Travelling a river
May 30, 2005 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone posted an account of boating the full length of a U.S. river? Or barring that, in any other developed nation?

I'm thinking that this must be a really bizarre and insightful way of seeing the U.S., while avoiding the tired old roads. I'm not sure how you'd travel near the source, but I figure travelling in wet season and portaging would work. Some guys did it from the very source of the Amazon in the Peru highlands all the way to the Atlantic... why not in the U.S.?

I thought about this while reading the account of the kid who escaped civilization and died in Alaska... a couple of years before that, he sailed from Lake Mead to the mouth of the Colorado River in the Gulf of California, and pretty much found a labyrinthine swamp. I admire him for trying!

(Let's skip the Deliverance jokes!)
posted by shannymara to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't remember the title, but there's a book about two guys who canoed the entire mississippi, then did the gulf of mexico, then did the amazon. I'm sure someone can look it up.
posted by furtive at 5:59 PM on May 30, 2005

William Least Heat-Moon describes in his book River Horse trying to travel by boat all the way across North America, from Astoria to Astoria, as he puts it. He mostly manages it, too, with only a very small amount of portage. He writes about exactly what you mention: how, in the automobile era, we have turned our backs on the waters that were our first highways, how we line the banks of our rivers with the butt-ends of buildings, how we pour our rubbish down rivers' throats, and how we cannot see things as they once were because we are not properly encumbered: our speed has turned out to be an undoing. It's a good read: intelligently written, a bit autobiographical, and demonstrative of a great love for going places and seeing things.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:05 PM on May 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

This isn't exactly what you are looking for but here is Christopher Swain's account of the first few days of his swimming the entire length of the Columbia River.
posted by Staggering Jack at 6:13 PM on May 30, 2005

huck finn?
posted by quonsar at 7:18 PM on May 30, 2005

You could try to find a published version of the journals of Lewis and Clarke and any of their crew. They didn't exactly do the expedition you were talking about, but a good portion of it was very similar.

FWIW, Smithsonian Magazine publishes a few entries from the Lewis and Clarke journals every month, if you want to hit a library to see if you like the writing.
posted by thebabelfish at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2005

I don't have any resources, but gosh I never get to mention this, so I will now: I've canoed the entire length of the Flint River in Georgia, portaged around the dam at the Florida state line and then stayed on the Withlacoochie River until I think we ran out of food...or we got tired of the bugs...or really hated the other people in the canoe. After that much time canoing, probably 400 to 450 just want to stop, really. :)

I also was part of a very long raft trip down the Mississippi, which, while buggy and hot, was still one of the coolest things I've ever experienced.

If the idea intrigues you, you should give it a try. If you've never done any long term camping stuff before, you might want to hook up with an outfitter and go as part of a group. These experiences are hard solo...gets lonely out there on the water, plus, there's nobody to help you if something goes wrong.

If you do go, remember to take insect repellent and sunscreen. Lots of both. And water purification tablets. Oh, how those are a magical blue blessing. If you are going downstream from a dam, find out if they're planning any releases. Releases will cause the river to rise slowly, but you'd be surprised how much it can rise overnight if you don't know it's coming. Make sure to tell parks and wildlife people that you're out there, possibly set up checkpoints which if missed, will trigger a search party. (I don't know how hard that would be for an adult to set up...for a bunch of girl scouts, it was pretty easy. )

Also, that thing hanging from the branch up there...don't poke it with your paddle and make it fall into the canoe, causing people to scream, jump up, tip over the canoe, tossing you, the supplies, and the water moccasin all into the same chaotic frenzy. Don't do that. Trust me.
posted by dejah420 at 8:51 PM on May 30, 2005

These folks are some friends of mine who've canoed the length of most of the major rivers in Georgia. A few years back, I joined them on a "warm-up" trip down the Oconee and Altamaha.

dejah420 makes some good points. Sunscreen and insect repellent are essential. Many of my friends go for the natural repellents, which are mainly essential oils, but I always used this stuff called "Repel," which is 95% DEET. A very small amount works nearly all day.
posted by ijoshua at 9:03 PM on May 30, 2005

I think a book you might like is River : One Man's Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea by Colin Fletcher. His books have always been my favorite- solo travels through interesting places, as well as some of the best gear books around (at the time).

Oh, there's also an interesting book about that teenager, Christopher McCandless - Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. Personally, I enjoyed it more than his later, more popular, books.
posted by bemis at 9:27 PM on May 30, 2005

Last November, driving back from New Orleans to Chicago, I stopped off at Fort Defiance, just south of Cairo, Illinois, to see the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. While I was there I met and briefly chatted with a guy in a kayak who had left Lake Itasca about three months earlier and who was expecting to make it to New Orleans in another month or two. As he paddled off into the huge riverscape I realized that I had asked neither his name, nor if he had a web site (doesn't everybody on an adventure these days?).

It doesn't answer your question about finding accounts, but it does show that people really are traveling the length of US rivers, and the law of averages suggests that at least some of them have on-line accounts of the trip.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:58 PM on May 30, 2005

The book furtive refers to is called Paddle to the Amazon and is excellent.

You could also consider the 1808 Journal of Simon Fraser, tracing the length of the Fraser River.
posted by Rumple at 11:06 PM on May 30, 2005

I found this, it might help.
posted by drezdn at 11:07 PM on May 30, 2005

Also, a terrific narrative of a source to sea journey down the Yukon River.
posted by Rumple at 11:09 PM on May 30, 2005

Through the Brazilian Wilderness, by Teddy Roosevelt, is the former president's first-hand account of an expedition down the River of Doubt, an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, in 1914.

I've been skimming through it on and off for a few months now, and it's extraordinary. They don't make presidents like they used to.
posted by nyterrant at 7:23 AM on May 31, 2005

White Knuckles Log by Don McAlpine is an excellent account of a novice sailor travelling the length of the Mississippi.
posted by SlappyPeterson at 8:49 AM on May 31, 2005

Minn of the Mississippi is a (fictional and illustrated) account of a snapping turtle travelling the length of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Paddle-to-theSea tells of a carved wooden Indian in his canoe travelling from the wilds of Northern Canada through the Great Lakes and the length of the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic. Both are by Holling Clancy Holling and are among the most beautiful, moving and thrilling children's books ever written. I must have read each a thousand times circa ages 7-11.
posted by TimeFactor at 11:09 AM on May 31, 2005

Not quite what you asked for, but interesting nonetheless is Mississippi River Panorama: Henry Lewis Great National Work

See also here

Which returns you to Huck Finn and Life on the Mississippi, of course, close enough for no never mind
posted by IndigoJones at 2:23 PM on May 31, 2005

Running the Amazon by Joe Kane. Fantastic book!
posted by vronsky at 3:32 PM on May 31, 2005

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:52 PM on May 31, 2005

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