“The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable. Considering the Missouri its main branch, it is the longest river in the world–four thousand three hundred miles. It seems safe to say that it is also the crookedest river in the world, since in one part of its journey it uses up one thousand three hundred miles to cover the same ground that the crow would fly over in six hundred and seventy-five.” – Mark Twain
8 weeks and 1 day. It took the Barrel Raft Boys almost 2 months to travel the distance someone could drive in a day. Haha..ha….ha..what the hell were we thinking? Its hard to admit that this trip has finally reached its conclusion and even harder to express what it feels like to be writing this post sitting on a couch in an air conditioned apartment. We are safe, dry, well-fed and clean; this is exactly what we had been looking forward to the past few weeks, but its a bittersweet end to a journey that doesn’t quite feel complete. Don’t get me wrong, we were happy to have reached the end and the celebration, plus all of your congratulations have more than we ever could have asked for. There aren’t enough thanks in the world to describe what you deserve! However, something just doesn’t feel right about living on solid ground again. We are getting close to back at what we’d call our “normal routine”, but this normal routine feels like Barrel Raft Boy time in fast forward. Taking a trip down the Mississippi River, or any river for that matter, isn’t meant to be quick and as many can attest..the slower the better. Traveling on a raft gives you no alternative and you need to slow down with it, settle in, and enjoy the ride. There is no hurry and all things, good and bad, come and go. We had to adapt to this lifestyle, shedding our busy lives for a simple one contained to a 10’x21′ island, moving no more than 5mph for 14 hours a day. We found joy in the simplest things, fear in the most absurd; confidence in the toughest situations, calmness in the difficult; patience or laughter when it was tough to do so and learned to adapt to our ever-changing surroundings. We had time to rediscover who we were, growing in and stripping off, the good and the bad, respectively. Now being forced back into this world as raft refugees, it feels as though our normal routine is rushed along by countless factors that we have no control over. It may be that we are trying to fit as much into as little time as possible, and its because of this that it feels like the journey has not ended. What lies ahead now is making the transition back to the lives we left behind with a newfound sense of self and barrel raft know-how. With some luck, maybe we and Mark Twain can remind people that, “Life is short, Break the Rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss SLOWLY. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret ANYTHING that makes you smile.”
Our last day, rafting 21 miles through “Cancer Alley” (New Orleans) turned out to be better than expected. The day began at 6:00am with a tugboat honking at us as we slept behind some parked barges. Pushing off before sunrise, we were on our way. We both agreed awhile back that if the conditions were good, we’d put in as many miles as possible and that day the conditions were much better than we expected, so we kicked the motor into high gear to get through the city ASAP. The river through this segment was lined 80% of the way with docks, shipyards, refineries, maintenance and abandoned buildings. Although we would pass and be passed by HUGE ocean liners and barges both large and small, they were traveling much slower than usual (probably due to all the traffic) which made it much much easier to navigate. Plus, once we saw the skyline of New Orleans, there was nothing that could have stopped us! There was much to look at and to be in awe of the shear size of vessels and the constant activity. Getting through New Orleans, in our experience, was better than rafting through St. Louis which seemed to have faster moving traffic, narrower river and harsher waves. We were extremely relieved that this segment of the river, which we had both been looking forward to and dreading, didn’t turn out to be a tragic end of the Barrel Raft Boys saga.
Exiting the Mississippi River after 1,671 miles, we completed an epically long winding waterway from Minnesota to Louisiana. At this point, mile 93, we turned off the river into the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW) expecting the 5 mile canal to Lake Pontchartrain wouldn’t take long. We had cruised through our last miles of the Mississippi in record time, getting to the entrance of the canal around 1pm. The first obstical turned out to be a Lock, restricting the river flow out of the Mississippi. Arriving at the lock, we dusted off the marine radio and called up to the lockmaster “pleasure craft requesting northbound lockage.” In response we heard, “pull up the short wall and wait for this barge to lock.” Okay, no big deal, one barge (the Paloduro) wouldn’t take more than an hour to lock through and we could use the time to take a breather. The road bridge lifts up, the lock doors open, Paloduro enters slowly, doors close and lift bridge falls. Inability to sit still, Rob paints the rocks on the levee wall, while Tanner finds time to eat one last can of spagettios.
