By Melanie Speicher
SIDNEY — Close your eyes and imagine … the sounds of a river flowing around you … your arms straining as you lift a paddle up and down … the feeling of accomplishment as another day comes to a close.
For three local men, they won’t have to imagine these feelings and experiences, they will be living them as they undertake an adventure of a lifetime — traveling down the Mississippi River in a canoe. Forrest Schoessow, 24, of Sidney; Shea Selsor, 25, of Piqua; and Alex Ross, 26, of Sidney, will leave Monday morning, May 18, from Shelby County in their quest to canoe 2,340 miles of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. They plan to launch their trip on Wednesday, May 20, from Lake Itasca.
“I’ve always had a serious interest in adventure,” said Schoessow. “I grew up reading ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ What could be better than being him and help preserve the water of the Mississippi River.”
Selsor said he has wanted to canoe the Mississippi River his entire life.
“It’s been in the back our our minds for several years,” he said. “We put this into motion this year.”
The purpose of the Mississippi River Survey Expedition is to document the overall state of health of the river’s water and the communities who live along the river’s banks.
“We’ve been getting the skills to do the trip safely,” said Schoessow. “We all met up in Iceland and came up with a plan for the trip. We’ve been practicing on the Great Miami River from Sidney to Piqua to Troy.”
Selsor is the safety expert for the trip. He is an American Canoe Association-certified kayaking instructor and active volunteer with POWW (Protecting Our Water Ways). He will be preserving the trip through photographs he plans to take. He is also handling the physical aspects of getting the boat ready for the trip.
“I’m a whitewater-rafting instructor,” said Selsor. “So safety is my main concern. We’ve been paddling as much as we can in the local waters to prepare for the trip.”
Schoessow is a seasoned adventurer and experienced navigator. He has made solo treks through parts of the Amazon jungle and deserts of Arabia. During the trip, he will be documenting the ongoing evolution of historical development trends along the river and its effects on society and the natural world. He will also be coordinating water-quality testing during the trip.
“I’ve been studying and doing my homework,” said Schoessow. “We Ohio boys are not used to water like this (Mississippi River). I can see the navigation charts in my sleep.”
Ross, who is a New Orleans-based artist, will be documenting the trip via watercolor, ink and charcoal drawings. His goal is to finish with 60 sketches representing the unique elements of river life which he will use as references for larger pieces following the journey’s end.
Schoessow became interested in the health of the U.S. waters when he interned at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He became involved with fresh-water conservation groups in Fairborn.
“I’ve done expedition tours with outdoor education with the Montana Conservation Corps,” he said. “We would take teens out in the wilds for a month at a time. They would have no access to technology. The only food we had was what we could carry on our back.”
For this trip, each man will be allowed to bring 60 to 70 pounds of gear for the two-month adventure. They will have the canoe, personal gear and the crew gear to get them through the upcoming trip.
“We’ll be sleeping on the sand bars and beaches for the most part,” said Schoessow. “We’re going to avoid any place we hear banjos playing (like in the movie “Deliverance”).”
The weight of everything will be balanced in “Lady,” which is their 1970s, aluminum, 20-foot Grumman freighter canoe. They have completed modifications to the canoe, which include a Hawaiian-style outrigger to help stabilize it during storms; a custom-built portage cart; and sailing rig for the sailing mast plate. They will be christening the canoe at the headwaters of Lake Itasca.
“We went to Ocean City, Maryland, to get the canoe. It’s the only one we found for sale south of Alaska,” said Schoessow.
Each man will be wearing a life jacket anytime they are in the canoe. But they know there are dangers associated with the trip.
“If the canoe flips, we have to get everything out of it,” said Schoessow. They will also have safety gear, science gear and a first-aid kit for the trip.
The uncertainty of the river’s flow has the upmost importance in Selsor’s mind.
“There are some crazy hydraulics going on in the river,” said Selsor. “While it’s not a lot like whitewater rafting, there’s a lot of water moving very fast. There will be lots of currents.”
“It’s a very powerful river,” said Schoessow.
They have different paddles, he said, which will be used depending on the river conditions.
Schoessow said there might be some ice at the beginning of the trip in Minnesota.
“The highs are supposed to be in the 70s next week,” he said. “There will be a lot of melting going on. That’s why we’re leaving right now. We’re hoping the waves will be at a peak on the river. When it’s at its highest, it will be quicker to travel from city to city.”
During the trip, Schoessow will be using a multi-parameter to test the water. The meter will also GPS-tag everything he collects.
“I’m keen on navigation,” said Schoessow, “so I’ll also be keeping written records of where I do the testing.” He also has water-analysis-test kits he will be using during the trip.
Agricultural runoff, along with industry runoff, is what Schoessow and Selsor are interested in exploring on the trip.
“Two-thirds of the U.S. pollution channels through the Mississippi River,” said Selsor. “We are losing freshwater species at an alarming rate. The extinction rates are right there and it’s related to pollution.”
Schoessow said the algae blooms that have appeared in Lake Loramie, Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie are also found in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There are massive algae blooms in the gulf,” he said. “If you’re flushing, taking baths, that’s all leading into the Gulf of Mexico.”
The trio will be traveling through or passing by 10 states during their trip. They have selected a critter and plant to represent each state and those items will be displayed as they travel down the river. Go To Technologies in Vandalia has created stencils for the critters and plants for them to display.
“We’ll be mailing postcards to the donors who have helped with the trip,” said Schoessow.
They are hoping to travel 45 miles a day.
“Travel will vary on the water conditions,” said Selsor. “Locks and dams will delay us.”
Barges, he said, will be their biggest safety concerns. The barge can cause a mini-tsunami for a canoe.
During the trip, they will stop along the way to volunteer and interact with the local communities and their residents.
“We want to set a day aside where Alex can document the trip, I can write and Shea can do some photography,” said Schoessow. “We will be ambassadors to the area. We are just boys from the Miami Valley representing Ohio on the trip.”
The trio also plan to talk to cleanup crews who have adopted miles of the shoreline to clean up. They have also made contact with various bird agencies and will keep track of the birds they see on the trip.
“We’ve received a lot of support online for the trip,” said Schoessow. “We went on Reddit, which is an online messaging board. They know we’ll be coming through their towns. Some have offered us keys to their homes so we can sleep there overnight. Others want to take us to a kickball game. It’s exciting to have that support.”
They will have a satellite phone with them on the trip — but no access to charging it.
“We’ll have access to the Internet,” said Schoessow. “We’re going to designate times when we’ll be making phone calls. We do have limited solar-charging capability.”
Schoessow sister, Lexi Schoessow, and Kevin Briggs, a photographer, will be seeing them off in Minnesota. They will be bringing Schoessow’s vehicle back to Ohio.
“I think a lot of folks will be driving down to New Orleans to greet us at the end of the trip,” said Schoessow. “We’ll be catching a ride back with them. There’s going to be a celebration in New Orleans.
Schoessow, son of Grace and Scott Schoessow, of Sidney, and Selsor, son of Jill and Dave Selsor, of Piqua, are graduates of Piqua High School. Ross, son of Bill and Patricia Ross, of Sidney, is a graduate of Lehman Catholic High School in Sidney.
The trip, said Schoessow, wouldn’t be possible without the donations of area businesses and citizens. They are still accepting donations for the trip. Anyone who would like to donate should visit their website, http://mrexpedition.squarespace.com. They will also be posting updates on their website during the trip.
The Sidney Daily News will be doing weekly updates on their adventure beginning on May 25.