Logistics

This is written in a ‘what you need and what to expect’ format, but intended to be light and fun enough to interest and hopefully entertain the layman reader.  If you are seeing this because you are doing your research and planning your trip please leave a comment or email me at ronaldhaines@bellsouth.net.  I took a lot from the experiences of others before I did this trip and am happy to pay back with more detailed information.

Water from Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota spills over the rocks I am standing on and becomes the Mississippi River. (Photo by Jim Bogdan)

Time.  That was pretty easy for me.  I was let go from my job in May, 2003, at age 59.  I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I just knew that I didn’t want to look for another job and that I had wanted to ‘be someplace else’ for a long time.  That and my canoe experience and the lure and lore of the Mississippi River, which I had explored and lived a block from in Iowa for several years, came together and I announced to my wife over dinner one evening that I was going to canoe the river.  I think she was simply happy I found something to do and wouldn’t be underfoot. This trip took me three and a half months. A couple I came to know in St. Cloud, MN, Jim and Carol Otremba, did it in three months years ago because that’s all the time off of work they had.  They hustled their butts off.  I paddled hard every day I was on the river, but took some one or two day breaks and didn’t paddle through rainstorms like they did. So figure at least three months for this. (Jim and Carol’s book is called “A Journal of a Mississippi River Canoe Adventure: It’s a Long Way for a Beignet”)

Paddling experience.  That was easy for me too.  I have owned my Grumman 17-foot standard weight double-end aluminum canoe since the early 70’s.  I have put many miles on it both paddling and under sail on rivers and lakes in Iowa, Illinois and Florida. This canoe was my dear old friend and it was coming along!  If you are a beginning paddler just understand that you have a learning curve you’ll have to climb as you go along.  Not a problem, or a reason not to go, but just another factor to deal with.  I estimated that I did a million paddle strokes on this trip (meaning that you’ll have plenty of time to practice your strokes to get it just right).

The house.  This is a very long camping trip.  You’ll need to build your house every day.  An easy to set up tent is a must. I like the room of a 3-4 person rating (for my body length and because I could bring into the tent the stuff I wanted to keep near me at all times).  It should pack small, and have a good rainfly and a groundcloth.  And be prepared to tie it down in heavy winds. Holed up for  two very windy and rainy days in an exposed spot on the lower portion of the river, I even lined the INSIDE of my tent with small boulders so I wouldn’t get blown away.

The bed.  I knew I needed a comfortable night’s sleep.  And I also knew I would not have the space for a big mattress and cot nor the energy to blow up an air mattress every day.  I found a great, self-inflating, four-inch thick mattress.  I chose a moderate-temperature down sleeping bag.  They pack nice and small.

The campsite.  The level of the river was pretty low and campsites were easy to find when I went.  You need some high ground and a way to tie up the canoe so it doesn’t disappear overnight.  Wide sandbars are nice and woods are great, especially if a storm is coming up.  In the very upper reaches in Minnesota there are established campsites maintained by the state for paddlers.  Through the Midwest there are lots of choices.  Areas around boat ramps and even city parks (but check for automatic sprinkling systems first!) were fair game for me and I was never hassled. Downstream from St. Louis it becomes more difficult because of all the huge stones and other riprap used to control erosion and maintain the channel. Because I usually started paddling as the sun came up I was ready to look for a good campsite while there was still plenty of light left in the long summer days.  The one thing I decided early on was that I did not want to be on the river in the dark looking for a place to sleep.

The food.  I am a minimalist with food.  Breakfasts and lunches were granola bars or cereal bars in whatever varieties I chose to buy, supplemented with a jar of peanut butter, and eaten on the fly.  I ate more than a thousand bars on this trip. That made resupply fun; just pop into a store and grab one or two of every variety of bar they had. Supper at night after setting up the tent was a one-pot meal cooked on a one-burner stove.  I used Lipton Sides or equivalent (pasta or rice in various flavors, cooked in boiling water) and a variety of canned meats (chicken, turkey, tuna fish, Spam, small sausages etc.) to mix in, and I usually devoured the whole thing every night.  I always kept a couple weeks’ supply of food with me.

