Mississippi Lessons (Completed)

Expedition paddlers circumnavigate St. Louis, cyber-schooling as they go

Photo: John Ruskey

On March 17, Michael Clark of Big Muddy Adventures, John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company, David Hanson, adventure journalist, and Mark Peoples, 1Mississippi River Guide intern, joined with the students from St. Ann’s Catholic School of St. Louis to complete an epic adventure learning project: a complete circumnavigation of the St. Louis region by canoe. Below is the final dispatch in a series of on-water updates from the crew. Click HERE for the team’s last update, and click HERE for more information on the trip and a map of their route.

The crew has completed the third annual circumnavigation of St Louis! After an eight-mile portage from the banks of the Missouri River in Washington, Mo., to the Bourbeuse River, we put on for the final 16 miles of downstream to complete the circle that began two weeks ago at the confluence of the Bourbeuse and Meramec Rivers. Here’s how it went:

It’s our last day on the Missouri River, paddling up through the youthful currents of the muddy river as it bounces back and forth between bluffs with floodplains spreading out below. The river is still dropping, even with yesterday’s rains north of the river valley.

Mike awoke me out of a deep sleep just after midnight with the warning of approaching rain, for which I was very thankful: There is nothing worse than having to put up your tent in the rain. We dragged ourselves out of our bone-weary stupor and erected tents then disappeared back into sleep.  I checked my watch; it was 1:15am.  Next thing I knew, it was 4:30am.  It was late!  Time to get up and make a fire. No stars, but fireflies could be seen in the inky blackness of the predawn forest.

Photo: John Ruskey

The air flowed over our island campsite cool, damp, fragrant with the aromas of flowering plants, phlox, willows, dogwoods, yellow rocket, and many others drifting out of the woods behind Howell Island and over the river. Cold greys & blues reflected long shadows across the calmed waters, highlighted in creamy whites, then later in creamy yellows as the sun gained power overhead. Above us was an undulating ceiling of wavy clouds, as if we were seeing a rolling ocean overhead as our ceiling.

There was a wind out of the East again. Who ever heard of a canoe trip with so many days of tail winds?  On the river it’s always a head wind, the saying goes. And yet we have experienced mostly tail winds, and almost always when we most needed them, such as charging out of the mouth of the Meramec and crawling our way up the Mississippi through the industrial port of St. Louis.  And now as we crawl forward foot by foot, paddlestroke by paddlestroke, the winds buoy us along, gently at first early in the day, later pushing hard behind us, gusting to maybe 15 mph, shaking the trees overhead and sending showers of seeds and flower petals down over us— willow blossoms, sycamore seeds, silver maple seeds, and spinning alder seeds fluttering like green helicopters.

And now as we chop our way upstream through turbid waters, the face of the river is filled and flowing like creation’s soup thickened with all of the flower petals and seed husks as they boil and swirl, meandering through each other in the dreamy patterns of the river.

this is the final link in a long chain around the City of St. Louis, a 16 mile paddle down the Bourbese River from the town of Union to the Meramec River Confluence, where this expedition was commenced 13 days earlier.  And now we have connected back to the beginning. All life moves in circles. It was a little difficult not to keep going downstream again and make another circle, even with all of the hard-paddling and personal compromises involved. Such is the joy of the journey.

A lasso has been thrown around St. Louis, the third time in three years, once clockwise, two times counter clockwise.  How many times will the lives of 3 million inhabitants be loassoed before they shake their heads in recognition and realize that they are living on an island, surrounded by water, fed and drained by the veins and arteries of the waterways,by the life-sustaining vessels of the heart of the river country of mid-America.  Isn’t it time to stop abusing and start loving the waters?

John Ruskey

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  • http://www.malibukayaks.com/ Ocean Kayaker

    Congrats, I could only imagine how difficult it was, but essentially a triumph for you guys. Have you chosen your next adventure?

  • http://www.wildernessclassroom.com Dave Freeman

    Way to go Mike, John, and the rest of the team. So good to hear about young people getting out on the water!

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