Over the past 25 days, I joined Hannah Eck to row 360 miles in an inflatable catamaran raft. We started in the scenic St. Croix River in Minnesota and joined the Mississippi River down to the Quad Cities. I got out at the Isle Casino in Bettendorf, IA to fly home and Hannah will continue her trip down the entire Mississippi River.
During the journey, we had lots of animal companions as we traveled through the entire Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. We also met lots of friendly river rats, speed boaters, and pontoon partiers who offered us help and cold beer. We went through thirteen locks to navigate the system of dams that control the river for commercial traffic. Along the way, I made thirteen life drawings that I gave as thank-you gifts in an attempt to repay the kindness of the strangers we encountered. I did not get to make a drawing for everyone who kept our spirits bright along the way. However, I would like to share the images and stories of the twelve drawings I have pictures of (I gave one away before it was photographed).
To match the level of stress I felt on the almost completely spontaneous voyage, I also had the most fun I have had in a long time. Some of the best people I met were actually Hannah’s family and friends who helped us before we touched the water. I give a big thanks to Hannah’s mother, Anne who treated me like family and to Dennis who prepared the best potatoes “fried taters” I have ever had (more on that later). Thank you to Rita for the med-kit and garlic bread. I have to thank Hannah’s sister, Rebecca and brother-in-law, Matt for making me laugh all night (I can tell you some inappropriate jokes in person). I also have to thank Hannah’s Father, Kim and Tina for getting us to William O’Brien State Park with all the supplies we needed. Kim taught me to play pool and Tina’s dry laugh kept my soul cozy for the five days we spent preparing.
William O’Brien State Park was the most photogenic landscape of the whole trip. The river only got dirtier from there and a tiny, sparkling stream will get my vote over a historic river town almost any day of the week. I recently became obsessed with drawing trees, so I sat down on the rocky bank of the St. Croix to sketch with the only art supplies I brought with me. I used three micron pens, a mechanical pencil, and a kneaded eraser. But when I finished, the composition was crying for color. I had a hunch that the purple wildflowers growing along the riverside would give me a reasonable ultramarine blue for the sky. I smeared one petal across the page and it worked! I filled in the greens with ground-up leaves as Tina came over to check my progress. She liked it, so I gave the drawing to her. She said she would keep it in case I ever become famous and let out another laugh to mark our last day on dry land.