The liquid.  I decided not to deal with the logistics of finding ice, so I didn’t bring a cooler—not an easy decision for a beer lover.  When I needed a hops boost on a warm day I got pretty good at pulling up to sandbars filled with picnicking day trippers and at fish camps looking really tired and thirsty.  I had a seven-gallon container of water packed in the bottom of the canoe up front for ballast and a two-gallon container within reach to fill my water bottle when needed.  I found that to be plenty for all the cooking and drinking, even in the long stretches without towns in the lower reaches of the river. 

The packing.  I used watertight bags, a plastic camping box with a clamp-down lid and a five-gallon bucket with a screw-on lid so I did not have to worry about things getting wet.   A large dry bag held my shelter and bed—the tent, the mattress and the sleeping bag—so that at the end of a day, that bag would be all I needed to set up my house.  I used three smaller dry bags for clothes, maps, extra ropes, extra batteries, books to read, etc.  The camping box held food, stove and utensils.  The bucket held the important stuff and stayed right behind me in the canoe and was with me in the tent every night.  In it was a small backpack (thank you Kim and Summer) with the camera (thank you Peter Brandt) and memory cards, the cell phone, the money and credit cards, and the maps for the immediate upcoming sections of the river.  That backpack was with me whenever I left the canoe to go into a town. Permanently attached to the handle of the bucket was the alarm wristwatch that woke me up in the tent every morning.  And the bucket also served as a table, a footstool and a guest chair.  So, to make myself secure and comfortable every night all I needed to remove from the canoe were three things—the large bag with the house and bed, the box with the kitchen and the bucket with the important stuff and the alarm clock.

 The wheels.  These were essential.  Above Minneapolis-St. Paul there are a number of dams.  The owners of those dams, usually a power company or municipality or the Corps of Engineers, are required to maintain a take-out point, a portage path and a put in point, but it is up to you to get your stuff around the dam on the portage path, sometimes several hundred yards long, generally up a hill then down a hill.  A good set of wheels allowed me to take the canoe and all my cargo around most of the dams in one,  or at the most, two, trips.  As easy as that sounds, I was exhausted after most portages and took a catnap in the shade before setting off.

The clothes.  I packed up all the old clothes I had around the house.  I took way too much.  You’re a river bum. No one expects you to smell nice or look good. The people you see tomorrow will not be the same people you saw today.  And sometimes you can go a week without seeing anyone. If you stop in towns you can wash your clothes. So take three changes at most and make sure you have what you need to layer up if it gets chilly.  And take a rain suit with pants. It’ll double as a windbreaker. Along the way I bought a pair of waterproof gloves when it got cold, so if you already have some, pack them.  One pair of tennis shoes and a pair of water shoes was all I took and all I needed.

Your safety.  Obviously take a first aid kit along and know basic first aid.  And be very aware that the slip of a knife or the small trip and sprain, or even the swallowing of a pill (bring chewable ones) is potentially way more dangerous for you in the middle of nowhere than it would be in your house.  The bottom line is don’t take chances.  If you aren’t already a capable gun owner don’t even think about buying one for this trip.  If you think you need a weapon, take one of your paddles into the tent with you at night.  The one thing you definitely need is a life jacket that automatically inflates if you hit the water. A regular life jacket is bulky and hot and its easy to talk yourself into not wearing it.  The self-inflatable ones (thank you Amanda and my friends at Splash News in Los Angeles) are light and small.  I wore mine nearly all the time.

