Move over Mark Twain - the Mississippi's gone digital

A Penn senior is liveblogging his trip down the river

June 7, 2007

By: Alissa Eisenberg
The Daily Pennsylvanian

For rising College senior Gabe Crane, this summer looks like the Huck Finn-style adventure of a lifetime.

Crane, along with a recent graduate from Whitman College and two other students from McGill University and Reed College, will be canoeing down the Mississippi River for roughly two months and blogging the entire journey.

The adventure has been dubbed "The Mississippi Project" by Penn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, who is sponsoring the trip. Crane and the others are able to post on their Web log via a wireless Treo 670 provided by the Kelly Writers House. The group was also given a $2,500 grant for gear and supplies.

The journey "from the Minnesota top to the Katrina-ravaged bottom" according to the project's Web site is over 2,000 miles long. The group plans to mostly sleep in tents, but will also make a few stops along the way to stay overnight with friends.

Crane's blog entries commenced a few days before the men started paddling on May 28.

English professor Al Filreis, who heads CPCW, wrote in an e-mail, "Gabe's approach has about it a little of Mark Twain, a lot of John McPhee, all with a live-time-to-blog feel of the 21st-century literary journalist."

Filreis also said that McPhee, often considered one of the pioneers of creative non-fiction writing, spoke at one of Crane's classes last year and helped inspire the trip.

"Gabe was very turned on by McPhee," Filreis. "You can see wonderfully the influence of him in [Crane's] blogs."

So far Crane has posted a few pictures of their adventures along with the details about people they have encountered and various preparations necessary for the trip. While packing up their belongings in Minnesota and getting ready to venture off to the river, Crane wrote, "It's a middle school twist: We're off to have the adventure of four lives, but first we need to wait for our parents to drive us there."

But even with such an ambitious itinerary the four still say that they have "no particular reasons for doing this."

Like many college students, Crane and the others say that they wanted both adventure and meditation. They write that the Mississippi River is "America's artery" and, opposed to other treks abroad, canoeing down this river is an "inherently American act."

The group is currently still making its way through Minnesota and recently stopped to attend a high school graduation ceremony and an independent league baseball game.

The Mississippi project is just one such creative endeavor that CPCW sponsors.

The organization also awards fellowships and has an apprenticeship program in which students have the opportunity to shadow a professional writer.