kressler, Michael Gutschenritter, Zach Wehr, Louis Gutschenritter


Big Lakes, Wind and Rain

We are rushing out the door right now from an excellent stay at the Northard's home in Grand Rapids, Mn. A lot has happened recently, hence the lack of updates. Lots of rain, Lots of wind. We are 167 mile into the trip and feeling good. Unfortunately, Matt Bailey has had some issues with his visa to study in London, and has had to fly back to atlanta 2 weeks early to get it settled. We have since realized just how difficult it is to paddle a tandem canoe with one person in 20-25mph head winds. Luckily, the same day that Matt gave us the bad news, our Columbian friend oscar gave us word that he wanted to join us. He flies into Minneapolis today and with any luck, should be onboard mid-day tuesday. I hope to upload some pics later tonight, but until now, check out this great image of the Mississippi and how it has changed course over the ages


Day 5 - Stump Lake

At last, after a long day and very few miles, we are staying warm around a fire. Last night, our new best friend Brett Cease met us on the northern shore of Bemidji Lake. "Yah, we'll get you a good hot meal. Oh, boy, what an adventure you all have ahead of you." A true northern Minnesotan. We'd made plans to meet him and spend the evening at a site he'd rented out. Within the hour, the eight paddlers and Brett were feasting on chicken, rice, locally grown produce, and a few beers. The rain picked up outside of our monster-sized tarp. Brett put on his flannel and never let the conversation come to a lull. The night led into s'mores and hilarious stories. Hilarious because of the content but more so because of the awesome "yah-der-hey" accent.
It was tough waking up to the drizzly morning. Louis woke faster than anyone, though. The nine-foot oar we had used to prop up the tarp came swinging down like a hatchet to Louis' face at about 5 a.m. This all after the other oar fell to Zach's noggen earlier in the night. Both drew blood. We'll learn. On the water by 1 in the afternoon, we added a canoe to our fleet. Brett Cease joined us in a solo Grumman canoe making occasional striking comments such as "This is what life is all about, I'd say." But within a quarter mile on the lake, we took a turn for the closest shore. Swells became whitecaps and the vessels were taking on more water than we could handle. "One big wave," Louis said, "and we're swimming." We stayed silent for a moment then Louis declared the assumed, "I don't want to swim." Time to put on the thinking caps.
After sitting around and eating some jalapeno cheetos, Brett made a few phone calls and in no time, another great Bemidjian,Tom Kusler,  up with a truck and trailer to drive our three mile portage to the outlet of the lake. The River was calm. The breeze was warm. Mist floated around us until the sun made its promised appearance to warm our exposed feet. Still with us, Brett had an ear-to-ear grin paddling gracefully with a straight back and smooth stride. If he were an animal, he'd be a bald eagle.
We made it to Lake Stump campsite to finish off a very short four-mile day. There, Brett gave a heartwarming farewell and went another two miles to meet with his sister, Allison. We're all hoping he's waiting for us tomorrow at the next road crossing. For now, we feel happy to have had Brett as Bemidji's representative and will rise early tomorrow for a long day of paddling. In Bemiji, Harmony Natural Foods, the local Co-op, gave us a big box of fresh locally grown produce. Perfect fuel for a canoe trip! Big thanks to them! www.harmonycoop.com


Day 4 - Beminji

Today we traveled 25 or so miles from Iron Bridge Campsite, a beautiful gladed campsite situated in an oak forest with three sided shelter, a picnic table and lush green grass. Because the site is river access only, the only real visitors are canoeists, typically a respectful and tidy bunch. The eight of us enjoyed a wonderful meal of mashed potatoes, green beans, cabbage and sloppy joes as we watched the receding sun set over the expansive marsh that we had paddled just hours before. Bellies full, muscles aching, it only took a few songs on the junior sized guitar by Brett and a couple of nips of whiskey before we crawled into our tents at 9:30, content.