The river.  The Mississippi River is basically three rivers: 1. From the beginning at Lake Itasca to Minneapolis-St. Paul it goes from a sometimes shallow and narrow creek to a channel or not-so-defined channel through wild rice swamps to a nice pleasant narrow river with some current.  And it passes through several very large lakes too.  Included are 11 dams that have to be portaged and some nice Minnesota river towns.  2. At Minneapolis-St. Paul it becomes an increasingly busy and wide commercial river, with 29 locks and dams built and controlled by the Corp of Engineers, all the way to St. Louis. Towboats with numerous barges are present the entire way. They are slow, very visible and easy to avoid.  The nice thing is that you can use the locks instead of portaging, but the downside is that the dams create ‘pools,’ basically lakes stretching 30 or 40 miles long.  With winds generally from the south and southwest in the late summer and early fall it makes for some hard paddling with little help from the current.  3. After St. Louis there are no more dams and the river is free-flowing again.  Sounds good, but it’s extremely wide with lots of miles-long oxbows.  If the current is sluggish, as it was for me, prepare to paddle all the time.  This lower section takes on a different flavor south of Baton Rouge, where ocean-going ships and the fast, large-wake-leaving tugboats that service them ply the waters.  These boats move way faster than the towboats and barges upstream and you need to be very wary of them, especially if you paddle at night.

 

One of the pleasures of my trip was camping out on remote sections of the river.  This campsite was downstream from where the Ohio joins the Mississippi at the tip of Illinois. (Photo by Ron Haines)

 

Navigation.  Definitely get the series of maps from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the section from Lake Itasca to the Minnesota border.  They are invaluable in the upper reaches for the detail about conditions and towns and campsites, many built in the Civilian Conservation Corps days.  They are small and easy to read in a canoe.  The Corps of Engineers has navigation maps from Minneapolis-St. Paul down to New Orleans. They are huge books.  I found them helpful, but cumbersome for daily use.  I usually just took one out at the campsite and made notes from it for the next few day’s paddling.   Navigation buoys exist below Minneapolis-St. Paul, but they just tell you where the main channel is, not where the towns and shortcuts are.  For that you need a decent map.  You might also want to pick up a Quimby’s guide, even an older one.  It is more commercial and is a good guide to marinas.

The getting there and the getting home.  Lake Itasca, MN, where the Mississippi River begins, is a couple hundred miles north of Minneapolis in a pretty rural area.  I had used my nationwide Sierra Club volunteer connections to try to find someone around there who’d be willing to drop me on the river and store my car for me, but nothing was working out. Even scant weeks from setting off I figured I’d just get up there and find someone to help me somehow.  And then a conversation with Franklin Berger, a photographer friend in California, started a ball rolling.  Franklin had a friend in La Crosse, WI, who had a friend near Minneapolis.  So, with the help of Jim Bogdan in La Crosse and Bill Melby in Northfield, MN, I had a plan:  I stopped in La Crosse on the way up, Jim and I drove separate cars to Bill’s and left his there and we then drove together to Lake Itasca in my car.  I put in the river there, Jim drove my car to Bill’s and left it there, and drove home in his own car. A plus for me was that Bill used the car occasionally, so it didn’t just sit there (he also paid for a brake job on it in exchange for his use of it). The ending arrangements fell together easier.  Maurice Coman, a  Sierra Club friend from Florida who had relocated to New Orleans, volunteered early on to pick me up from the river. He and his wife, Barbara, hosted me for a couple days and stored my canoe and stuff at their house while I headed north on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.  Bill picked me up at the Minneapolis train station in my car.  Sweet!  If that all hadn’t fallen into place so nicely, I probably would have looked into one-way car rentals for the beginning and the end.

The rocking chair.  As an afterthought before I left Florida I threw a fold up aluminum rocking chair into the car and I was thankful every single day on the river that I had it with me.  There is nothing better for a weary body that has paddled all day, found a good campsite and set up the house than to relax in a rocking chair with a hot cup of coffee, feet up on the bucket, and watch the sun set.  You deserve a rocking chair!

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30 Responses to Logistics

  1. Rochelle Wagener says:

    A good read! Made me smile and almost give it a try myself!

