Canoeing the Mississippi: Cancer Alley to the Gulf (Part 1)
Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 11:53am
July 28, 2012
My eyes just wouldn’t shut. After twelve hours of paddling through the Mississippi River’s infamous “Cancer Alley,” my body ached for rest, but the distractions made sleep illusive. It was Day 56 of our trip and we lay a mere two days from the Gulf of Mexico.
As the sun set, we settled for a rocky bank in the heart of New Orleans’ southern port. With 2300+ river miles behind us, our crew calmly handled the cacophony echoing through the narrow channel. Our last hour of paddling had been filled with countless tugboats and their gasoline slicks on the water’s surface, plus ocean liners that dwarfed our canoes. It seemed we couldn’t be any further from the virgin headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Instead of the chorus of sandhill cranes and spring peepers, my thoughts were drowned by the hum of industry and passing freighters. The once starry skies were now hidden beyond the rust-orange glare of refineries in St. Bernard’s Parish.
It’s so hot, my sleeping bag had long since been converted to a pillow and my ground pad functioned primarily as a sponge for my sweat. Throughout the previous week, barge traffic condensed, ocean liners dominated the channel, and green willow banks were replaced by canyon walls of commercial docking apparatus. Drains would spew waste, dust from cargo clouded the shores, and we felt a noticeable temperature increase in the water, thus our nightly rinse in the river was out of the question. We had to embrace clogged pores and the sticky salt of irritated skin.
The river was no longer a wilderness trail for explorers but a corporate highway for giants. We were out of place and a liability. My skin had reached near saturation, and I was ready for a change.
So I lay my head back, reflecting, “only two days left.” Was I really ready to finish?
“The simplicity of an expedition is blissful. Wake, paddle, eat, sleep.” Did I want to complete the expedition that took 4 years to realize?
“Experiencing the natural wonder of a sunrise is divine as all creatures greet the day.” Was I ready to assimilate into the real world? Was I ready for a planner?
“Patience grows on a trip as one recognizes a minimal control over variables.” Did I want to reconnect with the digital intoxication and comfort comatose?
“Internal trust grows as perceptions align with experience, and interpersonal trust grows as mutual vulnerabilities are expressed.” Did I want to part ways from my closest friends?
“Only two days left.” I was ready for a change, but maybe not a finish.