Maryville man canoes length of Mississippi, has sights set on next big adventure
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Intimidating, exhilarating, exhausting and rip roaring — all words Matt Snow uses to describe his 2,000 mile-plus adventure down the Mighty Mississippi.
Snow, who lives in Maryville, and a few friends embarked on the journey that began near the headwaters of the river in Minnesota. They followed its path through several lakes and dams to the Gulf of Mexico, paddling two canoes for two months and bringing back tales they will be sharing with their future grandchildren. With Snow were Ben Royer, J.D. Rayson and Cody Hodney, guys who connected through their conquering of the Appalachian Trail. For Snow, this was an opportunity to meet one more physical challenge while at the same time putting the spotlight on another.
Snow’s dad, Walt Snow, has multiple sclerosis and this trek down the Mississippi was a way Matt tested his own strength, but he also shared the struggles of his dad and so many other MS sufferers.
Forging the way
The trip actually started out with a core group of seven, but two were in it for the excitement a week could bring, while the other made the decision early on to head for home. So Snow and his three companions put their canoes in near the headwaters of the river. Snow had calculated before they began they would be paddling 2,340 miles.
Day one was May 23. “It was beautiful when we got up there,” Snow recalled. “It was in the 60s during the day and down in the 40s at night. But we also ran into some days when the highs were only in the 40s.”
The team relied on their AT thru-hiking experiences to get them through as they paddled by day and slept on the riverbank by night. Snow said on their longest day, they were able to travel 68 miles. “We had set out to average about 50 miles a day,” he said.
The biggest hurdle turned out to be the weather, which could be gorgeous one minute and life-threatening the next. There were winds so high they formed waves measuring six feet, Snow said. “You had to bale out the water to keep from sinking and stop paddling to do that. It was hard to control the canoe.”
The friends paddled into darkness some days, and for good reason. Snow said after leaving the upper portion of the Mississippi and heading south, the temperatures soared. It was 105 or better for 13 days straight, Snow said.
“But that is what we expected,” this experienced adventurer explained. “That’s why I wanted to do this with a group of thru-hikers because we have experienced all of these different conditions. We could adjust for it.”
What they hadn’t experienced before was being in a small watercraft next to heavy barges and other seafaring ships. That took some getting used to.
The lower Mississippi was well below its average stage for this time of year, Snow explained. That made the channels smaller as the two canoes tried to share the water with the larger traffic. “We were 35 to 40 feet away from these humongous boats,” Snow said. “It was very intimidating.”
The river got so low in Mississippi that Snow and the others heard it might actually be closed to barge and boat traffic. At some of the low places barges were having to be disassembled and then reassembled further down.
Up river the water level was way above flood stage, providing a different set of dangers, like the high waves.
One more challenge
There were several dams to lock through for these travelers, a feat that took 45 minutes each time. At their first one, Snow said there were spectators on the bridge, taking it all in. These four canoeists must have been a sight. “When we came through, they clapped. It was awesome,” he said.
In all, there were 11 dams not controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers that Snow and his team had to get through. There were 29 of those the Corps did control. “We had to do them all,” Snow said.
And while you might label these adrenaline junkies as plain crazy for doing this, they weren’t alone. Snow and the others came upon a man and his son from Memphis who were logging the same path. The son, only 16, might be the youngest to ever conquer the river from beginning to end, Snow said.
They also ran into some fellow sports junkies who teamed up and paddled about half of the journey with them. Then there was the double amputee navigating his way down the river and raising awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. “He was paddling the whole river,” Snow said.
Supplies were plentiful
One thing they didn’t have to worry about was running out of food. Snow said there were several towns along the way. And as they met new friends and shared their stories, many would offer dinner and a shower or a chance to wash their laundry.
No one got sick and aside from a few blisters and banged up feet, all went pretty well. Snow said one of the biggest challenges besides trying not to sink was trying to keep friendships intact as they spent every moment of every day side by side. “You are stuck six feet apart from each other,” he said. “That’s a challenge for the best of friends.”
They had estimated it would take until early August to complete the challenge, but reached the Gulf of Mexico on July 29. Snow took a bus from New Orleans to Atlanta, where his parents picked him up after it was over.
He’s back at work and already looking at the next big adventure. He said he has made a commitment to do at least one event per year to call attention to MS and the affects it has on its victims and families.
As for whether or not he will ever pick up a paddle and take to the water again, Snow isn’t ruling it out.
Never say never
“It’s kind of strange,” he said. “It’s like doing a marathon or a triathlon. There is the real challenging part where you say ‘never again.’ Then when you get finished and you aren’t dead, you start thinking on how you could do things better. There’s that side that says I wouldn’t mind doing it again with a few changes.”
There might be a 3,000-mile bike ride in his future or he could fire up a scooter for a 10,000-mile journey across America. Kilimanjaro also awaits.
The Mississippi has many nicknames, and as Snow sees it, she’s earned them all. The respect he has for the river is mighty, as well.
As for the rests of us, Snow wants to throw out a challenge. Climb a mountain. Enter a marathon. Go the distance on a bike. Get outside and do something that isn’t the norm.
When Snow and the others tell their stories of adventure, they always come across some who say they would love to do that or something just as fun, but ... Then comes an excuse like age, or job commitments, fear or other responsibilities. Snow says there isn’t anything stopping us but ourselves.
“Live while you can,” he said. “You don’t know when it’s done for you.”