Taking a River Canoe Trip on the Mississippi

Cindy and Steve Cooper take a nineteen-hundred mile trip down the Mississippi in a river canoe, paddling, camping and accepting the kindness of strangers during their journey.

| July/August 1970

  • Canoe river trip
    Ohio and Mississippi Rivers all the way to ole New Orleans. Nineteen hundred miles.
    Photo by Fotolia/Maksym Gorpenyuk

  • Canoe river trip

I'm a big Mark Twain fan and I think Huck Finn was a good guy but — when my husband, Steve, suggested that we river canoe from upstate Ohio to New Orleans — I thought he was making some kind of outlandish joke. It took some time for me to stop laughing and really consider the idea: A river canoe trip down the Mohican, Muskingum, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers all the way to ole New Orleans. Nineteen hundred miles.

I soon quit chuckling altogether and adopted the idea as my own. There was one still-funny part, however: Neither of us had ever canoed before.

As with most projects, the hardest part of this one was in the "getting going". Equipment and money were not easy but, with two months earnings and a little savings, we were ready to shove off. The biggest single item — a 250-dollar, 17-foot Grumman canoe — was a gift.

If you'd like to duplicate our odyssey and money is a large problem, there are some workable solutions. For one thing, if you don't mind exposing yourself to advance publicity, people will donate all sorts of equipment. It also would be fairly easy on a journey like this to get odd jobs, especially at the numerous yacht clubs, harbors and homes on the Ohio River. If time and momentum are of no concern, you can work on farms or in towns along the way. I even read a dusty old book about a guy who built a houseboat and took a similar journey in a couple years' time — growing his own food on the way!

Another method of obtaining funds — more likely after the trip is completed — is by writing stories for magazines and journals. National Geographic, True, sporting publications, wildlife and conservation magazines and newspaper Sunday supplements are excellent targets, especially if you manage to get some good photographs.

We took no cash with us. We did have 350 dollars in traveler's checks and we spent only about 200 dollars of that. Total expenses for both of us were under 3 dollars a day — cheap living by any standards. Yet, even a large part of that money was unnecessarily expended, especially on the earlier parts of the trip when we were less disciplined to the ways of the wild.

5/18/2009 12:41:00 PM

It's obvious that you know very little about canoeing and camping and give some pretty poor advice that people would be wise to ignore. Such as "don't get uptight about things being stolen - it just won't happen." Are you seriously that naive? Have you stepped outside lately? People should hide their canoe and lock it with a bicycle chain when going into town. And take anything valuable with you. And that cheap tent you bought (probably at Wal-Mart) was one of the biggest mistakes you made. Of course it got destroyed in a storm. It was cheap junk good only for camping one night in a state park near the RV 'campers' and the playground. And it's no wonder you had such a difficult time finding a campsite suitable for such a massive tent. You don't need something that big for 2 people. That tent was the size of a golf course. "but life jackets are pretty useless despite what the red cross manuals say". What?! 500,000 cubic feet of water drain from the Mississippi every second. It's massive and unforgiving. Barges, speed boats and fishing boats can throw a wake that can capsize your canoe in a heartbeat. You can bounce off a rock, crack your head on the canoe, or hit a submerged tree stump and end up floating face down in the largest river on the continent. Life jackets are a must and should be word all the time. Your advice will get people killed. Why didn't you take any dry sacks to store clothes and sleeping bags in? That's common knowledge for anyone in a canoe. Your measurements for the paddles was WAY off. One should sit in a chair, stand the paddle on end, and the tip should be eye level. Your paddles were too long and you had no leverage while paddling. Also, a cheap 5-10 dollar paddle is junk. Honestly I'm surprised the two of you didn't die on that river. Please, anyone reading this article, take it with a grain of salt. LEARN what you need to do and read a book. It's not

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