In preparation for an 8-month, 3300-mile journey, my Clipper Prospector was loaded to the gunnels and beyond. Of all my cargo, nothing was more important than my uncle’s ashes.
My uncle Mitch Hamon loved New Orleans and I was determined to spread his remains there as a way to honour his short life and to raise awareness about heart disease. Four rivers connected my departure point to my destination.
Canoe to New Orleans began June 8, 2012 in Eastend, Saskatchewan. Despite a wet spring, the shallow FrenchmanRiver flowed over gravel and cobblestone with mere inches of silt-laden water. Portages were frequent and the meandering prolific – canoeing six miles as the crow flies required paddling 25 river miles.
The narrow FrenchmanRiver meandered to its confluence with the MilkRiver in Northern Montana. The terrain shifted from virgin prairie and badlands to cottonwood groves. The water got deeper and wider. The Milk fuses with the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam. I arrived there in mid-July.
From North Dakota to Nebraska, the Missouri is pooled behind five massive dams. The river is transformed into huge reservoirs, some of them 200 miles in length, where a paddler loses the advantage of current and is subjugated to the wind. I sailed when the wind was favourable. If it wasn’t, I waited for it to die with the setting sun and canoed under the full moon.
After four months on the Missouri and 1760 miles, I arrived at the Mississippi River on November 18. To date, I had journeyed 2215 river miles. Wide, muddy, but historically low, the Mighty Mississippi wasn’t very mighty. The anaemic current did little to propel me towards New Orleans, but once the Ohio River poured in at Cairo, Illinois the current got much stronger. I paddled into the South. I heard live blues in Memphis, celebrated New Year’s in Vicksburg and arrived in Baton Rouge at the start of the Mardi Gras parade season.
Past Baton Rouge, I shared the water with titanic ocean freighters. Like them, I carried my cargo with great care. I arrived in New OrleansJan. 28, 2013. The canoeing was over. Now it was time for the most important part of the journey – I spread my uncle’s ashes in the French Quarter.