Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mississippi Kayak Challenge

Kayaking the Mississippi River This summer, I get to realize a childhood dream. I am embarking on a 2,000 mile Mississippi kayak adventure. My journey starts at St. Paul on May 13th and I plan to be in New Orleans by the end of August—a 100 day adventure! I'll be posting some of my reports here but to learn more about my journey and to follow my progress please visit crazykayaker.com.

All my life I have known that one day I will meet this river, and get to know its people, its places and its history, in an up-close and personal way. I can think of few more intimate ways than to make my way downstream in a kayak, paddle in hand, at the river's own pace. I will share my experience through my web site, blog and photo gallery. I'm also planning to a write book about my journey, the river and its people.
This venture would not have been possible without the generous support of Backcountry.com and my other sponsors. My adventure seems to have struck a chord with many people, not just to the extent that they are willing to support me with gear and supplies, but I'm finding genuine interest and enthusiasm from people in general. I guess some things will always have the power to appeal to our more imaginative and romantic sides. For a complete list of my sponsors please visit crazykayaker.com.
I plan to use an ocean kayak for my voyage. It is not the obvious choice for a trip of this nature. Earlier and latter day explorers have typically opted for rafts, canoes, barges, inflatables—the kinds of vessel more traditionally associated with the Mississippi. I decided to use a Prijon Kodiak. It's the perfect boat for the task. At 17 feet long and 23½ inches wide at the cockpit, it offers the perfect balance between stability and speed. I can stuff eighty pounds of gear into the hatches and comfortably paddle along at three knots per hour. It is made from polyethylene plastic that is virtually indestructible, so I don't have to worry about logs or other debris doing a Titanic on my kayak. I pay a weight penalty for all this strength: my kayak tips the scales at 62 pounds empty; the same design in fiberglass weighs around 50 pounds. But I do not want to end up with a mile of river on either side and a hole in my boat, so fiberglass is not an option for me. Besides, when you're hauling a lot of gear it's easy enough to make up the weight difference by leaving a few non-essentials behind.There is something to be said too for being familiar with your equipment.

I've spend so many hours in a similar kayak that it feels like an extension of my body when I get into the cockpit. Knowing your kayak intimately means fewer surprises on the water. There are enough variables a paddler has to contend with; equipment shouldn't be on that list. I know exactly what to expect from my kayak, and how it will behave in different situations—whether I'm facing five foot waves, battling a strong current or doing a recovery roll in rough water. It's a comforting feeling.

Supply and other logistical arrangements for this expedition are straightforward and for the most part without the challenges inherent to wilderness or ocean trips. Food and other supplies will be cached and replenished as required en route. There are stretches along the last few hundred miles of the river that cut through undeveloped terrain, where I will have to be self-sustained for a few days. This poses no problem since my kayak can hold a seven day supply of food and water in addition to all my gear. I plan to camp most of the way. I will stay in touch with friends, family, the media, my sponsors, publisher and agent via cell phone and a laptop with wireless connectivity. More about logistics, maps and GPS tracking in my next blog post....
Jacob van der Merwe, a.k.a. The Crazy Kayaker

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