Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mississippi Madness

Credit: ibiblio.org

“Mississippi Madness: Canoeing the Mississippi-Missouri” by Nicholas Frances and William Butcher (pub. 1990, simultaneously by Oxford Illust. Press, Somerset, England, and by Sheridan House, NY, 191pp, maps and illust., 2 appendices.)

Perhaps in an effort to settle the old argument about what is a canoe and what is a kayak, the author(Frances) explains that in England, everything is a canoe. There is the closed canoe of the Eskimo tradition, popularly called a kayak, and the open canoe of the Native American. For those of you that enjoy engaging in this popular debate, this may either help or hinder your point of view. But then along comes my Superior Expedition, which some refer to as a canak, an attempt at combining the positive traits of both.

This is an account of Frances’ 3,810 mile marathon paddle from the Three Forks of Montana to the three forks of the Mississippi Delta. It brought him several Guinness World records, and created a phenomenal mental and physical challenge for him and his support team. Working on information he was able to gather in the UK, the greatest problem with his trip planning was all his estimates of time and distance were based on what he had heard about Mississippi currents. He failed to factor in the large damned lakes on the Missouri which have no current, and often have dangerous winds that can destroy paddling plans for some periods. He also couldn’t anticipate some problems that they would encounter along the way, and his expected three month trip ran into five months. They were almost always financially bankrupt, often without food, had one kayak stolen along with some gear, and lost another in a whirlpool when Frances also nearly lost his life.

He had too many close encounters with poisonous snakes, including one he found cuddling against him when he awoke from a sleep where he had collapsed in a state of exhaustion hours before. He was nearly run down by towboats and barges, avoided being ground to pieces by the turbines in a hydroelectric plant by sheer luck of timing, was shot at by Indians, and the challenges went on and on.

The trip was the realization of a childhood dream that pursued him into adulthood, and he risked everything to see it accomplished. At the end, he pretty much concluded that only a fool would make such a trip. It produced nothing for him in the way of some expected self-realization. It left him with many regrets, like the loss of a couple close friends due to the constant excesses of stress and cost and exhaustion. However, it was a feat few could ever achieve, let alone dream of, and he had pulled it off. Guinness World records aside, it was a major accomplishment by any standard.

This book may also be read on line at:  http://www.ibiblio.org/julesverne/books/mm.htm

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