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Let me know. I still have all the equipment and the rental will be cheap. You might want to buy a fresh sleeping bag though. I haven’t unpacked mine in years, but I suspect it’s pretty ripe.

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  2. jenngator222 says:

    Love it, can’t wait to read more! Proud to have you as my dad!

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  3. Jim Bogdan says:

    Hi Ron! Congrats on the synopsis of the Grand Tour! I just got home from a job and need to settle into my rocking chair (wood and fabric, not aluminum) but am anxious to read the whole account at a leisurley pace. Also, perhaps Franklin has told you I have something to send you and I really will (really, I will!). I have your address and promise to get it in the mail before I retire!! (or expire) 🙂

    Jim

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Thanks Jim. The whole saga isn’t there yet, but it will be in the coming weeks and months. Goodness knows I have put it off for too long already, but I’ve only been retired for two days. I am looking forward to the project. Hope I gave you proper credit for helping me get launched. It meant a lot to me that new found friends and great people helped me with the process of starting off. Haven’t talked to Franklin lately, so no, he hasn’t told me anything, so it’ll be a surprise.

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    • Ron Haines says:

      I realized I didn’t give you photo credit for the standing on the rocks photo, and I somehow figured out how to correct that error and the photo credit is now there!

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  4. Brother Roger says:

    Even though I remain among the unfortunate mass of slobs who must WORK for a living, I dogged it for a bit and read it.
    It doesn’t suck. 🙂

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  5. Lisa Hanley says:

    One typo:”… I was ready to look for a good campsite while there was still pretty of light…” I think you meant plenty. I can’t believe it’s been almost eight years! And, although I’m sure this was not your intent, you have convinced me not to canoe the Mississippi River now that I’ve been forcibly retired from my job!

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  6. Peggy Peterson says:

    Rog, this is GREAT! Wonderful entertainment as we’re ‘stranded’ here in MN! Bringing your adventures to life for us landlubbers… We visited the National Eagle Center at Wabasha on our way here. Enjoyable. You saw plenty of eagles w/o having to visit the center!
    We’re eager for future installments.
    Peg

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Dear Peggy,
      I am Ron, not Rog. Our mother used to confuse us all the time, but I thought you’d figured it out (insert smiley face here). Yes, I was truly amazed at the number of eagles I saw. When I lived in Iowa in the 1970’s and explored the river I never saw one. They’ve bounced back!

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  7. Just wanted to thank you for posting these stories. Very easy to “hear” your voice reading them, and very exciting tales for those of us who struggle just getting out of the house! 🙂

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  8. April Sandmeyer says:

    Thanks Ron. I really enjoyed this!

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  9. John Swingle says:

    Thanks Ron. look forward to more installments.

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  10. Tony Brenna says:

    Great read, Ron. Felt as though I’d been along on the trip with you. Also, great information for the would-be canoer. As for me, doing lots of drift boating fishing for salmon on the Olympic Peninsular; wild and rugged terrain. Love it. We must chat soon. Very best Tony Brenna.

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  11. Jason Robinson says:

    My favorite bit of advice: “You’re a river bum. No one expects you to smell nice or look good.” 🙂

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  12. Sue Vadeboncoeur says:

    Hi Ron!!
    Vaughn Patterson forwarded your site on to the highschool classmates and my husband and I have read your account of your trip. We both have loved to canoe and we also have a Grumman canoe, the best! We have given up the trips now, but it has always been a fun thing to do. I must say, I don’t think we would have ever attempted an adventure such as yours, but think it’s great that you did and have great memories from doing something you have decided to do on the spur of the moment. We too will be waiting to read your other information on the excursion!! Thanks for sharing!!
    Sue (Fehland) Vadeboncoeur Class of 62

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Thanks for connecting Sue. The whole trip’s been posted now. Documenting this was a long-overdue project and I in spite of all the fun it was to relive the memories, I am glad it’s completed.

