Kayak trip just part of the journey

Monday, May 7, 2012

There are adventures like a trip to Silver Dollar City. And then there are adventures like a solo kayak trip from Springfield to New Orleans.

Former Carroll County resident and Berryville High School graduate, Jason Ball, decided last year he wanted a big adventure like a very, very long hike or possibly a kayak ride up the entire length of the Missouri River. So he studied maps and asked questions of other adventurers, and he eventually decided that a more manageable kayak trip such as the 700 or so miles from Springfield through the Table Rock-Bull Shoals Lake system and down the White River to the Mississippi all the way to New Orleans would be the trip to take.

He started on April 7 out of Springfield going south on the James River. At this point, on May 3, he is south of Greenville, Miss., paddling his way down the Mississippi River. He intends to arrive at St. Louis Cathedral, right beside the river in the heart of New Orleans, on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. You can read about his experiences on his blog at davidkeetz.com.

In his blog he writes, "I do maintain a fair respect for the level of endurance I will need to muster." So, to prepare for the trip, Jason started last autumn watching his diet and making extra trips to the gym. He also ran everyday, at the end as much as three five-mile runs per day. Not to mention regular paddling.

He stated that the journey began when he started planning and preparing. He also knew that the trip would be a test of his mental strength as well. He knew there might be adverse events which might curtail the trip at any point. However, his perspective was "The journey will be in the unseen adversities that so often in life can be of a serendipitous nature."

So Jason gathered his best attitude, good advice, a solid plan, only what he needed and away he went... in the rain.

Day One was rainy, but sunny days followed. He knew the first two weeks would be paddling through the lake system, beginning with Table Rock Lake, and following his maps before the White River breaks out on its own south of Bull Shoals Lake. By this point, he said, he realized he was a much better paddler.

By Day 12 he had left the hills and bluffs of the Ozarks behind and found himself surrounded by bugs near Newport. No amount of hand-waving or repellent would tame the swarm. Also it was time to watch for snakes. It would still be a few more days before there would be alligators.

He faced three dams around which he would have to portage his kayak and gear, sometimes a treacherous and strenuous exercise. After passing Batesville, the river carried him along and he could relax a bit. During the next few days there were few other boats or houses.

Jason said he passed one eight-hour stretch where he found no place to pull over or camp. He said, "I began to feel a oneness with the river... I realized that no amount of thinking about it or preparing for it can match the experience of doing this."

At one point, he said he landed and had to walk four miles to a town. He bought some supplies and as he checked out he grabbed a package of M&Ms. He paused and looked at the package and realized he had never appreciated a package of M&Ms so much in his life. Or a cold drink. "The lesson," he said, "was that I could see that I took a lot of things for granted."

On Day 20, he stopped in Des Arc and had the opportunity to talk to townsfolk for the first time in awhile. Four days later, he eased on into the mighty Mississippi which he described as "so overwhelming that all one can do is sit back and take it in stride."

In his solitude he has worked on developing new goals for himself, and pondered the enigma of relationships. He has begun to see how the puzzle pieces fit. He also said that the next time he goes on an adventure like this, he will take a companion because "it gets gosh-darn lonely."

Jason said the kayak is holding up well. From Greenville, he will continue to meander southward. The Mississippi slows down as it lazes toward New Orleans, and there will be sightseeing along the way because, as Jason mentioned, "I am not concerned with time at this point."

Just as Jason's journey began way before he launched his kayak, it will not end at St. Louis Cathedral.

Siddhartha learned that "the river knows everything; one can learn everything from it." Jason's mother asked him before he left, "Do you know what you're doing?" His reply was, "I'm going to know soon enough what I'm doing."

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