Twin Cities Pioneer Press Article 15


Journey down the Mississippi: Two friends, a raft and a website

By Dave Orrick

“… the only real, independent and genuine gentlemen in the world go quietly up and down the Mississippi River, asking no homage of any one, seeking no popularity, no notoriety, and not caring a damn whether school keeps or not.” — Mark Twain

And so it is with the annual procession of half-baked souls undertaking full-on voyages down the Mississippi River. Add to that list — as of Sunday, if all goes as planned — the souls of Rob Binger of Minneapolis and his pal Tanner Brodhagen of Colorado. And one of Binger’s dogs, Skully, a Neapolitan mastiff.

The threesome will travel at a projected speed of 1.5 mph — average river flow — for 1,847 miles, to the Gulf of Mexico. They expect it to take about 100 days.


Their vessel is a barrel-floated raft that Binger and Brodhagen constructed in the driveway of Binger’s uncle, Mel Horak, whose house is in striking range of the St. Croix River, where they plan to launch some time Sunday in Stillwater. Assuming the thing floats.

“On paper, it’ll work,” Binger, a St. Paul native whose full-time job (until now) was tinting windows of automobiles and wrapping them in vinyl. “We’ve worked everything out on paper. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

The 21.5-foot-long, 3,000-pound raft — “it’s a small barge really,” Binger said — has taken the handy pair about a month to build. They consulted a number of other Mississippi homemade raft builders, members of a subculture that has gone old-school as representatives of America’s never-ending quest to become one with the river in search of … whatever.

The vessel consists of two parts: a deck and a screened-in shelter with food storage in the ceiling and benches that double as beds. A rope-and-pulley system can lower boards to shield the three from the elements. Sort of. “Water can always come up through the floor,” Binger said.

There are solar panels to charge a deep cycle marine battery to run a marine radio, charge phones and run the laptop, which they will use to update the public, via a website, on their voyage.

There are numerous modes of propulsion. The river’s current can be harnessed by sea anchors, which will also keep the bow pointed downstream. There are oars, and there is a mast for potential sailing. A pedal-powered propeller was scrapped, but a 9-horse gasoline-powered outboard motor will be astern. It’s for emergency maneuvering and navigating the 29 locks the raft-barge will have to pass through as it descends the Gulf-bound staircase.

There’s little else. Sanitary facilities?

“That’s gonna be interesting,” said Binger, a veteran of backcountry roughing-it; his parents were counselors at the YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan in Ely. “It’s gonna be tricky to stay near the boat, but we’re basically gonna just jump in the river. I’ve done that kind of thing plenty.”

And on the long days, how will they amuse themselves?

“We’re gonna fish all day,” he said. “I really haven’t done much river fishing. I’m pretty much a Minnesota lake guy, so I don’t know about these river fish. But I’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

And the weather?

“Yeah, well, we’ll be going through the Midwest in tornado season and arriving in the Gulf in hurricane season.”

The former college pals are raising money through their website to defray costs for the barge and supplies. The goal: $3,500; as of Thursday, they had raised $374.

There’s no charity involved here, no raising of awareness for anything global. Which naturally raises the question: Why?

“I’m not getting any younger,” said Binger, who is 27 and, in case you hadn’t deduced it already, single. He came up with the idea six months ago and once Brodehagen was on board, he’s been consumed by it. “Who knows where I’ll be next year and if I’ll ever get this chance again. But I guess if you really want to know what the point is, check out our mission statement.”

That statement, under the heading “BUT WHY?” on their website — — reads, in part: “Most things we need or want can be delivered or obtained with the press of a button or swipe of a card, where the sense of working for reward is just not there. We intend to gather our own supplies, design and build our vessel, navigate the river and survive by ourselves with only the bare essentials and our own two hands. But don’t get us wrong, the main goal of this trip (successful or not) is to have fun! Hopefully we will inspire others to think beyond their comfort zone and do something they can tell their grandkids about!”

Half-baked. And brilliant.

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