Sunday, January 26, 2020

No Mississippi River Odyssey for my 50th Year

Coming into two new decades -- the return of the Roaring '20s and the dawn of my fifties -- I can be certain that I will not be achieving two goals I set around the age of thirty. I will not be climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, and I will not be canoeing the length of the Mississippi from Minnesota to St. Louis. And, that's OK.

The El Cap goal was always a bit of a stretch, but it reflected the enthusiasm with which I discovered rock climbing in the late 1990s, as I approached age thirty and began a more settled life of marriage, teaching, and kids. After taking a few classes and learning the basics of ropes and knots, I became a bit of a regular at Upper Limits in St. Louis, and I began reading quite a bit about climbing with non-fiction books like, Into Thin Air by the incredible Jon Krakauer (of course), and novels like Looking for Mo by Daniel Duane. But strangely the climbing started to fade when I moved to Colorado, and now it's only an occasional thing.

The Mississippi River odyssey, however, strikes more closely to home and is embedded deep in my youth, growing up alongside the Ol' Miss in Alton, IL. It seemed like every summer or so, there would be a new story in the Alton Telegraph or St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a person or a group who were rafting or canoeing or kayaking down the Mississippi. And, of course, I read Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi more than a few times, even sitting on the rocks at sunset one summer over a couple weeks and reading as the sun faded across the river in the west. Then, back in 1991, for a class in young adult and adolescent literacy, I ran across a book called Mississippi Solo by Eddy Harris, a Black man who recounts his solitary journey down the River into the South in a search for ... well, America and himself, I guess. It was just one of those books that stuck in my craw and made me want to do something significant, even "vision quest"-esque like that.

When my son was born in 2002, I thought it would be a perfect goal for the summer of 2020, when he is eighteen, and I am turning fifty, that we could do the trip together. Alas, we've grown up together just a bit differently than I might have thought at age thirty. I don't really camp much, or actually at all, we rock climb once a year or so in the gym, and we've only ever canoed or paddleboarded around a lake in Summit County. So, probably not the best foundation for a 1000-mile journey.

But I will paddle down something this summer, even if it's a simple half-day clinic on the Platte River in Denver. Goals and plans can change.