An hour passes, then a barge pulls around the corner and proceeds right past us up to the lock. Hmm, thought we were next, did the lockmaster forget about us? “Pleasure craft calling lock, what’s the ETA on locking northbourd, we’ve been waiting here?” A harsh response back, “You’ll go after this barge, commercial traffic has priority as they pay for our services; just know at 3:30 the lift bridge suspends acitivity for 2 hours.” It’s now 2:00 and who knows what other vessel will pop around the corner needing to cut us off. 5 miles from our 1,700 mile destination and we’re stuck. Finally, lockmaster radios “okay, we can squeeze you in, quickly dart past the tug locking southbound and don’t radio the lift bridge.” Cool, in and out just like we did 27 times before in the Upper Mississippi. Exiting we see ANOTHER lift bridge a mile in front of us, but its 3:25 and there is little current. With a wide-open Evinrude kicking hard, we radio the bridge about our raft trip tell them we only need to go 4 more miles. “You’ve got two minutes to get here or it wont lift until 5:45.” We radio our progress at 3:28, but no response from the bridge. 3:31 hits, the raft is there and the bridge operator responds “bridge is not operating, you’ll have to wait until 5:45, I can’t change the rules only Coast Guard can.” After calling the Coast Guard on the cell phone, we discover there is nothing they can do either. DANG. We wait..again..eventually getting through only to discover another train lift bridge with two long trains crossing it about 2 miles down. A surprise to us, our friend Walter Diamond was on that bridge! Even though we had to wait awhile for trains to clear the bridge, he had convinced the operator to squeeze us through in-between trains…who knows how much longer it could have been?! Imagine the feeling of driving across the country for 8 weeks, nothing but nice open highway. Its been a long trip, you are tired and are on your home stretch. Family, shelter and a real bed are within reach and as you take the last turn to get home, you have to screech the brakes for gridlock traffic. Thats how we felt after waiting almost 7 hours to go 3 miles! Its about 6:50pm now, with a 2 miles to go to the marina and we see a monster storm building behind us. Coming up to the turn into the marina, the wall of water is gaining speed on us then opens to drench us before docking. We were so far beyond exhausted it was comical, and we cruised into our slip completely soaked, laughing and dancing 🙂 A quick, wet tie-up on the cleats and WE..WERE…..DONE! (with the Mississippi)
Later that week we took the raft up out of the canal into open water to snap a few pictures, only to get bombarded by another wretched storm..go figure.
Some quick journey Statistics:
1,692 River Miles
285 Gallons of Gas
5,758 Photographs and Videos
57 Days on River (8 weeks)
5,000+ buoys passed
5×8 Largest Barge Configuration (40 total containers)
5 Fish given to us
3 Newspapers that covered the journey
4 Stuffed Animals Skully Lost in the River
anything else you’d like to know, just ask and we’d be happy to tell ya 🙂
Now the celebration begins. Walter, who helped us get gasoline in Baton Rouge, ushered us into the marina. What a nice surprise it was to have a friendly welcome after coming so far. It was really cool that you were there and it meant a lot to us. A congratulations from him and the fellow boaters that night, we were very relieved to get off the water. Tanner’s brother, Robb, lives in Mississippi and offered his home to shack up the BarrelRaftBoys at the conclusion. Arriving on Tuesday night, we rested (HARD) until our families flew that Friday to celebrate. We all swam in the warm Gulf water on the beach on Saturday. Robb did a shrimp boil with the freshest possible shrimp, right from the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, combined with corn, potatoes, sausage and crab cakes. Day dreaming about this boil was how we filled our days and what made our stomachs ache the most during our last few weeks of the trip and it was surreal that it was finally in front of us. Lighting a bonfire on the beach, we shared stories and answered questions about the journey.
Listing the raft on Craigslist, we needed to get it sold before leaving. Removing our gear, river finds and cleaning the raft the best we could, it was ready to be given to the best offer. Selling the raft with the 9.9hp outboard motor, we received $1,200. We said our farewells to the craft that got us so far, but it was nice knowing that the folks who bought it were going to cherish it like we had in their home of Biloxi, Mississippi. We’re going to miss it and all the good times, but ready to see it go and get back society and normalcy. We are driving to back to Minnesota in a rental car with our raft money, making a pit stop in Dallas to see our good friend, Kyle.
So what’s next?
Plans on going back Denver, continuing to develop and design websites independently. The adventure will continue with snowboarding, hiking, biking and longboarding out west; but hasn’t planned anything else epic. Looking forward to the cold weather, turning BarrelRaftBoys.com into a raft resource for others, selling photographs taken on the journey and writing a book about the adventure.
Will be back in Minnesota working my butt off while making up for lost time with my other dog, Tux and spending quality time with the people I love. Definitely will try to keep the barrel raft style alive and will always have a place to stay for all those who have been so kind to me along the way!
There is no way that we could have done this without the help from people we met along the way, and the support of you at home. If you wouldn’t mind, please email us your addresses so we can send you a thank you..a small token of our appreciation.
If you feel like no thanks is necessary, please remember that we WILL track you down with Skully and forcefully do it, so please save us the hassle and let us send you something. This goes for everyone! The more, the better! We would love to stay in touch, you have all made our trip so much better.