I was scrolling through Facebook one night and through the seemingly endless sea of political shit and countless pyramid scheme companies, I stopped at one of the groups I can always rely on to be refreshing, A river group. The Mississippi River Paddlers group is one of only a few Mississippi river groups you will find. It is a family and treasure trove of information about all things Mississippi River. There is currently a few people still paddling from the source of the river to the Gulf of Mexico, but it is Michael Anderson that stood out to me. The reason he stood out is that he made a post on November First asking how to portage around Lock and Dam 19. This caught my eye because this is where I am from.
Credit : Michael Anderson
I commented back to him letting him know that I am from that area even though I live in Southwest Missouri, however, I still keep in touch with my Yacht Club family. I mentioned to Michael that if he stopped at the Yacht Club that they would help you portage OR at least let you contact the Lock and Dam to find out info about locking through. I told Michael to ask for Michael Walton, the bartender when he got there and let him know I told him to ask for him. As Michael made his way down river to the Yacht Club he did stop and he quickly found out he pulled into a River Angel Oasis. Growing up on the Mississippi River, the Yacht Club and it’s patrons and members and Michael Walton pretty much raised me. I was a river rat and they would always report to my mother and father if I did something wrong or they wanted to know where I was on the river. This is why I told Michael that he should stop there, they are River Angels and will treat you as their own.
Keokuk Yacht Club
Now, I am sure Michael has been hosted and helped up until he arrived at the Yacht Club because when you live on the river you are part of the river and all the people that boat or paddle on her. She is the lifeblood of the towns and folks that live along her. She brings out the best in people when they catch wind that a paddler is passing by. The reason I and glorifying the Yacht Club is because it is part of me and where I come from and made me who I am today so I knew Michael would get a warm welcome and the rest he needed. Little be known to Michael, I messaged Michael Walton “bartender” and asked him if Michael stopped at the club. His reply was warming and, well, just awesome. He told me that Michael did indeed stop and he was welcomed and a very humble person that they were very happy to host. He was not only given a ride into town, he was given a warm bed in Charlie’s boathouse apartment. Charlie, who taught me how to catfish when I was little, owns a small boathouse in the harbor at the club and recently built an apartment above the boathouse to have a place to stay on the weekends. He would open his apartment to Michael giving him a warm bed and a hot shower and a place to relax for that night. If you spend a few hundred miles in a canoe, a hot shower and a warm bed take on a whole new meaning.
It was after I messaged Michael Walton I realized that I wanted to do a story on Michael Anderson. I sent him an email asking him if I could indeed write a post about him and follow his trip down the river. He replied “Sure” so I sent him some questions to get to know about his trip. It was his reply that would absolutely shock me, it showed me that not only was he paddling the Mississippi River, he had already paddled thousands of miles before he started this trip. His reply would also tell me how awesome this man was, he is one hell of a “GOOD” person. He is a wilderness guide and has a passion for teaching people about the outdoors and the rivers. But, what really shocked me was his ABSOLUTE LOVE of anything river. Up until the Iowa/Minnesota border, he paddled with his friend Paul Twedt and managed to clean up over 6300 lbs of trash from the banks of the river. This showed me that if two people can clean this amount of trash out of the river, imagine what thousands of people could do and are doing. It is people like Michael and Paul and countless other paddlers that live to promote the beauty of our rivers, educate people about them and hope to make a change in what gives over 18 million people the most precious commodity in the world, fresh water.
I asked Michael:
Credit: Michael Anderson
1. What Canoe and Paddle are you using: The canoe is an extension of my body. It’s a 17.5′ wooden framed, skin-up canoe, wrapped in ballistic nylon giving it an overall flexible yet durable composure. Made in St. Paul, MN by the non-profit, youth boatbuilding apprenticeship outfit, Urban Boatbuilders. The Proper name is the ‘Wilderness Traveler’, yet this one is dubbed the ‘Vessel of Light’. It was the 2017 staff training boat (learn by building) and I was one of the team members contributing to its birth.
The paddle is a 180cm Bending Branches Solo Impression
. It is a rockstar. I highly recommend it for distance solo paddlers. Strong n durable and doubles as a great ‘long arm’ for trash pick up on the waterways.
2. What Motivated you to do this journey: This source to sea journey was motivated by the length of the river and its long lessons. Originally, I was to stop at the MN/Iowa border completing Adventure Stewardship Alliance’s 1,200mile Three Rivers Expedition.
3. What did you do before this journey: So before I started this journey I paddled the Namekagon/St. Croix Rivers (237mi.) in June and the Minnesota River (300mi.) in July and the MN portion of the Mississippi (650mi.) with Paul Twedt and we managed to clean 6300lbs of litter and hazards to the water by packing out the items into our canoes. 50 tires on the Minnesota River bicycle to semi. It got heavy.
4. Why are you Paddling the Mississippi: I’m journeying down the rest of the Mississippi to the Gulf because my soul was calling for it and I knew I needed to continue solo. By the time we reached the Twin Cities in Minnesota, I knew in my core that I had to keep paddling the remaining 1600milesish. It’s a long river and I am a student. The trash clean-up mission is not the focus now as river conditions are too dangerous and trash levels extreme- need barges like Living Lands and Waters to operate on a river this size.
