Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 837 ~~~~~~ Tuesday, May 4, 2021 ~~~~~~~ Clarksdale, MS ~ Memphis, TN ~ Vicksburg, MS
As we wake up this morning, there are two entirely separate teams of 4 people trying to break the world record of paddling the length of the Mississippi River -- 18 days, 4 hours and 51 minutes!
Team 1 MMZERO paddled past the mouth of the Ohio River last night around midnight, and is now in the vicinity of Hickman, KY
Team 2 Mississippi Speed Record paddled out of Lake Itasca at 6am, and are now in the marshy northwoods headwaters of Minnesota, just warming up for the 2,000 mile journey ahead!
What an exciting month this will be! Even though they are on the same river, a thousand miles away from each other, both teams trying to break the Guinness Book of Records for paddling the fastest down the whole Mississippi River. Team 1 MMZERO hopes to finish within the next 5-6 days to beat the standing record of 18 days, but their exact timing depends on a lot of factors -- including wind, river levels, sleep deprivation, morale, and traffic.
In 1980 KJ and his friend, the late Steve Eckelkamp, set the world record for canoeing the length of the Mississippi river. Millhone and Eckelkamp also attempted the Amazon River record (but were washed out in a flood) and kayaked the Pacific coast of Canada to Alaska. In 2018, together with Steve’s nephew Kevin Eckelkamp and Nate Lastinger, Millhone attempted the Mississippi record again, but their attempt was cut short because Lastinger’s son needed emergency surgery. Millhone is an executive coach, corporate trainer, motivational speaker and owner of HeadWaters Consulting.
KJ says: “When Steve Eckelkamp and I set this record in 1980, it was the beginning of the life I’d always hoped for. One filled with adventure. When he died in 2017, I thought my adventuring days were over, until my daughter Casey said, “Let’s do the Mississippi. Let’s get that record back!” Now I’m back on a path of adventure shared with a good friend, who happens to be my daughter.”
Casey Millhone, age 20
Casey attends Colorado College where she is studying sociology. She went to high school in Minnetonka, Minnesota. She is a modern-day renaissance woman. She likes sketching, comedy, skiing, fashion, mathematics, canoeing, and the music of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. When successful, she will be the youngest female world record holder for canoeing the length of the Mississippi River.
Casey says: “Growing up, I listened to my dad’s stories of his world record on the Mississippi and of having his expedition wiped out by a flash flood on the Amazon. I watched people’s faces as they listened and was fascinated just like they were. Now I am doing this because I want to live that kind of life and have my own stories to tell. I want to be able to say I did something no one else had ever done.”
Bobby Johnson, age 42
In 2017, Johnson set a course record of 56 hours in the Suwannee 230 canoe race. In 2019, he set a course record of 7 days, 8 hours in the Alabama 650. And in both 2019 and 2020 he won his class in the Everglades Challenge. In 2020, Johnson dropped his own course record in the Suwannee 230 to 39 hours 55 minutes. Bobby thanks his wife Kerri and daughter Eyvn for their support. He’s been a car dealer for the past 20 years and now owns and operates Bobby J’s Auto in Clearwater, Florida.
Bobby says: “This record attempt will be harder than anything any of us has ever attempted. We will face sleep deprivation, hallucinations, barges, wind, thunderstorms, waves, currents, portages, locks, emotions, human error, ice, snow, and excruciating pain. Those of us in the ultra distance paddling community will understand this is a chance to prove that there are no limits we can’t endure. It’s also an opportunity to create the type of friendship only an ordeal like this can create. We will start as four and end as one.”
Rod Price, age 60
Rod Price has won over 300 races in all types of paddle craft. In 2009 he and his partner, Ardie Olson, won the world’s longest canoe race, the Yukon 1000. Rod is the only paddler to complete North America’s five longest distance races: The Ultimate Florida Challenge (1,200m), the Yukon 1000, the Race to Alaska (750m), the Great Alabama 650, and the Yukon River Quest (440m). In 2019, Price won 3 Gold Medals for Team USA at World Dragon Boat Championships in Thailand. He’s written three books about his racing adventures (Racing to the Yukon, Racing Around Florida, and Have Paddle Will Travel) and lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife, Stacey. Rod is a paddler, writer, and speaker.
Rod says: “I’ve always been driven by challenges, and the 2,350-mile Mississippi River represents possibly the biggest challenge of my life. Being part of a highly motivated, four-person paddling team attempting to break the 18-day record is an honor. I will do everything in my power to make us successful.”
Team # 2 -- Mississippi Speed Record
The Mississippi Speed Record Team
Scott Miller - 45, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Team captain. Paddled from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay in 2005. Missouri River 340, 4th place, team division (fastest MN IV canoe finish in the history of the race); Great Alabama 650, 3rd place, team division. Joel Ford - 36, Fallston, Maryland. Member of Rootstock Racing, the 2018 US National Championship Adventure Racing Team. Perry Whitaker - 59, St. Louis, Missouri. Twelve time finisher of the Missouri River 340 canoe race. Expert on the St. Louis area of the Mississippi River. Adam Macht - 36, Ely, Minnesota. Wilderness canoeing and camping outfitter and long distance paddler, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park.
Scott Miller began planning for the attempt in September 2018. This year’s effort is scheduled to launch from the Headwaters at Lake Itasca on May 4, 2021. In addition to individual daily training, the team has had numerous multi-day training sessions on several sections of the river from Minnesota to Tennessee.
The first time the record was set was in 1937 when Joe Tagg, Gerald Capers and Charles Saunders paddled from Itasca to New Orleans in 56 days. In 1978, the record was set for a second time by a British Royal Air Force team at 42 days, 5 hours and some minutes. Bob Bradford and Clark Eid set the current record of 18 days, 4 hours and 51 minutes in 2003. There have been at least 3 unsuccessful attempts since then (2014, 2017, 2018).
History of the World Record
(1) Personal correspondence with KJ Millhone, 12/13/18
The Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United States. How long is it? That depends on who you ask. Most estimates are between 2,300 and 2,350 miles, but some sources have it as long as 2,552 miles. It starts at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and makes a question mark shape as it flows 681 miles through Minnesota—the most miles of any state the river flows through. Minnesota is one of only two states the river flows mostly “through”, the other being the last state it flows through, Louisiana. For every other state the river touches (there are eight others, for a total of ten), the river serves as a border. In order, the ten states are: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. With all of it’s tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It is the fourth-longest river in the world and certainly the most famous river in the United States.
To move goods up and down the Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a 9-foot deep shipping channel from Baton Rouge, LA to Minneapolis, MN. From Baton Rouge past New Orleans to Head of Passes, a 45 foot channel is maintained to allow ocean-going vessels access to ports between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The river can be divided into three sections. The first section, from Lake Itasca to Minneapolis/St. Paul, has 14 dams that must be portaged around. The second “middle” section of the Mississippi, from St. Paul to St. Louis, has 29 locks and dams. At every lock there is a chance the canoeists will have to wait, up to many hours, for the lock to be ready for them to go through. Finally the “lower” Mississippi, 1,000 miles of free-flowing, fairly “wilderness-y” river but for barges, flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
(Some of this information was found at the informative Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area’s website at: Mississippi River Facts)
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