By Melanie Speicher
BEMIDJI, Minn. — It’s been a hairy and scary trip so far for three local residents who are on a two-month trip on the Mississippi River. And at times, Forrest Schoessow, 24, of Sidney, Shea Selsor, 25, of Piqua, and Alex Ross, 26, of Sidney, have feared for their lives.
“We’re doing great but it’s been pretty wild so far,” said Schoessow. “We got to our first town on the Mississippi River Saturday.”
The trio began their trip Wednesday, May 20, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota. The Mississippi River Survey Expedition, which is the name of their trip, will be traveling down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
“We spent a lot of the day packing the canoe so the weight was distributed,” said Schoessow via a phone interview Sunday morning. “That was the biggest challenge we had that day.”
Before launching, the trio christened their canoe “Calypso.”
“We christened her with whiskey,” said Schoessow. “She’s a beautiful boat and we wanted her to have a beautiful name. Plus Calypso is from a seafaring story, ‘The Odyssey’.”
At the beginning of their trip, they were able to walk across the Mississippi River.
“It’s very narrow at the beginning,” said Schoessow. “It was pretty fun to do that. It was about 18-inches in depth at the beginning. It will be 200 feet deep at the Gulf of Mexico.”
The trip, all three agree, has been more intense than they expected.
“There were moments of fear for our lives and for the craft,” said Schoessow. “The canoe is a 1,000 pounds of a runaway freight train that we’re trying to pilot down the Mississippi River.”
Two years ago, said Schoessow, a storm took down many pine trees in the area. Those trees are still in the river and many of them are in the rapids that the trio had to travel through.
“We’d come around a bend and have to try to stop by paddling backwards because the river was blocked by trees,” said Schoessow. “We did our best to avoid the trees. Sometimes we’d have to get our axes out and cut down the trees. Or if we couldn’t cut them down, we’d have to unload the canoes and walk around the area.”
He said they have chopped through seven or eight trees and have had to walk the canoe about the obstructions four times.
“The second day was hairy and we were in an unsafe situation,” said Selsor. “We were in quick water and it made it very tough going.”
Selsor said they walked the rapids to ensure they didn’t lose their gear.
“It’s been beautiful and stressful,” said Ross of the trip thus far. “We’re trying not to jump in and out of the water too much. We’ve had to walk the boat for a few miles. I didn’t expect to have to walk this much.”
“We rounded one bend and there were trees in the rapids,” said Schoessow. “We saw a canoe in the trees and the person lost all their stuff. We found a note on the bank that said ‘if you find my canoe, I am alive. I am hiking to safety.’”
Schoessow credits Ross with saving his life as the canoe approached a tree in the river.
“Alex Ross saved my life. There was a tree with a lot of broken branches. The canoe hit it head on. I leaned back as far as I could because the broken branches were at my throat,” said Schoessow.
“Alex put his feet up at my head and the branches stopped 2 inches from my neck.”
Ross said he didn’t see the branches at the time of the incident. He just knew the canoe was headed to fast to stop and he wanted to protect Schoessow as much as he could.
“I saw the tree coming at his head,” said Ross. “I threw up my feet and then I saw the point form at his throat.”
“Aside from the rapids, we’ve had a lot of whitewater, bogs and marshes,” said Schoessow. “We used our compass and maps to get through the bogs. We had people from here tell us there are a 1,000 different ways to get lost in the bogs.”
They have also seen eagles, loons, beavers and timber wolves. Selsor had an “up close and personal experience” with a black bear the first night of the trip.
“I was sleeping on the ground,” said Selsor. “I heard something pawing around the tarp and then it pawed at my leg. Once I composed myself, I started yelling and screaming at it.”
The adult bear ran from the campsite, he said.
Schoessow said the first part of the Mississippi River in Minnesota is located in scientific and natural areas for wildlife study.
“There are 132 species of fish in the upper part of the Mississippi River,” said Schoessow.
Ross said the trio have met up with an eccentric man and have camped with him.
“He rescued a goose and is traveling with it,” said Ross. “But he refuses to call it a goose. He’ll call it a chicken or a duck. I think he’s just having some one with it.
“The people we’ve met have been incredible,” he said. “People have invited us to stay in their homes. It’s been wonderful.”
Selsor said the three are beginning to find a rhythm in the canoe to make the trip smoother.
“When it got down to crunch time, we knew we hadn’t been in the boat together a lot,” said Selsor. “But we’re getting through everything. Once we get into bigger water, we’ll be able to use the outrigger and sails and that will help a lot.”
Selsor said they have traveled approximately 60 miles of their 2,340-mile trip.
“It’s been slow going,” said Selsor. “We’ve spent time scouting the area and checking out what’s around the next bend. We’re hoping to pick up miles as we go. At the start, it was hairy and it’s been rough.”
Selsor said arriving in a town Saturday was a real morale booster.
“We’ll be picking up some things we need while in town,” said Selsor. “Someone offered us a place to stay so they gave us a ride to their house.
The trio used Sunday as a day of rest and recovery in Bemidji, Minnesota, which is the home to Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. It’s also called the First City on the Mississippi.
During their stay, they updated their website and Facebook page. They have also added a tracker to their website so people will be able to tell where they when they hit a city.
“I’m going to work on my watercolors,” said Ross. “I hope to have four or five done today (Sunday).”
“We’re happy to be in a town with such wonderful people,” said Schoessow.
The trip can be followed on their website, http://mrexpedition.squarespace.com and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/m.r.s.expedition. The Sidney Daily News has also linked up with the expedition’s Facebook account on its site, https://www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.
Weekly reports of the trio’s travels will be published each Monday in the newspaper.