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  13. zoneiii says:

    After reading Ron’s outstanding journal of his Mississippi River trip (the best I have ever read!), I thought I might add some tips for anyone planning this or a similar trip based on my over 50 years of paddling experience. These tips are not in any special order. I’m just putting them down as they come to mind.

    Learn the strokes! If you think you steer a canoe by switching from paddling from side to side, you do not know how to paddle. I am always amazed to see how many people steer that way. Zig-zagging is not the way to go. It’s inefficient and tiring and it gets water in your canoe. In fact, I can almost always tell if someone knows how to paddle simply by looking in their canoe and seeing if there is water in it. If you don’t know the proper strokes, get Bill Mason’s Path of the Paddle videos. They were originally released on VHS in the 1970s but they are now available on DVD. They have a dated look that gives them charm but they are the best videos on the subject ever made. If you didn’t know how to paddle before, you will smack yourself on the forehead when you see how it should be done. It makes paddline so much more enjoyable when you know how to do it properly.

    Put your maps in a sealable map case. I attach it to the thwart in front of me so I always have the current map right before me. (I will be happy to show anyone who is interested a picture of my setup if you email me. My email address is below.)

    It’s common sense but keep a waterproof bag or container with you to put all your trash in. I use an old map case like the one mentioned above. You can burn your paper when you camp if you are starting a fire but dispose of everything else properly. I make it a rule to always leave campsites in better shape than when I found them, if possible. After camp is setup, I walk the area and collect paper and trash and dispose of it properly.

    When you go #2, dig a hole well away from the river and bury it. Common sense!

    Don’t forget to take a roll of duct tape. It has endless uses. It can even be used to repair a hole in a canoe in an emergency. Also, take along some of those nylon ties that lock in place. I can’t believe how many uses I have found for them on canoe trips. They can be used to repair things, tie things down to thwarts or gunnels, etc. I don’t know what made me think of taking them the first time but I would never even think of not taking some on a canoe trip now.

    If you are going to buy a canoe, a 16’ to 18’ footer would be OK. Don’t get anything shorter than 16’. I consider 17’ to be about ideal for me on a solo trip. An 18’ footer would be great for two people but possibly a little too long for a solo trip depending on the canoe and your paddling skills.

    I see Ron used an aluminum canoe that had a flat bottom. Aluminum has some great things about it including the fact that it requires zero maintenance. But it has some negatives as well. For one thing, because of the manufacturing process (which came out of the aircraft industry after WWII), they do not generally have aerodynamic hulls. They simply can’t be made with the fine lines necessary for a truly fine handling canoe. Also, they are noisy and they are also cold in cold weather. I prefer a well-designed fiberglass canoe or one made out of one of the newer lightweight materials like Kevlar or carbon fiber. It’s the hull design that determines how a canoe handles, how stable it is, how it turns, and how it cuts through the water efficiently. Do a little careful research and pick one that meets your needs. My canoe is a Old Town Canadienne which is no longer made but it is legendary for how fast it is. If you can find a good used one, grab it up but it may be quite expensive. An Old Town designer told me that it was the fastest tripping canoe they ever made. Just to give you and idea of how fast they are, I have never been passed by any canoe ever! Not once! And I’m not straining. In fact, I once paddled with a very overweight person in the front who had never been in a canoe in his life and we zoomed past two fit young guys in their early twenties and they were in an all-out stripped down racing canoe. As we zoomed past them, one of them shouted, “Hey! There’s a speed limit on this river!” But my point is that a well designed canoe simply cuts through the water like a knife and that can make a huge difference on a long trip. I also prefer a shallow arch canoe for its handling characteristics. The bottom of the hull is a gentle U-shape instead of a flat bottom like Ron’s canoe. Flat-bottomed canoes have good initial stability and they make you feel secure but once they start to tip, they tip fast. Shallow arch canoes can feel “tippy” because they don’t have as much initial stability but they have better secondary stability than a flat-bottomed canoe. They also handle better. There are several design features to look at including the length of the canoe (the longer the canoe, all else being equal, the faster it is), it’s rocker (front to back curve along the keel line) which determines how it turns and tracks straight, beam width, entry lines, etc. An ideal canoe for the Mississippi, in my opinion, is 17’ to 18’ in length with moderate beam with, very moderate rocker (so it tracks straight), has fine entry and exit lines (so it cuts through the water with little resistance), has large payload capacity, and a shallow-arch hull. But that’s just my opinion.

