Canoeing the Mississippi River! This is the stuff dreams are made of. At least my dreams. I grew up in South Minneapolis. For those not familiar with Minneapolis, it is in the state of Minnesota, home of the Mississippi headwaters, and is a city built upon the banks of the mighty river. When I was young, I often spent days exploring along Minnehaha Creek, which emptied into the Mississippi. Along with my friends we rafted the waters of the creek after a storm, floated it in tubes on calmer days, and occasionally ventured down it in a canoe if one could be found. Always, our journey would end at the Mississippi where we would watch the strength of the current rushing by carrying the muddy waters south to St. Louis, Memphis, Hannibal, New Orleans, and other fabled towns and villages built upon its banks. We had grown up on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, which conjured up fantasies of great adventure if someday it were possible to venture further.
This fantasy came to pass to a degree in 1985. At that time, I had the fortune of being involved in a project designed to help celebrate the United Nations recognition of the International Youth Year called the Mississippi River Youth Expedition. This project was designed to bring young people together from around the globe for brief ten day legs, canoeing the 1300 miles of the upper Mississippi from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to Cairo, Illinois. Just finishing college, I was initially hired to plan logistics for this trip, and then became one of three expedition leaders to guide the trip. It was a fantastic opportunity! To this day I still believe that trip was the first exposure I had to multiculturalism as we passed through the various ports of call settled by different cultures and people who had come to the US in its early days. This trip gave me a further taste of the river, and I set a goal for myself to someday return and do the entire journey from source to sea – all 2400 miles of it.
Since that time my experiences exploring other cultures has continued. For the last 30 years my wife, Kirstin, and I have worked as international educators. We’ve had the opportunity to work in seven countries – Romania, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Cayman Islands, Qatar, Venezuela and Myanmar, raising our three daughters, Kaija, Sadie, and Anna, along the way. While we have found something special we’ve appreciated about every country we’ve lived in, we have to acknowledge we’ve developed a special affinity for Myanmar. There are many reasons for this – the beauty of the country, the genuineness of the people, the pervasive sense of calm that seems to exist everywhere. In particular though, we can relate a certain part of this feeling to our son Max, whom we met as a nine year old in Myanmar, took into our home, and eventually adopted.
It is my son Max who has helped me return to my dreams of canoeing the Mississippi. In the early days of COVID I began to read of others who have made this journey and began to talk to him about it. Together we set our sights on making this journey as an adventure we could share. We have spent the past two years planning and preparing, talking about it, shopping for it, and discussing possible challenges we might have to overcome. Along the way we also decided we wanted the trip to be about more than just us. Our school in Myanmar, The International School Yangon (ISY) makes a focus on compassion a major part of its mission. We decided we want to make our compassion a part of our journey as well. Part of the way we plan to do this is by using the trip to draw attention to two organizations our school supports. One of these is an organization called United World Schools (UWS). Through UWS, our school community has built a school in a remote village in Shan state in Myanmar. We now support that school and its teachers through annual donations, as well as through opportunities to work with them. The other organization is called Care for the Least Center (CLC), which provides shelter, food, education, and care for orphans and children in poverty on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.
So, this next summer, in 2022, Max, who will be 15, and I will canoe the length of the Mississippi completing this lifelong fantasy and dream I’ve had. Along the way, we’ll be posting written narratives, photos, and videos. We hope you’ll sign on to our blog and follow along. In addition, if you feel so inclined, we hope you’ll check out the information on UWS and CLC on our blog and consider a sponsorship donation by either making a lump sum donation, or a donation per mile to help us in our support of the children of Myanmar. All funds will be equally divided between the school ISY supports through UWS, and CLC.
You can find more posts on my blog Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog