Dirtbag Diaries: Mississippi Source to Sea


Danielle: Before paddling the Mississippi River people warn you about the man-eating alligators, the barge-swallowing eddies, the flesh-devouring mosquitoes … but no one warned us about the flying carp.


Kevin: The carp tortured us daily, it made the river feel like a giant jack-in-the-box, except the clown doesn’t laugh when it pops out, instead it’s a 25-pound slap in the face.


Brian: As it turned out, I was the only one who got hit by a carp.


Kevin: I thought we would be losing tons of weight but that wasn’t the case. Brian is the ultimate camping chef.



Brian: Being able to resupply regularly allowed us to eat fresh food for most of the trip. But mornings were always tight and I never relished the idea of waking up early to prepare an extravagant breakfast.


Kevin: It rained a lot. Brian and Danielle were always like, “What a wonderful rain we’re having,” while I was cursing the skies and temperature. I only enjoyed it when it was hot, sunny, and dry!


Brian: A month in, we hit the Twin Cities and the beginning of the industrial river. Dodging barge traffic and transiting locks was intimidating, but we soon learned how to coexist.



Kevin: Coming into Minneapolis provided an instantaneous rush of fear, bewilderment, and awe. It didn’t happen gradually or casually. The beauty of the tiny river we knew was gone.


Danielle: It was strange to be on a working river for such an extended period of time. In camp we were always within earshot of a train, a road, a barge or a huge industrial complex. And yet there are bald eagle populations and flocks of migrating pelicans. It was a fascinating dichotomy.


Brian: One day, a lawn around a ferry landing proved irresistible for a break, and as navigator, I admit I didn’t know exactly where we were. But we figured it out when two uniformed guards showed up and pointedly asked, “Do you know you’re on Louisiana State Penitentiary land?” Turns out we had picked the infamous Angola Prison for a lunch stop.



Danielle: The guard asked to check our IDs to make sure we weren’t penitentiary escapees. I went to hand him mine, and he’s like, “We don’t need to check yours, ma’am, this is strictly a male institution.”


Kevin: Most of the people we met along the way were kind. They shared what they had even if it was a small amount, and they spent their time enjoying the simple things and slowing down to enjoy the moment.


In 2009, Danielle Katz, Brian Coggan, and Kevin Lilly kayaked the length of the Mississippi River in 102 days from Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico.


The photo of Danielle Katz in front of the factory is currently featured on the cover of the July issue.

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  • henry schimpf

    going to attempt the river this year and am looking for gear list and when did you start?and any other info you might deem relevant…thanks henry

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