    Take a gun? I completely agree with Ron that you shouldn’t even think about it if you have little or no experience with firearms. I wince when I see people handing firearms unsafely. However, if you are experienced with firearms, know how to safely handle them, and feel comfortable with them, you might consider taking a gun. I am not a hunter but I like to target shoot and have done so since I was a small boy. I know how to handle guns safely. Would I take one on a Mississippi River trip? Hmmmm! I guess I probably would. In Mississippi Solo, (a great book that you should read if you are planning to paddle the Mississippi!), the author had a run in with feral dogs in which he had to use his revolver. He also used it in a scary encounter with some nasty people he met in a remote area. In any case, don’t take a gun unless you not only know the rules of safe firearm handling but you know them so well that they are second nature to you. It’s also important that you know the laws in the states you pass through. I have a carry permit that is good in every on the trip except Minnesota, Wisconsin and, ironically, my own state of Illinois. In those states, I would be sure to know and follow the laws about how to legally transport the firearm. If you don’t have a carry permit, be sure to have the gun unloaded and cased when you go into towns. Of course, you wouldn’t want to leave the gun in your canoe unattended. If you insist on taking a gun but have little or no experience with guns, at least take an NRA safety course. They are often free and the instructors are great.

    I take two five gallon collapsible water containers with me. Not only does that pretty much ensure that I will have enough water but it also provides needed ballast in the bow of the canoe.
    With the wind at your back, it is best to have the stern slightly lower in the water which is usually the case when soloing anyway. When you do that, the canoe will “weather vane” and want to point downstream naturally. With headwinds, you want the bow a little lower. If it is riding too high, the wind will want to spin the canoe around so it points upstream. Just pay attention and shift your load to find the best balance in your canoe.

    When you camp for the night, take a stick and push it in the sand (or mud) right where the river touches the shore. By doing so, you can keep track of whether the river is rising of falling. The river can rise because of rains far upstream even when the weather is sunny where you are. This is even more important on rivers like the Wisconsin River because the level of the river is constantly being adjusted at dams to meet power company needs. The Wisconsin River can rise several feet at night even though the weather is beautiful. I have pitched my tent 30 feet from the Wisconsin River and two or three feet above it only to step out of my tent in the morning and find myself standing in the river! The Mississippi does not have that problem but it still a good idea to keep track of how the river is rising or falling. When I first starting using this stick trick, I thought I was very clever. But then I started noticing sticks along the edge of the river at many campsites. I guess a lot of other people have figured this out too.

    Take a small First-Aid kit. Common sense!

    In may be a good idea to take some water purification pills just in case but you can boil water in an emergency if you don’t have the pills. There are also special water filtration devices available. I don’t have one myself but I guess it would be nice to have one just in case.

    It’s not a bad idea to have a sheath knife and wear it on your belt. Virtually all canoeists do it in Canadian waters and for reasons other than looking cool. Not only does it come in handy for general purposes, but if you should capsize, it could save your life if you somehow become tangled in your equipment and ropes.

    Speaking of ropes, be sure to take a couple. Have at least one long one to tie your canoe up at night and also to line your canoe if you run into rapids and don’t want to portage around them (like the Chain of Rocks, for example.)

    Most canoeists turn their canoe over at night. I noticed that Ron didn’t. I’m not sure why he didn’t. Turning it over drains any water that may be in it and you will have a nice dry canoe to start out with in the morning. This is especially true if it rains at night.

