A 13-year adventure

New book chronicles canoeing “mission” down length of the Mississippi

- Submitted photo
Williams resident Anne Sherve-Ose, left, and college friends Debbie White and Debbie Knutson spent 13 years navigating the 2,550 miles of the Mississippi River in a canoe. Sherve-Ose has written a book which chronicles their adventures, Mississippi Misadventures.

WILLIAMS — Mississippi Misadventures, a book by Williams resident Anne Sherve-Ose, chronicles the adventures the author and two long-time friends encountered while navigating the great river over the course of 13 years.

The adventure began innocently enough in 2004 when St. Olaf College friends Sherve-Ose, Debbie Stephens Knutson, Owatonna, Minnesota; and Debbie Lenox White, Rosemount, Minnesota decided to canoe from the head waters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota with the destination of the Twin Cities in mind. With logs, swamps and switchbacks hindering their progress through in a river that was only two yards wide at the headwaters, the women only made 50 miles in seven days that first year.

The next year the women returned for another try. 

Ultimately, it took four years for them to reach the Twin Cities. After they achieved that goal, they set their destination for Dubuque the following year.

“The next year we went further,” explained Sherve-Ose of the plan that eventually took them to St. Louis and beyond. “We never planned to do the whole thing but it kind of morphed into that.”

Subsequently, the women returned every summer to paddle the entire 2,550 miles of the Mississippi River. As their journey progressed south, the river itself began to grow from the two yards across to places where it was over several miles wide. And with that, their progress began to pick up speed, said Sherve-Ose.

The paddlers would set off either in May or early June, depending on the condition of the river after the spring thaw and always with an eye on the weather forecasts.

Throughout the years, they experienced several different water levels. At times, they canoed the river at flood stage, but occasionally they faced low waters due to drought.

“Sometimes we were on the river when it was closed to commercial traffic,” explained Sherve-Ose.

The women brought their own tents and food but it was during flood stages that they were hard pressed to find dry land to pitch their tents. So with no other options, they often camped on docks, decks and levees. Every second or third day, they would stop along a river bank and venture into a town in hopes of finding fresh water to replenish their supply.

“We didn’t want to drink the Mississippi River water,” confessed Sherve-Ose as it lived up to its nickname, The Big Muddy.

One of the most memorable times was when they were swimming and one of the Debbies noticed what appeared to be a log that started to move. They soon realized they were surrounded by more than three alligators.

“We had no where to go, so we just camped there that night with us on one side and the alligators on their side,” she said.

In the early years, the women had no way to communicate with family or authorities, Sherve-Ose explained. With the advent of cell phones, they could remain in contact when reception was possible. But even in those early years, they had guardian angels looking out for them.

“I had a barge captain ask me if we had a maritime radio (in case of an emergency),” explained Sherve-Ose. When she told him they didn’t, he cautioned her that they needed to get one. But he also reassured them that up and down the river, barge captains and river board pilots had been tracking them and giving updates on their progress. “They were keeping an eye out for us.”

In all those years, the team surprisingly only saw less than a dozen other adventurers traveling the river.

“It was kind of disappointing,” confessed Sherve-Ose. “Here you have this huge, long river that is an American mainstay for commerce and agriculture and no one is enjoying it.”

Throughout the trips, Sherve-Ose kept a detailed journal of their journey and from those writings, she wrote her book that she self-published last year.

“It started out as a fun thing but after we decided to go to the Gulf of Mexico, it became a mission,” Sherve-Ose said.