The Mississippi Project


This summer, four of us college students are going to paddle the length of the Mississippi River in two canoes. North to South, headwaters to delta, we are going to travel the 2,000+ miles from the Minnesota top to the Katrina-ravaged bottom. We might ride barges part of the way; we might hitchhike. At some point we will need to get back to school. But however it works out, that is our plan. We have no particular reasons for doing this.

This is our blog:

It is being kept via a wireless Treo 650, courtesy of the Kelly Writers House and the University of Pennsylvania, who are generously sponsoring this project. In addition, we are using a collapsible keyboard that plugs into the Treo, and a solar panel that hooks up to both Treo and iPod and powers them through a built-in USB port on the side. Throughout our two months on the river, we'll be posting here straight from the river with dispatches, photographs, videos, mp3s, and whatever other digital voodoo we can figure. We're looking forward to playing with it. Feel free to check in. Hopefully, it'll be a worthwhile read.

As I said, there are four of us partaking in this endeavor. There's me, Gabe, a Berkeley, California native and English major at the University of Pennsylvania; Kevin McNellis, a Twin Cities native and recent graduate from Whitman College; Ryan Stoa, originally of Winona, MN, and currently studying at the reputable McGill University in Montreal; and Danny Rosenberg, Phoenix native, transitive college student and talented MC of the hip hop group Entropy, whose music will likely make its way here at one point or another. All told, we're a youthful bunch. We are, after all, blogging down the Mississippi River. Or, to look at it another way, canoeing down the Mississippi River in 2007. Either way, we know. I warned you. Absurd.

But so it begins. Tomorrow night, Danny and I fly to Minneapolis on a cheap, red-eye flight, and before a week is out, we'll be on the river. In the meantime, please make yourself comfortable and settle in. This is our adventure. It should be wild. Stay tuned for more!

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are you doing?

Paddling down the Mississippi River in two canoes.

How long will the trip take?

We are planning on taking roughly two months for the trip, starting in late May, and ending in late July or early August.

Do you have an itinerary?

Not really.

Who is making the trip?

There are four of us taking to the river. Gabe Crane is a Berkeley, California native and rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Kevin McNellis is a recent graduate from Whitman College, and is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota. Ryan Stoa is from Winona, Minnesota, and studies at McGill University in Montreal. And Danny Rosenberg is originally from Phoenix, Arizona, and will be finishing his studies at Reed College this upcoming academic year.

Isn't it dangerous?

It is somewhat dangerous to travel down the Mississippi. The main dangers are barges and other large ships that can capsize smaller vessels if you aren't paying attention. The weather is also a potential danger, as well as unpredictable interactions with people along the river banks. But as long as you keep a clear head and take the necessary precautions, it is a safe trip.

How are you blogging while on the river?

We are blogging via a Treo 650, which picks up internet access through its cell phone service. We also have a collapsible keyboard for easier typing, and a solar panel that helps power our electronics.

Why in the world did you ever decide to do this?

We wanted to have an adventure. At our age, it is a typical thing to want to do. At least in part, such a desire is indicative of at least two larger aims that we can think of: a) a desire to live our "best years" to the fullest, and b) a desire to step back and take stock of our lives before we descend back into the chaos of it all. Twenty-one, twenty-two, we are young men. We have our whole adult lives to take in and consider.

So in addition to an adventure, this trip is also a meditation. It is a meditation, as noted, on our lives: what we have done and want to do with them. It is a meditation on travel, and on self-sufficiency. Given the composition of our traveling party, it is a meditation on the state of our generation, coming now finally of age. Most importantly, it is a meditation on the river itself, on what we have done to it and how we have left it to stand today. It is a meditation on the times, and a meditation on the state of our country.

Still, there are a multitude of such trips to be done. Kids backpack across Europe, and study Spanish in Guatemala. They drive and bike across the country. What about the Mississippi River makes it so special? Well, for one, in our accelerating society, to essentially float down a river is to view the world from a perspective that has become increasingly rare. For two, the river holds symbolic significance as America's artery, which instantly couches it within the meditations discussed above. For three, paddling the Mississippi holds an advantage over, say, trekking through Nepal, in that the river is essentially in our collective backyard and therefore makes traveling it a bizarrely resourceful and inherently American act. And for four, we happen to know how to canoe.

News Coverage

Summer Pennsylvanian, June 7, 2007