    You can buy a small folding solar panel to charge batteries for your camera, cell phone, GPS, etc. Any good electronic store can set you up. If you can’t find them, Northern Tool has them. Check out their website. Personally, I prefer not to take a bunch of modern stuff. I like to keep it simple. But you should definitely take a camera to record your adventure and I have got in the habit of taking a cell phone in recent years too even though I hate the damn things. You may also want to take a two-way radio to communicate with the lock masters.

    It might be a good idea to keep most of your money in a money belt. Many sports suppliers carry them. They have been around forever but I doubt any mugger ever thinks of them. Keep your money safe!

    On a trip like the Mississippi where there is little portaging, I pack everything that I don’t want to get wet in big waterproof Seal bags. The downside with them is that it’s a pain when you have to dig through everything to get to something on the bottom. For trips where there are many portages, I use Duluth type packs with plastic liners.

    Unless you are rich, don’t buy a ton of freeze dried camping food. It’s good but very expensive. Your grocery store has tons of dehydrated foods to choose from and it costs much less. Canned foods are great too but they add more weight, of course.

    As Ron said, the Corp of Engineers maps for the Mississippi are huge. The set for the northern part of the river isn’t too bad but the southern set is really big and heavy. But they are loaded with important details. You will have to decide if you want to lug that monster along.

    As Ron did, get in the water early in the morning. Not only is the river often very calm then, but I find the early morning to be the most serene and pleasurable time to paddle when the weather is nice. In fact, my fondest memories are of paddling very early in the morning. There is often little or no boat traffic early in the morning except for an occasional tow and maybe fishing boats. It is so beautiful very early in the morning when the water is like a sheet of glass and you feel like you are floating in space.

    Obviously, you should watch for tows but as long as you stay clear of them, they are usually not a problem. The tow captains and crews are consummate professionals, usually very friendly, and they would never run you down intentionally. But they may not see you so be careful. The real problem is the cabin cruisers and even small fishing boats. They can kick up very high waves. I sometimes wonder if the people in big cabin cruisers that fly just aren’t aware of how much trouble they can cause you or if they sometimes do it on purpose. But a big cabin cruiser or speed boat can produce dangerous waves four or five feet high and they can come at you so fast that you can’t get out of the way. Turn your canoe into the waves, try to relax, and ride it out. It can be a white-knuckle experience. It can be a real problem when there are more than one big boats speeding by on different courses because they waves can hit you from different directions. In that case, just use your best judgment and good luck!

    Get one of those self-inflating life vests that Ron mentioned. I had never even heard of them until I read what Ron wrote. I’m definitely going to get one for myself and my wife. I confess that I rarely wear my big life vest because it is uncomfortable. I usually use it as a seat cushion. That’s a no-no.

    If you are soloing in a tandem canoe with removable seats, you may be able to remove the front seat for more packing space. I do. It makes a big difference.

    Well, that’s all I can think of for now but I’m sure I will think of something else seconds after I post this message.

    My email address is thomas.johnston@comcast.net if I can be of any help.

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  14. Gregory Dickinson says:

    Hi Ron,
    Thanks for the great information and the great read. I am in the process of planning my trip for an early Sept. 2013 departure. I am in the final stage of building an 18′ cedar strip kayak and will have it in the water by mid July. I have most of my gear that I will need and just need to get charts and a few odds and ends. I will not be doing the entire Mississippi river as it seemed a logistical nightmare because I live in New Jersey. I decided to start on The Allegheny River just bellow the NY state line in PA, paddling south 200 miles to Pittsburgh where the Allegheny joins the Monongahela River and forms the Ohio River. From there it’s 980 miles down the Ohio to the Mississippi, and down to the Gulf. I think the trip will be pretty much the same length as your trip. I guess the thing that worries me the most is the lock’s and dealing with barges around them. This worry is because I have never been in one, so I have no idea what to expect. I suppose after a few trips I will feel more comfortable . I am 53 and in the same boat you found yourself in with having left a job and plenty of time on my hands and adventure in my heart. I have wanted to do this since the first canoe trip I took with my dad down the Delaware river when I was 13. I plan on keeping a trip log and taking lots of pictures and maybe doing a web site as well. Thank you for your site, and will continue to comb through it for all the info I can glean to help me along the way. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how things are going.
    Thanks again,
    Gregory Dickinson