The next morning, we had agreed to get up and on the river by 8, a process which could take less than an hour, but never does. Planning for this, the coffee percolated just after 6:30 and the flurry of activity that is our morning routine was begun. Last boat left the beach at 7:58. Pretty good for 8 humans. We headed to Beminji, the first town that we will hit along the way. There, we had arranged to meet a couchsurfer named Brett. Because of our large group and his home's distance from the river, he instead offered to rent us a campsite at the Beminji Lake State Park. The paddle across the lake was long and arduous, with headwind gusts of 25mph and whitecapped waves always threatening to dump our boat. But spirits were high, a delicious meal was also promised on the other side. Shortly after arriving, the rain came. It is forcasted to rain 2 inches tonight, and, from what i can see, this seems to be true. Luckily we have along with us an enormous tarp (probably 40 feet x 70 feet) that we have rigged up with our as-of-yet unused oars to make quite a circus tent.Brett has made an excellent meal of chicken and rice, green beans, potatoes, and green peppers, all in an incredible thai sauce. That, along with s'mores that he brought and boxed wine that we picked up in bemidji, it is a good night.

Here are some pictures from day 2. The first one really gives a perspective on how small the river is in the first 50 miles. Now that we have cell service and some access to electricity, we hope to be able to post more often. Again, thanks for all of the donations that keep coming in!

Day 3 on the river

It is our third day on the river, 40 miles in, and although we had some cold drizzle the first morning, we have since had beautiful skies with highs in the 70's and nights in the 40's.  We are on a very narrow section of river with lush marshland to each side. We have spotted bald eagles and otters, enjoyed delicious meals, and are looking forward to reaching Lake Bemidji on Labor Day.  It's been smooth sailing (er, paddling) and we are settling into a pleasant rhythm.


Heading to the Put-In

After an incredibly busy week of pre-adventure organization at the Gutschenritter family farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, we are finally on our way to the headwaters of the great Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Jack and John Gutschenritter have kindly offered to drive us as well as the four canoes, two oar frames, oars, paddles and all of our gear. We are currently cruising west on I-90 and expect to be at camp at the headwaters slightly before nightfall.

We have already had a bit of drama on the road. A little more than an hour in to our trip, a poorly strapped oar frame (my fault) slid off of the top of Jack's SUV onto the highway where it was promptly destroyed. Thankfully, noone was hurt. This means that we will now have one oar frame and three tandem paddle canoes. And with change being the only constant on trips like these, I highly doubt that this will be the configuration with which we will finish.

Here is a picture of our rigs:


The Adventure Approaches!

As the September 3rd put-in date approaches, the ten members of Paddle to Haiti prepare to finish up our summer adventures and embark on a whole new adventure. We will meet at the Gutschenritter Family farm in Oconomowoc, Wi at the end of this month to organize our gear, canoes and our lives before driving up to the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota

We have secured four boats to use on the river: one from Amanda, one from Michael's family, and two from Mohawk canoes. Thanks to the good folks at Mohawk for setting us up with their canoes. Zach Wehr managed to fit the two of them on top of his Subaru.


Welcome to Paddle to Haiti

The Mission:
We are members of Paddle to Haiti, a charitable organization raising funds in support of the long-term recovery of Haiti and its population. On September 3, 2010, we will canoe the Mississippi River from the headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico by November 30, 2010. We will raise $50,000 that we will donate to The Lambi Fund of Haiti, working hands-on with the Haitian people. To do this, we will gladly accept both food and monetary donations. To learn more about the hard-working crew in Haiti, go to http://www.lambifund.org/

The Crew:
The crew for Paddle to Haiti has a lot of experience with paddling sports, wilderness, and social skills. We have a spirit for exploration and adventure and the concern and awareness for the global population.  Our tenacity toward achieving goals has developed in us a serious sense of dedication. Every crew member has developed a long list of accomplishments and plans to see this river journey through to the bayou.   

If you'd like to get in touch with us with advice, comments, questions, or suggestions, shoot us an email at PaddleToHaiti@gmail.com or give us a jingle at (404) 625 4379 or (262) 470 4429.

Any mail/donations can be  made out to 'Paddle to Haiti' and sent to us directly at:

Paddle to Haiti
34109 Mapleton Road
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066
Thanks for the support!