“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854
Thoreau may have overstated the condition of working New Englanders in his philosophical tome on self-reliance, musings from his sojourn in a one-room cabin at Walden Pond in Massachusetts from 1845 to 1847.
But it’s probably true that relatively few people get to live their dreams, especially if the dream is, in the view of some, a bit eccentric, bizarre or just plain crazy.
For some, the chance may come late in life, as with my planned bicycle ride across the United States. For others, it comes earlier, as is the case with a friend of my son, Ben.
The friend, Neal Moore, a well-traveled American who calls himself “an international citizen journalist,” plans to canoe the length of the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans. He estimates that the journey will take 150 days, from July 6 to Dec. 2. He plans to write about it along the way on his blog “Flash River Safari.” (See link in Blogroll at right.)
As a kid growing up on the Mississippi in the southwestern Illinois town of Alton, just upriver from St. Louis, I often fantasized about heading downriver — by raft like Huck Finn, by canoe like French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, or as a deckhand on a towboat. That fantasy never became reality.
As I grew older, I came to understand what a dangerous place the river can be, especially for a traveler in a small craft. Such hazards were graphically described by Jonathan Raban, an Englishman who journeyed down the Mississippi in 1979 and wrote a wonderful book called Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi.
Even in an aluminum 16-foot motorized johnboat, Raban faced such dangers as severe turbulence created by a strong upstream wind blowing against a swift downstream current; wing dams, partially submerged jetties that jut out from the banks to guide water into the main channel; waterlogged tree trunks barely floating just below the surface; huge boils, or domes of water, that swell up from the depths of the river; vicious whirlpools that form in eddies at bends in the river; and, of course, the wakes of monster towboats pushing acres of barges loaded with such cargoes as grain, iron ore or limestone gravel.
By comparison, a bicycle ride across the United States seems a safe and simple undertaking.
Through my son Ben, Neal and I know of each other’s journeys, which will overlap for a time in the fall. The bicycle route that I’ll be following crosses the Mississippi at St. Francisville in southeastern Louisiana. What a bit of serendipity if we should end up in St. Francisville at the same time!