I journey the Mississippi for love of the water-the essential element for life. I journey because for me some of my best teachers are the river, the fire, pushing my limits physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually every day. This river breaks me down into pieces and somehow has me put back together by sunset.
5. How have the people along the river treated you: The people along the river have been stupendous. River folk learn that we can be generous and help those along the way. We are all connected by water. 18million people get their drinking water from the Mississippi-talk about a powerful connector. People often give me a quizzical look soloing this seemingly delicate canoe on the largest drain of the continental US. The river works it’s magic and connects you with people at the right time I believe. Say you need this-fuel, conversation, a place to overnight-well often enough just around the next bend a person appears who is willing to help. The Mississippi River Paddlers page is another great community resource. Helps connect river angels with paddlers and those scheming upcoming ventures mixed in with other river rats reminiscing.
Yes, the river is something we should consider always turning toward in our communities not against. Yes, it is a force of nature and warrants MAXIMUM respect, but it isn’t something we should turn out backs away from.
6. What is the scariest moment so far: One windy day I was using a 45lb rock as ballast in the front of my boat to help my bow sit closer to the water keeping my line truer into the headwind. Well, it was slowing me down quite a bit (I had thought, it had been a long day..) and I climbed up to the front of the boat to throw the rock overboard. Bad idea. All my weight was now in the bow and I was lifting a heavy object at one of the most tippy parts of the canoe. Well, in the process of tossing it over my gunnels dipped abruptly and scooped in water. I thought I was going to tip. A really bad idea in the super cold waters of November on the Mississippi River.
Other scary moments were early morning gunshots on the Upper Mississippi. See, I was coming through during waterfowl hunting season and there were numerous mornings filled with gunshots seemingly all around me.
7. When do you plan to finish: Plan to finish the first week in December (maybe, will finish, but on river time)
8. Who are you, and what is your profession: I’m a wilderness guide. I like to take people out of their normal environment and bring them outdoors-camping, canoeing, hiking. In these spaces, we find our comfort zones stretch. A lot of growth and empowerment can come from these experiences. I especially like working with young people- 6-22yr olds. I have worked for different guiding outfits and most recently the National Park Service on the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities specializing in outdoor education with youth. At heart, I am a farmer and look forward to being rooted in a place someday growing my food and keeping the fire. I believe love is the answer and the truth sets us free. It isn’t always easy but I’ve found it’s for the best in the long run. Would like to get into falconry someday and Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qi-Gong and energy work. I have dreams of paddling all the tributaries compiling the Mississippi River watershed.
To be honest, I was not expecting the detailed response that Michael gave me, I mean come on, he is paddling the Mississippi River, who has time to answer a bunch of questions from a guy he has never met for a little blog that only promotes organically “not paid viewer post’s”. But, his response quickly showed me that he loves to tell his story, he loves to teach people, especially children. Sound’s pretty familiar huh? kind of a Churchill Clark vibe. Our rivers are overflowing with people who want to teach future generations about conservation and protecting the rivers and environment. I would challenge you to find any source to sea or source to confluence paddler that is not willing to share their story and educate people about their journeys and knowledge of the rivers. This is a community of loving, compassionate and sometimes crazy people with one love “The River”.
Michael stood out to me simply because I noticed he was a paddler asking a question on Facebook and I was excited to see that he was paddling through where I grew up and was born into the love of rivers I have. What I would learn about Michael hit me pretty good and seems to be an entertaining man as well. However, there are many brave and awesome people that deserve recognition for their journeys as well. This has prompted me to find any paddler I can that is willing to share their story with me so I can share it with the world one share and “like” at a time. Yes, I started this website to share the love of Stand Up Paddleboarding but, sometimes paddlers, no matter what they are paddling deserve to be brought to light, Plus you technically can stand up in a canoe too, we don’t judge.
Now, this might sound like a shameless advertisement for a company I love, and that’s because it is. Michael is using a Bending Branches
paddle for this journey, the same company that owns Aqua-Bound
who gave me the opportunity to propel myself into the world of long-distance paddling. Though they are one of the largest paddle manufacturers in the world, they still have humble roots. Michael has literally put his life in the hands of a company that builds durable and beautiful paddles. The reason I put this plug into this story is Bending Branches and Aqua-Bound love to share stories of paddlers doing crazy things. The three most important tools needed for paddling is 1. The Boat, DUH”, 2. Your PFD “life vest” and 3. Your paddle, you don’t want to be up a river without it. Like myself, Michael puts his journey in the blades of his paddle and trusts his life on them. And I promise you that every story that is told about Bending Branches and Aqua-Bound, they are humbled when they are brought up in those stories. Hot Rodders like to show off their cars and the engines in them. Paddlers love to show off the boats and paddles that propel them, “insert bad comparison” but you get the point.
Michael is currently near Memphis headed towards warmer temps and bigger waters, I think I can speak for anyone reading this post that we wish you the safest journey and enjoy the life experience you are creating. And I would personally like to thank Michael for allowing me to share his story and I hope to write a part 2 on his finish of the Mississippi River.
It also look’s like Michael is a van junkie too