I live on the Mississippi River and plan to put in my kayak at the water source of the Mississippi River Headwaters, Lake Itasca, Minnesota beginning in May 2022. I plan to solo paddle the 2400-mile length to the Gulf of Mexico within 3 months or so. But let me tell you a bit more about me and my stories.
Through Worlds I Never Touched
Welcome to my site about my river trip. My name is Bobbi and I want to share some about me and why I am paddling the Mississippi River.
Home ground for me is northeast Iowa where I was born and raised during the fifties and sixties. It was small and quiet mid-century America but, in my mind most days, it was bustling and substantial. I spent my time out-and-about, finding all kinds of things to see and do.
My first solo journey was about a year or so after my father was killed when, at age five, I packed my gear (a handkerchief pouch tied to a stick) with my food inside (sugar and butter between Wonder Bread slices). I took off from home unnoticed and had a lovely day wandering in nearby woods. Not prone to mischief, I was most interested, as my dad was, in the science, sequence, discovery, and industry of all that I came across outside.
For several summers, I went door-to-door selling boxed greeting cards to the town’s people. Later, a large box arrived and I’d go about delivering the card boxes to my neighbors. The best part of all this was the premium gift I earned doing the work. One season I chose a green pup tent. Before this, I used my uncle’s old military tent or clothes-pinned blankets on the line as my outdoor shelter. My new pup tent didn’t smell like heavy military canvas or dew-dampened blankets. I slept out so much, I decided to build myself a house. After dragging home appliance boxes from Al Porter’s appliance store and lacing them with shoestrings and other cords, I made a cardboard complex. I cut doors from one box to another so I could belly-crawl inside my virtual apartment. I used it many nights until dew or rain moistened it to a soggy stinking pile. I wandered these nights around my town and fields or woods, discovering and pondering how things got where they were. My years mulling around like this developed my way of viewing the world and the things in it.
One summer, I went to Red Owl, the local store, and placed on the checkout counter two cans of Reddi-Wip. I had the money for it but the lady clerk looked down at me anyway and said, "Are you up to any mischief, Roberta?", I answered that I wasn’t, which was true, so she let me buy the cans. My plan, which was implemented with all seriousness, was to walk my usual route east on the gravel to Oak Lawn Cemetery. As I went, I held the spray can downward letting out the Reddi-wip to make a line on the roadbed. My purpose was to see how far Reddi-Wip stretched when done like this. It wasn’t far but far enough, I thought.
It is this kind of wondering and wandering that I have done all my life, nearly seven decades of it. I made my way through Europe, some in Mexico and Canada, and over U.S. states and through its cities, and especially Chicago where I finished graduate school and made my adulthood home. I wandered and wondered there for over thirty years – walking everywhere day or night, riding subway and bus, or riding my bike through alleys and streets to see what there was to see. My work was with clients at my private therapy practice where I sat for twenty-five years, day-after-day, taking in stories of people’s lives. They came to me to untangle or reassemble their experiences and thoughts, many feelings that got gummed up over lifetimes. It was my wandering and wondering through those stories and their minds, opened to me, that helped me help them. I wonder about them still today, rolling over the hundreds of narratives I heard those thousands of hours spent listening. I loved all of this.
When I wasn’t doing this, I took my paddling boats out on nearby lagoons, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps with shovels and hands in the 1930’s, north of Chicago. I spent hours there, too, wandering the miles of lagoon edges looking for what was there. I loved the springtime release of dragonflies from their nymph shells, which I collected once they vacated, and kept them for years in small wooden boxes on my desk. One day out there, a nymph shell I had plucked from a stone wall, wiggled. I set it in my hand and watched for over an hour sitting
in my boat as the dragonfly emerged and shook its wings. Once it flew, I paddled on to watch a family of ducklings get pulled down one-by-one by snapping turtles in what I began to call Turtle Duck Pond. After the twelve ducklings were eaten, the mom duck paddled on alone, quacking mournfully. There was a time I paddled through the bald cypress swamp on Maryland’s Pocomoke River. The spiders there and their webs were so enormous, they almost held back my canoe while I made my way through trees and cypress roots. I have loved this life of wandering about and wondering about places and things I see. I love all of it.
Countless stories flutter through my mind these days of my retirement. If now asked, “Why are you paddling a 2400-mile Mississippi River?” I can only answer, “to wander through worlds I’ve never touched before, to see people from other places, to eat food I’ve never tasted, and to wonder about all these many things I will see.”
Thank you for joining my adventure. My site will detail some of my experiences and track my travels from the Mississippi River water source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota to where it meets the sea at the Gulf Of Mexico in Louisiana. I hope your experience here brings you much to wonder about, too.