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Expeditions - Extended expeditions

For the adventuresome, why not break for a week or two and explore at length the Middle or Lower Mississippi River? We know from experience that it takes two full days to leave behind the busy rhythms of working-man & working-woman’s life to get into the rhythm of the river. Spend a week on river time, with the sun & moon & stars as the hands of your clock, and you will return home a changed person. You will discover the heart of America, and you will discover secrets of your own heart. Its not about getting there, its about being there.

From the distance, the scenery offers little contrast. It’s the same forests, the same kinds of islands, the same kinds of riverscapes. But then you look closer, paddle closer, and beauty emerges from the chaos. Your journey becomes a journey of canoe motion and the swirling motions around you, the patterns in the face of the river, the endless curlings & upliftings & downdrafts of the clouds, the motions of the leaves of the trees, the insects on the sand and the birds in the air. Paddling becomes a meditation. Surprising thoughts come to your attention as you move along in the river space and river time. You work out solutions to life’s problems. Your creative-self is allowed a chance to breathe. Once insurmountable difficulties seem to dissolve in the muddy water.

Long distance paddling on the big river presents great challenges, but offers equally generous rewards. You can paddle the entire free-flowing Mississippi below St. Louis in a month and a half, or you can paddle it in several pieces, for example you can try St. Louis to Cairo one year, Cairo to Memphis the next, and so on. The river is always flowing for you. The river will always be there for you. Will you make time for it?

  1. St. Louis to Cairo (180 miles. One week) Put in below the Great Arch and embark on a Huck Finn & Jim re-enactment (in a canoe). Take your time and explore the islands and backwaters along the way, or paddle hard and get there quick. Passing through St. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, Grand Tower, Trail of Tears State Park, take-out in Cairo at the confluence with the Ohio River.
  2. Cairo to Memphis (225 miles. 1-2 weeks) Meet at Fort Defiance (mouth of the Ohio River) and head downstream into the Deep South, rolling along the forested green hills of Western Kentucky with the Missouri Boot heel on your right. Storied river towns of Wycliffe & Hickman Kentucky, paddle through the epicenter of the New Madrid Earthquake of 1812, the strongest in recorded history, with a possible side-trip to Reelfoot Lake (created by that same earthquake – largest natural lake in the state of Tennessee). Bald Eagle habitat. Around Bessie’s Bend, 20 miles to go one mile, perpetual motion in a canoe! Bounce along the four Chickasaw Bluffs, no’s 1, 2, 3, and 4, each separated by the beautiful floodplain rivers of Western Tennessee, the Obion, the Forked Deer, the Hatchie and the Loosahatchie & Wolf. Paddle into Memphis under the giant “M” Bridge and take out underneath the Pyramid as you head straight to Beale Street for Bar-B-Q, Beer and Blues!
  3. “The Lost River” Memphis to Vicksburg (300 miles. 2 weeks) 300 miles of remote meandering river with only two bridges, and only one town that actually sits on the river (Helena). Paddle through the biggest forests and largest roadless areas in the mid-south, the tugboat captains call this “the squiggles” for its winding route, most paddlers feel like they’re in the twilight zone, National Geographic Adventure named it the “Lost River” in its Aug 2007 issue. Its North America’s Amazon. Its home to the largest Black Bear population and the biggest flocks of migrating waterfowl in the Deep South, as well as 60% of America’s songbirds. The greatest concentration of White-Tailed deer in the country. Extensive floodplains and big islands. Supreme camping in remote landscapes on river beaches and thick forests. Paddle past the dynamic mouth of the Arkansas River, the landscape changing with every season, the map-makers can’t keep up. Dozens of bayous, backwaters, back channels and oxbow lakes to explore, including DeSoto Lake, where nearby its namesake explorer was confronted with an armada of 2-3000 Quapaw Indians in canoes. This region saw the visit of explorers Jolliette & Marquette (1673), LaSalle (1681) and John James Audubon (1820).
  4. Vicksburg to St. Francisville(172 miles. 1 week) Remote and wild, a journey descending out of the Eastern Woodlands into the rich North American sub-tropical forest with scenes of Spanish Moss, Palmetto, Paw-paws, Yankopin, Fire Ants and Alligators! Exit Vicksburg on the Yazoo River and descend the powerful Mississippi along the Loess Bluffs past the mouth of the Big Black, Bayou Pierre, and the Homochitto Rivers, the strong current winds between islands and sandbars, back channels and bayous (accessible depending on river level). Spectacular views of the Natchez Bluffs, an ever-changing scene of unending skies, jungle forests, Victorian mansions and moody riverscapes. Rest stop for mint juleps and ice tea at the notorious Natchez-Under-the-Hill. Enter the Three Rivers wilderness (Nat’l Wildlife Refuge) surrounding the Red, the Ouchita and the Atchaflaya. Monstrous water control gates at Old River. America’s largest penal colony, Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Take out at Bayou Sara in St. Francisville.
  5. St. Francisville to the Gulf of Mexico (285 miles. 1-2 weeks) The fecund wilderness of the sprawling Mississippi River floodplain disappears above Baton Rouge and is replaced by a chaotic 250 mile-long shipping lane where you share the main channel with sea-going freighters, cargo boats, re-supply vessels, and endless fields of barges as they fleet up for the long distance journey back up the river. “Cancer Alley,” more toxins dumped in the river here than any other piece of river in America. No more remote camping, no more swimming, no more quiet sections of river teeming with wildlife. This is a section of the Mississippi you paddle just to get through it. Pull-out for fresh chickory coffee and beignets at the Moonwalk in Jackson Square (mile 95). Resupply with Po-Boys and fresh fruit & veggies in the French Market and then head on downstream towards Venice, the Head of Passes, where the Mighty Mississippi splits into a maze of channels through the birdsfoot Mississippi Delta. Paddle down one of the channels to the Gulf and camp with a view towards South America. The next day turn around and paddle back upstream to Venice, or hire a fishing boat for a shuttle.
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