This morning five sleek canoes slipped into Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi. A member of the crew paddling the length of the river is a Whitefish Bay native.
The words “Paddle Forward” may be hand-painted on the canoes, but you need only meet Martha Brummitt to recognize the trip is serious business.
“Our aim is go 30 miles a day on average...but other days we plan to go 50 or 60 miles when the conditions are right. It flows really fast,” Brummitt says.
The trip’s inspiration came from a fellow adventurer.
“The Paddle Forward expedition is part of a young nonprofit based out of Minneapolis. And that was started by a woman named Natalie Warren. She is one of the first two women to paddle from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay,” Brummitt says.
The nonprofit takes teens and adults on river trips – blending outdoor recreation with environmental education.
Brummitt says the Mississippi expedition has set more ambitious goals. Its crew will interact daily via the web with nearly three-dozen classrooms, grade school through high school.
“When you sign up your class, a teacher gains access to a variety of activities for their math or science class and then we also have a virtual scavenger hunt,” Brummitt says.
The students will be able to follow the Mississippi trekkers and even share “science” – such as water quality information they dig into back at school. Brummitt hopes more join along the way.
“Our aim is to have a national dialogue amongst all of these classrooms,” Brummitt says.
One crew member won’t be paddling, instead her assignment is videography. Brummitt says she’ll chronicle people the paddlers meet along the way. They plan to distill the “footage” into a documentary.
“Which is going to be called Voices of the Mississippi River. We want to (use our adventure of the 11 of us as an avenue to) capture the relationship that they have and what they have to say about the Mississippi River,” Brummitt says.
Brummitt says her team’s focus is to listen and learn.
“ I think there are so many factors to the Mississippi River from environmental, to historical and recreational. Even employment. I just learned that over a million people have jobs directly depend on the river and beyond that there are many, many more whose jobs indirectly depend on the river,” Brummitt says.
Her green eyes flash when she acknowledges - the crew hopes to drive home a deeper message.
“The Basin it’s extremely vast and it covers so many states. We want to try to get across that the impact of someone say in South Dakota is going to affect someone in New Orleans via the waterways and how the water travels from one destination to another,” Brummitt says.
Mastering the art of listening might be less challenging than the perils the river could hold for the paddlers.
"Barges and tugboats ; dams and the locks we’ll have to navigate and be cautious. We will be mindful of alligators towards the very end. there was an article we just found about a 792 pound alligator that was hunted recently in the Mississippi
What does she bring to the team?
"Ummmmm, we’re each to write two to three sentences to describe our character so we can work on our group dynamics before we set out. I described myself as some who is thoughtful, organized and energetic. And something that I bring to the group is I love planning logistics, so tgat;s why I’m in charge of coordinating the food and where all of it is being shipped. And I love canoeing – it’s one of most favorite things to do – so I’m really looking forward to paddling hard every day," Brummitt says.
You see the passion in the 24-year-old face.
She’ll have to do lots of paddling. The longest canoe trip Brummitt has made before this one was 460 miles on the Yukon. The Mississippi stretches 5 times longer.
Exciting yes, glamorous no!
“Mostly we’ll be wearing the same clothing for the entirety of the trip,” Brummitt says.
We will occasionally check in on that 10-week odyssey.