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Wow, that sounds like a great trip, Gregory. Let me know if you do a blog or something. I would like to ‘follow’ along. Don’t worry about the locks, after the first one you’ll be a veteran. If you have any questions you haven’t found answers to, let me know. Glad you liked the account of my trip. Ron

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  15. Hi Ron!
    Just wanted to give you an update on my trip. First it has been shortened by 160 miles. The upper 5 locks on the Allegheny are now permanently closed. I will be starting 21 miles above Pittsburgh in Creighton, PA. I found a storage facility that I can keep my car which is 1 block from the river with river access 2 blocks away. I will be putting in on 9-9 or 9-10. I have a web site/ Blog that I have a cover page and a few posts about my kayak. I am tacking an AT&T tablet computer and plan to post everyday I can get a signal. gregoryd212.wordpress.com
    I can’t wait to get started!
    Thanks again for all the information you have posted on this site.
    Gregory Dickinson

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  16. Hi Ron,

    I’m not sure if you are still checking comments but I was wondering if I should expect to pay a camping fee each night and what the average cost of that is. I’m simply trying to create a budget for my trip. Your blog has been a great help in my planning! I appreciate it.

    Grace

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Grace,
      Yes, I get notified when there is a comment and I am happy to answer questions.
      Camping fees were rare. I slept mostly on sandbars, in the woods, or other areas like that. All the nice campsites in MN are free. The Corp of Engineers campgrounds have a nominal fee. Some city or county campgrounds also charge a small fee. And don’t forget you might want a hotel once in a while. If you need a budget figure to plug in I’d say a max of $5 a day. Spread over all the free nights, the nights with a nominal camping fee and the occasional hotel stay that I think is a more than generous allowance. So when are you going? Let me know how to keep up with you, blog or whatever.

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      • Ron,

        Oh, thank you! That puts the budget into a much simpler perspective for me. I’m planning on leaving August 3rd. I don’t have a blog set up for the trip yet but I definitely plan to create one soon. Personally, and I’m probably blissfully naive with this statement, the hardest part of the trip will be the planning and setting out. I’m full of dreams with little action- so I’m thinking I’ll start my blog early and document the preparation to keep me on track. I’ll let you know but I’m sure you will hear from me again with more logistics inquiries.

        Grace

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  17. Dave says:

    Ron I loved your blog. I too have a mid 70’s 17 foot Grumman. I absolutely love that boat seems like it’s tough as nails. My wife and three daughters (1 5 and 7) take it out frequently on our local rivers. Best $375 I ever spent. Could you offer some insight on the set of wheels you used? Id really like to pick up a set and they look ideal for a big canoe. Most the ones for sale online look sort of dinky. Did you build or buy that set?

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  18. Larry rayburn says:

    Ron, The bug has bitten. I have kayaked several local rivers and large creeks in Mississippi, and I think I’m ready “to be someplace else”. Information was perfect, several things I had not thought through. I’m thinking of starting smaller and start w approx. three day trip Vicksburg to nathez, approx.75 miles. I’ve done a little camping on the creek and have a few items you listed but had not thought of others you have, big help. Planning on April trip. Will let you know how it turns out . Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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    • Ron Haines says:

      Good for you, Larry. Stay in touch. Coincidentally, I revisited Vicksburg and Natchez by road just last week on my way home from Arkansas. In Vicksburg use the landing on the Yazoo River just off downtown, unless you know of access directly to the Mississippi. As you approach Natchez the ‘under the hill’ area and the long boat ramp coming down to the water are easily recognizable. I did that stretch in two days, so three days will be a nice leisurely trip. Have fun. Glad you enjoyed the website. Ron

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