A two-kayak odyssey that began in northern Minnesota wrapped up in New Orleans after 105 days and a frightful moment when the Mississippi River nearly consumed the video the filmmakers had collected.
Phil Hullquist, 25, and Ryan Jeanes, 32, reached the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 4 in their inflatable kayaks, ending the more than 2,300-mile trip that started at the Mississippi's headwaters on Lake Itasca in late June.
"It was definitely harder [than we thought]," Hullquist said. "We paddled the whole way, not counting the use of our homemade sail, but even that was work."
Jeanes recalled an incident on Lake Pepin near Red Wing that nearly ruined the primary goal of the trip -- documenting it. This was after Hullquist broke from the route in Brainerd, Minn., because of work demands, leaving Jeanes to go solo until St. Louis.
"The waves had been battering me all day," said Jeanes. "The wind was over 20 miles per hour and right in my face. A young man pulled up on his boat, and I asked how far I had gotten for the day. In four hours, he told me, I had gone only 2 miles."
The man towed Jeanes to the Wisconsin side, hoping to get him out of harm's way.
"Unfortunately, my boat surfed a wave sideways and turned over," Jeanes said.
"All of my gear was in the water. I instantly saved the camera ... and was picking out other things. Justin, the young man, was diving after my camping supplies. 'Screw that!' I told him. 'I can sleep in the cold; I can't tell Phil that I lost all the footage!' "
Editing should be complete in February, Hullquist said, with the release of "The River Is Life" on DVD to follow.
Describing the accomplishment, Hullquist posted on his website www.11visions.com:
"There is a feeling you get after battling 20 mph headwinds all morning, after eating nothing but trail mix all day in order to meet a deadline, after getting the first glimpse of the ocean far in the distance, after paddling together without missing a stroke for nearly 10 minutes during the final stretch, after hitting that first crashing wave rolling into the shore, and after setting your paddle down in victory.
"But I will be unable to accurately describe that feeling to you, because you will never know it until you paddle the Mississippi River." Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482